This year, vote with me for a good country

TEDx Tauranga is on July 18, so I am a little addicted to TED Talks at the moment. In the scale of things, this is an inoffensive addiction. This evening I watched a TED Talk by Simon Anholt about the Good Country Index. If you have 15 minutes, I recommend his talk:

We are in the 90 day period until our election. I haven’t blogged since I got back because I am deeply invested in our election and deeply cynical about what will happen; torn between two poles, I’ve struggled to formulate a thought to share about what to do on September 20. Well, Simon has broken the dam.

On September 20, I want to encourage you to vote for people who are going to help us be a good country.

A good country is a country that contributes to the common good of humanity. A country that looks outside itself, a people who understand that our future is not only about what is good for our family, but what is good for the family we don’t know and will likely never get to meet. A good country contributes to the well being of others and to the security and sustainability of the planet.

The good news is that New Zealand is the fifth most good country on the Index (Ireland is no. 1, which seems only fair given Guinness and St Patrick’s Day). Good is measured across 35 datasets which track the way that most countries on earth behave in each of seven categories, covering education, science, war and peace, trade, culture, health, censorship, the environment, freedom, and so on. Most of these datasets are produced by the United Nations and other international agencies, and a few by NGOs and other organisations. I’m proud that we are fifth on the list, and I think we deserve to be. For example, last week 69 years ago Peter Fraser signed the United Nations Charter, one of many moments where we were part of leading the world in a better direction.

Peter Fraser signing the UN Charter, 26 June 1945
Peter Fraser signing the UN Charter, 26 June 1945

We are a good country. When I was in America, person after person said they wanted to come here because they heard it was beautiful and the people had seemed so nice. We have a reputation as one of the good places on earth.

Which is why we need to ask where we heading this election. Not about tax cuts or tax increases, not about roads, not even about pseudo-voluntary contributions at schools. We need to ask the question about the kind of country we want to be.

We need to ask if our child poverty and abuse rates are acceptable. When children die seemingly weekly at the hands of confused, drugged and enraged whānau members and other children grow up with too little food, too little clothing, too little warmth, too little safety and too little education, are we being a good country?

We need to ask if our inequality is acceptable. When average house prices have risen by $38,000 and the average income by $35 a week in the past year, can a good country just trust that the market will sort it out? When the average household in the top 10 per cent of New Zealand now has nine times the income of one in the bottom 10 per cent, are we being a good country?

We need to ask if our approach to refugees and asylum seekers is acceptable. When we are approaching Australia to help us detain any future asylum seekers who may arrive by boat, we have to ask how we would feel if we had our own Manus Island riots and murders of people we had detained indefinitely. We have a very low 750 quota for refugees each year that we rarely ever fill with a national dialogue of hate against the stranger, so are we being a good country?

We need to ask if the environment we see is the environment we paint for our children. Tonight on Checkpoint, Amy Adams, Minister for the Environment, wouldn’t make a commitment that her new water standards would guarantee that no river was worse in five years time than it currently is. We are hog-tied by the dairy industry, and wince every time an international expose tells the world we are far from clean and green, so are we being a good country?

There are parties who are standing up to each of these issues with a desire that we are indeed a good country. Those parties will only be a government if we vote for them. Be brave enough to face this truth: the government we get will reflect the desires of the majority of the people who voted. This is a bitter pill to swallow. After the election, the parties on the left will tell us about how one million people didn’t vote, how it could’ve been different, how the votes given don’t really give National and friends a mandate. But the truth remains that the government with policies and instincts that move us away from being a good country arises out of our own pettiness, our own fear and our own hates. Behold, for the man you hate on that television screen is merely your own reflection.

A wise man on National Radio this afternoon said that the party that starts to talk vision rather than attack politics could inspire the country. He was politely mocked by the host. If you want to be part of a good country, you need to start talking vision for the future, rather than what’s wrong with those people in that party over there.

If you want a good country, you have to vote for it; but so do other people. To do that requires only that we inspire enough of us to believe that being a good country is only two ticks away.

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8 thoughts on “This year, vote with me for a good country

    1. You are not the first to ask e hoa. Perhaps local government in the next few years. Of course, quite a few someones actually have to vote for me first.

  1. If we want a good county we need good people to lead us – ae tautoko marika wau i o korero e hoa – to focus on the goodness, values of their party not the badness of other parties….politics is an ugly game… too easy to get into the ‘pulling down each other game’ all in the name of winning votes…but by doing this losing sight of their vision, values and beliefs. I’m pretty cynical of the system…why? Majority rules – we as Maori are not the majority. MMP has helped us a bit more – but look at the Maori and Mana parties…koinā…there will always be winners and losers in politics…. in our current political system we as Maori will never come first.

    1. You know I’m of two minds, but today let me say that it is not a system, but a lot of people in communities that rub up against each other. So one of these communities has to do something remarkable; think about what is best for the community next door at a bit of a cost to our own. If we lead that, others will be compelled by the courage and the vision.

  2. I was raised by parents who insisted that as a citizen you had to exercise your right to vote, but this year for the first time I am not sure if I can be bothered. I was set to vote for Mana until they signed up with the Internet Party. And anyway, national politics seem increasingly irrelevant. The politicians (most of them) don’t care about us. They only care about opinion polls, which somehow don’t tap in to the views of the many of us who will agree with you, Graham. I think the way to effect change in the current political and economic environment is pretty much as you say – just to do it ourselves, however we can, in whatever communities and spheres we can. I realise we won’t solve child poverty (or adult poverty – I’m not sure why as a society we don’t care about that as well. Kids don’t get poor by themselves) or our appalling violence and incarceration statistics, but we can act on the good country vision in our local communities that would be a start.

    1. I can only agree with your comments, Avril, and if this has given you food for thought I am gratified. And I think what we can do in communities will have a greater effect than we might ever imagine.

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