For the last two days, I’ve turned my column over to a couple of guest columnists who are first time voters. They’ve been asked to explain why they were voting, for whom and what role they thought their parental upbringing had played in shaping their political beliefs ; and at the end, to choose a piece of music. Yesterday’s column was by centre-right voter James Penn. Today’s guest columnist is Ana Avia-O’Connor, 19, an Accounting/Law double major from Christchurch – who will be casting her first time vote on Saturday for the Greens.
If I didn’t know any better, it would seem the world has conspired for me to be a Green Party voter. Parents, Green voters? Check. Participation in bilingual education that stressed the importance of inquiry, solidarity and the Treaty? Check. Some sort of vegetarian leanings (seven years and counting, jus’ sayin’)? Check. However, above all of that, I’m voting Green because I believe in supporting the importance of every New Zealander’s contribution to Aotearoa, from the hairdresser in Foxton to the fisherman in Bluff. You could say that I like the cut of the Greens’ jib.
I have always been a bit of a politics nerd. I started reading the paper a decade ago, at about eight or nine, and the first article I read was about the Lewinsky scandal (yes, lucky me) in Vanity Fair. Added to the fact that my Mum always took me on protests against oppressions occurring both inside and outside New Zealand (#NoIraqWar thanks), I accumulated the minutiae of the last decade of New Zealand and international politics. I therefore had a head start in the realisation that the world has many ills, and that I have a responsibility to try and stop them. In New Zealand alone there is widespread poverty, unemployment and a real disconnect between the richest and poorest. This is why I believe a vote for the Greens is the vote that contributes the most to alleviating these ills, through their investment in people and the environment. National, Labour, Act etc. might talk the talk, but the Green Party walks the talk.
So, why am I voting in the first place? If that learned philosopher of our times Russell Brand is right, the current political system is “nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites”, and by voting, all I’m doing is allowing the gap rich and poor to schism even wider. Thanks but no thanks, Russell. True, there are problems with politicians working to further merely their own interests. National tax cuts for the rich, anyone? The John Tamihere “golden handshake” debacle? Weighing up the cost of participating in society involves having to decide whether to submit to the system and change it from within, or just outright reject it because it has flaws.
Fortunately or unfortunately, unlike Russell Brand, I can’t hide away in LA and I don’t really have a choice whether to disagree with the system or point out its flaws. I could vote and ignore the inadequacies of current politics. I could also choose not to vote, and allow whichever major party that is in power to ignore the fact that I, a mixed race, lower-middle class university student from Christchurch with plans and hopes for a fairer Aotearoa (and also a pasta maker, ‘cause those are the bomb), exist.
But it’s really not fair to phrase such questions as binary opposed opposites. I can contribute by giving an informed vote (Green of course) and also by calling out the vested interests of politics and individual politicians. I get my inspiration from Green politicians, who despite being very much a part of the political machine (sorry to break it to you Mum, but they kinda are) have no qualms in calling out John Key for undeclared business interests hidden by his Family Trust. That is an expected and “by-the-bye” Opposition action, o’course, but see Exhibit B, questioning David Cunliffe, leader of their partners in crime Labour, for another kind of un-“Trust”-worthy actions.
Another reason to vote is to assuage my worries. I worry about us ruining New Zealand’s environment. I worry about the gap between rich and poor. I worry whether there will be any jobs for accountants or anyone else when I leave university. I worry that I will be part of a generation of young New Zealanders who will be locked out of the housing market. I also worry that I won’t wake up in time to dance along to the Morning Report theme tune, but that is a separate issue…
The thing is, and this is the real rub for me with National, is the fact that I don’t see these issues as disparate in cause, reality and treatment. Degradation of the environment destroys New Zealand’s “Clean Green” image, losing us tourism and green investment jobs. A lack of jobs increases the difference in circumstances between rich and poor, and stops many from being able to afford even the bare necessities, let alone a deposit on a house. Poverty drives this all down into a deeper spiral. In response, I see typical responses from National: $100 million to retire farmland next to rivers, the Kiwi Saver Home Start Grant, increase trade apprenticeships for Maori and Pacifica, making Doctors’ visits free for those 13 and under. If I wanted a topical cure, I’d apply my steroidal eczema cream.
As far as I am concerned, the Greens have got their priorities and applications correct. They realise that solving the above problems (and more, alas) is not about throwing money at the problem in the hope that lessening the symptoms will deal with the actual illness. For instance, see their integrated plan to deal with child poverty: create a new high income tax bracket, raising the minimum wage and using the increased revenue to invest widely in education, health (e.g. $500 million per year investment in children’s health and education) and increasing paid parental leave to 26 weeks, as well as investing in economic drivers like scientific Research and Development. This deals with the real roots of the problem, meaning that there can be growth and further re-investment as the lives of individuals, families and society as a whole improves.
Quick point : creating the new tax bracket only affects the incomes of 3% of New Zealanders, and with the Capital Gains Tax, fulfils the requirement of famous economist Adam Smith for tax burdens to be equitable between those who are equally economically spaced, while dissimilar between differently economically placed taxpayers. A Capital Gains Tax also helps to supress the property speculation that hinders people getting into the housing market, whereas National’s policies for $100 million to retire farmland next to rivers and the Kiwi Saver Home Start Grant would actually inflate and prop up prohibitive house prices. And the Nats bemoan the “instability” of the Centre Left…As you were!
The Greens’ policy of raising the minimum wage to $18 by 2017 is of especial importance to me. My family have given me a strong grounding in the importance of supporting the less fortunate, and I have worked a minimum wage job myself. The debate over the merits of this policy have taken up a large amount of time in the media, and it’s important to lay out a few things. The raise of the wage will be done over 3 years, not all in one go. There is also the especially significant fact that poorer people are more likely to spend 100% of their earnings, by dint of having to spend everything to survive.
Giving those on the minimum wage a pay rise means that there is money to be spent on food at the supermarket, on doctors’ appointments, on school stationery. This investment in businesses puts more money in their coffers to spend elsewhere. OMG, Trickle UP economics and less reliance on the Government for help! Also, as David Cunliffe has been quick to point out in debates (countering the Prime Minister’s claims that increasing the minimum wage increases unemployment) the US State Department concluded after looking at many studies that there is no tangible link between the level of unemployment and the rate of the minimum wage.
Another US study, by three economists — Arindrajit Dube, T. William Lester and Michael Reich — actually found states that had raised the minimum wage had a lower turnover rate, as employees were less likely to leave of their own volition. Acting to avoid the price of recruiting and training replacements meant managers were also more likely to keep workers. More money = more tax revenue = more money to invest in people! To paraphrase the great Kanye West, “Yo, John Key, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but the Green Party has one of the best minimum wage ideas of all time! One of the best social and economic investment ideas of all time!”
Now, I hear you ask, if not National, why not Labour? Good question. Because, as much as I admire Labour for their integrated plans to raise the minimum wage, create jobs, raise taxes and therefore government revenue, etc., they don’t have the amount of environmental focus I’m looking for. Everybody except Act and the Conservatives know climate change is happening. There are farms in my home region of Canterbury and beyond where there is excessive nutrient and fertiliser run-off into the rivers. Yet the environment is core to Aotearoa’s economy, with our farming, fishing and forestry industries.
Yes, look on the Labour website and they have a plethora of environmental policies. Labour even remind us that, according to former World Bank senior economist Herman Daly says, ‘the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment.’ However, Labour still supports instances of deep sea drilling, and the extent to which they are willing to go for the environment is somewhat limited according to their continuing reliance on orthodox economic practices.
The Greens are willing to overhaul the economy to truly service the environment. The Green Investment Bank, which would provide public banking services while investing in renewable power, green technology development and biofuel production, marries quite well with the proposed investment in Research and Development and the ICT sector. Too often in current and past governments has “sensible balancing of environmental and economic considerations” meant that short term economic objectives won out over the health of the environment, but Green policies like those above (and many more) show that the economy does not have to suffer because of protection of the environment. In fact, it’s entirely the opposite.
Driving all these policies is a desire to support all New Zealanders, recognising that, while Education Minister Hekia Parata is right in saying that “One of the benefits of a strong economy is that we can afford better quality health and education services for New Zealanders,” it is actually the latter that really drives the former, perpetuating the cycle of social and economic improvement.
And, to those who point out that the Green Party may not be able to fulfil every promise and policy, I say true. First things first, I’m a realist, and any coalition the Green Party joined would involve the balancing of objectives, added on to the need to modify ideas to respond to changing situations. This is true of any party, even (especially?) Labour and National. Find me another party that fosters a Smarter Economy, a Fairer Society and a Cleaner Environment for New Zealand, and I’ll follow them – but up until that day, I fancy I am voting for a Greener Future.
And my song is… Lauryn Hill : “ Mystery of Iniquity.” Lauryn Hill is one of my favourite musicians, and in this song she really defines how a lot of the world is at a huge disadvantage right now. We’re forced into these roles that hurt ourselves and others…This inequality is what made me want to study law, and is really defining my voting. Therefore, I feel a necessity to vote because of my desire for social justice.