Deferred Maintenance

Lately we are becoming familiar with the term 'deferred maintenance', meaning, basically, that our built environment has been neglected and is deteriorating. We see the results all around us: yellow stickered buildings that do not reach building standards, even in towns that have not had severe earthquakes. Cold, damp rental housing. Schools where classrooms are shabby and crowded. Hospital wards ditto. Sewage overflows and flooding from poor drainage, drinking water polluted, roads too narrow and crowded for the growing amounts of traffic. Minimal public transport in most regions. It all speaks of a failure of stewardship.

Annoying as this is in a country which should be able to maintain first world standards, there is another more disturbing failure of maintenance: we are not engaging in discussion about our values as a nation. And I don't mean the flag debate, although, did anyone collect that data? I don't recall people saying proudly that they stood for poverty, shabbiness and retributive punishment of all offenders.

Do we still care about fairness and equality? The right to a healthy life? A safety net for our most vulnerable? Do we still want New Zealand to be a great place to raise children?

Taking just the last point: far from being the best place in the world for children, as our mythology would have it, UNICEF ranked us 34th out of 41 developed nations.The report assessed five aspects of children's lives: material well-being; health and safety; education; behaviours and risks; and housing and environment, using our own data from Statistics New Zealand, the Ministry of Social Development and previous OCED reports. New Zealand's low ranking was due to our high rates of child poverty, high numbers of young people not in education and deaths of children at the hands of their care-givers. That's without even mentioning the 20-25% of children who will be sexually abused before their 16th birthday, the high teen suicide rate or the current call to bring back the amendment that would allow parents to assault their children in the name of discipline.

My feeling is that we are too readily blinded by panic-mongering which talks about the lack of financial resources or the competition for them. We are a well-off country, maybe not the richest but the money is there if we have the will to distribute it fairly.

What we lack is a clear understanding of the moral and ethical values which would guide policy decisions and create a long-term vision for the nation we want to be.

Those under-maintained buildings and infrastructure didn't deteriorate overnight. It takes a period of neglect for the shabbiness and unsafety to begin to show.

As we tumble down the league tables on all measures of a decent society, the neglect of our moral compass is showing all too clearly. How will we have that discussion?

For an inspiring talk about values-based politics listen to Max Harris:

or look for his book The New Zealand Project

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