“I’ve never felt so much division in our country before,” “It’s us and them,” “I’ve been made out as a bad person but I’m just doing what I think’s the right thing.”
These are comments I’ve heard over the past few weeks out in the community while Parliament has been on recess. The same message repeatedly, the sense of division, discord and disconnect in New Zealand has never been stronger.
I feel it too. Nearly everyone I talk to falls into a camp of being blamed or to blame for the issues we face as a country. Whether it’s landlords vs tenants, wealthy vs working poor, farmers vs climate activists, business owners vs workers, vaccinated vs unvaccinated, the list is endless and growing.
Whatever the issue, people are pitted against each other.
This division didn’t happen overnight. But under Labour’s leadership, it feels much worse than it used to.
Much of Labour’s policy has taught us that if only someone wasn’t so wrong about something then our problem would be fixed. It has set us down a dangerous and divisive path of telling one group of people that another group is to blame for their problems rather than admitting the Government might be responsible.
Here’s a few examples:
- Interest deductibility rule changes – the Government said they would tilt the balance away from investors and towards first-home buyers. That didn’t address the housing crisis, it simply scapegoated one group of people and blamed them for the others’ misfortune
- The ute tax - hammering ute drivers for climate emissions while giving Tesla owners a pat on the back and a hearty discount
- Vaccination policies – The Government said unless you get vaccinated you won’t be able to do X, Y, or Z. It caused rifts in families. People were unable to attend weddings, funerals or work because of their personal choice. People became second-class citizens in our country, and some even celebrated it. Why is it that #BeKind seems to produce some of the most unkind responses?
With the cost of living crisis putting the squeeze on everyone, instead of coming up with solutions to help Kiwis, the Government is again trying to find a scapegoat in the form of wealthy people. Last week, the Government released its report into some of the wealthiest Kiwis and said they didn’t pay their fair share of tax. Instead of witch hunts and blame games, the Government should be focused on how to make the boat go faster for all Kiwis.
Too many Kiwi families are struggling just to keep their heads above water. They deserve real solutions, not tall-poppy syndrome.
We need to focus on policies that unite us, not divide us.
We need to focus on our common humanity and dignity, rather than placing people into boxes and labelled as either “good” or “bad”.
We’re better than that.
The Government isn’t responsible for every instance of division that occurs, but it doesn’t need to stoke the fires for political gain either. After all, they’re meant to govern for everyone.
That’s where good policy comes in. Rather than picking heroes and villains in the housing crisis, why not just make it easier to build houses? Sure, it requires long-term thinking when soundbites and slogans might be easier (KiwiBuild, anyone?), but that’s what New Zealanders deserve. Act would incentivise councils to provide infrastructure for new homes by sharing half of the GST with them, we’d reduce regulation on building by scrapping the RMA and replacing it with a new Urban Development Act, and we would automatically allow building materials approved by jurisdictions with high-quality regulators and similar seismic situations to ours to be used in New Zealand.
Instead of pitting drivers of different vehicles against each other just to send emissions overseas, why not utilise the Emissions Trading Scheme to set a cap on total emissions in line with the actual reductions of our trading partners? This will show the world New Zealand is doing its bit. It is a simple and effective response to climate change that doesn’t demonise people.
Instead of dividing people by personal choice, which led to the riot at Parliament, why didn’t the Government allow businesses to use the technology that was available and implement a testing policy instead? If more flexibility was allowed, then ugly scenes like the parliamentary occupation could possibly have been avoided.
New Zealand has serious problems that can be fixed, but if we carry on this path of division and blaming each other it’s a race to the bottom. The Government can set an example with policy based on problem-solving, not blaming people. That would be a real change for the better.
- Brooke van Velden is the deputy leader of the Act Party.