The New Zealand Project - confronting the country's challenges

From Nine To Noon, 9:34 am on 11 April 2017

Young New Zealander and Rhodes scholar Max Harris has written a new book called The New Zealand Project. It is a vision for confronting the country's challenges and calls for a shift towards progressive politics and a new framework for economic thinking.

Harris was previously a clerk to Chief Justice Sian Elias at the New Zealand Supreme Court, and has worked as a consultant in Helen Clark's office at the United Nations Development Programme.

He also helped set up criminal justice group JustSpeak and public interest organisation, Law For Change.

He told RNZ’s Kathryn Ryan that there’s a need to put values at the centre of the political and judicial arena.

“We’ve lost the sense that politics is motivated by values and that politics is there to achieve values.

“Politics has become a bit technical and technocratic, it’s because we’ve lost a general sense of direction in politics and it’s because, I think, there’s been a rise in selfishness and self-interestedness in society as a whole in the last 20 to 30 years, which has crowded out space for values.”

He says bringing values back into politics is one way to connect people with politics, draw on Māori traditions and change people’s minds.

In his book, Harris tries to apply the values of care, community and creativity to problems being faced by New Zealanders.

He hopes the book is of interest for people on both sides of the political divide.

“That’s why I’ve chosen the values of care, community and creativity. I’ve called them progressive values, because I think most New Zealanders can sign up to some idea of progress.

Harris says the book talks about using genuine people power to allow people to take action at an individual level, but also at a collective level where some problems are too great for individuals to deal with.

“One example of that is climate change, where it’s important to make changes in their daily lives but when it comes to reducing emissions on a national level, we need planning and coordination at the global level.”

Another example is race relations, which Harris says requires smart action at multiple levels.

He says the three Otorohanga students who took a petition to Parliament to get greater commemoration of the New Zealand wars prompted members of the public and the government, to think through the negative effects of decolonisation.

“That was really powerful individual action that has started to spark a debate about owning New Zealand history.”

Nicky Hager, who was interviewed for the book, told Harris that politicians ultimately follow public will.

“It does have to be a movement outside of politics that pushes politicians to be more values driven.”

Harris says people under the age of 34 are significantly less likely to vote as many feel quite desensitised and demoralised.

“There’s a loss of a sense of community amongst a lot of young people and a loss of the sense that we have a stake in society.”

But he says young people are engaged in lots of other ways, such as social media, blogging, street art, music

One specific thing that could be done to get young people more involved is offering civics education, he says.

”Having education about politics towards the end of people’s high school lives, as they’re going in to vote for the first time as a useful nudge for people towards the ballot box.”

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