Kate Sheppard would have had plenty to say about the state of the nation.

The country has had six years of being run like a very large company, and tomorrow is the referendum on whether most people feel that's the right way to go about building prosperity, or doomed to stunt us as a nation in perpetuity.

Trickle down is one thing. Then, there have been plenty of other issues to get exercised about along the way - dirty politics and dirty spying are just two that spring to mind. A Government that has engaged in those things, to whatever extent, will regard another term as a mandate to continue along the present path. Apparently, that doesn't bother at least half the population, who are moaning that their adulation of John Key has been rudely interrupted by an election campaign.

It's great they can afford to be complacent. But many of us, well-off or not, are scanning a horizon where international economies are faltering, resources are becoming more scarce, our society is becoming alarmingly unequal, and we are worried that we do not have the innovative leadership required to bridge the inevitable difficulties.

It was Kate Sheppard, the great suffragette, who said: "All that separates, whether of race, class, creed, or sex, is inhuman, and must be overcome." A great political innovator, Sheppard agitated not just for women's right to vote, but proportional representation, binding referenda, collective workers' rights, and improving family life (as well as the abandonment of corsets). She understood implicitly that a society in which huge chasms exist between those with power (or money) and those without is doomed to dysfunction.


What an insult it is that this week, a glass sculpture in her memory - and the memory of all who suffer abuse and violence in the home - was rejected from Parliament by a conservative old coot. Meanwhile, other conservative coots have been working to cut funding to services for the most vulnerable, all the while accusing Women's Refuge of deals to harbour gang women and other ridiculous smears.

I'm sure Sheppard would have seen through the nonsense of Speaker David Carter's official reply, rejecting Women's Refuge's request to have Sheppard's sculpture displayed temporarily in their chosen spot in Parliament: "This is a busy time ... and space constraints, future requirements and use of the space in public and function areas cannot be overlooked." No doubt she would have translated it thus: "This is election time ... and our future employment in these large leather chairs is incumbent on us not reminding the public that we have no new ideas for tackling this problem. Find a ladies lunchroom to adorn it with!"

If that last paragraph seems fanciful, ask yourself how many times in this campaign you have heard our incumbents raise the subject of domestic violence. Then ask why, when the police had to carry out more than 95,000 family violence investigations last year alone, this issue isn't front and centre. It's probably the most urgent of all women's issues, yet I swear we've heard more about henchmen-journalists.

The kind of statues that decorate Parliament is a small issue, but it represents a bigger truth: that, to the current CEO and management team, some groups in society matter a whole lot less than others - and they are comfortable with that. In truth, we are damning ourselves to a pretty dismal future if that's the mantra we aim to follow.