Don’t get me wrong, New Zealand is no perfect pearl. There’s a bounty of issues. Inequality is rising dramatically. Sprawl around Auckland is a huge issue. Environmental impacts on some of the island is devastating. There are interesting signs of progress though, and they are worth looking at closely.
There are too many reminders of the American experience in colonialist land grabbing abetted and rationalized by religious evangelists in the subjugation of New Zealand’s native people, the Maoris. Making rights wrong and eliminating discrimination and racism is an ongoing project with miles to go, but reading any of the history there seems to be a more concerted effort in recent decades to make New Zealand multi-cultural. Of the major unions, five of the six have Maoris in key leadership positions. Translated signage in Maori is everywhere. At 15% of the population and coupled with the island Polynesian votes, they can decide elections and were critical in putting the current, more progressive Labor-Green coalition into power. Change is coming.
A museum at the seminal location where the Waitangi Treaty was signed between the British Crown and some of the Maori tribes promising them lots, including continued control of their lands, which were honored in the breach was educational. The museum though acknowledging some of this horror and now turned over to Maoris to run and administer still treats the whole sordid deal as a “partnership” from then to now, which is a bitter pill for many to swallow, I’m sure, and raised eyebrows from us, even as we learned from the experience.
More encouraging perhaps were new amendments to the Equal Pay laws in New Zealand recently. In the public sector workers in largely female job classifications that low paid are now able to bring claims that their job duties and job content is equivalent to other workers in largely male classifications that are paid significantly more. While visiting in offices of the union, E tu, with their campaign staff I heard about their huge victory where the equivalent of home care workers was able to challenge their pay discrepancy with prison guards and win a judgment raising their standards to that level costing millions. What a wonderful tool for finally achieving pay equity!
Have I already mentioned the best-in-class Auckland Botanical Garden? Yeah, I guess I did, and it ought to be on everyone’s list who ever has the opportunity to pass through Auckland and the North Island. My team were also fans of the Auckland Art Gallery, the big museum there. The downside though on both the Maritime Museum, which I enjoyed, and the Art Gallery and the Waitangi Museum, was the fact that these institutions were free to locals but charged $20 NZ for foreigners with no breaks of any kind, which I found obnoxious for institutions that want to be compared to national class museums in the US and other countries. It goes without saying that the Botanical Gardens were free.
I wish you all could have been with us.