Almost all political parties say they are “ambitious” for New Zealand.
But when I look back at the last two years since the 2011 election, I don’t see much ambition in the political square. I see petty squabbling, incremental change, a lack of imagination.
So what would an ambitious agenda for Aotearoa really look like for the upcoming election campaign? I think it’d have at least five parts.
First, a bipartisan commitment to address long-term challenges in our society. Three challenges have stood out in the past year: child poverty, over-incarceration, and climate change. Action on all three issues would make economic and moral sense. And on each issue we need the kind of bold, visionary thinking that got us ACC and the Waitangi Tribunal.
Second, more bravery from politicians in tackling isolated issues that have been ignored for too long. Is school zoning really working for parents and children? Do we need to be more honest about our abortion laws? Should we get serious about reforming our constitution? Murmuring around all of these questions needs to get louder. And we should expect better answers from politicians in the lead-up to 20 September.
Third, an ambitious agenda would prioritise deeper debates about the future of our culture and our nation. For all his failings, President Obama has been very effective in framing debates about moral issues like race and gun culture in the United States. We need our politicians to do more of this. After all, our Prime Minister leads a country, not a company. Important topics for debate include the future of the Treaty of Waitangi, our relationship with the Pacific, and our place in the world.
Fourth on the agenda is an economic conversation that connects with real people’s needs. Economics is all too often seen as a field for experts. To avoid this, politicians must focus their attention on issues that matter to real people: issues like bills, food prices, working conditions, and parental leave.
Finally, we need a “politics of proximity”. There has to be less distance between us (the public) and them (the politicians). We need politicians that look like us in the new Aotearoa that is developing demographically: more women and more Asian candidates, in particular. And we need politicians in the run-up to election day to engage with emerging civil society groups, such as JustSpeak and Generation Zero.
I think we could use some more imagination in the policy debate around the election. And this five-point agenda at least provides a starting point for what I hope will be an election with bolder thinking in the country that we all care about.