Alternative Aotearoa – Final Report

Press Release – Alternative Aotearoa

On 25 July 2020 several hundred people attended a seminar at Pipitea Marae in Poneke/Wellington, and several thousand more joined the discussion online, in the wake of Covid-19 and the lead-up to the general election to imagine an Alternative Aotearoa to that which political parties are offering the nation.

The focus of the seminar was what would be needed for the social, environmental and economic transformation of Aotearoa to avoid the deeply embedded problems from the pre-pandemic era.

The seminar was co-chaired by two marvellous New Zealanders, Justice Advocate Julia Whaipooti and 2020 New Zealander of the Year and President of Equity New Zealand Jennifer Te Atamira Ward-Lealand.

The organisations represented at the seminar included: Greenpeace, Better Futures Forum, Pacific Climate Warriors, Forest and Bird, Child Poverty Action Group, State Housing Action Network, School Strike for Climate, Extinction Rebellion, Te Reo o Nga Tangata/The People Speak, Unite Union, Council of Trade Unions, Migrant Workers Association, Quality Public Education Coalition, Action Station, Generation Zero, 350 Aotearoa, Auckland Action Against Poverty, People Against Prisons Aotearoa and Te Ara Whatu.

(The agenda for the seminar along with video and transcripts of the presentations can be seen at https://chchpn.blogspot.com/)

This short report cannot hope to capture the richness of that discussion from more than thirty contributors from our diverse communities, tangata whenua, Pasifika, migrant and Pākehā, young and old, unionists and academics, local government and community activists. However, it does capture the core themes and messages from the seminar and practical solutions to deep seated problems that confront our nation.

These are not new issues. But Covid-19 has brought them to the fore in ways that we can no longer ignore. We challenge your Party to commit to adopt these should you form part of a future government.

Vision, values and principles

We seek an Aotearoa where everyone can flourish. Surely no political party can reject that vision?

We seek an Aotearoa without racism and where te Tiriti o Waitangi and the principles of whanaungatanga, manākitanga, kotahitanga and aroha unite us. Again, surely no political party can reject that vision?

We seek communities that are empowered from their roots to draw on their strengths and build their own solutions, supported by local and central government, but not beholden to them.

We seek dignity, security and respect for migrants; secure livelihoods for those in paid work and for who don’t have that option, whether they are elderly, or survivors of abuse, or disabled by physical or mental health; a fundamental right to safe warm housing; and support that enables people to live the best lives possible.

We seek positive and aspirational goals that everyone, including the most vulnerable, can share in and achieve rather than a divisive and repressive agenda driven by fear which, through the use of state agencies of police, prisons, and immigration, perpetuates institutional racism.

We seek a tolerant process to navigate differences and embrace diverse cultural practices to seek consensus or at least accommodations based on mutual understandings.

Confronting racism

Aotearoa is a Tiriti-based nation. Tino rangatiratanga is an inalienable right under Te Tiriti o Waitangi. It is not a gift from Crown, it is an intrinsic right of hapū. As the COVID checkpoints showed, its exercise works to the benefit of all. Yet constitutional change has been resisted out of Pakeha fear and unwillingness to surrender privilege. Matike Mai Aotearoa, the report on constitutional transformation, provides a framework to deliver on the promises made in 1835 in He Whakaputanga o Nu Tireni and Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840. We need to let go that fear, empower tangata whenua, and embrace the Pacific and other diverse cultures that make up our 5 million.

The climate crisis, inequality, hate speech are not separate problems. The mosque killing was an act of hate. Diseases of colonisation and poverty kill people much more slowly. These are not separate issues. Poverty has a colour problem – poverty is racism. Underlying the lovely notion of the ‘team of 5 million’ racism continued, towards the Chinese community, migrant workers, tangata whenua checkpoints. There is not a quick fix. Racist individuals do not exist as individuals in isolation. As a nation we need to move out of our siloed communities and develop a strategy to have conversations where we come to understand the realities of those who are disabled, addicts, abused, exploited.

Whakapapa is the connector between the living world, the natural world and the spiritual world. That web of relationships provides a blueprint for how to achieve change. Everyone in their difference has something to contribute. Silos are not enough. We are collectively interdependent. Everyone has a role in creating new futures.

Policy solutions

· Establish a bicultural agency to promote community discussion of Matike Mai and directions for constitutional change

A responsive, empowering and accountable state

The state is not benign. It has responsibilities to uphold the democratic will of the people and those in positions of leadership must be accountable to this goal.

Lessons have been learned during the Covid-19 outbreak which provide a model for the longer term. We have learned what can be done when people work together and there is political leadership to facilitate this.

The state will remain dominant in our lives for a long time to come and working together to solve social, environmental and economic problems points the way to the future.

Almost forty years after the neoliberal coup, the government must address the causes of systemic and repeated market failures and reform public policy to prioritise the wellbeing of people, not capital. That requires fundamental redesign of laws on public finance and market-driven regulation to taxation and state owned infrastructure and services.

New Zealand is a land of plenty which can easily provide a decent standard of living for all its citizens. However our economic structures and taxation system has allowed a very small group to become fabulously wealthy at the expense of the rest of the community. Poverty and inequality dominate at the expense of dignity and self-respect.

Taking into account income tax and GST, people on low incomes pay a higher proportion of what they earn in tax than the wealthiest New Zealanders. Taxation is highest on wages and salaries while the super wealthy can easily avoid tax on their massive unearned incomes. Fundamental change is essential.

Our laws should be underpinned by our core values. Our economy must serve these fundamental values, not undermine them. The economy must serve the common good.

A long list of reports have been commissioned to examine and address the nation’s social, environmental, and economic crises, including the Tax Working Group, the Welfare Export Advisory Group, Our Freshwater 2020, the Trade for All Advisory Group, among others. Yet most of their recommendations have been shelved in a pattern of inaction and neglect. We don’t need rhetoric and empty promises. We need action.

Policy solutions

· Implement the recommendations of the reports of the Tax Working Group, the Welfare Expert Advisory Group, Our Freshwater 2020, and the Trade for All Advisory Group

· Commit to a community-wide discussion of “tax fairness” which includes information on the regressive nature of GST and the progressive nature of death duties, financial transactions, capital gains (or net equity), redistributive income and wealth taxes

· Tax housing appropriately using the Risk-Free Rate Method that aggregates a person’s net equity in real estate and treats it as if it had earned interest at the bank

· Make available government credit for community-based co-operatives providing local services for local communities

Empowering youth

Young people are the future of Aotearoa. Yet they are a generation under immense pressure. A recent ActionStation survey identifies mental health, education, body image, discrimination and stress, related to insecurity and inequality, as among their most pressing problems.

The privatised, fragmented and colonised system of education, including early childhood education, creates conditions for social harm. Diverse, bottom-up models of education that build human ability and maximise the potential of every person would unleash the human spirit in the country to envision and achieve a different future.

Young people need a sense of hope with real options for the future. That requires real commitments to address the crises of climate and racism. It requires safe community spaces. It means empowering young people with knowledge of their rights and ways to protect themselves against exploitation. Above all, they need to see themselves in the decision making processes that will shape their futures.

Policy solutions

  • Establish a youth assembly (modelled on a citizens assembly) to recommend policy directions for young New Zealanders into the future
  • Shift discussion from a “climate emergency” to a “policy-change emergency” to fight climate change rather than simply manage its negative impacts

An ecosystem that allows us to survive

A healthy ecosystem is the key to survival. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the inter-dependence of humankind with all elements of the natural world. That knowledge is foundational to Māori and Pacific worldviews, but ignored in our extractive, growth-driven mode of capitalism. If we fail to heed the warning from COVID-19 pathogenic crises will become a systemic and catastrophic part of everyday life.

Everything flows from safe, healthy and sustainable communities and environment. Investing in safe, healthy and sustainable communities also pay social and economic dividends. That requires joined up thinking. Sustainable transport, energy, land and water cannot be relegated to remedial piecemeal efforts once the market has let rip.

The climate crisis is not just happening offshore. The legacy of land confiscation and exploitation and rejection of tikanga and indigenous science are evident as storms and floods devastate local communities, and force tāngata whenua to relocate marae and urupā.

Aotearoa is a Pacific nation. That carries responsibilities for our collective survival. We must value the knowledge and wisdom of peoples who have nurtured this place for millennia and hear messages of young Pacific activists who are making sacrifices now to preserve our future.

Aotearoa is already approaching the point of no return. Today’s young people are inheriting multiple crises not of their making. The most existential is the survival of life on the planet itself. We need to recognise when we have ‘enough’. Those who bear responsibility for the climate emergency need to take responsibility to act now to avoid a lethal legacy to their children.

Policy solutions

· Set emission reduction targets that are consistent with keeping temperature increases to 1.5 °C.

· Bring all agricultural emissions into the carbon trading scheme as a matter of urgency

· Phase out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and support farms to transition from industrial to regenerative farming

· Phase out fossil fuel infrastructure and invest in clean, locally-owned and Māori-owned energy, as well as accessible public/active/electric transport and warmer housing

· Phase out all single use plastics and invest in a circular economy, including systems for refillable and reusable packaging

· Establish a national and regional assemblies based on participatory democracy to address the climate and ecological emergency; related policies, targets and how we achieve them fairly. The assembly must be based on Te Tiriti o Waitangi and include all aspects of the constitutional rights of tāngata whenua

· Invest in rail for mass transportation of goods and people

· End subsidies for trucks on roads with big increases in road user charges for heavy vehicles (one single eight-tonne axle does the same road damage as 10,000 cars)

· Make public transport free across the country by prioritising public transport funding in the NZTA budget rather than new roads

· Place cameras on all New Zealand’s 1100 commercial fishing boats and implement a zero ‘by-catch’ target

· Insist that Fisheries New Zealand act on illegal fishing practices to stop rampant seabird and marine mammal by-catch

· Lobby the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to remove exemptions on fossil fuel use from aviation and shipping, and encourage other nations to do likewise

Restore nature:

· Provide better resourcing for the Department of Conservation and hapū and iwi partnerships so we can be more effective in protecting our natural heritage. This includes trapping predators, removing weeds, restoring waterways and planting trees.

· Implement tougher rules to protect our fresh water

· Phase out environmentally damaging irrigation schemes

· Invest significantly in the restoration of nature, working alongside iwi and hapū to restore harbours, wetlands, riverbeds and forests

Workers and Livelihoods

There is a human right to life. People need access to money for life. We pretend not to see the trauma of people when they can’t afford to live. Decades of neoliberalism have left a legacy that has to be addressed. This country has relied on poverty wages, precarious employment weighted by racism and age, and an exploited migrant workforce, to maintain essential services and sustain an economy that enriched an elite.

COVID 19 has redefined essential work. Our society depends on our cleaners, our caregivers, our checkout operators. CEOs need the workers, not the reverse. The emergency measures for these workers have provided short-term relief but leave the structures of inequality and exploitation intact.

Social investment and prioritising livelihoods and wellbeing pay dividends. Government can and must create quality employment as a foundation for the future where the market has failed to do so. We need strategies to create green jobs through a just transition for workers, especially those affected by climate mitigation strategies and digital technologies.

The state used to train people and employ people. Social procurement policies that channel local and central government contracts to sustainable New Zealand firms and co-operatives that pay a living wage, especially from Māori and Pacific communities, can create real jobs and support small businesses that are the backbone of our economy.

Migrant workers are part of the ‘5 million’ but have been excluded from our kindness and care for each other and are treated as political footballs. Those who are here need to be allowed to stay and their visas delinked from employers. Into the future, we must provide real protection for those who blow the whistle on slavery and exploitation.

Everyone needs to be able to access benefits from agencies that have been purged of institutional racism and racial profiling and are driven by manaakitanga, whanaungatanga and humanity.

The legacy of the Employment Contracts Act needs to be confronted. Workers and families need legislation to support unionisation and provide real protection for workers, and ensure workers having a voice at the table at both industry and government levels.

Policy Solutions:

· Provide a government guarantee of full employment

· Extend sick leave to 10 days per year which is able to be used from day one of employment so workers are not having to go to work unwell in a pandemic situation

· Progressively increase the minimum wage to the living wage

· Implement law changes to move more employment from casual, insecure work to permanent part-time and permanent full-time work

· Unshackle migrant worker visas from a single employer to reduce rampant exploitation of migrant workers

· Insist migrant workers are employed directly by businesses rather than through labour contractors

· Provision of union membership for new employees who can resign if they decide to

· Provision of employer-allocated hours for union delegates to assist in building positive experiences for employees and stronger employment relationships

· Provide a legal minimum redundancy pay of 4 weeks for the first year worked and two weeks pay for each successive year worked. These to be paid with no tax to allow a smoother transition to alternative employment

· Provide Worksafe with sufficient resources and legal powers to investigate, prosecute and enforce health and safety protections for all workers.

· Criminalise wage theft as is being done in Victoria, Australia.

· Create a simplified mechanism for workers on self-employment contracts to be reclassified as employees at the direction of a labour inspector. (The onus would be on the employer to then appeal the decision to the employment court)

· Provide Income protection for precarious workers with early retirement options

· State provided employment and training to ensure quality jobs and a skilled workforce (see proposed state house building agency)

· Use social procurement by local and central government to sustain local firms, local co-operatives, workers and communities

Wellbeing

Colonisation, institutional racism, neoliberalism, disinvestment and runaway anthropogenic climate change are conditions that deny wellbeing. They were all created by deliberate actions. Deliberate actions are needed to counteract them.

Whanau and communities need to be empowered to define their own needs and drive the decision making process. Again, COVID-19 showed how communities can care for each other. Localised solutions, supported by public funding, saw the homeless homed and supported with flow-on gains for health and policing. This can provide a blueprint for the future. But investing in four lane expressways will not solve child poverty. Nor will it build the homes we need to address the overwhelming housing crisis that continues to grow. The money can be found; it depends on how we order our priorities.

Policy Solutions:

· Move to a system that provides citizens with public services that meet their basic human rights and needs built on constitutional reforms established through Matike Mai

· Implement the findings of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report on the welfare system

· Government funding for the building of 10,000 state houses every year till we don’t need any more (the state house waiting list is increasing at twice the rate the government is building state houses)

· Establish a government agency to design and build state homes and use this agency to employ and train the next generation of apprentices

· Fund community solidarity initiatives to fight racism, prejudice and supremacist views

· Introduce compulsory Te Reo in schools and prioritise the history of Aotearoa in the wider school curriculum

· Invest in education to reduce class sizes – starting in schools in low-income communities

· Initiate a plan for whole school reform to reduce bullying and violence and improve outcomes for Māori and Pacific students

· Bring Early Childhood Education back into the state sector, make all teachers qualified and make it free to improve outcomes for all children.

· Remove, through state funding, the dependence of the public education sector on foreign fee-paying students.

Health

Healthy lives require much more than a well funded, professional and pro-active health care system. Despite the rhetoric about kindness and compassion during the COVID lockdown, we are far from ensuring a safe and caring society. The business model that imposed managerialism, rationing, and market models on health care in the 1990s has utterly failed, but continues to dominate the health system. More restructuring of the health bureaucracy will not address the underfunding, a failed competitive model, lack of leadership and a managerialist culture.

Promises of change are wearing thin. Despite repeated inquiries and new funding the mental health system continues to destroy too many lives, especially of young people and their whānau. Government has not grasped the need to empower and fund Tiriti-based Māori health initiatives.

The power and vested interests of corporations and lobby groups that defend big tobacco, alcohol, food, oil and energy must no longer be allowed to drown out the voices of those they harm, in particular children and young New Zealanders.

A holistic approach needs to reimagine health and wellbeing and guarantee safe, affordable and secure housing and decent food for all, especially our children. Policy priorities need to focus on the social, economic and cultural determinants of good health and draw on the strengths and knowledge of Māori and Pacific communities, instead of the treatment of ill-health created by conditions of poverty and stress that result from flawed policies and priorities.

Policy Solutions

  • Commit to increasing spending on health to cover for the decades of underinvestment
  • Develop a new investment model for all Health funding that takes account of:

the backdated funding shortfall;

current unmet healthcare need – including all ethnic, cultural and other socioeconomic deprivation factors;

changing population demographics and future service developments. (The Proportionate Universalism Model is recommended for starting to address the socioeconomic deprivation factors)

  • Work with iwi and hapū to establish a national Maori health agency with the resources to end the shameful disparity in health outcomes (The Māori Health Authority proposed by the Simpson review lacks the power and resources to create change. The alternative plan for the Māori Health Authority proposed by the Māori advisory group to the review and by the majority of the panel is what should be implemented)
  • Work with community groups to redesign mental health and addiction services so they meet the needs of individuals and their families
  • The Ministry of Health undertake a comprehensive national population survey to assess the quantity and nature of unmet secondary elective healthcare need every three years. (This should be incorporated in the New Zealand Health Survey)
  • End the culture of managerialism whereby decision-making is centralised in senior management and clinicians are side lined through the use of democratic and participatory decision-making processes
  • Empower the entire health workforce employed by DHBs, including through comprehensive distributed clinical leadership and recognise that what makes good clinical sense also makes good financial sense
  • Devolve, implement and embed a wide range of preventative health strategies and services at all levels in communities with local leadership along with the resources to do it

More widely:

  • Promote “joined-up” policymaking that is pro-health, pro-environment and pro-equity. (The challenges we are facing in each area are linked, and so are the solutions)
  • Prioritise the wider determinants of health, in particular: warm, dry, affordable homes, adequate income and freedom from violence and discrimination. (The shocking disparity in health outcomes will persist until everyone has these basics for a healthy life)
  • Embed health equity across all our social and economic goals so health investment moves from the bottom to well back from the top of the cliff. Health should be a priority for all sectors of governments (DHBs and health workforces structures etc are tools to achieve this but the foundations/priorities are not right yet)
  • Protect consumers (particularly children) from purveyors of unhealthy commodities e.g. stronger marketing/retail restrictions on alcohol, tobacco, vapes, gambling and junk food

Justice

Black Lives Matter. Aotearoa has the highest imprisonment rate of indigenous women among rich countries and the second highest overall to the US. Most prisoners are those being held on remand. The criminal justice system misidentifies the root cause of anti-social behavior and seeks only to remove individuals while leaving the causes unresolved: the legacy of colonisation, an ideology of individualism and a reality of economic deprivation and alienation. People need to experience consequences of their actions, but locking people up and armed response teams are not the solution.

Policy solutions

  • Reduce the prison population substantially by repealing the Bail Amendment Act 2013, and invest in social programming outside of the criminal justice system (as detailed elsewhere in this report) to prevent poverty-driven crime
  • Establish a cross-party working group to investigate the Finnish model of prison reform (which has reduced the prison population by two-thirds) with a view to adapting it to Aotearoa to achieve a similar reduction in prison numbers
  • Decolonise our justice system at all levels through a bi-cultural engagement with Maori which is driven by Maori values

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