Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Letter to the NZ Prime Minister from Political Science Researchers and Writers

Thanks to colleagues in Political Science and Public Policy this letter went to the New Zealand Prime Minister -the select comittee hearing on the suspension of regional elections is tomorrow, 15 Nov.

Rt. Hon. John Key
Prime Minister
Parliament Office
Private Bag 18888
Parliament Buildings
Wellington 6160

15 October, 2012

Dear Mr. Key,

We are writing to you as researchers and writers who have an interest in strengthening democratic governance to express our deep concern regarding recent government decisions in Christchurch that can only be construed as undermining local democracy.

While there are diverse views about how to address complex problems in Christchurch, we are united in our concern in relation to three specific issues:

1.     At present, the government department CERA is the primary agency making strategic decisions in Christchurch. Its presence has effectively compromised the functioning of the elected city council, and removed some of its key decision-making functions. There is also no clear pathway to reinstate the city council’s original role.

2.     The Canterbury Regional Council (ECAN) which is established to work through its elected council has been suspended while government nominated Commissioners make significant decisions about Canterbury’s regional water, air and transport.  There is no clear timeframe indicated that will restore the process of election to ECAN.

3.     It is clear there is widespread concern and scepticism about the opportunity for genuine involvement in decisions on changes to the Christchurch school system.  

Our concern in each of these cases is that opportunity for public deliberation is being seriously undermined and that the structures of local representation are being weakened. In the absence of these, there is much greater risk the resulting decisions will not only not be informed by local knowledge, but they will lack legitimacy with the community.  

We ask that you intervene and restore confidence in the people of Christchurch, and the rest of New Zealand, that your government will ensure due processes of democratic representation and public deliberation in the decisions made for and about communities.

 We look forward to your urgent attention and response to this matter.

Yours faithfully
Dr Bronwyn Hayward, University of Canterbury

Dr Patrick Barrett, University of Waikato

Dr Rachel Simon-Kumar, University of Waikato

Professor Bryan Gould CNZM, Ako Aotearoa

Associate Professor Priya Kurian, University of Waikato

Associate Professor Janine Hayward, University of Otago

Associate Professor Richard Shaw, Massey University

Associate Professor Christine Cheyne, Massey University

Professor Gerald Chan, University of Auckland

Dr Brian Roper, University of Otago

Dr Carla Lam, University of Otago

Associate Professor Richard Jackson, The National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies

Associate Professor Margie Comrie, Massey University

Associate Professor Ann Sullivan, University of Auckland

Jeanette Wright, University of Waikato

Dr Peter Skilling, AUT

Steve Baron, Better Democracy New Zealand

Dr Anita Lacey, University of Auckland

Quentin Findlay, Lincoln University

Matthew Gibbons, University of Waikato

Dr Rowland Weston, University of Waikato

Dr Louise Humpage, University of Auckland

Dr James Watson, Massey University

Associate Professor Ton Bührs, Lincoln University

Thursday, 20 September 2012

100 days to 'Rebuild Suffrage' in Christchurch

The countdown begins.... 

19 September 2012 was Suffrage night in New Zealand, marking 119 years since Christchurch's Kate Sheppard together with a small group of women and men from the wider region of Canterbury began a movement that successfully led the world to win the vote for all adult citizens.
Since the 2010 and 11 Christchurch earthquakes however, democracy has been eroded in the city that was once the epicentre of the women's emancipation movement. Today Christchurch has become something of a 'democracy free zone' as command and control decision making has sidelined local communities.
botched and sudden announcement of the decision to re-organise schools across the entire city, and 'consult' on the 'firm proposal' to close 13 schools, merge others and 'reorganise the education network' (a move which will eventually see locally elected school boards replaced with larger clusters) was the last straw for many families. Schools have been the backbone of community support at a time whenthe  government has been strongly criticised for focusing more on recovering returns for economic investment in the central city than relief for suffering local residents.
Families and children have needed the stability of local schools to help them recover from a national disaster. So statements from the Ministry of Education that express sympathy for those who will be 'inevitability upset',  while expressing an expectation that communities will eventually come to 'accept change' are particularly frustrating and patronizing.  This avoids acknowledging how many children in Christchurch are living in very difficult situations, in a country that as a whole already leads the OCED with the highest rates of youth suicide, and highest growth in social inequality,  and high rates of child poverty. The statements also fail to acknowledge that reckless policy change on a large scale, may well make the situation worse not better. Many plans may be welcome, and careful planning is needed, but the decision to reorganise the entire schools network on a grandscale over four months of consultation at a time of struggle for so many, simply de-legitimises the suffering of local communities and brushes off suggestions we should take an exceptionally cautious approach to education review after a national disaster. 
Although not as obvious or as immediately problematic as the way large scale education policy reform may exacerbate community suffering, the democratic implications of reorganising locally elected school boards are also deeply troubling. Many state school boards emerged in the study we conducted in Christchurch  as surprisingly important in modelling democratic decision making for young citizens and the policy plans are accompanied by plans to introduce new public-private Charter schools in some of the poorest communities of the city, where major education changes are focused.
This potential loss of local state community schools comes on top of an extraordinary decision to suspend regional council elections with no constitutional justification.
Citizen vote and voice has also been lost in the very process of rebuilding the city iteself, with the  brushing aside of meaningful elected city council decision making in favour of a central government department tasked with replanning the central business district in 100 days.
A courageous Press editorial speaking out on the loss of democracy in the region both validated and successfully articulated a growing public concern.
Wide spread community concern with loss of voice and vote in school, city and regional decision making, resulted in over 700 residents joining us on Suffrage night with two days notice- people came together to create a public moment - to listen to children's concerns and hopes for their city and to protest the loss of local democracy in decision making. 
 What next? To fully recover from a disaster we also have to recover our ability to make decisions collectively and democratically as a community. The Suffrage rally marks the beginning of a  campaign calling for Rebuilding Suffrage in 100 days,as spontaneous events all over the city aim to return decision making to elected processes , so we can determine the future for our schools, our city and our region with our vote.
At the rally we unrolled a giant petition of calico which children and adults painted, echoing  the famous suffrage petition  of 1893  taken to parliament in a wheelbarrow and rolled out down the length of the isle.
We hope more and more lengths of calico will be added to this 'petition' in the coming weeks as children and adults create petitions at their own  community events all over the city -adding strength to calls for restoring democratic voice and vote to the local community.
As we  recover from the earthquakes, let's do so in a way restores Kate Sheppard's remarkable democratic legacy to the children of this city.
See if you can create a 'Rebuild Suffrage' petition event in your local community and at the same time add your name to our online petition which also launched last night -this is day one of one hundred days.
Take a first step to help rebuild suffrage, sign  here - its what Kate Sheppard would do! http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Vote_Canterbury_Kids/?wNofydb

Monday, 3 September 2012

'Are we there yet?' Finding a path to community prosperity after earthquakes


On 4 September 2010 the first of a devastating series of earthquakes ripped through my city of Christchurch.
So now, two years later are we on the path to community recovery for our children?
Quite frankly, to quote a very thoughtful colleague and social planner, 'no, we started off well but now  we’ve 'stepped off the path to recovery'.
Our central and local governments appear out of their depth, their  philosophy of command and control market models of decision making no match for a deregulated insurance industry and a national disaster  on a scale never experienced in this country before.

Of most concern however, in the face of widespread community struggle, the government has not focused its major priority on meeting immediate social needs but rather on trying to attract international investment, and protect central city investments-in a strategy plan described by one strong critic as 'pure neoliberalism'.

To be fair central and local government has certainly been busy. Central government has taken action- its critics argue too much action as it swept aside concern for constitutional restraint in an effort to marshall much needed resource support. By comparison, after a slow start,  local council unleashed the power of community energy for sharing ideas about a common future for a new city.
The local hopeful visions that emerged from Share an idea however were largely sidelined by the powerful new  central government agency CERA.  CERA is symbolically located in a nameless building from where it formed a taskforce to develop a new central city plan in 100 days -a plan that barely consulted with the community and developed in a way that was oddly divorced from plans for transport for example let alone wider community development.
 The resulting 100 day plan is brief on detail but big on authority, backed by wide ranging new legislative abilities to take land under compulsion.

So how does the new plan stack up? Well- despite the best of intensions, in reality the new plan is pretty much an old style central city model only smaller in land area with more trees, a temporary green 'frame' to create a border around the central city to help maintain land values (given so much vacant space), and a number of new large buildings in different places. It is a plan for a central business district, anchored by construction projects, with no provision for mixed housing (despite a housing crisis) and little opportunity to acknowledge the way cities develop best -by reflecting where and how people in those communities want to live. Great cities take time to evolve.

In Christchurch's case the city's central district, like our wider regional economy,  was struggling long before the earthquake, yet the objectives of the 100 day plan were short term and tightly focused, so did not enable many of the creative planning team tasked with the job, an opportunity to develop a new city vision which intergrates the more complex, urgent  goals and priorities identified prior to the quake of containing sprawl while developing a new local prosperity in networked pockets such as Addington or Riccarton). 

However the plan is not without charm and creativity. By a miracle of luck, vision and negotiation, a library now lies at its heart along with the potential for a river waterway to link communities (both concepts I confess I love).
The real problem is not that a rebuilt central city may be located on the 'wrong side' of Hagley park with a misguided central hub model and too many large expensive projects.

The real problem is  that the energy and focus of local and central government has been diverted toward rebuilding a convention centre and a stadium and other large projects while the most urgent social needs of our community have been given much less priority.
And the needs  of our community, especially our children are very urgent and need priority. Constructing large buildings is not a sustainable pathway to recovery in a small struggling community.
The urgent problems we face include problems of: a lack of affordable social housing, domestic stress, the need to stablise education where rolls are fluctuating. We also need to offer child support and a wider community recovery, addressing rapidly rising income inequality, child poverty and youth unemployment 
Christchurch's struggle reflects the underlying social and economic challenges  experienced nationally. For me, most troubling perhaps, is the way we appear to have lost sight of the problems that confront our younger citizens. At times of unprecedented youth unemployment, and a complex changing world, we need to focus on the needs of our vulnerable citizens, young people and the elderly. At a local level mental health services, teachers and community workers  have worked incredibly hard and offer some great support. But they face a daunting challenge. Youth suicide nationally has reached near record levels and turning these terrible statistics around is a complex task that amongst other things, requires rethinking our economy and society in ways that  enable all young people to flourish. Yet central government disingenuously suggests the latest figures may be the result of a ‘cluster’ effect, ignoring the fact that 'cluster effects' originate in very complex social and economic situations -many aspects of which lie within government and community control, emerging from unemployment, poverty, colonization, and  social isolation.

So what can I say when people ask, “How is your city, is it getting better now?’ 
Sadly the short answer is probably no, things are not getting better. In fact right now they are probably much worse than they were a year ago.
But hopefully, the long answer is more positive- there is much much more we could do. Here are three steps we could take to get back on the path to recovery:
First,  raise the previously dramatically reduced top tax rate -can we make paying a tax a source of national pride and a demonstration of loyal investment in the long term needs of our children and their future? The costs of rebuilding Christchurch can not be left to local rates, asset sales and a government bail out- we need to rethink a long term redistribution of wealth to support our communities in Christchurch and elsewhere. 
Second, invest this reclaimed tax in our children and young adults- they cannot all be builders or  construction workers –so why not 'invest' as a community in our students, taking lessons from the youthful student army which sprang up in the wake of the quake ? Why not create a form of civic scholarship to pay the education fees of young people studying in Christchurch, in exchange for  civic volunteering? And for younger children, stabilise their struggling communities by investing in and supporting local primary and secondary schools- guaranteeing their staffing for the next 3 years at pre-quake levels to recognise the heroic role state schools are doing holding the community together under enormous stress?

Third, in Christchurch we can dare to dream smaller, the new plan offers us a smaller central city but we really need smaller decentralised facilities, designed thoughtfully, and sustainably, to celebrate the shared passions of our community which have been revealed in bright ideas of local  recovery- reading groups, performance art, outdoor play, community events and local sports, local swimming pools, and greenspace. We can support these emerging creative neighbourhoods with more, smaller, networked public spaces that also create great environments for mixed social housing

Christchurch can be renewed as a city where children can flourish-together we can get our community back on the path to recovery and a new community prosperity.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

"It's the Politics Stupid"

This week I've was invited to be a keynote 'speaker' for an online UK education conference organised by Ann Finlayson and the wonderful SE-ED sustainability and environmental organisation

Amongst other questions, I was asked why I thought we are so reluctant to promote child centred participatory learning, even when we know this style of teaching and learning is essential for effective citizenship and environmental education.

I've been thinking about this quite a lot, and I share some of these thoughts here if it is helpful to others.

As Paulo Freire reminded us years ago, part of the problem is that participatory learning is very challenging to authority. It can be incredibly threatening to teach children that 'resistance is fertile' (to use the contemporary political theorist John Barry's lovely line).

We also pay startlingly little attention to the complexity of the political, economic, social and environmental challenges that now face children and young people. In the book Children, Citizenship and Environment, I've argued we are suffering from an 'adult attention deficit disorder', but it has all kinds of symptoms and consequences.

We have been so busy defining sustainability and setting worthy agendas for children that we have forgotten to stop and take the time to listen to what is troubling young people and what really matters in the ecology of childhood. Worse still as adults we often don't really care what kids think.

The UK achieves some of the lowest rankings in European surveys of adult respect for young people's opinions.

In the USA, the generations appear to be literally 'talking past each other', as poll research by the Pew Institute reveals the biggest divergence of opinion in thirty years, between young millennials and older voters.

But most shamefully, here in New Zealand we appear to have simply stopped listening to our children. As a nation we have badly failed many of our children and their families. New Zealand the highest rates of youth suicide in the OECD and some of the highest rates of youth unemployment and ill health and high rates of child poverty. New Zealand is also the country, along with Sweden which has experienced the highest growth of income inequality  in the OECD over the past twenty years, but unlike Sweden, we have not sought to address our growing gap between rich and poor through strategic use of tax and education policies. As a result our inequality is generational. We can be proud that poverty amongst New Zealand's elderly is comparatively low, only 2 percent of those over 65 years live on less than half the medium income compared to an OECD average of 14 percent. However by comparison, 15 percent of our children live in families struggling on half the medium income compared to an OECD average of 12 percent.

Yet as a nation we ignore the harsh realities that confront our children, and continue instead to repeat the mantra that New Zealand is 'a great place to raise children'.

Viewed in this light, much of our environmental and citizenship education is simply missing the point. What is so great about encouraging our children to play outdoors, or teaching kids to recycle and reduce waste, if many New Zealand children simply go on to become unemployed or out of education, more so than any other country in the OECD?

What is moral about encouraging young people to take personal responsibility for the future of their planet, while their parents and grandparents gamble with their futures, passing the costs of escalating carbon emissions, superannuation and unsustainable resource use onto this generation and the ones that follow through a series of short term investment decisions that exacerbate long term vulnerability in a rapidly changing world?

Young citizens are growing up facing complex challenges. But as adults we can make a difference. As a terrific Maori language teacher, Tosh Ruwhitu once reminded me, "when you teach you touch the future"

I argue we not only need to give young people a stake in their future, we need to teach young citizens to 'think what it is we do' (to use Hannah Arendt's wonderful phrase) as they learn to effect change.

At the moment however many citizens young and old are feeling very cynical about the future and disgrunted and disenaged about politics and politicians. Everywhere our political leaders seem to be failing us.

Yet to transform our future, and improve our democracies, we need more democracy not less. Citizens need opportunities to engage in political life, and more support as they challenge illegitimate decision making, and think critically about the causes of injustice and environmental degradation and act creatively and collectively for change.

These democratic learning experiences are particularly important for young citizens. Without them we risk stripping our children of their rights to a democratic future as well as a sustainable planet.
As teachers, parents and community groups we can and must support young citizens to develop the citizenship capabilities and skills they will need to bring about significant change.

Nurturing a democratic imagination really is a vital legacy for a more just and sustainable future.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Prof Elinor Ostrom, international leader, teacher, thinker, and sheer energy for change

Just sharing this sad news of the passing of Prof Elinor Ostrom, political scientist, key resilience thinker, Nobel prize winnner (first and only woman in economics).

Her 8 minute white board lecture on getting over the tragedy of the commons (recorded for the Stockholm resilience research team) can be viewed here

In Maori there is a beautiful expression for valuing the work of all those who teach:

Manaakitia mai ā tātou kura māhita, ngā kaiārahi i ā tātou tamariki, i ngā mokopuna me te iwi  Look after our teachers, the counsellors of our children, grandchildren and the people

In the rush of so many to Rio Earth Summit, (and the unfortunate absence of key national leaders), its worth pausing to consider the remarkable everyday impact that teaching can make in fostering new thinking and visions for change.

I join thousands of colleagues to pay tribute to the critical thinking, creative teaching and ground breaking research of Prof Ostrom.  E kore koutou e ngaro. Ma te Atua koutou e manaaki, e tiaki. 

Thursday, 31 May 2012

New Zealand, like many economies has experienced rapidly growing inequality - but in the past twenty years New Zealand's  gap between  rich and poor has grown faster than any other country in the OECD, except Sweden.

Local reaction to this growing inequality was intially slow but student protests and concerns about education cuts are begining to be expressed in ways which are reminiscent of the early days of resistance to Austerity in Europe. New Zealand appears to be entering a period of moral crisis which has potential to raise questions about the very legimacy of government.

Critics of New Zealand's version of an Austerity budget argue the 2012 budget is silent on growing child poverty and exacerbates intergenerational inequality as many of New Zealand's wealthiest babyboomers are not paying a fair share of tax. Certainly the budget has failed to revisit previous tax cuts granted to high income earners. Instead it aims to claw back tiny amounts through an array of small taxes and cuts, including a penalty on kids' pocket money, cuts to public education and increasing state class sizes, raising medical prescriptions and ending student loans after 4 years. The difficulty with this strategy is that it hits the poor and middle New Zealand harshly, and  exacerbates the problems facing young citizens. For example, the time limits on student loans, in a country with the highest proportionate share of youth unemployment in the OCED (45 percent of  NZ's total unemployed) begs the question: what are young citizens expected to do if they can't find work and can't afford to continue to study?

The growing moral crisis which is implicit in the 2012 budget was intially obscured in debate. The political spin was that the new budget, 'will tax the wealthy who rent their holiday homes (baches) use their boats and their BMW company cars'. But the fact that there was no attempt to revisit past decisions to grant tax cuts to New Zealand's wealthiest citizens, and no attempt to address New Zealand's rapidly growing social inequality, raises deeper questions of intergenerational justice in a country which values a 'fair go'.

Yet within all New Zealand's major political parties: National, Labour, Greens, Maori, many are begining to feel concerned and uncomfortable about these issues. New Zealand and Sweden both experienced two decades of rapid income inequality, but unlike Sweden, New Zealand has had little consensus to date for a tax redistribution of wealth to support its children. However as New Zealand children's well being outcomes slip from ranking amongst the highest of the 35 OECD nations, to the bottom half of the OECD, a new consensus to support children may finally emerge.

Perhaps  its time New Zealand  adopted the UK model of a new cross party agreement on funding for children to reduce poverty,  after all New Zealand has an effective  cross party consensus on supporting the elderly. As a result kiwi's over 65 years experience  the lowest rates of poverty in the OECD,  while 1 in 5 of New Zealand's children struggle in poverty.

A really resilient community invests in the future, and it doesn't reduce taxes in a manner that takes the future from its children. But at present New Zealand has the highest gap in material deprivation between young and old of all the nations of the OECD. We can, and we must put this injustice right.

For  a link to readings from the political right on intergenerational inequality see  a thoughtful book on this issue by Conservative Minister David Willetts The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children's Future - And How They Can Give it Back and for  debate from the  left see the Jilted Generation by Howker and Malik

Friday, 25 May 2012

I am delighted to post news today that 17 year old New Zealand  student Brittany Trilford has just won a world speech competition, 'Speak truth to power' in the run up to the Rio plus 20 Earth Summit in June this year.

Brittany's achievement is both tremendous and ironic. It is tremendous because her home recorded you tube speech is a thoughtful, intelligent vision for a more sustainable and socially just economy. It is ironic because her New Zealand government initially objected to Clause 57 of the draft treaty for this Rio meeting- (a clause that calls for 'considering the establishment of an Ombudsperson, or High Commissioner for Future Generations, to promote sustainable development’). No reason was given for the NZ government's position (normally that country prides itself on its democratic innovation- as the first country to have granted women the vote).

Thankfully New Zealand has now softened its outright objection and now NZ 'reserves judgment' on clause 57. Let's hope sense prevails, and they eventually support this moderate clause-which after all only suggests that the UN treaty partners investigate ways to consider the needs and rights of future generations.

Imagine, it took a kiwi highschool student to make her country proud by placing New Zealand back on the world stage at an international environmental meeting in June- not her government!

To learn more about Brittany's remarkable achievement see here: Brittany Trilford
To watch her original video entry see Britany Trilford's award winning entry
See the UN Climate Change Secretary General Christiana Figureres response to Brittany's talk here.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Its great to be sharing news of this forthcoming book to be published by Earthscan/Routledge in mid year - half the author royalties go to supporting children in poverty in Christchurch New Zealand after the devastating earthquakes and aftershocks - we have had more than 50 aftershocks over magnitude 5 in the last year and it is a very diffiuclt time for everyone, especially children so thank you for your support. Here is the link http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9781849714372/