Time for Kiwis to stand up and speak out
When did deference creep back in?By Helen Kelly President, Trades Union Council
I spent the weekend at the most inspirational conference commemorating the 100th Birthday of the African National Congress.
The conference told the story of the NZ relationship with Apartheid – the highs and lows. There were some incredible stories of bravery.
Witness against All Blacks tour
Makhenkesi Arnold Stofile appeared as a witness in the 1985 NZ court case against the NZRFU which resulted in the All Black tour of that year being stopped. He returned to South Africa where shortly afterwards he was sentenced to 11 years’ jail, his young children expelled from school and his wife detained without charge for a month and subjected to torture.
But the thing that was really fascinating to me was the story of those in NZ who fought Apartheid – New Zealanders for the first time since the depression were challenging the NZ culture of deference to authority, and in the name of Human Rights.
Muldoon was Prime Minister and human rights and public law mattered not one bit to him.
The population was inclined to defer to the State regardless and those that challenged the status quo were generally despised.
Something about the claustrophobia of that climate, the limits that were pushed by Muldoon and the absolute intolerable unfairness in South Africa highlighted by the anti-apartheid movement created the perfect storm and kiwis started to join together and push back.
Push from ‘establishment’ figures
But the most interesting thing was this push included those from the “establishment”. Rugby players (All Black Captain Graham Mourie!), Judges (Lord Cooke), mums and dads in Fairlie, Whanganui, and New Plymouth. All demonstrating (many for the first time) for the rights of all people to live in dignity, with equality and free from oppression. I want to know where that sentiment went.
This week Ministry of Health documents show that the proposals by Government to cut the benefits of beneficiaries who fail drug tests will cost more than it saves, clog up drug rehabilitation services with people that don’t need them (excluding those that do), and drive families (including children) into extreme poverty.
Few Kiwis are speaking out
Depriving people of basic income is an extreme breach of human rights, yet so few voices are prepared to speak out.
Where are all the lawyers that formed committees throughout the country in 1985 to support the wonderful Ted Thomas and Sian Elias fight the NZRFU, where are all the sports people, the mums and dads? How has the deference of the 1960’s and 1970’s crept back into our culture?
10,000 manufacturing workers have lost their jobs this year. 181 railway workers are currently being made redundant as trains are made in China. Thousands of public servants are being laid off. Teaching jobs throughout Christchurch are going.
New Zealand dropped two places in just the last quarter in OECD comparator tables in relation to unemployment. Most of these jobs could continue – usefully doing what they are doing now, if there was support from the Government to continue them.
But this Government has changed its plans, from economic growth to business growth – it is unclear how business grows in a declining economy, but business growth certainly provides no guarantees for jobs.
In order to escape blame for this situation, one approach is to turn the heat onto beneficiaries – call them all druggies. Suggest they are not trying hard enough. Paint the dole as a lifestyle choice. Discredit them in the public eye.
Unless those that challenged the dominant narrative of Muldoon against Apartheid, in the name of Human Rights, again speak up for those in our own country who will be separated out on the basis of employment status under all of these new attacks on beneficiaries, then the fight for freedom in South Africa, will be a one off wonder.
It will be only a blip in our history of compliance and — most importantly for the families on whom these policies will be inflicted — a new form of Apartheid for them about which not one raised a voice.