Thursday, 7 January 2016

Poverty Denial

New Zealand’s current debate* about child poverty is a bit like climate change denial. Faced with large numbers of New Zealand children  ill with diseases of poverty, struggling at school, or  lacking nourishing food, or secure, warm homes, we don't address the problems, instead we deny poverty is a real problem in New Zealand.

Poverty denial is worth taking seriously  because, like climate change denial, it has the potential to undermine public momentum for change & delay effective policy action.

In an increasingly polarized debate,  “poverty deniers” tend to argue  there is no poverty in NZ, because we use relative income measures of poverty, (ones which go up and down as the overall circumstances of the population change), so we are not measuring “real” poverty –we may be measuring inequality but not poverty because hardly anyone is “really poor in New Zealand”. (If you want to read a thoughtful discussion about issues in measuring poverty see LSE here)

The trouble with this poverty denial argument is fourfold:

First poverty denial usually doesn’t offer a counter definition of what they mean by  ‘real’ poverty (often this is a political strategy because defining the problem means admitting there is an issue and then we might actually have to tackle it-so instead  deny, deny and deny. And besides, denying the poverty means we don’t have to think about stuff that makes us upset, so just like climate denial, poverty-denial is easier)

Secondly when poverty-deniers do attempt a definition they tend to imply the only “real” poverty is a desperate state eg, of starvation. If so, where does this leave New Zealand children who suffer poor nutrition and diseases of poverty already? Do we have to wait until our children are begging in the streets before we “believe” families are really poor? Seriously? (And is that the kind of reasoning we want to encourage in a small civilized democracy?)

Thirdly poverty-denial is internally inconsistent as an argument. New Zealand’s poverty-deniers implicitly argue that the reason there can’t be “real” poverty in New Zealand is because we have had an effective welfare state, one which meets most New Zealanders’ basic needs (health, nutrition, housing and access to education) so no one can be really struggling-not compared to nations without welfare. This argument, is not only contentious,  it is also inconsistent, because most poverty deniers also resent paying tax –they usually don’t want to support a collective approach to national flourishing via a welfare state and yet they have to use the existence of the NZ welfare state to argue that we have not got "real" poverty in New Zealand

Fourthly, poverty-deniers, if they admit poverty exists at all,  tend to see poverty as an individual problem- which can be overcome by hard work and a bit of luck. People can get themselves out of difficult situations if they just work hard enough. Some prominent individuals did it- why can’t others? The problem with this reasoning is that yes, a few individuals can do it, but we need a collective approach to provide the basic needs of access to education, health, housing which enables  individuals to get onto the working ladder and  become talented entrepreneurs. (Let's also remember that many Kiwis who are working are also really struggling to make ends meet and the structural  economic problems facing most young globally)
Listening: overcoming the political polarization around poverty

It is worth thinking more about the last argument; that poverty is an individual problem, because poverty-deniers tend to get very frustrated with those they describe as the poverty “do-gooders” who they argue tend to be middle class liberals, the kind of people who dominated the political economy in the past, and now want to meddle in individual lives and thwart efforts of individuals  to lift themselves up,  or remove "parental responsibility" or worse, “pander” to an "undeserving” poor.

More complexly some of the poverty denial argument is also driven by a frustration and anger with the language of "child poverty" which can at times become a deficit conversation that is blind to the aspiration and vision of those who don’t want to be patronised, and who are fed up with being told they are poor when they feel rich in their cultures, lived experience and vision.

I am dwelling on the stereotyped and polarized nature of New Zealand's poverty arguments between so called "poverty-deniers" vs poverty "do-gooders" because I think this is the most difficult, and serious issue for national conversation -we need to find ways to stop talking past each other and start to make a real difference for all New Zealand tamariki/children

The first problem (needing a definition of poverty) is easily fixed, New Zealand governments just need to pick some comprehensive measures of child wellbeing and then track and report on their achievements-this has to include reporting on measures of household income amongst the poorest homes (and relative to how the wealthiest are doing), because income inequality does matter, growing inequality moves the goal posts, making it hard  for kids to ever get a fair go because the great opportunities are always just out of reach)

The second problem is also something we can address, as a small, developed nation with excellent communication and literacy, New Zealand needs political vision to eliminate all forms of poverty and achieve universal access to quality education, effective heath care and secure housing for a new generation of young New Zealanders. The claim the poor are  "always with us", is an excuse for inaction. A sustainable prosperity is possible for all in this tiny developed nation of ours. Those who call for parental responsibility are remarkably silent about our shared responsibility to care for children.

The bigger problem is, are we politically brave enough to end child poverty?

Our tamariki, our children deserve a nation of adults who step up to their needs, and put aside our political bickering to make a difference to the lives of 220,000 children who are struggling.

When a government sets clear comprehensive measures and targets and invests in children and their mums, they make huge strides quickly. Of course philanthropy, individual & local action and business partnerships matter too but the fundamental change has to be driven by government policy and public pressure.

We “fixed” elderly poverty in New Zealand with NZ superannuation –an important, world leading policy. We can create a similar children’s sovereign wealth fund which invests in and supports all children regardless of whether their parents are working or not, to ensure all New Zealand children have the same access to adequate housing, education, nutrition and health services.

As a nation, New Zealand is only the size of one global city- the issues facing New Zealand children can be overcome if we choose to manage them-all that is stopping us is fear – fear  of listening to people we disagree with, and fear of success- what will our political parties campaign on if we ended child poverty for example, (not taped over it with a few concessions but actually ended it?)

 All New Zealand children can and should flourish, and as a nation we can make this happen, now.

(You can read more about the latest tracking of child poverty across all measures undertaken by Child poverty monitor here and you can read about Prof Susan St John's work for fairer tax here

*(You can learn about some of NZ child poverty denial  here & listen to a question (tentatively put) by Radio NZ's Guyion Espiner to the NZ Children's Commissioner Russell Wills, asking is this inequality or  poverty?  here) To which we might reply: why does it matter if the outcome either way is that New Zealand children are suffering?)

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill

Top of Form

This is the submission I just made to the ECAN bill- I called for up to 3 appointed members (two representing manawhenua and one representing future generations) and a return in other ways to the elected member model of the 2007 Electoral Review- the last time we had a fair and open electoral review in Canterbury
If you want to make a submission get your comments into the Government on this Bill here
BEFORE 5pm Tonight online here (scroll to the bottom of the site link for the submit button)
Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill

Submission by

Assc Professor Bronwyn Hayward

Head of the Department of Political Science and International Relations

University of Canterbury, Christchurch , New Zealand

Ph +64  021 2727069


The Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill establishes a mixed-model governance structure for the Canterbury Regional Council (Environment Canterbury) . This move is welcomed and overdue. However the current model fails to deliver either a timely, robust, clear, or effective framework for the management of natural resources for three reasons:

  1. A failure to justify clear, robust  criteria for up to 6 appointments (possibly 2 could be justified, reflecting  the views of Ngai Tahu and future generations) all other represntatives should be chosen by electoral ballot
  2. A failure to justify transparent, legitimate criteria for the new electorate boundaries based on the pre 2010 arrangements.
  3. A failure to ensure an effective framework for timely transition to representative governance or robust reasoning for the carrying forward of the limitation on appeal rights

a) Failure to justify clear, robust criteria for up to 6 appointments  and new electorate boundaries

The Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill establishes a mixed-model governance structure for the Canterbury Regional Council (ECAN) for the 2016–2019 term.

The Government in drafting the Bill, argues it will facilitate the continued timely development of a robust, clear, and effective framework for the management of natural resources—particularly fresh water and nutrient management—in Canterbury. This is a welcome and overdue statement particularly given the acceleration of nutrient pollution under an appointed body which was justified in part as a means to reduce this problem.

However the Bill falls far short of these standards and quite frankly is more akin to the forms of governance we teach students about in developing economies which place governance at risk of corruption, gerrymandering and undue influence on democratic process. If government appointments are made with poor justification, transparent and legitimate government is very difficult to achieve.

We are all shamed by the previous three years of poor local accountability to the ratepayers of the city of Christchurch. But it is not enough to merely call for full restoration of elected governance as if there were no opportunity for improvement and learning from this experience.

If the Canterbury region really is to be supported by a well-functioning regional council the terms of any mixed model need much more attention and robust defence.

In particular there is currently no adequate justification in the current Bill for the appointment of up to 6 councillors by the Government and the bill is unfair to Christchurch residents in particular.

Christchurch City residents account for approximately two thirds of the total regional population and a significant rate base for ECAN,  it is therefore entirely unreasonable and unfair if the city is relegated to representation in 4 electorates with appointees and rural communities making up the rest of the 13 members of any new council.

To understand the impact of the new bill it is important to compare the new proposal with the Local Government Commission determination of fair representative arrangements in its last special hearing in 2007.

The NZ Local Government Commission determination of 2007 summarised below, clearly shows the differences:




Comparing both models highlights the extent to which the new Bill deviates from the Local Government Commission 2007ruling about what constituted fair representation for Canterbury in 2007 (the last time we had an election ruling). That determination was reached after extensive hearings and appeals.  The new Bill effectively tries to side-line that decision. It tries to reduce 4 urban Christchurch electorates (previously represented by 8 councillors) to just 4 representatives. It is hard to find any other term for the current proposal than gerrymandering. A fair basis for discussion should begin with 2007 arrangements, not the proposal here.



The bill now allows for only 7 elected members using first past the post and creates new electorates:

  • South Canterbury constituency:


  • A mid-Canterbury constituency):


  • A North Canterbury constituency):


  • And 4 members must be elected, at large, by electors of Christchurch City Council


In addition it now enables (but does not justify) the responsible Ministers to appoint up to 6 additional representatives where at most only three can be justified.


The new grounds for appointment are 3 members of the transitional governing body no later than 28 days after the transition day; and  subsequently, no more than 3 other members. The onus is on the government to justify to electors why 3 additional appointments?


At present the only justification offered is to “complement the knowledge and expertise of the elected members in “management of fresh water” (but surely this knowledge set is the basis of employing nearly the entire staff serving ECAN?). In addition the Bill allows for appointments reflecting local authority governance and management; and tikanga Māori, as it applies in the Canterbury region; and the Canterbury region and its people. The latter is simply unjustified as the purpose ofany free and fair elections is to fairly represent electorates.


b) Towards A better justification for up to three appointed members


If we are to have far sighted decision making for the long term, a government and opposition could be arguing for the appointment of a representative for future generations, (a representative could  be appointed in consultation for example with the Children’s Commissioner), and similarly for up to two appointments representing manawhenua (Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu) and wider interests of tikanga Māori in consultation with the Minister of Māori Development).


To appoint more than 3 members to ECAN, however (especially given that in the past there was very little change of membership from council to council anyway, with only 6 of 14 members changing in any election on average), is not justified and amounts to undue influence, increasingly not decreasing the possibility of instability and undermining the lack of legitimacy of appointed members.


We need very careful arguments about the boundaries for Ecan and we should build from what existed before, not try to assert new boundaries that advantage rural communities and ignore the expanding “fuzzy boundaries” of a large urban population. Any discussion of ECAN functions should not begin with the assumption that ECAN functions are most relevant to rural communities. Regional functions are not more important to rural communities than urban populations especially in a century in which most people will live in cities. In reality spending on transport, air quality, and water are issues of primary concern for all New Zealanders, the views of the dairy industry or city residents should not be given precedence over other citizens and future generations- Canterbury’s children, their grandchildren deserve better planning.



C)  More timely transition to representative governance and appeal rights


 One strength of the current commission arrangement is that Ngāi Tahu has a formal partnership arrangement which builds from otherwise highly contentious legislation. We could debate a case for enabling this to continue within up to two statutory appointments. For example, one appointment may be made on the recommendation of Ngāi Tahu and one on the recommendation of the Minister for Māori Development, while one remaining appointment may be made, on the recommendation of the Children’s Commissioner.


Beyond this however  is not clear constitutionally why any particular interest group: either the dairy industry, urban residents, or recreation users should have special representation on an elected board where there are already zone committees and other mechanisms to ensure a wide range of industry and special interest group views are robustly considered.


The Local DHB performs a similar complex governance task adequately with 11 representatives, only  4 of which are appointed. If we give special voice to particular interests, young people should also be entitled to representation if not a vote in ECAN elections, especially given they will bear the burden of the decisions we make today. Extending the franchise to 16 year olds may offer some positive way to compensate for the loss of the franchise in the past. The experience of the Scottish parliamentary referendum and Austria’s elections where 16 year olds have already won the franchise shows they have a thoughtful voice, and their inclusion helps enhance long term thinking. In Canterbury a broader franchise would better reflect a spirit of kaitakitanga-in wise guardianship for the future.


ECAN is not “all about water”, and while we can be supportive of our rural communities, our decision making must be bigger than our dairy industry. Dairy interests are currently vital to our economy but our regional government is also charged with thinking and planning for the long term, for our intergenerational , multicultural, and widely divergent socio economic needs. Simply because our governance models have become trapped into one way of seeing the world, is not a reason to restrict the future democratic opportunities for Canterbury citizens, through highly partisan reforms nor for continuing to limit the appeal rights of communities in this region.

 “WEcan” do a better job in governing local resources as a democracy, “Wecan” be better than this bill currently allows.