Wise Response Submission to the Social Services and Community Select Committee on the Child Poverty Reduction Bill. 2 May, 2018
Wise Response is a Dunedin-based but New Zealand-wide Society www.wiseresponse.org.nz , launched in 2013, with the purpose of persuading the New Zealand Parliament, Government and New Zealand society in general, to confront and respond effectively to any confirmed threats arising from the question: “As demand for growth exceeds earth’s physical limits causing unprecedented risks, what knowledge and changes do we need to secure New Zealand’s future well-being?”
As Chairperson I conducted a nation-wide tour that year with 11 public meetings from Auckland to Invercargill to explain the Society’s purpose and strategy, and gain support. The Society has no formal membership beyond its committee of 15 persons and its Patron, Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC.
We received over 5,000 signatures for our petition to Parliament in April 2014, that recommended they undertake a Risk Assessment of New Zealand, in five subjects as follows:
- Financial security: the risk of a sudden, deepening, or prolonged global financial crisis.
- Energy and climate security: the risk of continuing our heavy dependence on fossil fuels.
- Business continuity the risk exposure of all New Zealand business, including farming, to a lower carbon economy.
- Ecological/Environmental security: the risks associated with failing to genuinely protect both land-based and marine ecosystems and their natural processes.
- Genuine well-being: the risk of persisting with a subsidised, debt-based economy, preoccupied with maximising consumption and GDP and increasing inequality.
The Appeal sought a commitment to a quantitative, cross-party risk assessment of how and exactly where New Zealand is exposed – environmentally, socially and economically – as a rational, integrated basis for planning a more secure future. The submission was referred to the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee, with a hearing in July 1, 2015. The majority response was negative; claiming Government was adequately addressing the issues of concern, but the three minority parties (Labour, NZ First, Greens) offered strong endorsement.
With two meetings in Wellington, the Society facilitated development of a Position Statement and Action Plan for ENGOs on climate change, under the name Climate Consensus Coalition Aotearoa (CCCA). This proposed a goal and a process by which to effectively meet the spirit and intent of the Paris Accord of Dec. 2015. So far, the total of individuals and the membership of organisations which have formally endorsed it, numbers approximately 330,000 from about 100 organisations.
In August, 2017 we made presentations of the CCCA Position Statement and Action Plan to MPs at Parliament, on behalf of its creators and supporters. There were two presentations – one in the morning to GLOBE-NZ members (chaired by Dr Kennedy Graham) and the second to an invited audience of all MPs in the Beehive Theatrette, hosted by GLOBE-NZ.
Our Society has also made formal submissions on several other relevant issues, including the Emissions Trading Scheme, the Resource Legislation Amendment
Bill, the Productivity Commission, the Otago Regional Council’s Regional Policy Statement. We also participated in Earth Day and the launch of Our Climate Declaration in Dunedin. On behalf of the Society I presented a resolution to the Royal Society Fellows AGM in October 2014, which resulted in the Society producing and publishing two substantial commissioned reports in 2016, on the Implications and the Mitigation of Climate Change in New Zealand.
More recently, Jan. 2018, the Society organised a public meeting in Dunedin on “Climate Change issues: from Bonn COP23 and beyond”, Central and Local Government responses, addressed by the Hon James Shaw, Minister of Climate Change, Mr Dave Cull, President of Local Government NZ and Hon Clare Curran, with some 400 attendees.
The Wise Response Society supports the Government’s efforts to reduce poverty in New Zealand, as quickly and effectively as possible. We believe there is no moral justification for people in New Zealand having to live in poverty. All New Zealanders should have access to a basic standard of living that should include adequate food, housing, education, welfare and health care, and where appropriate, meaningful employment. The overwhelming majority of international (e.g., Universal Declaration of Human Rights), moral and religious codes state that society has an obligation to provide the social and economic institutions so that people do not have to live in poverty.
In recent decades New Zealand has adopted neoliberal economic policies based on the priority of markets to determine the allocation of goods and services, and a downsizing of the state to play a regulating and compensatory role. This has led to the widespread growth in poverty and in environmental degradation, including potentially catastrophic climate disruption. There are many reasons for the failure of this philosophy and its policies, at both theoretical and practical levels, which we can elaborate on as necessary, but central to our submission is the moral imperative that we have an obligation to sustain and care for all the people who live in New Zealand, particularly our children, and protect them from the consequences of poverty.
We applaud the stated aims of the Bill which are to reduce child poverty and improve the overall well-being of children. Its stated purpose is to: encourage governments and society to focus on reducing child poverty; to hold governments to account against published targets; and to require transparent reporting about levels of child poverty.
To achieve its purpose the Bill would specify child poverty measures and ensure agencies work together to improve the well-being of children. It would also require: specific child poverty targets to be set, reports about child poverty to be produced and published independently of Ministers. The Government of the day would adopt, publish, and review a Government strategy for improving the well-being of all children, with a particular focus on child poverty and the needs of children at greater risk.
We agree with Prime Minister Ardern in introducing this Bill, that “for a country with relative abundance, New Zealand has the opportunity, and the moral obligation, to ensure children are free from the burden of poverty.
This Bill is the framework for measuring and targeting child poverty. It sets in law four primary and six supplementary measures of poverty and material hardship. It requires the government of the day to then set targets to reduce child poverty. It requires governments to develop a comprehensive child well-being strategy that keeps child poverty top of mind, and keeps the focus on improving the living standards of children.”
Our Society is particularly concerned with the persistence of, and the increase in, the numbers of children under the very low-income, 40% of the after-housing costs median moving line (140,000 children). There is thus a strong case for making this one of the primary measures for the allocation of resources sufficient to explain how families might fall below this line. This particular measure signifies the most serious end of child poverty and so policies are urgently needed to ensure that no child falls below this line.
Finally, our Society applauds the various proposals contained in this Bill and we agree that tackling and measuring child poverty is complicated and demanding, but our children are relying on civil society to act and so we strongly support this Bill.
Our Society has also endorsed and added our support for the Children’s Sector Joint Submission on this Bill and we also endorse the detailed submission presented by the Child Poverty Action Group.
Sir Alan Mark FRSNZ, Chair, Wise Response Society Inc.,