New Zealand not progressive enough in a world full of change

Photograph by Hagen Hopkins

We were hardly at the vanguard of legalising same-sex marriage. By 2012, when we did it, more than a dozen other countries had. We came to the party 11 years after the first.

Plus, if we were so progressive, we would have changed the flag. Forget all the excuses about the disappointing designs. If we were really into the idea, we would’ve demanded something worth backing and pushed it through.

Finally, while we’re making all the right noises about the Manus Island refugees, it looks a lot like empty talk. It’s like making promises when everyone is 10 drinks deep. You know you won’t have to follow through.

We seem to have no intention to follow through on our offer to take 150 refugees. It looks more like a political play by Jacinda Ardern, who knows it resonates well with her core voters without upsetting anyone other voters, because it’ll never happen.

If Ardern meant to take those 150 refugees, she’d appeal directly to Papua New Guinea and to hell with what Australia thinks. But she hasn’t.

As smug as we may feel in comparison to Australia, I’d wager we’d be no better if we were in their shoes. If we had boat people arriving on our shores, we’d turn them away, too.

Our hands aren’t clean of the Manus Island debacle as it is. We have just pledged $3 million towards keeping the refugees there, perhaps in better circumstances, but still there.

And we may dislike Australia’s treatment of Kiwi immigrants, but we have our own chequered history of bullying the citizens of smaller nations. The Dawn Raids are a case in point.

Australia’s difference is that it’s bigger and closer to the world. Perhaps, as our population grows in size and as international travel and technology make the world smaller, we’re becoming more like Australia. Perhaps that explains why it has been 14 years since we did something truly progressive.

So, sure, feel smug about much better we are than our Aussie neighbours. Enjoy it while it lasts.

It’s interesting that “progressive” is defined as the process of advocating for change instead of the status quo.  It doesn’t at all quantify if progressiveness is beneficial.  Change for the sake of change is at best neutral, but it can also be negative.

Being progressive isn’t the same as swimming upstream.  I note Heather has carefully omitted our Nuclear Free stance as proof of our progressiveness.  History told us that was a total accident that Labour then ended up selling as one of its plans.

Progressive isn’t being allowed to do things now because your conceptual parents no longer have the power to stop you.  Changing a flag isn’t progressive.   That is just change for the sake of change.

And let me go ahead of the curve:  having unisex bathrooms isn’t progressive either.

This government and its supporters have a huge list of changes in mind.  But nobody is testing these changes to see if they are actually going to lead to something better.  A lot of it is simply because there is a need to change things by the people in nominal power.

The mood for change for its own sake is dangerous.  This government doesn’t have the intelligence to understand the damage it has already done in one short month.  It certainly doesn’t appreciate the damage that still lies ahead if it keeps going this way.


– Heather du Plessis-Allan


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