Starving in a land of plenty

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    I think it’s struck most of us on the island that things are cracking up, if not immediately for ourselves, for a lot of those around us.  People cannot afford food, they cannot find or afford houses, there are mega profits out there but at this moment, their rented house is on the market and they cannot survive on the island for much longer.

    People you couldn’t imagine living anywhere else are suddenly gone.

    In the middle of last year, bracketed by Covid restrictions and uncertainties, the news cycle hovered for a few days on the astonishing fact that New Zealand produces and mostly exports enough food to feed 40 million people.

    We export $16 billion worth of dairy, $3.7bn worth of beef and $3.9bn worth of sheep meat a year. At the same time, one in five children go to bed hungry and almost 40 percent of households struggle to feed themselves.

    Poverty researcher Dr Rebekah Graham said people she interviewed had “a grim acceptance that this was normal”.

    We should, said researchers at the time, be feeding our own five million first, preferably with the same high-nutrient meat and dairy we currently export (while importing nutritionally poor carbohydrates and sugars that leave us “fat and famished”).

    The money we get from our premium exports doesn’t seem to be making it easier for those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, they said rather tartly.

    In fact, export prices often push up prices charged for primary produce and fossil fuels, both of which we produce in abundance. But market forces and a rather weird insistence that we pay as much here as do our markets overseas keep prices high. Since we all know our fish and meat is ridiculously cheap in Australia and even North America, that’s a dodgy assertion at best.

    Our oil and gas industry paid the government $3 billion in royalty revenue in the past decade. At the pump, kiwis pay by the international barrel, plus hefty taxes.

    Which would be OK if people earned enough but a very high percentage of us don’t.

    Our mostly offshore banks posted mega profits without making a single concession on lending and mortgage relief on their own cognisance during two Covid lockdown years. Demanding to hand out government loan money doesn’t count, since it came with so many strings that nobody wanted to touch it.

    The seismic lift in the cost of living in the past three months has to be frightening but it hasn’t stopped power or council rates bills ratcheting up and groceries going even further through the roof.

    Since then, if we need any further evidence that 30 years of untrammelled market forces are a radically flawed idea, look at the factors that are ripping out the fabric of our own community.

    This includes the disturbing realities at Kennedy Point this week. Marinas are big money and just another layer of must-have investment opportunities enabled by councils and government departments at the expense of wildlife, citizens and the visual amenity of beautiful places.

    With band-aid succour only for the poorest and that barely covering the cost of a family’s milk, what we need are structural changes and big, bold actions.

    Things that worked in the past (heaven forbid) might be useful. Seed capital and a new financial model for the state housing and family benefit capitalisation that enabled generations to buy homes in which their children could grow up healthy and educated, for example.

    And we could remove the whacking 15 percent GST on food – we are pretty much alone in the western world in that financial imposition anyway, and there are workable models to hand in Australia. The way retail prices are rising on just about everything, the government won’t miss it.

    For families, plug a few gaps so tech and marauding corporate giants pay more than a derisory amount of tax here. Then make the first $15,000 of personal income tax free as it was in the 1950s. It’s still done almost everywhere else in the world.

    That would make it a bit easier to swallow the news that we may, in a climate-change crisis, end up with 100 helipads and ever more helicopters dropping the well-heeled in for posh lunches at Waiheke’s big vineyards.

    Some faint sign to our young ones that we value families and their future.

    Note to media – I don’t want to know what the ACT party or Christopher Luxon have to say about it. They had three terms in government and the outcome was the sorry mess and poverty that’s come home to roost for the rest of us.

    The acrid whine of opposition politicians’ avidly reported dissatisfactions with every government decision this last two years has done a great deal of harm.

    Literally, it’s driven us to distraction when we most needed – and believed we had successfully voted for – a window for a reset of social justice and well-resourced families across the board in Aotearoa.

    Enough with the carping. • Liz Waters

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