A week can be a long time in politics was a phrase coined in the mid 1960s amid what has been described as one of the greatest periods of social and industrial change in the twentieth century. Technology was about to revolutionise modern life, laws for social equity were liberalised and provisions for tackling everything from education, housing and health to deep-seated discriminatory injustices and poverty were addressed.
In recent years politics have seemed more like Ground Hog Day. Variations on a handful of themes, driven by the cold winds of self interest, manufactured consent and the hollow click of lobbyist heels glimpsed in the corridors of power.
You can see where I am going here.
In the last week, from a standing start, the Jacinda Effect has established its footing in places where no political non-winners have been able to tread for a decade. The grayest election run-up ever has grown new wings and appears to be gathering ordinary citizens back into participatory democracy. We’re debating ethics and changing, or at least using, our minds.
We’ve had 30 years of an astonishingly high level of conformity to neo-liberal tenets, and, given where we started out, it’s possible that we’ve run the distance on populism and its treacherous ‘trust me’ mantras of ‘light’ government.
Enter the concept of a new generation of ‘young public intellectuals’.
Abandoning desk and duty, a couple of us made it on Tuesday evening to one of the scintillating lectures sponsored by the University of Auckland’s law faculty. Max Harris is talking about his masterwork, The New Zealand Project which hit the shelves in May.
Its call for ‘Fourth Way’ politics capable of repairing the heart of Aotearoa was an instant success.
In person, the author is slight, humorous and quietly composed. Fellow speaker is Kingi Snelgar who also studied law at the University of Auckland and their respective careers are stellar, Harris a Rhodes Scholar and All Souls Fellow at Oxford and Snelgar a Harvard Fulbright Scholar.
Harris says, while Aotearoa has considerable social depth, there is a sense of things deeply wrong. Politics have become technocratic and the language that of running a corporate rather than maintaining social investments – evidence of crushing cynicism derived from the persistent chipping away of contrary views during and since the 1980s.
Both of them emphasise that the strands of community, connectedness, warmth, care and creativity are already enshrined in the concepts of tikanga, aroha and manaakitanga and woven into the strands of Aotearoa/New Zealand.
For all the careful scholarship digging to the heart of our trickiest issues, there is optimism, aroha and a calm optimism that, winding back the unnatural emphasis and recovering deeper strands long held and only unnaturally suppressed, will make us whole.
Meanwhile, the path for Waiheke to reclaim a governance model that’s more than the present token and truly unsatisfactory version of local government under a virtually democracy-free Auckland Council got thornier with the publication of a consultants’ report to the Local Government Commission.
It could have been cut and pasted from any number of Auckland City responses to requests for figures on what the city says Waiheke costs it. Along with a lot of patronising stuff (also wretchedly familiar) about how difficult we would find it to generate stuff like district plans.
Plump and self-satisfied, the figures probably prove that, if we are to survive as a cohesive and functioning community, we cannot afford to stay with Auckland Council. Incompletely disguised is a note that the supercity’s ratepayers would lose our rates dollars.
Fortunately, the process isn’t over. Central Government, widely believed to be the invisible player, is getting a shakeup and it’s game on to continue to show the Local Government Commission a more wholesome alternative.
Into this momentous week comes an email from the office of the Chief Ombudsman regarding an Official Information Act request I made for operating figures and revenues from Auckland Council in 2013 – a follow-on from seven years of itemised figures I obtained in 2007.
Key items included the wharf tax revenues which were $1.8 million in 2007; presumably considerably higher in 2013 and even more now. Though the public wharf was built with the legacy tax from the Waiheke county council, we could not have the figures as they were ‘commercially sensitive’.
My complaint to the Ombudsman languished but his office apologises and is now putting a priority on clearing the backlog. They need to know if – due to the passage of time – I would still require the figures? Of course. And how timely. • Liz Waters