- Date published:
1:28 pm, September 5th, 2017 - 31 comments
Categories: benefits, Economy, feminism, greens, welfare - Tags: #greenthegovt, anti-neoliberalism, green politics, mothers, neoliberalism
As an aside to all the hooha last week about who has the biggest scandal, I was thinking about the use of mothers as metaphors for something big and impactful and what that might say about us.
Remember the Mother of All Budgets? The one in 1991 where benefits were cut so they were intentionally below what was liveable. Where the reforms started by the fledgling ACT party* in the 80s were solidified into a complete revolution of NZ society, economics and politics.
Richardson was a member of the radical right wing of the National Party, which took a miniarchist, libertarian standpoint which emphasized individualism and personal freedom. These viewpoints were reflected in Richardson’s 1991 budget which resulted in a huge reduction in government spending, particularly in regards to social welfare. Richardson worked closely with Minister of Social Welfare Jenny Shipley and proudly announced her fiscal outlay as the ‘mother of all budgets’.
The budget essentially dismantled much of what remained of the welfare state institutions established in the 1930s by the First Labour Government. The unemployment benefit was cut by $14.00 a week, sickness benefit by $27.04, families benefit by $25.00 to $27.00 and universal payments for family benefits were completely abolished. Richardson also introduced many user pays requirements in hospitals and schools, services previously free to the populace and paid for by the government. Public services such as state housing were devolved essentially into companies under government contract in all but name. This was not popular with many in the conservative wing of the National Party, and led to major disagreements over policy. Former Prime Minister Sir Robert Muldoon resigned from his Tamaki constituency in protest of Richardson’s policies.
This was a time when NZ was first getting used to women politicians in major roles, and here were Richardson and Shipley talking about mothers while destroying the social contract of looking after vulnerable people. NZ wasn’t ready to have that conversation about gender (see, Thatcher and Richardson prove that women are just as bad as men!) and it’s taken a good few decades for us to start to untangle ourselves from that piece of neoliberal treachery. One of neoliberalism’s tools is the misuse of gender politics. The value of having women do your dirty work is that it detracts from the value of women’s culture and what would happen if women collectively had power on their own terms.
Start talking about putting the kuia or aunties in charge and see what kind of reaction you get, even on the left. Instead we are allowed another woman making a run at PM, so long as she can play the game with the boys on their terms. Feminism lives within the patriarchy.
Compare National’s 1990s policy with the Green Party’s 2017 Budget for All Mothers, which isn’t a metaphor but an actual policy that understands that mothers are central to society because of their role in the wellbeing of children. When we place the wellbeing of children at the centre of society in meaningful ways we tend to organise society fairly and compassionately and inclusively, as well as create a healthy society that sustains itself. That’s as anti-neoliberal as it gets. It’s Māori, green, and feminist, and the neoliberal establishment hate it.
The Budget for All Mothers policy was followed by the Greens’ Mending the Safety Net package, which is the first real attempt by any political party to redress the wrongs that Richardson did 26 years ago. Those Green policies have provoked some of the worst political backlash we’ve seen in a generation which in turn led to the resignation of one of NZ’s finest politicians and champion of the notion that mothers are intrinsically valuable and should be respected and cared for. A notion deeply embedded in human evolution but in this instant of time is considered radical. We prefer that our
solo recalcitrant mums are sacrificed.
What we’re seeing since Metiria Turei’s welfare speech is the battle of values in NZ that’s taken 3 decades to come to a head. This is playing out in a number of different ways, including in the value of women. So we have the main woman leader being asked about her baby-making intentions, and white men of privilege siding with the patriarchy by insisting on their right to use metaphors about whores and lipstick on pigs. Because let’s not forget who and what is still in charge.
This isn’t just a left/right split either, because even on the left there are distinct factions that still see the Greens as liabilities or even the enemy despite the Green Party having not only the relevant policies but also the guts to stand up and push back against neoliberal culture in NZ, even if it comes at great cost. There are more than two sides here.
What kind of society do we want? In this election for the first time since Rogernomics we have the opportunity to choose life. For many of us it’s not enough to shift a bit to the left for another few terms and then suck it up while National have their go again. Thanks to the courage of the Green Party caucus and co-leaders we have a real chance at making the battle visible and mainstream enough that people take notice. The Greens excel at generating societal change and something important is building here.
This is critical in this election where a strong Green vote would allow the left to forge an actual progressive government. But it’s much bigger than this election too. With many things at stake here, NZ stands on the cusp of the same great changes that are happening globally. Which way are we going to jump?
In the meantime, this is where we are at as a nation in regards to mothers,
— WeAreBeneficiaries (@WeBeneficiaries) September 3, 2017
*aka the 4th Labour government.