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Help! It’s an election year.

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 30 June 2017

So here we go again. It is an election year, and we are witnessing the political equivalent of a soap show – only interrupted by the occasional attempted election bribe.

Both National’s Todd Barclay saga and Labour’s internship programme may not quite fall into the category of good political management. However, beyond Election Day few people will remember what the fuss was all about.

Similarly, New Zealand First may attempt to win young votes by promising to wipe out student debt. But they can only be so generous knowing that it is highly unlikely they will have to deliver after the election.

In other words, it is a pretty conventional election campaign so far.

New Zealand can be proud of many things. But our election campaigns are not among them.

We have made a habit of focussing on the most trivial and absurd aspects of politics before our elections.

Winston Churchill once said that “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

But from a voter’s point of view, especially in New Zealand, the best argument against democracy are the roughly five months that precede each election. It is the time when we can observe how hollow our democratic process has become.

As voters and citizens, we should demand better of our political leaders and candidates. We want to hear them debate the future of the country. We need answers to the nation’s most pressing questions.

To help inform a better election debate, the Initiative published Manifesto 2017: What the next New Zealand government should do. It was our attempt to inject some content into this year’s election. Of course, we did not expect everyone to agree with all our policy recommendations. But we wanted to help steer the election away from the sort of trifles that often dominate politics.

So here is a plea to journalists. After grilling the Prime Minister on his knowledge of an employment dispute between one of his parliamentary colleagues and a staffer, ask him if he would support our call for better fiscal incentives for councils that plan for more housing.

Besides asking the Labour leader when he became aware of his party’s use of foreign interns, ask him how he would create better career paths for teachers.

Let’s talk about policy for a change. Let’s discuss New Zealand’s future.

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