Election should not be about Turei, texts or family plans

Published in the New Zealand Herald (Auckland), 9 August 2017

Every three years, this wonderful country with its friendly people goes nuts. It gets itself into a state of frenzy that it normally reserves for rugby world cups. But it is an excitement over freak and side shows, not about the issues that really matter.

In 2011, tea tapes dominated the election campaign. In 2014, we had Kim Dotcom and the Dirty Politics saga. And everything in 2017 so far points to the naked ambition to continue this sorry tradition.

Just to recap what we have talked about over the past couple of weeks. We learnt Metiria Turei cheated on benefit payments and registered to vote in a different constituency. Winston Peters let us know Bill English texted his former constituency office manager. And Jacinda Ardern’s family planning became the subject of national debate.

With all due respect, I am sick of people getting excited about such issues. Yes, of course, you could argue that there is a political core to all these stories. Yes, Ms Turei did something illegal in her 20s. Yes, the Prime Minister may not have fully revealed his knowledge of the Todd Barclay scandal. And yes, Ms Ardern may have brought the baby debate on herself because she first talked about it.

I do not mean to excuse any wrong-doing but I would like to see some perspective here. Whatever Turei or English did will be forgotten soon after the election. And whether Ardern wants to have children or not matters to her and her partner and is nobody’s business.

To New Zealand as a country, none of these issues are material.

If New Zealand really cared for a proper scandal it wanted to discuss in this election campaign, I would have some other ideas for you.

Last week, the Building Research Association of New Zealand presented their latest report on the quality of New Zealand homes. Among its shocking findings are the facts that almost half of all houses lacked adequate insulation and are damp and mouldy. In 46 per cent of homes, bedrooms were unheated.

For a developed nation that prides itself on its quality of life, this is not just bad. This is unacceptable. The state of New Zealand’s housing is truly worthy of the word scandal.

And it is not just the state of our homes. It is the price you have to pay for the roof over your head.

What a gross social injustice to condemn a whole generation to life with excessive mortgage burdens – that is if they make it on to the property ladder at all.

Or take another real scandal: our education system.

Yes, of course, there are great schools in the country and many children are getting a decent education. But at the same time, there are plenty of children who do not. And those children who do not get the education that every child deserves are overwhelmingly from Maori and Pasifika backgrounds.

In the New Zealand of 2017, your ethnic and social background and the colour of your skin determine your chance to getting a good education. If that is not a scandal, I do not know what is.

So these are two of the real issues that should bother New Zealanders in this election campaign. These are the issues that will determine especially our young generation’s future – a future in which they will struggle to remember who Turei, English and Ardern were.

But our children will live with the financial, health and education consequences of our political decisions today. We owe it to our children to debate the issues that matter. We owe it to them to talk policy, especially in election years.

By giving in to the sensationalist urge to turn our elections into soap operas, we are guilty of not fulfilling our duties as citizens. We are doing a disservice to democracy if we allow the trivialisation of our politics.

New Zealand, I love you. You deserve better than another side show masquerading as an election campaign.