Dr Liz Gordon: A new society


Well I am pretty happy today. This is indeed a historic election result. And I am feeling optimistic.  It feels like it may have felt in 1935. Or 1938. At that time, a great Labour victory was tempered by the gathering storm clouds of war. This time it is the raging Covid, a pandemic that is unlikely to go away soon.

The rimu house I am sitting in is testimony that the first Labour government did not let war interfere with its core programme.  Built in 1940, my dry, spacious home has four bedrooms and a large section. It was built by the state for working families, but also to improve the society as a whole.

I am not in the habit of picking apart speeches, especially delivered in the heat of election night.  But I was very struck by one comment that Jacinda made: that Labour would be governing for all New Zealanders.

This comment can be read in so many ways, but I am choosing today to put it within the most optimistic framework of the first Labour government.  Only better, because looked at from today’s perspective. that government did not hit the mark on racial and gender politics, nor on the Treaty. One nation does not, and should not, mean everybody is the same.

From that perspective, we will be looking for a ‘whole of nation’, not a ‘one nation’ response.  The distinction is very important. Under 35 years of neo-liberalism we have been encouraged to believe that certain sectors of society must be privileged in order for the rest to prosper.  We have practiced ‘trickle down’ economics. 

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Feed the horse (I don’t know why it is always a horse) lots of oats, and the horse benefits massively.  And out the end comes out lots of waste, that is available for the sparrows to peck at.

The other thing you have to do is make the sparrows want to eat the poos. You thus cut off their other food sources (in practice slash benefits and allow wages to fall).

It is undeniable that we are still practicing trickle down economics in New Zealand, many years after the model has been discredited.  The rich are still getting richer, the poor have stabilised their incomes only because of government intervention, ninety percent of NZers are worse off than 30 years ago (Max Rashbrooke has been running the figures on this for years), yadda yadda. 

We need a better economic model, and that, in my mind, is the one nation model that Labour must adopt. Instead of being a mild departure from the norm, so that National can leap back to power under the old corporate model with Chris Luxton, this government needs an economic sea-change. If Labour in 1984 could introduce such an unpopular and destructive policy, then surely this Labour government can take the people with it to a neo-Keynesian model for the future.

This intellectual work needs to be done forthwith and rigorously.  I have already seen numerous press releases from organisations demanding progress be made urgently on this and that. If we get the model right, so much else will follow.

It is a huge job, that will require the reformation of the state sector, including our guiding economic orthodoxies. There is plenty of evidence that the shape and structure of our government agencies (not to mention what goes on in some of them) is not fit for purpose.

We have lost, possibly forever, two huge income earners: export education and tourism.  In my view there are myriad opportunities for alternative export industries.  New Zealand has a fantastic name internationally at present which can be built on.  I am looking for government led ideas industries, perhaps helping the development of thousands of smallish artisan industries using local products and local people in co-operative movements. Among other industrial models.

Having reformed the state and the private sector, society should partially heal itself. Nevertheless, we should not ignore the learnings from the mosque attacks, that there is a small minority (probably around 1%) of extreme right wing people in New Zealand who want to promote hatred and division. We need to promote strongly a society that is inclusive but rests upon specific values: resolve the inequities and wrongs of the past; care about the well-being of everyone, and in particular those who face barriers to full social and economic inclusion; shed our racist, sexist, class-riven past for a better future.  This will require many changes, but above all a fit for purpose education system, which I do not think we have achieved as yet.

All of this within a framework of environmental sustainability, which all of these changes should promote. A better us, a better country, a better world.  All is possible today. For those who share this vision, I refer to JFK’s inaugural speech: “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  Tātou, tātou e.

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. A 21st century ministry of works must be a must……

    Your 1% of extreme right wing people in NZ is conservative, I would put it at least 10%. Take a close look at ACT policies.

  2. myriad opportunities for alternative export industries.

    The more that we as a nation ‘go organic’, the greater value will all our produce have wherever it is sold. For a decade we sold on the “Clean Green NZ” image, when really it was not real. Let’s make it real. Let’s make Aotearoa synonymous with truly clean and green.

    • Going organic and selling produce overseas are contradictory concepts, virtually mutually exclusive concepts, since organic foods produced in NZ are moved via some of the filthiest, planet-fucking devices ever invented -oil fired ships and aircraft, both of which add extraordinary amounts of life-threatening CO2 to the atmosphere, plus adding numerous other nasty substances, including carcinogens and particulate matter.

      ‘truly clean and green’ means no fossil fuels involved.

      • “We can’t save the world” should not be an argument for “so there’s no point cleaning up our own back yard”. We need to do whatever we can to bring about improvement.

  3. It’s a nice idea about a Ministry Of Works, but there is no chance.
    It’s against the TTPA you can not favor a local company, SOE over an international one. And there is no point blaming Labour for signing it because if they didn’t sign up the other 13 partners would refuse to trade with us. That’s the idea of these trade deals.

    • We – my siblings and I – were raised in the MOW villages, from Roxburgh to Hawea, to Otematata. I have suggested a new MOW, to The Labour Leader on a number of occasions. The thing about the TPP as you might like to check here in this piece, SOEs are fine. MOW would not be in the job of exporting for a start. And back in the 50s, the MOW, major projects were in fact contracted to International Companies to manage and lead in some cases. Heres the thing, they were able to build entire villages in a short time, that housed our families. We were pretty lucky to have experienced that upbringing. My Father was an immigrant who had worked hard all his life but never improved from being a peasant. But he sure as hell was able to support his wife and us four kids until we were able to support ourselves. Sadly the only time they tried to get a bank loan to buy a house, they were tunred down and we continued to live in a State house. I ended up buying one of those Rimu ones, good old Dr Liz has. Sadly it was demolished in the Red Zone. So Im with Dr Liz and thank her for writing a positive blog. There are so many of our ancestors who contributed to the best of what NZ has in assets. The bastards who sold them off to private interests should be incarcerated. But thats for another writer to tell. Cheers you lucky K1W1s. A brilliant election result.
      “The provisions include three broad obligations meant to reduce the discretion of governments to use state-ownership as a tool for trade protectionism. These obligations are that SOEs and designated monopolies must operate according to commercial considerations only, must not give or receive subsidies in a way that harms foreign trade, and must not discriminate against foreign suppliers.“

  4. ” Labour would be governing for all New Zealanders ” Ah that has ben promised by so many prime ministers that i have lost count. And they soon forget they promised any such thing Liz. Since 1984 we have worshiped the market economy and even sold out our rights with the likes of the TPPA so that our own government in our own parliament will remain beholden to foreign corporations to exploit our economy and our people. If Labour are serious about real changes they can start by addressing the billions of dollars of extorted money siphoned offshore by the Australian banks. And making the likes of Peter Thiel pay his fair share of tax in his adopted country. I like Adern but i don’t trust her when i hear the same old rhetoric and cliches spewed out and rehashed for a different audience who doesn’t know better. I just get the feeling we are going to be bitterly disappointed.

    • Spot on, mosa.

      The same old bullshit in a different package and presented ‘with kindness’.

      I expect no transformation to a better way of living from Adern, just more rearranging of the deck chairs on the rapidly-sinking ‘Titanic’. She has already told us that on numerous occasions, but people STILL `want to believe, just as they wanted to believe ‘hope and change you can believe in’ O’bomber, war criminal and lackey of Wall Street.

  5. ‘In my view there are myriad opportunities for alternative export industries. New Zealand has a fantastic name internationally at present which can be built on. I am looking for government led ideas industries, perhaps helping the development of thousands of smallish artisan industries using local products and local people in co-operative movements. Among other industrial models.’

    Oh dear, you just don’t get it, do you Liz?

    Industry is why the environment is in meltdown.

  6. A positive story about Kiwisaver.

    Minimum wage, no help and on the ladder at 25: here’s how they did it

    Also sad that there is housing shortages in places like Napier.

    When you look at this and Hawkes Bay. It shows against the constant whining of the horticulture sector, echoed through the neoliberal NZ media, about not being able to attract people for jobs without bothering to look at what industry needs to do to attract people or what they are prepared to pay.

    On that note, NZ is apparently the most productive for horticulture in the world. We beat out the South Africans (maybe telling that a former apartheid slave situation has worse productivity for labour than NZ in horticulture, but still NZ complains workers are not good enough, maybe NZ’s exploitative labour expectations are out of sync with the world!)

    “New Zealand’s apple and pear industry is the envy of the world. For every hectare of orchard, we pick 61 tonnes of fruit. South Africa, the second most productive nation in the industry, yields 48 tonnes per hectare. The international average comes in at a modest 23.4 tonnes of fruit per hectare.

    Conclusion: We have some of the best fruit pickers.”

    Is pay the problem? How much in-demand orchard workers really earn

    Coronavirus: Kiwis grab horticulture jobs as Covid-19 reshapes labour market

    Employment and immigration breaches uncovered in horticulture sector


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