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Salient’s take on the VUWSA-organised ‘Great Political Debate with Wallace Chapman’, by Sofia Roberts.
After waiting a solid ten minutes to get a pie in Vic Books, I finally managed to get a seat in preparation for the debate. Host Wallace Chapman was wearing a blue blazer, red shirt and green pants, in an attempt to seem either unbiased or colour blind. MPs Tracey Martin (NZ First) and Grant Robertson (Labour) arrived together with coffee, while Greens co-leader Metiria Turei flitted around the crowd as Sonya Clark began the debate. There was an open discussion about student issues and then questions from the floor. Debating were Paul Foster-Bell (National), Tracey Martin (NZ First), Grant Robertson (Labour) and Russel Norman (Greens).
Lots of arguments over postgraduate Allowances and Student Loans. A group of Young Nats was identified in the crowd by telling Wallace that they didn’t find paying loans to be unfair, as they will benefit from a tertiary education. Wallace fruitlessly tried to find any struggling postgraduate students in the crowd. NZ First, Labour and the Greens all agreed to bring back postgraduate Allowances, and the crowd was generally receptive to this. Robertson said the cost of tertiary education was a barrier, and that was wrong. Martin emphasised that study is a right and it should be free, in order to maintain the social contract, while Norman pushed the ‘Green Card’ – free public transport for tertiary students – and improving student flats. Foster-Bell said that tertiary education had never been free, as people paid for it when they were working and paid higher taxes.
After a question from the floor on crime and rehabilitation of prisoners, there was debate over work in prisons. Foster-Bell supported rehabilitation, including reintroducing prison libraries, as well as mandatory $2-an-hour work for prisoners. Norman accused him of supporting slave labour, but agreed that optional work in prisons could be good. Martin said that “being imprisoned is the punishment” and that prisoners should not be further punished while in prison, but should be focussed on rehabilitation. Robertson agreed, and also said prisoners should be able to vote, after the right to vote was removed by National. When Wallace asked the crowd (incidentally, this was massive – at least 600, easily VUWSA’s biggest event ever) to raise their hands if they thought prisoners should be able to vote, a solid 90 per cent did so.
A member of the audience asked about funding for sexual-violence services. Foster-Bell said Green MP Jan Logie had done good work on sexual-violence services, and that the Government had increased funding by $10 million in this year’s Budget. Robertson pointed out that this funding had only come after years of cuts by National in successive budgets. Martin supported more housing services for women and child victims of domestic violence. Robertson said Labour had promised $60 million funding for NGOs including Shakti and New Zealand Women’s Refuge.
Speaking about last night’s ‘Moment of Truth’, Chapman said it was “fucking intense” and that this election had been incredibly dramatic. When he asked the audience to cheer if they thought Snowden was a hero, there was a loud cheer; no response when asked if Snowden was a traitor. The small group of Young Nats also claimed to be representatives of the GCSB. Chapman then found Metiria Turei in the audience (to rapturous audience applause), with Turei then asking when “John Key will step up and tell us the truth” about spying allegations. The Greens called for a cybersecurity body separate from the GCSB, while Foster-Bell maintained that Key is telling the truth, that the Government has not spied on New Zealanders and that he would resign if the country was a police state. Martin said some spying was okay, “because there are bad people in the world”, but oversight should mean more than just John Key knowing what is going on.
Each politician was asked about their view of abortion and whether they would decriminalise it. For National, it would be a conscience issue. Despite Paul Foster-Bell saying he was pro-choice, he said he would keep abortion in the Crimes Act because “the current system is working”. Russel Norman also said he was pro-choice, and emphasised the Greens’ policy of decriminalising abortion. Grant Robertson said abortion was “a health issue, not a criminal issue”, and while Tracey Martin agreed, she stressed prevention, toeing the party’s line of “safe, rare, legal.”
Russel Norman wanted increased and more effective enforcement of the laws surrounding migrant workers’ rights. Tracey Martin wanted incentives for migrants who whistleblow on unethical employers. Paul Foster-Bell wanted migrants to be informed of their rights upon entering New Zealand, and Grant Robertson wanted to encourage migrant workers to form and strengthen unions.
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei had announced earlier in the day that the Greens supported a baby-box policy as implemented in Scandinavia (giving supplies to new parents) which Russel referred to. Paul Foster-Bell made the point that it’s not child poverty, it’s whānau poverty, so National would target economic growth so that parents can afford to feed their children. Tracey Martin said NZ First would prioritise the feeding of children and increase funding of social workers. Robertson drew applause when he said Labour would have a Children’s Minister so they could have a voice around the Cabinet table.
Wallace Chapman asked for final thoughts from the panellists after the clock hit two. The panellists gave one final push for their party and for voting in general.
Early voting is on campus in the Hub, where it will continue until this Friday.
Additional reporting from Sophie Boot, Cameron Price and T Witter. Photo credit: Rick Zwaan, incoming VUWSA president.