MUST READ: Left To Rot


IF YOU WANT TO KNOW why Labour leaves the most disadvantaged New Zealanders to rot in motels – ask the Rogernomes. Ever since Labour abandoned its democratic-socialist beliefs and embraced neoliberalism in 1984, the party has been at pains to keep the disadvantaged politically disorganised and dependent on the good will of the state. They do not do this in expectation of their votes – any votes they get from the welfare underclass are a bonus – they do it because they don’t want them to vote at all.

To fully appreciate the reasoning behind Labour’s demobilisation strategy, it is necessary to go back to the year 1984 and take a look around. New Zealand society was mobilised in a way that “Rogernomic’s Children” – the generations that grew up with no memories of what New Zealand was like before the neoliberal “revolution” – would struggle to accept. Civil society had power in those years. Citizens had power. Even the poor and the unemployed had power.

Right across the country unemployed workers and beneficiaries were being organised. The state bureaucracy still believed that its primary purpose was to help – not hinder – its citizens. Accordingly, the state made funds available to just about any organisation set up to help citizens in need. This included groups set up to assist the unemployed and beneficiaries access the support and services to which they were legally entitled. Centres were established where people on benefits could meet and discuss their problems. By the middle of 1984, more and more beneficiaries were becoming politicised. How politicised? Politicised enough to turn out and vote in record numbers. In 1984, nearly 94 percent of registered voters made it to a polling-booth.

In spite of the fact that these politicised beneficiaries had voted overwhelmingly for David Lange’s Labour Party, the neoliberal cabal of Roger Douglas, David Caygill, Richard Prebble, Michael Bassett and Mike Moore, were acutely aware that politicised workers and beneficiaries were, potentially, their worst enemies. The changes they were about to unleash on New Zealand would swell the numbers of the poor and the marginalised. The last thing the Rogernomes needed was for the victims of their neoliberal policies to find their voice.

The Fourth Labour Government’s solution was as cynical as it was clever.

- Sponsor Promotion -

First, it set up an elaborate employment programme for middle-class people who had lost their jobs called “Access”. Come up with an idea for “helping” the poor and disadvantaged and the government appointed Regional Employment and Access Councils (composed of one third employers, one third unions, and one third representing the rest of society) had money to give you – lots of money.

The key difference between these Access schemes and the Project Employment Programme schemes which had resourced the organisers of the beneficiaries’ movement was that the Access schemes had to be strictly apolitical. The people running them (on excellent salaries!) were to be the poor’s responsible helpers and guides – not their political advocates.

Ostensibly, the people attending these Access schemes were there to be assisted into appropriate paid employment. In reality, they were there to provide a rationale for the generous resourcing of Access managers. Unsurprisingly, very few of these were willing to bite the Labour hands that fed them.

To those unemployed and beneficiaries lacking the entrepreneurial skills to take advantage of the Access schemes, the Fourth Labour Government offered the dole: the whole dole; and nothing but the dole. The bureaucrats in charge of social welfare were not encouraged, as they are now, to micromanage their “clients”. Their “stick” was nowhere near as big and frightening as the one they wield today. The idea was brutally simple: give the poor money, herd them into low-cost housing, and let them rot.

Poverty is only dangerous, politically, when it is widely shared. Confine real poverty to between a quarter and a third of the entire population, rob its victims of the political leadership needed to mobilise them as an electoral force, and the poor become the precise opposite of dangerous – they become harmless.

Once poverty acquires a stigma: once its victims begin to blame themselves for their misfortunes; self-hatred sets in. People begin to withdraw from a society that no longer offers them a place to stand. To alleviate their misery they turn to alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex – anything that serves to dull the pain of unbelonging. In the end they become anomic – beyond caring, beyond acting, beyond help. Or, from the neoliberals’ point-of-view: Safe.

The one weakness in the neoliberal plan for the poor is its cost. If poverty and unemployment grows, then the cost of keeping its victims safe rapidly becomes prohibitive. Ruth Richardson’s “Mother of All Budgets” slashed benefits obscenely. That lessened the state’s burden, but it did not remove it. Welfare roll reduction thus became the new priority: get the poor off the benefit – by any means necessary. It was a song National and Labour sang with equal gusto.

Until Covid.

Turns out that having between a quarter and a third of the population roped-off from the rest of the nation: prey to poverty, plagued by crime, prone to violence, and just not giving a fuck; isn’t all that helpful when it comes to fighting a pandemic. Even less helpful is the inconvenient fact that a disproportionate number of these unreachable ones have brown skins.

The state tried, and the state failed – badly – to reach out to the Māori and Pasifika communities being devastated by Covid-19. To vaccinate as many vulnerable citizens as possible, the hard-and-fast rule, enforced by successive neoliberal governments for thirty-five years, was set aside. Grass-roots advocacy groups were empowered and resourced to get the Covid vaccine out and into the arms of the poor.

The contrast between the “help” provided by the state, and the care provided by their own people, proved to be decisive. Because something else was being injected into them along with the Pfizer vaccine. It was a story in which even they, the poor and the stigmatised, had a place to stand. A story about a country that had once been theirs: about rights and resources guaranteed by a treaty that was not honoured; about a country that could be theirs again – but only if they made a conscious choice to re-create it.

This was a dangerous story for a Labour Government still content, like its predecessors, to push the poor out of the picture. Not into the low-cost housing of the 1980s – that is long gone – but into motels. Out of sight, out of mind. Second-class citizens in third-rate private accommodation. Cramped. Cold. Preyed upon by gangsters in uniform. Desperate. Left to rot.

But not bereft – not this time. Anomie cannot survive the rebirth of hope. Alienation flees before a compelling story. In 1984, it came from a party promising to “lift them up where they belonged”. In 2022, it is coming from a party urging them to lift themselves up.

That party is currently polling 5 percent. After nearly forty years, the poor have recovered their voice.


    • Such a documentary should have seen us in the streets rioting, burning banks, hunting down douglas and his criminal cronies… but instead. We just got pissed then went home and smacked the missus.
      *Machiavellian confederates planted within the gubbimint and the MSM gained steerage, and brakes, on the narrative of Alister Barry’s excellent work and they crashed [it] into a tree.
      * If you don’t know what the terms Machiavellianism or political confederates are then you really should find out.
      ( Machiavellianism is a personality trait that denotes cunningness, the ability to be manipulative, and a drive to use whatever means necessary to gain power.
      noun | kənˈfɛd(ə)rət |
      1 a person one works with, especially in something secret or illegal; an accomplice: where was his confederate, the girl who had stolen Richard’s wallet?
      There are now nine multi-billionaires ( That we know of !) in AO/NZ and there are only 5.2 million of us and of that figure, 50,000 of us earn our money as farmers from exporting those goods. Dept of Stats. Does “WTF?” spring to mind?
      Good on you @ Tane/Male/Man,+not+Female/Woman. for bringing Alister Barry’s documentary up.

  1. Chris, you are expecting far too much from a bunch of upper middle class career politicians – whose experience of poverty is nil in most cases…

    • Yes Nathan career middle class politicians under whom the waiting list for housing has increased by 500% in 5 years.

  2. Poor voices? Never forget that that that evil little runt Roger Douglas was a voice from the poor, another boy from a state house who got into power and proceeded to discard the children of the poor and his own origins and a system which benefitted the Douglas family, in favour of the rich and the powerful.

    The immigrant Key family did rather well too, going from a state house in Bryndwr to a mansion in Auckland as vulgar and showy as that of any Indian immigrant booze baron. So much for voices of the poor. Nouvea riche Key even had the gall to want to change the flag to suit his pearly king self in a petulant display of self-aggrandisement which would shame any genuine cockney. Rosa Klebb Bennett, the girl from the grocery shop, she got a voice and she used it to pull the ladder up behind her and proactively participate in getting poor people out of their houses and into car boots and onto the streets. Wee Bill English, his boyhood burdened by teenage acne, poor dear, with the benefit of the Catholic school education which fostered the growth of a social conscience, he saw the have-nots as an exercise in manipulation resulting in the deficiencies of Oranga Tamariki so damaging, that the current government is hell bent on silencing the Commissioner for Children and replacing that respected voice with its own public servant flunkies, instead of saying, “Speak and we will listen. “. So much for voices of the poor.

    And some of the tribal elites who have done rather nicely in Treaty settlements, have forgotten that in towns throughout New Zealand are folk struggling cold in day to day living and getting nowhere. Let’s not idealise the voices of the poor, they can change like adolescent squeaks.

        • Pat Benatar – Sometimes The Good Guys Finish First:

          That’s the way we spell success
          Will we get it, the answers yes
          Small town boy, so clean he squeaks
          Dressed and polished for the big time dreams
          Got a letter from his ma, and a boyish grin
          Close his eyes one minute, and it’ll lead him to the win, yeah
          As you stopped to say hello
          You know there’s nothin’ like heaven that won’t get you back
          To you get your ass in gear, and your mind on track
          When wheels start turnin’, things start to fall into place
          You’ll be suprised what you can do and some talents all it takes
          Crying over you

      • Yeti, there is nothing wrong with honest success – but ‘wealth’ gained from impoverishment of others is not ‘success’, it is immoral and inhumane. We as a society are currently paying the price for this impoverishment of large sections of society. It is sad that so many see ‘success’ as being merely the accumulation of ‘wealth’. Our current financial system disadvantages those contributing in a positive way to society and proactively assists those who see financial gain as the sole reason for business decisions.

      • Yeti There’s nothing wrong with success in various arenas, and it is often greatly to be admired, but that is not the issue here.

        ( Tho’ I do envy people who can whip up a sponge cake with one hand while working a vacuum cleaner in the other one, with a gurgling baby perched on a curvaceous hip. Oh yes.)

  3. Chris draws far too long a bow blaming this on 1984 and a focus on ‘The Betrayal’.

    Labour faces the same political question as the Nats did: how and where do you put the housing for the people that no-one wants to rent to?

    If you put it in one spot, it is an instant ‘sink estate’ and crime hotspot. Surrounding areas will hate Labour for lowering their property values. Or you could ‘pepper pot’ their temporary accomodation out into a lot of neighbourhoods, and so earn the hatred of a lot more people.

    And to do either means emergency powers to over-ride the RMA and the NIMBYs.

    Labour – like the Nats before them – are really up against middle New Zealand’s love of property – price gains and a sense of neighbourhood peace and safety.

    • Ada No. Once again you’re missing the point of what the Labour govt did in 1984 by embracing neo-liberalism and wrecking the social equilibrium which was progressing step by step, and certainly not destructively. David Lange, genuine product of a grounded professional family saw what was happening, and he recoiled. The Nats couldn’t believe their luck, unfortunately. You can bleat trying to discount neoliberalism, so how about showing what has trickled down, and where? Go on.

    • You buy up existing housing, not in a block but scattered around any city.

      The fact is the idiots that are in government had land in Auckland and flogged it off to private developers. Some of it should have been retained for State housing.

    • If you think you would continue to be ‘nice’ in similar circumstances, I think it is unlikely. It would most likely come down to how supported you were, and the clout wielded by those who supported you.

      This is leaving aside the devastation of having grown up in such circumstances and just imagining you had fallen into this trap as an adult.

      There are so many aspects to being ground down. One thing that would likely affect your ‘pleasantness’ is what you would see. It is hard to deal with a terrible disillusionment and cynicism about those who are supposed to be trusted and looked up to. I don’t mean the middle-class version, I mean the repeatedly kicked in the teeth ‘because you are dogshit’ variety.

      From what I’ve seen, those who escape have been those who have been able to keep telling themselves that this is not me, I’m in the wrong place. ‘These’ people deserve this but I don’t.

      Such people secure support from either pre-existing networks, or from other people outside of the trap by being the ”exception” that proves all is well in this nation. It involves a terrible betrayal. They are supported and enabled to get out by being the pet xxx. who will say that their fellow xxx’s bring misfortune on themselves – in return for the support denied to their fellows. Support that enables escape.

      There are other options. Some kids I knew when I was a kid masterminded and carried out a pretty amazing criminal operation. Brilliant in its simplicity. They sent their kids to private schools and were all but out until they were finally caught.

      I was far luckier as a child. These kids seemed to have been without hope. It was a pretty big news item and I felt quite proud of them. It was an operation that caused minimal suffering to other people and relied on an extremely clever idea and unbreakable family solidarity.

  4. Great piece. The natzo trolls will totally miss the nuance and history involved.

    It is significant to see Te Pāti Māori gaining ground. In Tai Tokerau I personally observed what you write about in action. Tiny settlements were reached with mobile vaccination initiatives and other basic assistance provided at the same time. Some Pākehā got vaccinated by Māori providers like Te Hiku Hauora and got their $50-$200 supermarket vouchers/food & medical supplies just like the Māori folks!

    If middle class people were able to enjoy a financially superior second tier COVID benefit so they could avoid the punitive and humiliating WINZ/MSD interaction, then surely the underclass deserved something too.

    It will take the new generations to finally overturn Rogernomics imo because the discarded have not managed it yet, and the majority of boomers seemingly have no inclination to do so.

    A Labour led Govt. depending for numbers on Green/Māori with some at least class left policies, is the immediate requirement for 2023. For 2026 it should be a full on community organised political campaign of re-nationalisation and retirement of MSD, State Sector Act, Reserve Bank Act and all the rest.

    • Tiger Moutain. I’m white urban elderly and I never had a word or any contact from my long -standing medical practice about the pandemic. They only text “clients”. I don’t text, so I missed out. Don’t watch television or buy newspapers any more either, and the texting issue is becoming a bit of a problem in other arenas now too.

      • Yep my Medical practice mainly communicates by text, sometimes a nurse or Doctor will phone back (if you have previously texted them!) so ample chance for a Catch-22 situation to develop.

        Just got Gold Card and moved back to Far North, have a Doctor at a PHO in Whangārei two hours drive away–if you can ever get an appointment. Zero chance of getting enrolled in Far North, so people travel or see pop up nurse clinics at local halls.

        • Tiger Mountain. There’s a pop-up clinic in my local shopping mall. Initially it was bloody depressing not being able to supermarket shop without passing rows of woebegone-looking people lining up either side waiting for covid shotting and seeing the jabbed sitting waiting to get out again, all accompanied by horrible loud music. One of the security guards rifled through the bags of donations dumped outside the Sallies. It’s quieter now, and the music is less jarring as the mall has ghostly empty shops, and normalcy has not returned, and it’s the elderly folk, older than me, who are permanently anxious and possibly disorientated, and that’s sad. Everybody masks up, even the young guys who were defiant and queue jumping the first time around. One quivering old man told me yesterday that he’s feeling his age now and that he will be one hundred on his next birthday. I lied, and told him that he didn’t look a day over 65. Lady told me her lovely old felt hat was bought from Ballantynes pre their tragic fire in 1952 (I think), and she was in the 1945 Christchurch Hospital nursing intake, waiting for the flood of fire victims to arrive, but they didn’t as they mainly perished. Kiddies are having sickies. Kia kaha.

        • Rotorua here, still travel to my doctor in AKL and dentist. Told both that the day they retire i will stop going to the doctors.
          And got my vaccination via Te Arawa in Mangakino as they invited all ‘whanau’ rather then just some ‘whanau’.
          I think the game is called rationing.

  5. Don’t forget that with neoliberalism came globalisation which exported the employment opportunities this demographic used to occupy to China and the other emerging mostly Asian countries.
    What was offered in return was and still is a resurrection of the treaty , ( which it seems to forgotten now had no place in NZ law from 5 years after it was signed until the creation of the State Owned Enterprises).
    This resurrection continues with 3 waters and a proliferation of other sops to our original settler race that seek to appease their effective removal from participation in our modern economy. And hence from society.
    The country was better when tey were included in the 20th century world where they were welcome.
    D J S

    • Hopefully if some government department comes along and extingushies your property rights with a payment of 5% of its value you’ll be sweet with that and your racist view of contract law DavidStone.

    • What a load of kaka David Stone by included in what way given dump state houses in ghetto like areas now with 800k apartments then we had pepper potting housing policy. The trouble with people like you David is you actually believe your own bullshit but haven’t lived it like me.

  6. Yes Ada there are people and whanau not just Maori or PI that are a bit unsavory to say the least but when you knock down hundreds of blocks of state housing flats where else can these people go. By knocking down so many and then replacing them with 800k apartment like new builds you then reduce the pool of housing for people most in need. In the past State Housing Corporation (now Kainga Ora) were extremely racist. I know as I lived in one of those blocks and could never get a decent flat or house due to the extent of the discrimination and racism of State housing employees (mostly Pakeha of course). And in those days and I am talking about the early 80s we didn’t get those state jobs. As bad as Labour may seem (to some) they are much better at building State houses. And we know National are better at selling them and pushing more responsibility on community groups so they can wipe their hands and take no responsibility. Deregulation is part of the National parties ethos and we are seeing it in many other western countries like the UK for example.

  7. It surprises me that someone politically astute as Jacinda doesn’t realise that spending on social housing, decent housing that is, is not only acceptable to most voters and citizens, it’s a big vote winner to fix housing. Everyone knows National won’t do it! ACT even less likely.

    For whatever the reason was and is, Labour think the pathetic National Party state housing settings she is so proud of are safe and acceptable and that somehow jamming the massive overflow of housing market/economic settings victims into motels (or cars) is also acceptable.

    Labour need to wake up from their coma and realise the current situation is, for no lesser reason, sinking them politically! Much less a virtual crime on its victims!

  8. It took me less than a couple of minutes to unearth these wondrous stats on tremendous Kiwis doing wonderful things for their communities. Like self-legitimising their criminalities then stealing the wealth then watching on idly in a self congratulatory, sociopathic way as normal people succumb unnecessarily to poverty, debt, depression, despair, then prison, then the grave.
    ‘NBR lists richest Kiwis’
    “Find out who in the automotive industry has made the annual top 100 of the country’s wealthiest individuals and families.“
    Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!

  9. “It was a story in which even they, the poor and the stigmatised, had a place to stand. A story about a country that had once been theirs: about rights and resources guaranteed by a treaty that was not honoured; about a country that could be theirs again – but only if they made a conscious choice to re-create it.”

    Nah! It’s not the poor and ignored who are creating co-governance – it’s Nanaia Mahuta, Wiilie Jackson and the affluent iwi authorities.

  10. Thank you Chris, for speaking of our society’s scapegoats and the impossible trap very few ever escape.

    There is more to say about how scapegoating functions -at every level. But it’s worth briefly mentioning the warning-to-the-others function, especially in undermining unity with natural allies – those who are themselves perilously close to the edge. And this wedge is important too in keeping an army of underpaid workers from protesting their own dead-end misery.

    But what I really want to mention is one aspect of covid that seems to always be overlooked. It is that we did have the money and the means if people who actually mattered were threatened. It was never impossible but always a choice.

    A terrible, inhumane, and unconscionable choice. Laid bare.

  11. I watched 4.30 minutes of this 1:48:00 documentary and decided, upon assumption, that you must all have the opportunity to watch it.
    ‘Inside Job’
    The documentary mirrors roger douglas and what he did to our beautiful agrarian society and its economy and sent AO/NZ down into poverty and ruin.
    AO/NZ’s social and financial position is now beyond the influence of any AO/NZ government because we have no government. Let that sink in. All we have left is each other, a blank slate and surely, a quest for justice. Our AO/NZ is a land area who’s human population is exploited by criminals for the wealth creation of the criminals.
    “Inside Job is a 2010 American documentary film, directed by Charles Ferguson, about the late 2000s financial crisis.
    The global financial meltdown that took place in Fall of 2008 caused millions of job and home losses and plunged the United States into a deep economic recession.
    This documentary provides a detailed examination of the elements that led to the collapse and identifies key financial and political players.
    Director Charles Ferguson conducts a wide range of interviews and traces the story from the United States to China to Iceland to several other global financial hot spots.
    Ferguson, who began researching in 2008, says the film is about “the systemic corruption of the United States by the financial services industry and the consequences of that systemic corruption”. In five parts, the film explores how changes in the policy, environment and banking practices helped create the financial crisis.”

  12. It surprises me that someone politically astute as Jacinda doesn’t realise that spending on social housing, decent housing that is, is not only acceptable to most voters and citizens, it’s a big vote winner to fix housing. Everyone knows National won’t do it! ACT even less likely.

    For whatever the reason was and is, Labour think the pathetic National Party state housing settings she is so proud of are safe and acceptable and that somehow jamming the massive overflow of housing market/economic settings victims into motels (or cars) is also acceptable.

    Labour need to wake up from their coma and realise the current situation is, for no lesser reason, sinking them politically! Much less displaying Labours deliberate neglect towards housing victims!

  13. Well said Chris. I remember you as a Meatworkers’ Union rep arguing vigorously against neo-liberalist policies at a Labour Party conference in Temuka. I’m not sure that David Caygill was as hardline as Douglas, Bassett or Moore though.

  14. 1 Million % agree with Chris!!! I’d encourage you to go over to the Democracy project and read Bryce Edwards article on how the Professional Managerial Class have killed the Labour party. 2 sides of the same coin and why I dont think any of us should be voting left (except for Maori voting for the Maori Party who have woken up to Labour’s great Con).

    We need a new party people with a leader like Big Norm or Jim Anderton. Somebody who actually gives a damn and will drop all the bullshit and get on with the job.

    • Fantail. “Somebody who actually gives a damn and will drop all the bullshit and get on with the job “.
      Yes indeed. I don’t know where he’ll come from, but for all the knocking that religions get here, and the castration of the unions, the Salvation Army and the St Vincent de Paul organisations are two I know who work for the common good without other agendas. Over the years I flipped a few people the V de P way, and they were pretty good, very pragmatic too. Sallie folk make great colleagues, quite intriguing. I can’t see either group having any appeal to the great unwashed or the pundits so we ‘re back to square one. The Greens have some decent idealistic young people who are so nice they may well be crucified by the IP nutters at the top. And so it goes.

      • the charities are no doubt well meaning but every bit of charity in the social area is a failure of govt…it should be the cherry on the top not the ‘provider’

  15. The Labour government didn’t create neoliberalism, they just enacted this policy created by the moneyed class. And this is the key point. Whatever voice – we all – may have should be fighting to get Labour/National/Government to work for the interests of the people, for New Zealanders, for us all – instead of them bending over backwards for the moneyed class. This is the problem of our lifetime – for whom does government primarily serve – the people, or the moneyed class?

  16. I hate these footnoter/ Right commenters so I flick over them. Also some deep knowledgeable.

    I take it Chris is talking about the Maori Party?

    How despicable, Chris, in his music, presents the story of ‘our’ treatment of the neediest.

    I hope the Labour bastards read his material, but they’ve offed the head of the Children’s Commissioner for pointing out their hypocrisy.

  17. Chris is not exactly a guiding point of light. He can write one way or the other. With equal persuasion. Forty years in the Wilderness can do that to you. Myself, I don’t care about an outcome, just reality.

  18. Trotter always says it best for our Cause, knowing it so many years and eloquent. But he got into minor politics of the moment, why Minto, despite his stolidity, is more of a lighthouse for us.

    After-all, we’re right.

  19. Left To Rot.
    If that’s not an indictment on the current Labour Government nothing is.
    The left to rot refers to people not a building,the people Labour promised to help.

  20. Sad and silly I can’t share your true history with my ignorant nephs and nieces. Attach a tech to Martyn. Lprent is majorly just a tech. Why neoliberal Labour loves him. Roar your truth, superannuiant. I remember Mudoon accepting his super publicly at 60.

Comments are closed.