A Good News Post

21 Dec

Christmas came early this year and brought two gifts of political participation, with both the National-led government and the Green party altering decisions to which there was a negative public response. The Green party reinstated their disarmament and arms control portfolio and the government decided to continue funding the 24-hour Auckland Sexual Abuse Helpline.

The Auckland sexual abuse helpline was originally funded through ACC but this funding was cut in 2009 as the work was not seen to fit within ACC’s legal mandate. The hotline was then jointly funded by the ministries of health, social development, the police and the Auckland District Health Board. After unexpectedly being denied funding through the Community Response Fund earlier this year, the helpline was on the verge of closing. A campaign was organised through change.org calling on the government to continue funding the hotline. The campaign drew considerable media attention and an agreement was reached by which the health and social development ministries will provide funding to the hotline for the next 6-months.

An issue that has received considerably less attention is the recent disestablishment of the Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control position. On Monday, 15 December, when the Ministerial list was announced, the position of Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control was no longer listed and it was detailed in a footnote that the Foreign Affairs portfolio now incorporates the responsibilities previously in the Disarmament and Arms Control portfolio. On Wednesday, 14 December, it seemed that the Green party had also made the decision to fold the Disarmament portfolio into their new broader Global Affairs portfolio. This move generated considerable criticism from within the New Zealand disarmament community with the Aotearoa New Zealand Cluster Munitions Coalition (ANZCMC) and Peace Movement Aotearoa arguing that having a separate disarmament portfolio allowed New Zealand to play a leading role in disarmament initiatives, such as the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

There are also potentially legal issues to consider. The 1987 NZ Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987 stipulated that that Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control is the Chairman [sic] of the Public Advisory Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control (PACDAC). PACDAC administers the Peace and Disarmament Education Trust (PADET) and, among other things, advises the Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs on implementation of the 1987 Act. The disestablishment of the Minister for Disarmament position raises questions about whether PACDAC can now legally operate without a Chairperson. Responding to these concerns, the Green Party announced on Friday, 16 December, that they would re-establish disarmament as a separate portfolio.

It often feels like the biggest barrier in trying to engage with politics is overcoming feelings of voicelessness and disillusionment. However both cases mentioned above represent incidences where people’s personal experiences were listened to and used to inform the subsequent decisions made. In the case of the sexual abuse helpline, the campaign to reinstate funding became most affecting when people began to write on John Key’s facebook page about their personal experiences of using the helpline.  By making the decision to continue to fund the helpline, the government put these peoples’ experiences at the centre of policy-making. With the case of the disarmament portfolio, on the surface it can perhaps make sense to put disarmament and arms control within a foreign policy portfolio. However the Green party chose to listen to groups such as the ANZCMC and Peace Movement Aotearoa who know from experience that having a separate disarmament portfolio allows New Zealand to play a more active role in disarmament.

Of course, both cases raise questions about why there was no consultation with interested parties beforehand. The fact that it reached a point where people were having to discuss personal experiences of sexual violence on the prime ministers facebook page in order to ensure the continuation of proper services, rather than these services being seen as crucial to the development of a fair and just society is problematic to say the least. And while the Green party was prepared to reconsider their decision over the disarmament portfolio, National shows little sign of doing the same. I wrote several weeks ago about the need for more public discussion around the direction of New Zealand’s foreign policy. Unfortunately this decision, and in particular the lack of consultation around it, signals a continued lack of interest on the part of the government in providing space for these debates.

However given that it’s Christmas and supposed to be a time for celebrating, I will leave the concerns aside and spend time learning from the success stories and celebrating the feelings of having a voice these successes can bring.

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