We’re the seventh least equal country in the world

Catherine Manathunga4 October 2011 Aotearoa New Zealand is the seventh most unequal country in the world, Labour MP for Wellington Central Grant Robertson told those gathered for a winter dialogue…

Catherine Manathunga
4 October 2011

Aotearoa New Zealand is the seventh most unequal country in the world, Labour MP for Wellington Central Grant Robertson told those gathered for a winter dialogue series at St Joseph’s Mt Victoria on September 7. He went on to discuss his concerns about the failure of market logic to address issues of inequality.

As the rest of New Zealand remains glued to the Rugby World Cup series on television, the combined social justice group of a number of central Wellington parishes have been focusing on a different kind of playing field – the social ‘playing field’.

NZ Council of Trade Unions economist Bill Rosenberg kicked off with his views on how the country might address issues concerned with the common good on Tuesday July 20.

A few weeks later on September 7 Grant Robertson told how Labour planned to introduce a capital gains tax, increase the top tax rate and make the first $5000 of each person’s earnings tax free to level the social playing field.

Labour would also boost the minimum wage, seek to increase participant rates in early childhood education and remove GST from fresh fruit and vegetables.

Health services needed to be more affordable and accessible and Aotearoa New Zealand should have a Minister for Children, he said.

In the ensuing discussion, there were questions about free trade agreements, globalisation, the financial violence of the present market-driven system, superannuation, protecting local jobs, the closing of trade schools, work cooperatives and a possible credit system for workers and investors involved in rebuilding Christchurch.

Culminating in Social Justice Week, finance minister Bill English was the final speaker in the series on September 14. Also deputy prime minister, he told of the pressing need to keep the economy healthy because the most vulnerable groups in society suffered the most during tough economic times. 

In particular, he focused on his party’s approach to the prison system and to welfare. He spoke about the ‘justice pipeline’ approach, where a combination of policies designed to reduce recidivism (such as prison education and work training programmes) and policies to reduce arrest rates, had achieved a fall in the prison population.

He said the government welfare system had been too passive and uncaring and had spent too much money in the past. It had made welfare payments without providing people with enough support and re-training opportunities to enable them to make the brave choices to overcome their predicament.

Participants questioned cuts to the apprenticeship scheme, the sale of government-owned assets, environmental sustainability and mining, the social and financial impact of the Canterbury earthquakes, reductions to accident prevention programmes and the numbers of Aotearoa New Zealand children living in poverty.

One person asked Bill what it meant to be a practising Catholic politician. He spoke of the rare opportunity attending Mass provided to reflect on notions like the common good.

More information and lively discussions continued over supper at all three talks.

As well as keeping the community’s focus on important social justice issues in this election year, the three evenings raised $340 for the Refugee Family Reunification Trust.

See also
Investing in childhood well-being vital for the growth of the nation