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New Zealand education policy is intrinsically connected to political climate, and this is no more obvious than at an election time. It is clear that education spending and the policies that come from it is best served by a consistent and collaborative Ministerial and Ministry approach, ideally across party and political ideological lines. To this end, the Ministry of Education has had a measure of success, and deserves accolades. However, the threat is, particularly in the current political climate, that this style of collaboration may be at risk. As Dame Anne Salmond recently wrote in The New Zealand Herald (26 August 2014):
[t]he independence of the civil service has been eroded, with ministers routinely interfering in operational decisions. Last year, the Law Society felt impelled to report to the United Nations that Parliament had been used to pass a succession of acts that strip away rights, freedoms and protections from citizens, in breach of the Bill of Rights. Ministerial accountability has become a farce.
If rights and protections are being stripped away, it is certainly a major threat to students in the New Zealand of the supposed ‘rock-star economy’ and the rise of the celebrity politician. Salmond also observed that “[o]ver the past 10 years there has been an insidious shift in the way that government works, with increasingly autocratic, arrogant, ministers taking away the levers of power from citizens and civil servants”. The current Minister of Tertiary Education is certainly not immune from this description. “Mr Fixit” is, for students, a dodgy ‘Bob the Builder’ at best. So what, you may say!
Participating in democracy enhances our wellbeing. Current theories clearly suggest this, and recently, public health researchers have adopted the social-capital theory, coined by Robert Putnam, which identifies that communal involvement improves wellbeing. Social capital implies that a sense of inclusivity will flow for people from the reciprocity, information and cooperation associated with social networks. Social capital works through multiple channels, and in the case of politics, comes from learning about electoral candidates and exchanging political ideas. There is a long-standing claim that ’empowerment’, including political activity, is good for health. When we vote, we choose the representatives who will make the laws and policies that govern how we live together, and this gives a person a sense of empowerment. Every vote counts, so a person would feel like they have made a positive contribution to society, regardless of whether their preferred party gets voted in. While educating ourselves about political parties, voters can learn about the issues which are affecting New Zealand. This knowledge will allow voters to be informed and, when appropriate, protest inequality, demand rights and resist oppression, which in our opinion are healthy actions to take. So get out there on 20 September and enhance your wellbeing by voting!