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A New Generation of Politics in New Zealand

By Megan Hosking


“That was by far the most enjoyable political debate I have ever seen,” chirped MC Mikey Havoc. This unlikely statement was uttered as he closed the Young Leaders Debate, hosted in the New Zealand capital just eight days before the general election.

The speakers and the audience were mostly in their early 20s (I scraped in at 33). The theme, “what do we agree on?” set the scene for concerned young activists to ask their generation's politicians to rise above the slagging and derogatory quips that characterise so much of our politics.

The Progressive Party candidate Paula Gillon infused her opening address with a diatribe which earned her the title “The Fire Headed Monster” from the Young National Party leader Alex Mitchell for the remainder of the debate.

I felt Mitchell put his finger on something with that comment: it sounded inappropriate for these young, fresh faced and idealistic young people to ‘politic’.

‘Politics’ as a notion has never sat well with me as means to govern a nation. It intimates shrewdness, tact and cunning – as if the best results for a society's future are necessarily won with battlefield tactics. So often self serving and insincere, 'politicking' seems to directly contrast the lofty role that politics and governance once held in my mind.

With our changing aspirations, and the complex challenges that lie ahead, we are going to have to seek new rules and modes for governance.

The Kiwi Party’s platform is to hold binding referendums for every controversial topic that this country faces. It sounds democratic and progressive to wrestle the decision-making process away from the zoo antics of our Parliament, and put it in the hands of every man and woman.

But deep down, I am nervous to trust my countrymen to vote with the best interest of this planet and humanity’s long-term well being at heart. As individuals, many are too focused on the near future to fully grasp the need for of a 100- and 1000-year vision for what makes a world worth living in and handing on.

In business and on our governance boards, we recruit people specifically for leadership roles. It takes a whole host of different skills and extraordinary performance to be the nation's best CEO or Chair. Could we ask the same of our politicians? You know you have a good CEO or Chair when they demonstrate strategic diligence – with a good balance of risk-adversity and imagination, an eye for opportunity and demonstration of clear servant-leadership. These seem to be rare qualities in our politicians.

My question to the panel: “Are you satisfied that this is the best way to govern a nation and get long-term sustainable prosperity?” In sum, would they consider that there are other political systems being utilised in other places in the world? It alarmed me that the candidates saw political parties as a ‘necessary evil’ and entertained no imagination about what else might be working better out there.

Damian Light from United Future had an articulate, bright and open presence. He uncovered another issue that we could all agree needed attention: New Zealand’s status as a colony of the Queen. Yes indeed. It seems strange to me that the idea of fundamentally changing our political system would be so far from the thoughts of the public. This upgrade needs to align with the shifts that are happening internationally – like the World Future Council. We need to have governance that takes its roots in a key set of values (The Treaty of Waitangi, perhaps) and that is able to link with a global vision for prosperity.

As the Green party slogan says – some things are bigger than politics. After the dust from our elections settles, let's not just put this all back on the shelf until the next election. Let's continue to ask: “what sort of politics will get us where we need to go – a sustainable, fair prosperous future for all?”

We may well find that Politics doesn’t have a place in a sustainable future. A crazy idea, but I just thought I’d put it out there.

See the Young Leaders on YouTube.

Megan Hosking is the owner and director of communication design company Alto. She has helped develop Intersect – a lively network focusing on sustainability and cultural transformation and she is also a member of the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra.

Photo credit: Megan Hosking

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Each of our politicians is elected to office because someone out there recognised in that person some degree of skill and capacity. But then, having identified this group of outstanding people, we set them to work against one another, to tear down and discredit each other. Couldn't we choose a more effective and mature system where all those qualified people ceased to focus their energies on undermining others, and instead learned the skills of working in unity as one organism? There are some groups out there in the world that can already do this. Many of them are children, who were taught the skills of unity, cooperation and mutual respect from their earliest years; not to argue, or call one another bad names, but share their stuff and play together nicely. How hard could that be for a bunch of our most intelligent grownups?

Posted by: Patricia Wilcox on 15 Nov 08

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