Rekindling our diminished political discussion

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    Reference sources say that ‘stool pigeon’ derives from the ancient hunting practice of fixing a dead or replica pigeon on to a stool (post, stump) to act as a decoy to attract other birds. In our weedy political discourse, the current stool pigeon of disrepute has to be ‘affordable housing’, a concept now so inexorably mixed with hubris and naked greed that anyone using it as an excuse for intensive housing on public land should be thrown out of public life forever.

    In its name, we stopped noticing that more handsome apartments and real houses (that ordinary people could afford) had been built every year for decades before the current Government started making such a song and dance about a shortage.

    This has been a specious excuse for government building minister Nick Smith to advance on every piece of public open space in Auckland, including its social welfare housing stock, baldly intent on a new developer bonanza and bludgeoning us out of our ancestral green space, people-friendly ‘brown fields’ alternatives and control of our city boundaries in the process.

    As a result, the new millenium’s legacy of kiwi house design seemed likely to be acres of head high fences and brick and tile ridgelines poking out of lonely, monotonous satellite dormitories. Plus, of course, a sprinkling of posh, outsized vanity houses for the class that can afford them.

    The population had no say and few figures to assess the half dozen issues involved, including immigration policy, rising poverty, dubious overseas capital and the extinguishing of any protection for the city’s housing stock. Theses issues should be coming home to roost in this election.

    With this model, it is no wonder the young – in a healthy society a force for challenge and constructive debate – are disgusted with the quality of management.

    ‘If you cannot measure it; you cannot manage it’ is a basic warning in business, and politics in New Zealand show that central government politicians know it too.

    We on the island are more interconnected as a community than our city cousins and already intimately affected by the obvious pitfalls of unaffordable housing for teachers, police, hospitality staff and small business.

    We are also close to the tragic and continuing loss of young families forced out by rents and prices, so perhaps we should not be surprised that a new local initiative is taking on the issue.

    The Waiheke Housing Trust is now putting forward proposals to develop mixed-occupancy housing units within Waiheke’s existing planning frameworks.

    The project is well stocked with familiar names and intends to create a model for below market rate rentals for working people of various ages who don’t qualify for social housing as such. It outlines its plans for a pilot project to Geoff Cumming in this issue.
    The familiar excitement is a reminder of past successes.

    Taking charge of a small-scale solution and piloting it through to a model to (measurably) solve issues is how we knew ourselves before central government powermongers saw us stuffed ever deeper into a homogenised and increasingly powerless Auckland behemoth.

    Before that, given half a chance, we agreed to pay to develop our own library, founded the island’s own credit union and had both a tourist information centre and a user tax to resource development of the island’s wharf zones for inevitable visitor numbers.

    We colluded among ourselves to make Waiheke a facility that reduced the waste stream by 60 percent and, until Auckland City sold it, had an excellent and high performing road works team on the island.

    All of which required a collective set of values at the time and may be an idea whose time has come again.

    A core claim of brilliant young scholar and author Max Harris in his best-selling The New Zealand Project, is that New Zealand politics is, indeed, no longer motivated sufficiently by values; that an emphasis on self-interest has chipped away at the idea of a shared destiny.

    “There has also been the loss of any moral framework for determining what politics is for,” says Harris in a book that puts social infrastructure on a par with motorways and  aims to rekindle the diminished political discussion, particularly among young New Zealanders.

    All without undue emphasis. There is even a disarming chapter titled ‘the art of what might not seem possible at the moment”.

    Eminently readable, extraordinarily comprehensive and calmly optimistic, The New Zealand Project is reviewed by David Waters on page 25 of this issue.  Details of two lectures by Max Harris in Auckland in the next fortnight appear on page 27.  Liz Waters

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