Dr Liz Gordon – Adult and Community Education and the end of neoliberalism


It was the smallest little announcement and the biggest thing in the world that caught my attention during the budget.

The smallest one was the reinstatement of adult and community education. The cut to ACE funding by the last National government was a huge slap in the face for people learning together in local communities.

For that government, there were not enough job outcomes to justify funding ACE and any other outcomes were irrelevant.  After a decade where social cohesion in communities has come into question as a result of the rise of the racist right, the role of community learning in your local schools and community centres has come back into clear focus. Whether it be Thai cooking, pottery, woodworking, art or whatever, ACE is back.  As a long time user of such courses, and as a supporter of community-led change, I am delighted.  I nearly fell off my chair in glee.

Towards the end of his speech, Grant Robertson said the following:

We can also draw the lessons of the past as to what not to do in response to a major economic shock. In this case I can draw on the experiences of my own life. As the economic carnage of the 1980s and 1990s wreaked havoc in our communities, I saw that up close. It was based on a tired set of ideas that the market would save us, that if government sat on the sideline all would be well. 

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Well, it didn’t work out that way and lives and livelihoods were lost. That will not happen again, not on the watch of this government. We know that we must work in partnership with iwi, business, unions, community groups, every one of the team of five million to make sure we all not only get through this, but that we thrive on the other side.

The budget was masterful in the circumstances, but nothing was more important than those two paragraphs.  For 30-plus years we have suffered as a nation under the daft idea that if we leave everything to the market, that capitalism would by itself produce good outcomes for our society.  Instead, we have nearly wrecked our society.  

Other countries are in a worse position, having abandoned their health systems at least in part to market forces, then found that they do not have the services they need when an emergency arises.

Our struggle with Covid-19 has barely started, I think.  It is too naïve to imagine that we have won the battle and the war. We may have done well only in a preliminary skirmish. But once again today, our government has passed the test of world leadership.  Compared with the incoherent instructions of Boris, the insane rants of Trump and the machinations of various world leaders (I do not need to name them again), our government is a model of good practice.

I think Simon Bridges failed a key test of good leadership today in going after the money and the debt. It is obvious to me that most people want us to cushion the many blows to our economy with borrowed money. Whether or not Bridges is replaced before the election, this government is going to ride a much-deserved wave to the election and beyond.  The question of what it is going to do then to heal the neoliberal wounds of poverty and inequality will be front and centre at that point. This is a fine start in many areas.


Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society.  She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.


  1. Good article, hard to add anything to it. I quietly perceive we as a nation will be moving on past the idiocy of neo liberalism and onto a rebuilding, refurbishing and a dismantling of neo liberalism and on to a retrospective adoption of what Chris Trotter calls ‘ democratic socialism’. It wont happen all at once, however what we are starting to see is the exodus towards that process. And it will be hard fought for and opposed every step of the way.

    If this global downturn keeps up, in a perverse way , it will add to the pressures for change. It is a two edged sword. Similar to the Great Depression of 1929.

    Again, much is crystal ball gazing, and much patience needed.

    But I do believe we are seeing the very start to this process.

    • It does seem hopeful doesn’t it W K. It will be an interesting next couple of years. I do hope Labour voters dont crowd Winston right out at the election though. I have a strong feeling his influence is an important part of this.
      Cheers D J S

  2. The end of neoliberalism hahahaha. Did Labour lose an election overnight to some new party? What a joke!.

    • That’s the idea MickeyBoyle. If you aren’t laughing you could be crying. Or are you actually sneering? Watch out for that old curse -‘ The wind might change’ and your mean expression will be forever fixed – so unattractive!

  3. I agree! While ‘learning for earning’ will continue to have a role – and arguably an important one in the post-Covid recovery – what a breath of fresh air to see learning for living back on the books. Pity a pandemic was needed to bring that back into focus. But, hey, hats off!

  4. Liz I’m afraid we’ll be waiting a good while longer for the end of neoliberalism. For the next few years we will be paying off an enormous welfare bill resulting from the Covid-related damage to people’s livelihoods, meaning the fundamental reforms that are needed will have to wait for another day – and another government. And frankly this government doesn’t have the will or the “intellectual heft” (to quote Bomber Bradbury) to overturn neoliberalism. In a sense this latest crisis lets them off the hook by making that dream fiscally impossible for the next 3-yr term at least. From this government we can expect things like quotas for women and Maori on boards of directors, and (unfortunately) hate speech legislation. But don’t expect any major economic reforms.

  5. I do love Jacinda’s red cardigan – but she and her Government/Coalition have got a lot more “recolouring” to do before the “blues” of neo-liberalism take on a different hue!

  6. With a budget spend as large as this one there were bound to be some good things come out of it .ACE was one and food in school was another but generally speaking to me it missed the market in many ways .
    16000 on the current waiting list for state housing and plans to build 8000. No money for midwives or GPs and the benefit level is still way of the mark. I doubt many benefituries will be able afford to go to ACE classes .
    Re Simon Bridges it is good that he is voicing the doubts that many have re the debt level that this government is taking us in the same way he is acting as a check against the state control that is being imposed under the guise of public good.

  7. This snippet in the Budget caught my eye as well. I was clapping hard out when I heard Grant Robertson say these magic words.

    Destroying Community Education was incredibly wrong as it served such a valuable purpose. That purpose was to let people who perhaps had their confidence damaged at school have another go at learning something. Community Education gave people a window into the fact that they were not dummies and that they could achieve. I have seen something really good come out of Community Education where a person has a go, and then finds that they can do it, so they enrol in another course, and maybe another and from this confidence comes a desire to pursue higher education and before long the ‘failure-at-school’ has a degree and this would not have been possible without Community Education.

    I have seen that happen.

    It is wonderful to watch that happening.

    From the smallest seed, the mighty Totara grows.

    Community Education is one of those seeds.

    It’s back.

  8. You suspect the neoliberal swine will lose in the long run.
    Even if true (moot), that’s cold comfort to me for the 35 years of hell that they’ve put us though.

  9. Thanks folks. Cold comfort indeed. I don’t disagree with you, the Pope, though I would say it is a lack of political rather than brain intelligence. Yes, Jacinda’s cardy is a very socialist red! The neolib knitting is unpicking but it is slow…. I have never thought borrowing is a problem per se. The question is what we do with it.

    • The Govt of NZ/AO carefully borrowing from the RBNZ at 0% interest will never be a problem for citizens but will bring screams from the neo libs coining billions from Kiwis using the Ozzie banks.
      Let them scream then impose noise control.

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