Why he’s voting for change

March 4, 2016

The voting on which flag will be our official has started and the debate continues.

Simon Wilson in Metro gives one of the best analysis I’ve seen of the issues and explains why he’s voting for change:

The flag referendum should be a vote on whether we take a step forward as an independent, liberal democracy. It still could be.

This is where I start. We have a flag that carries a symbol of the old colonial country – the Union Jack – and I think we should take the first chance we get, which happens to be now, to chuck it out. . . 

Our national character, we like to think, is a humble but chaotic mix of pioneering women’s suffrage, fearless announcements about knocking the bastard off, outrageous sporting talent and the raw genius that splits atoms and wins Academy Awards.

It runs very deep. We work out how to do things our way, and we do it so we can make things better.

Maori, in the Land Wars, pioneered guerrilla warfare. Much later, we found a way to interpret the Treaty of Waitangi that would allow us to evolve as a nation on the basis of justice and respect between peoples. Yes, it has been difficult to make the promise come true, but did anyone expect otherwise? We grasp the nettle. On the whole we do not flinch from that, and we should be proud of it.

We have led Britain and the world, not just on issues of gender and race . . 

The thing every New Zealander curious about going into the world learns is that Kiwis do well because we are independent, resourceful and above all unbowed by the weight of class and colonial expectation. We don’t know our place. It’s a good thing. . .

And yet, we do also honour our bicultural founding. We do admire the spirit of Curnow and all the other pioneers of our modern cultural life. We strive today to be as comfortable in Asia as we have long been in Europe. So why, really, are we shrugging our shoulders about the flag?

People who once were keen to see the Union Jack gone, but will not vote for that now, give several reasons for their decision.

1. John Key is for it

It’s so unfortunate that John Key has politicised the flag process. But at least he has been consistent. Key has always been in favour of changing the flag, he said he would abide by the process and he has. He actively supports the chosen alternative even though it was not his personal choice.

But the leaders of Labour and the Greens have also politicised the process, and they have done so hypocritically. They used to favour change. So did most of their MPs, and so did most members of their parties.

The reason – the only reason – they oppose change now is that John Key supports it, and they think they can use it as a weapon against him. I understand the temptation:  . . . They’re desperate and they’ve seized their chance. They want some bragging rights.

But what will they brag about? Key, presumably, has been happy to politicise the debate because it allows him to make his opponents look like cynical opportunists. And they have fallen for it.

He will lose nothing from this debacle, because he has been consistent. For the centre-left, however, the old flag will become the symbol of two things: their failure to stand on the side of progress, and their willingness to abandon their own beliefs and principles. Neither will do them any good at all.

Yet it could have been very different. If they had been true to themselves and supported change, the flag referendum would have risen above politics. We would be voting on what the flag stands for, not on who supports it.

What’s the referendum been reduced to? The ego of the party leaders.

A pox on all of them. It’s not supposed to be about politicians. It’s supposed to be about us. It’s our flag, not theirs, and we should refuse to let them define the debate for us.

2. It’s a waste of money

Democracy costs money.  . .  But decisions on constitutional and democratic processes should be decided on their intrinsic merits, not their cost. It’s good we have a robust democracy and it’s not a problem that we spend money on it.

3. The process has been wrong

This is true: the process was very wrong. It would have been far better to have a vote or public consultation on our preferred national symbol (silver fern, koru, Southern Cross or something else?), and then to have design experts work up options for a new flag, and then to have a vote. . .

Actually, the best way to get a genuinely outstanding piece of aesthetic design would have been to decide the whole thing completely undemocratically. Just appoint three people with very good taste to make the decision. Most of us would not have liked what they chose, possibly for many years, but eventually we would come to love it. But is that a good way to choose a flag?

The fact is, the process is always wrong. Democracy is an imperfect system, but it’s better than the rest. History is a dirty, compromised and ongoing process, but that’s how progress happens. The flag referendum gives us a chance to take a step along the way.

4. I don’t like the new flag

I don’t like the new flag much myself. I would have liked a koru, but the one the panel selected was probably the worst koru I’ve ever seen. . . 

And it’s not important, not now. Because the option we’ve got has been democratically selected. It’s not what I wanted, but it is what we wanted.

Put it this way: what were the chances that any one of us would get a flag design that was exactly what we wanted? Not high. And even if that happened, what were the chances that most of us would agree we had got exactly what we wanted? Vanishingly remote. Democracy doesn’t work like that.

If you’re waiting for a flag design that you and a majority of others really like, you will probably be waiting forever. . . 

If you want to keep the colonial symbol of the Union Jack on our flag, by all means vote for the old flag. You would be true to yourself. But if you want it gone, voting for the new flag is the only way on offer to help make that happen. . . 

5. We’d be stuck with it

There’s no rule that says we’ll be stuck with anything forever. . .

Will having a new flag now hasten or delay the bigger constitutional debate?

It will hasten it, because this vote is a marker for us. If we discover ourselves to be a people who can vote for a symbolic change like this, it will unlock something in our aspirations and imaginations. And yet, because it is a small and relatively simple test, failure will make us so much more reluctant to try again.

6. It doesn’t matter

In many ways that are important to us, it doesn’t matter. No child will be brought out of poverty because we change the flag. It will not cause anyone to write a better novel or score a better try.

But the referendum does ask us this. Are we really the children of Kate Sheppard and Ed Hillary, proud to have learned the trick of standing upright here? Or have we become the “Yeah, nah” people?

After this election, our flag will be the symbol of our answer.

The referendum is political but it shouldn’t be partisan.

It’s a referendum and like all referenda the choice is binary – one thing or the other.

We are not being asked about the cost or any other side issues. The choice is the old flag or the new one.

The new flag isn’t perfect, but nor was the old one and unlike the old one the new one is distinctively New Zealand’s which is why I’m voting for change.


Some members more equal than others

September 24, 2010

Labour is selecting its Dunedin North candidate this weekend.

Three people have been nominated to replace retiring MP Pete Hodgson, who has held the seat for four terms, are  New Zealand Nurses Organisation national adviser Glenda Alexander. current electorate committee chair and warden of Selwyn College, David Clark ; and former electorate chair Simon Wilson.

Taking part in the selection process will be three Labour Party council representatives appointed by head office, including a Dunedin-based representative; two Labour Electorate Committee representatives, selected on the day; one panel member elected by members attending; and the “popular vote” from members, which will count as one vote.

That gives six panel members and a vote from the floor.

In some selections, Labour’s head office officials have stacked the panel to ensure their preferred candidate is selected.

However, it is unlikely the head office appointees will go against the wishes of Dunedin North members.

The last time that happened, Labour lost the seat to National candidate Richard Walls, in 1975.

What’s the difference between Labour Party members in Dunedin North and those in Mana where unions out-voted members?

Big News has the story of that selection  which is confirmed by this comment from Alex in the North  at Kiwiblog.

If all Labour members are equal, those in Dunedin North must be more equal than their comrades in Mana.

UPDATE: Kiwiblog has more on this.


Free education costly

November 15, 2008

Otago University students were outraged at proposed fee increases but the University Council followed what Student Association president Simon Wilson described as a familiar dance.

“Staff recommend the maximum increases allowed by the Government, students recommend a zero increase, and the council agrees with the staff recommendation.”

The ODT editorialises that years of  free university education  go further into the past with each fee rise.

New Zealand has evolved a mixed funding system where the State still pays about 65% of the tuition costs, with fees making up most of the rest.

As long as fees do not become too prohibitive, they have the positive effects of encouraging students to focus on their courses, teachers to be more accountable and universities to be more relevant.

Students are likely to better appreciate something for which they pay, and waste is less likely. Thus, a return to those bygone years would not be wise even if it was possible.

I was one of the students who benefitted from the “free” education of the past.

But of course it wasn’t free. Although I wasn’t paying fees taxpayers were, some as much as 66% of their earnings.

Students and their politicians have put a lot of energy into trying to reduce the cost of studying but it’s a war that can’t be won. There’s a limited amount of taxpayer money available for tertiary education, the more that goes into reducing the costs for students with policies such as interest-free loans, the less there is for the universities which then have to increase fees which then increases costs for students . . .

Most students are at university for three or four years but pay tax for the rest of their lives.

They’d be better off paying a bit more while studying and a lot less in tax when they graduate than paying a little less now and a lot more through their taxes for the students of the future.


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