The highlight of Saturday for me was the launch of the Green Student Support Policy and eCard campaign. I must say, I’m so impressed with it. The policy was rewritten for this election to reflect the progress in student support policy over the last few years. In 1999 and 2002 when the Greens campaigned for Parliament, we campaigned on a policy of a universal student allowance and the end to the student loan scheme. This has been a fantastic policy to campaign on because it makes so much sense. Over the last few years other parties have developed similar policies and students have started to get more practical in the ‘how’s’ of this policy. So the time came for the Greens to spell out exactly how they would make these things possible.
The first policy point that the Greens are proposing is a year for year debt write off scheme. That means every year you work in New Zealand, paid or unpaid, and you make all your compulsory repayments, we will wipe off the amount of debt it took a year to accumulate. To deal with debt, the Greens will also remove interest from the student loan scheme.
The second major policy point is the introduction of a Universal Student Living Allowance. It is absolute stupidity that the people we are relying on to run, manage and administer our nation for the next few decades are being forced to borrow to live while they train themselves how to do it. As Nandor pointed out:
When you treat tertiary education as primarily a private good, as the loans scheme does, why would you expect students not to do the same? Why would you expect students to have any other intention than to simply maximise their individual earnings is what ever way they can? While right wing apologists would tell us that that is the natural disposition of human beings, we know that is not the case. The very existence of the Green movement, and its growth in numbers and strength, is testament to the natural human instinct to cooperation and care for others. We know that the extreme individualism that makes a virtue out of greed and disrespect for others is not natural to people, but that it can be engendered by the social and economic order.
The Greens will move towards this policy by reducing the age cap and increasing parental income levels. They will also reintroduce the ICA based on work history, increase the accomodation supplement, reintroduce the unempolyment benefit over summer and enforce the ruling that income needs to be calculated annually not weekly.
The third policy point is around reducing fees. The Greens have strengthened their stand towards free tertiary education and have committeed to capping and reducing fees.
The fourth and final point is around reducing barriers to tertiary education. For example, transport, disability access and support, and childcare.
There has been criticism that this is an expensive policy and yes, it is. But as Nandor said, the question is: Can we afford not to? What I was surprised about was the cost of the debt write off scheme. There will be an initial cost of $12.3 million and after that $1.8 million a year, which isn’t that expensive but it will make a major impact on the lives of graduates. I hope this policy sits high on the list of negotiating points after the election.
Also on Saturday we had the first of the Co-Leaders speeches from Rod called The Stark Choice Facing New Zealanders. This speech has been well-reported and prompted a lot of discussion around the conference delegates about where the boundaries lie in regards to personal attacks. Personally, I don’t think Rod went too far. He identified and articulated the understandings of many people in this country. That there is a swing towards reactionary right politics going on. That there is a nasty level of racism that has been floating around for the last couple of years that is having a very real impact on peoples lives. That some people in parliament are direct contributors to this reality and if we do not identify and condemn this divisive politics it will entrench within our political reality. Therefore, I wholeheartedly support Rod in what he said. I am not afraid of diversity, in fact I embrace it. What I am concerned about however is politicians making political strategy decisions baed on playing to peoples fears. That is not constructive politics and should be condemned for the harm it does.
We also heard from Ross Wilson of the CTU and Laila Harre from the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, but I was busy with something else so missed that.
The highlight for conference goers was of course the party on Saturday night but can’t say I saw much of that either…