• “Middle ” New Zealand?

    The Prime Minister, asked on National Radio this morning what advice he would offer to an Auckland family with nowhere to live but in a car, suggested that they should “go to see Work and Income to see what help they could give them.”  The advice that a desk officer in Work and Income could miraculously find them a house they could afford was the equivalent of shrugging his shoulders and saying, “I have no idea of what they could do and I don’t really care.”

    Auckland’s shortage of affordable housing and soaring house prices are now so significant that they could threaten the financial stability of the whole country, but there is no one at greater risk than Auckland’s poor.  For them, the possibility of buying a house is non–existent, and – as speculative investors buy up the cheaper houses and force up the rents – their meagre budgets do not extend as far as even the cheapest rented property.

    Yet let us be clear.  The problem of families with children forced to live in third-world conditions is eminently resolvable.  It simply requires the application of resources – resources that a country with our wealth could easily afford.  The issue is one of priorities.  We could put an end to child poverty and housing shortages if we decided to move the issue nearer the top of the list.  It doesn’t happen because we choose that it shouldn’t.

    We choose to elect a government that we know will give a low priority to the most vulnerable in our society – a government that on the other hand will strive might and main and will take considerable political risks in the interests of, for example, its friends in the foreign trust industry.  We endorse, in effect, the Prime Minister’s confidence that “middle New Zealand” will support his casual dismissal of concerns about the plight of the homeless and the consequent blight on our society.

    Mike Hosking, the self-proclaimed champion of “middle New Zealand”, that apparently uncaring and blinkered sector of society, assures us, in the authentic language of neo-liberalism, that the “free market” would solve the problem if only there were more opportunity for speculation, profit-taking and unrestrained bank lending.  The market, it seems, despite its current excesses and failures, is the solution, but government – our government – is either part of the problem, if local, or absolved from responsibility, if central.

    We, “middle” or otherwise, could change this attitude if we so decided.  There was a time when New Zealanders would have reacted with distress and even anger at the thought that we would tolerate homelessness on a significant scale in our midst.  Sadly, the cynical view of human nature represented by the values of so-called “middle New Zealand” now allow our government in effect to wash its hands of the problem.

    It is no accident that the concept of “middle New Zealand” has been established and has prospered in the media where, with honourable exceptions, a self-serving attitude has been assiduously propagated.  That trend is likely to strengthen if proposed changes in media ownership take place.

    The concentration of cross-media ownership in New Zealand is already of dangerous proportions.  With important outlets in the press, radio, and television already in single ownership, we already see a politically partisan figure like Mike Hosking free to peddle his literally eccentric views across all of those outlets.  His very ubiquitousness allows him to claim his chosen role as the spokesperson for “middle New Zealand”.

    That, however, is just the forerunner of what will happen if NZME and Fairfax merge their New Zealand operations.  Virtually the whole of New Zealand media will then be in single ownership; views that diverge from the supposed “middle” will be heard even less than they are today.

    The Commerce Commission will of course have to assess the proposed move in terms of whether or not it will reduce competition.  But that is a financial judgment that takes little account of the importance to a properly functioning democracy of allowing a diversity of views to be expressed.

    If those views are not heard, we will become more and more inclined to accept that we should look at all issues in the public domain through a business lens.  We have already travelled a long way down that path.

    How many people, for example, even noticed, let alone reacted adversely to, the statement from our Health Minister that he was “preparing a business case’” in respect of a decision as to whether or not to fund a bowel cancer screening programme?  When other countries with whom we like to think we are comparable see it as a worthwhile expenditure, what does a “business case” have to do with it?    And in such a business case, what dollar value is to be placed on the lives saved, the pain avoided, the grief and misery of bereaved families?

    There are some areas of course that are apparently exempt from a calculation as to a monetary return on investment.  Does anyone recall a business case being prepared for the $26 million spent on the flag campaign?

    Bryan Gould

    16 May 2016








  1. Patricia says: May 16, 2016 at 6:53 amReply

    “Middle New Zealand” will start to worry when they cannot buy a house because, what this Government is doing, is making ALL New Zealanders compete with the rest of the world, for god’s sake, to buy a house in their own country. New Zealanders are being reduced to being peasants in their own land. They have low wages and the aim seems to be to make them even lower no matter what John Key says to the contrary. How on earth this has happened in New Zealand I do not know. Every thing that was achieved in this country prior to 1984 has been discarded. One thing for sure if this government’s “market economy” had been the philosophy during the those years nothing would have been achieved.

  2. Jacquelyne with a Y says: May 16, 2016 at 11:50 amReply

    Very well articulated Brian, but then again you have seen all this before like me haven’t you? Where council housing has all but been sold out to the market through the MPs, who between them probably have as much housing stock as most homeless charities these days, but would see people evicted over the ‘bedroom tax’ and convicted under vagrancy or loitering bye-laws and legislation rather than cede the chasm between pay or benefit rates and rental and housing costs rising unsustainably in last 3 years..
    Already here in Orcland some days, and I feel a sense of agonisingly slow but familar deja vue quickening by the week.
    Costing effective business cases and ensuring they are shareholder/ investor attractive, are words that should never apply to human beings or personnel any more than the offensively bland .. human resources.. who are clearly throw into car, garage, box out of sight out of mind expendable..

    There is no ‘underclass’ here now, nor was there when I first came 30yrs ago either.. It almost has a sub human ring to it..
    There are definitely the under paid, under valued, under resourced and under estimated.. The non and the working poverty stricken are growing and even working are struggling and barely keeping a roof over heads group multiplying as well..

    I do recall being called Middle Class in the UK once, I had no idea what that meant there either, any more than Key or Goff thinking they could get me or many others of beginning to hold similar views, even close to a middle way to voting for either of them.
    Only wish you, Bryan Bruce and others clearly in the wrong parties would form an Egalitarian Awareness Party.. 😉

  3. Tony Green says: May 17, 2016 at 12:52 amReply

    Who says “middle” New Zealand can afford to buy a house? when many welfare & education workers can’t. What kind of middle is that?