Voting app feeds the politics of “me”

JFK quoteA new app aimed at getting young people to vote, looks likely to reinforce the idea that politics is all about what the government will do for me. Canterbury University student Hannah Duder designed the app which matches parties with users and encourages them to vote. It is potentially a great idea to get disengaged young people involved in the political process. Approx. 40% of 18 to 24 year old didn’t vote at the last election.

However the way the app has been configured raises questions about the political culture we want to encourage among young people. The program begins by asking personal information questions to create a user profile (e.g. the user’s age, occupation, home ownership etc). It then uses that profile to generate questions about policies that might affect the user. Duder says this is a vital part of the app because,

”I don’t want a student for example to be asked questions about policies on tax breaks for farmers.” (Stuff 25.06.14)

This sounds sensible enough, but it assumes that voters are only interested in policies which impact them. In doing so it feeds the politics of the lowest common denominator – the politics of me. This might be how our cynical media commentators like to explain all political action but surely from our young people we can look for more.

Indeed we all need to stop seeing democracy as a means for individuals or groups to express or represent their own interests. Rather we should see our democratic system as as a way in which we can contribute to the common good – to what is best for our nation.

As a President Kennedy said to young Americans – Ask not what your country can do for you; but rather what can you do for your country. His words inspired a whole generation to be engaged in serving both their country and the world beyond. No app was required.

Ewen McQueen
June 2014

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Synthetic cannabis – underground is where it belongs

Peter Dunne has finally come to terms with the reality of so called “legal highs” and banned all of them. He should have done so right from the beginning but managed to convince himself of his own convoluted logic that banning “didn’t work” and would simply drive these products underground. Instead he said the testing regime he put in place would be hugely expensive and thus most synthetic cannabis producers would not be able to afford it anyway. This begged the question – at the point where producers could not afford the testing regime, where did Mr Dunne think they would they take their product ? Underground of course.

So either way these addictive and dangerous substances would end up underground. The only difference between the two scenarios is that the “undergrounding” would have taken longer under Dunne’s preferred approach. In the interim the normalisation of these substances by being legally available has simply encouraged greater use of them.

Mr Dunne doesn’t seem to have followed through the logic of his own argument. He also seems to have bought into the flawed argument that driving things underground by proscribing them in law is inherently bad. However some bad things belong underground. No one suggests we should decriminalise theft so that it can be better controlled.

Some will of course argue that unlike theft, drug use is a victimless crime which harms only those who indulge in it. Tell that to the Gisborne policeman  who was resigning because of the increasing violence in his community due to synthetic cannabis use. Tell it to the emergency dept staff around the country having to waste precious time and resource on the after effects of “legal highs”. Most importantly tell it to the families of the young people pushed over the edge into long term mental health damage by synthetic cannabis use. They have surely had something stolen from them – something far more valuable than private property.

Ewen McQueen
April 2014


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Housing affordability – its supply AND demand

Blenheim Home May 1960The PM has finally shown signs of being willing to consider the impact that foreign demand is having on housing affordability in New Zealand (Herald: Rethink on foreign home-buying). Until now the Government has focused solely on supply issues. However any market is determined by both demand and supply. Clearly we have issues on both sides that need to be addressed.

Housing Minister Nick Smith has been doing great work on housing supply. He seems to be everywhere. If not standing on a bulldozer in a new subdivision, he is craning in a new state house extension or cutting the ribbon on some new housing development initiative. However his efforts will be simply running to stand still if measures are not also taken to address foreigners speculating in New Zealand housing.

It is often said by those advocating unrestricted access for foreign buyers that their numbers are only small. Even if that is true (and John Key now acknowledges the need for better data) it only takes relatively small proportion of well funded buyers at the margin to propel a market upwards. Everyone else then has to follow the market up.

Housing has been a major policy focus for New Zealand political parties across the spectrum ever since party politics was established in this country. With the Liberals from the late 1800s the focus was on leasehold options. In the early 1900s Reform changed the focus to home ownership via cheap state loans. During their tenure the proportion of wage and salary earners owning their own dwelling rose steeply.

From the 1930s Labour changed direction with a massive state house building programme. However the new National Party reflected their Reform roots in returning to a focus on home ownership. As Bruce Farland notes in his biography of Reform Prime Minister, William Ferguson Massey,

“The National Party rediscovered this truth… It accounted for their belief in a ‘property owning democracy’ associated also with the Joint Family Homes legislation, and for their tenures of office in the period 1949-72″ (Farland, 2008, page 521)

A Holland, Holyoake or Muldoon National government would never have sat on their hands while foreign speculators made housing unaffordable for many New Zealand families. Neither should this one.

Ewen McQueen                                                                                                                             April 2014

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Kapiti Island – sanctuary of the Sprirt

Kapiti Island

Kapiti Island                                                                                                                                   Trevor Heath Photography

Today Kapiti Island north of Wellington is a sanctuary for some of New Zealand’s precious rare birds. 180 years ago it provided sanctuary of a different sort. In 1837 a group of young men hungry for truth established what was perhaps New Zealand’s first indigenous Bible college on the island. Tamihana Te Rauparaha (son of the great Ngati Toa chief) his cousin Matene Te Whiwhi and ten others retreated to Kapiti to study the new teachings of Christianity.

They had been introduced to the Gospel by Ripahau, a former slave of who had returned from the far north with the transforming new ideas he had he learnt from the missionaries. Ideas about peace, forgiveness, new life and hope beyond death.

Tamihana and his friends were excited about what they heard. However others in their tribes were less enthusiastic, even actively opposing their endeavours to learn more. In response the young seekers sought sanctuary across the waters on Kapiti Island where, as Keith Newman writes in his recent book Beyond Betrayal,

“They acquired paper and writing implements from whaling stations and, with fragments from (the) gospel, a prayer book and whatever Ripahau had memorised, they began their own Bible school.”

The several months these young men spent on their island retreat was to bear abundant fruit. Together with the missionary Octavius Hadfield whom they subsequently invited to join them, they became ministers of a great work of God which was established and flourished in Otaki and along the coast.

This work was to have a major impact in the Wellington region and beyond. Local tribal conflicts were quelled. Tamihana and his cousin journeyed to the South Island tribes to seek forgiveness and reconciliation for his father’s previous raids. Tamihana was also influential in establishing the Maori King movement with a vision for tribal unity. However when it later became militant against the Crown and conflict broke out he ensured that the Wellington region remained a “peace zone”.

These were nation changing events. But it all began when 12 young men sought the sanctuary of the Spirit on Kapiti Island.

Ewen McQueen
April 2014

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Bible in Schools

Rt Hon W.F. Massey

Rt Hon W.F. Massey

180 years ago in New Zealand the Bible was valued more than gold. The hunger across the land for the Maori New Testament – Te Kawenata Hou was insatiable. Now it is being removed from our schools by ardently secular parents.

They say it is a human rights issue. What they fail to grasp is that the very rights they purport to be protecting only exist because of the Judeo-Christian cultural heritage they enjoy in this nation.

Wherever the Bible has gone in the world it has provided two key values upon which democracy and human rights have flourished – the fundamental value and equality of all human beings as made in the imago Dei, and the accountability of all human authority to a higher authority. (Refer ODT article 24th Oct 2003).

Christianity transforms societies for the better. New Zealand is no exception. In the 1820s thousands died in the inter-tribal musket wars. In the 1830s as the Spirit of Te Kawenata Hou moved across the land, peace broke out, slaves were liberated and civil government was established.

Understanding our cultural roots is vital if we are to make sensible decisions today. New Zealand’s second longest serving Prime Minister, W.F. Massey, certainly appreciated his inheritance. Whilst debating a Religious Exercises in Schools Bill in Parliament he noted:

The Bible is the basis of the Christian religion and the basis of our civilization. The more our young people can learn about the Bible, the better it will be for them and for our nation.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Rt Hon William Ferguson Massey                                                                                        New Zealand Prime Minister 1912 – 1925

I agree with him.

Ewen McQueen                                                                                                                                     18th February 2014

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Christianity foundational to the Treaty

On this Waitangi Day in the 200th year since Te Harinui was first proclaimed in these islands, let us remember that the Treaty would never have been signed without the influence of Christianity. Read the Otago Daily Times, Foundations of Treaty rooted in Christianity : Ewen McQueen

Ewen McQueen
6th February 2014

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Rev Samuel Marsden – Till time shall be no more

Marsden Cross at Rangihoua

Marsden Cross at Rangihoua

200 years is a momentous milestone in a nation as young as New Zealand. But that is the milestone we celebrate this year of 2014.

It is two centuries since the Rev Samuel Marsden came ashore at Rangihoua in the Bay of Islands and held the first Christian service in this land. It was an auspicious day – indeed it was Christmas Day, 1814.

Nga Puhi chief Ruatara had gathered his people on the grass above the beach and it being Christmas Marsden preached from the gospel of Luke 2:10 – “Behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy – te harinui”.

Marsden later wrote in his journal:

“In this manner the Gospel has been introduced to New Zealand, and I fervently pray that the glory of it may never depart from its inhabitants, till time shall be no more.”

Christianity went on to have a huge impact in early New Zealand. An impact that reverberates to this day. The Treaty we celebrate next week would never have happened without the influence of Te Rongopai – the Good News. However that is a story for another day. Indeed there will be many such stories to remember and reflect on this year. And we need to remember, for the seeds of our future lie in our past.

For now let us start the year by joining with Marsden and praying for the glory of the Gospel to shine ever brighter across our nation. For there is unfinished business in the land…

Ewen McQueen
January 2014

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