This website began hosting a series of Briefing Papers from early in 2014. The papers are focussed on assessing the state of the country as the basis for public discussion and debate. A group of writers has been assembled to write short briefing papers based on extensive research programmes and presented in a form that can be easily understood by the public at large.

The Briefing papers are aimed at providing the public with an overview of critical issues facing New Zealand society in the 21st century. The goal is to promote informed discussion and debate, so crucial to economic and social development, with the central question being:

how is the public

interest being served?

The public interest is central to policy debates, politics, democracy and the nature of government. It is a key factor in assessing jobs and the cost of living, educational opportunities, housing options and the way in which the policy makers of today are protecting the interests of future generations.

In order to address these questions, the Briefing Papers are designed to examine the underlying assumptions on which policy options are based and what interests, public or private, are being served. As Herbert Gans once suggested, this means both understanding and assessing, who benefits?


The Papers

Prevention: The Best Way To Address Child Poverty

Mike O'Brien

The government has signalled that its main approach to child poverty is to concentrate on a small subset of poor children who live in ‘complex’ families with multiple needs. By contrast, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) believes that a comprehensive preventative approach is needed, not one that concentrates on

Housing New Zealand’s Children

Alan Johnson

Access to adequate housing is at the heart of ensuring a healthy environment in which children can thrive. Other briefings have talked about health, incomes and child protection issues. Each of these, along with educational outcomes, are influenced positively if housing for families is stable, secure, and of good quality.

Poverty Of Spirit – A Pacific View

Tagaloatele Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop

Child -poverty is hard to define, measure or address. This has not been helped by the ‘siloed’ focus of many discussions, which has resulted in less attention to the relationship between influencing factors (and which should be factored into interventions), while the ‘one size fits all’ approach has highlighted quite

Legislating To Reduce Child Poverty

Office of the Children’s Commissioner and John Hancock

Reproduced by kind permission of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner. Around 285,000 New Zealand children (27%) live in households where family income falls below the poverty linei, a figure that has remained relatively flat since 2009. By contrast, in the early-to-mid 1980s the level of child poverty was below 15%, before

A Step Change For Children: Fix Working For Families.

Susan St.John

New Zealand now has two classes of low income children; the worthy who can be supported to the full extent of social security legislation, and the unworthy who are consigned to remain in poverty. This shameful disparity is between the treatment of children in families who can find paid work

More Income Is Required To Improve The Health Of Poor Children

Innes Asher

The future is what we choose to develop as well as what we choose to ignore. It is in our decisions and actions, our values and relationships, our language and mind-sets. There is no accidental future for our society. Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith     Many New Zealanders are concerned

Children: The Nation’s Greatest Asset

Ian Shirley

As we approach the annual Budget in May it is an appropriate time to review our public policy priorities and especially investments that need to be made to advance this nation’s greatest asset, its children. Writing at the end of the 1950’s J.B. Condliffe suggested that “a baby born in

The Over-Valued New Zealand Dollar – Part Two

John Walley

In a previous Briefing Paper, I discussed what is meant by an over-valued dollar and argued that the New Zealand dollar has been over-valued for much of the past decade. This has fewer benefits than assumed for consumer prices, and has costs for exporters. The graph below shows us the

The Over-Valued New Zealand Dollar – Part One

John Walley

Since 1985 New Zealand has operated with a floating exchange rate. Our currency is traded on the market, responding to changes in economic conditions here and around the world: subject to global events, interest rates, prices, and a range of other factors that affect the demand for our currency. In

Gambling On The Dollar

Brian Easton

Sharp movements in exchange rates often reflect sophisticated speculation. Is there much we can do about it? While the near parity of the Australian and New Zealand dollars got a lot of breathless attention recently, there was little analysis of why it was happening. Explaining the exchange rate depends upon the

Reality TV

Sharon Murdoch

The cartoon by Sharon Murdoch is a penetrating critique of current affairs in this country and the sub-standard quality of investigative journalism. While it is clearly inspired by the Mediaworks decision to ‘review’ Campbell Live, it speaks to the overall standard of current affairs in this country and indeed our

Housing Economy Played Like a Monopoly Game

Christine Rose

The housing crisis is the issue of the moment but is at risk of being appropriated by a multitude of interests, many of them vested, each who frame the debate – and the solutions, in their own ways. There are at least two important elements – a housing affordability problem,

The Agony of Vanuatu and the New Climate Colonialism

Dave Hansford

We used to detonate atomic bombs among the Pacific peoples – now we drop weather bombs. Vanuatu lies in ruins. Aid workers arriving in Port Vila have already described the death toll and damage as catastrophic, and Vanuatu’s lands minister, Ralph Regenvanu, expects that much of the population – 266,000

Doing Something About Low Incomes: Wages And Benefits

Bill Rosenberg

The Government says it is putting poverty on the agenda. That’s good, but what does it mean in practice? The signs are worrying. Announcements so far show it will be limited tightly to those in the harshest poverty, cover only housing, transport, childcare costs and loan-shark debt, and rather than

Temporary vs. Permanent Employment: Is There a Wage Penalty?

Gail Pacheco & Bill Cochrane

Over recent years there has been an upsurge in the number of workers ending up in temporary employment (see for example De Cuyper et al., 2008). There are a number of reasons for the upsurge ranging from free choice whereby workers choose temporary work because of inherent and preferable charateristics

Why A Free Market Wage System Doesn’t Work

Michael Sharp

The general decline in collective bargaining coverage across western economies in the 1980s and 1990s was driven by the belief of governments and employers that freer labour markets would work more efficiently. New Zealand lead the way with collective bargaining coverage rates declining from some 60% to 17% (Creighton and

How Are We Measuring Up?

Felicity Lamm

For more than a hundred years most aspects of occupational health and safety (OHS) in New Zealand and elsewhere have been treated as a matter for state intervention. Traditionally there has been an expectation shared by workers, employers, and the general community that in matters concerning the health and safety

Insecure Work

Max Rashbrooke

The debate now raging in New Zealand over zero-hours contracts – in which an employer does not give its contractors any guarantee of hours, but, in many cases, forbids them from working for anyone else – is just the latest symptom of the rise of insecure work. Also known as

Work & Wages

Ian Shirley

The Briefing Papers were launched in 2014 with the aim of providing the public with an overview of critical issues facing New Zealand society in the 21st century. Drawing on long established traditions of scientific advice the briefing paper series has sought to build a platform of expertise in public

Disability Policy in New Zealand

Hilary Stace

The Disability Survey following the 2013 Census revealed that 24% of the population living in New Zealand or 1,062,000 people identified as disabled. They ‒ or someone on their behalf ‒ reported a long term impairment which affected their ability to carry out everyday activities. Over 59% of people over

Je Suis Eleanor

Dame Anne Salmond

In the wake of the shooting of cartoonists and journalists in Paris, political leaders in New Zealand have expressed shock and horror, and their support for those who uphold freedom of expression in other countries. What about freedom of speech and thought at home, however? Over the past decade or

Paris Is A Warning: There Is No Insulation From Our Wars

Seumas Milne

The official response to every jihadist-inspired terrorist attack in the west since 2001 has been to pour petrol on the flames. That was true after 9/11 when George Bush launched his war on terror, laying waste to countries and spreading terror on a global scale. It was true in Britain

New Zealand: A User’s Guide

John Clarke

New Zealand is the most beautiful country in the world, as is clearly stated in the UN Charter. (I think it’s in Article 17). The land is nourished by warm sunshine each morning and receives the benediction of good rainfall around lunchtime. It is an egalitarian nation made up of

Inequality: OECD Report

Max Rashbrooke

For years now, one of the main reasons given for dismissing inequality as an issue has been about economics: you need income gaps to generate growth. Without a wide gap between rich and poor, who would have the incentive to work harder and do the things that generate income for

Boarding Houses – Breaking the Cycle

David Zussman

Once again the spotlight falls on the never ending merry-go-round of families living in boarding houses. It’s not just boarding houses – there are families living in caravan parks, overcrowded houses and garages and some are even sleeping overnight in cars and tents. Back in 2008, boarding houses were described

The Links Between Bad Labour Laws and Poor Safety Practices

Gordon Campbell

By co-incidence, one of the prime dangers of the government’s new employment relations law has been underlined by the release of the death and injury statistics among workers at New Zealand ports. These are highly profitable enterprises for the port owners. The Port of Tauranga for instance, is expecting its

Two Years to Demonstrate Our Independent Status

Grant Duncan

The last time New Zealand held a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, the Rwandan genocide happened. During March and April 1994, the Security Council failed to heed warnings of what became “one of the darkest chapters in human history,” as UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson recently called it.

Lack of Action on Tech Company Tax Evasion

Bernard Hickey

It’s the topic every tax official and finance minister in the developed world is talking about and acting on, yet we hear very little about it in New Zealand. Cracking down on tax avoidance by the world’s biggest technology companies — among them Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft — is

Electricity Supply and Poverty in New Zealand

Geoff Bertram

The electricity industry in New Zealand provides a good case study of how a neoliberal ideological agenda plays out when harnessed to the attitudes and practice of modern big business. At the beginning of the neoliberal period, the industry was a publicly-owned, democratically accountable provider of an essential public service.

It’s Not OK

Dame Anne Salmond

The three Briefing Papers posted today were written by Professor Anne Salmond of the University of Auckland in response to what she describes as the Slippery Slope of Democracy in New Zealand. The first paper was written in the wake of Dirty Politics, the book released by Nicky Hager that

Democracy is for Everyone

Dame Anne Salmond

The three Briefing Papers posted today were written by Professor Anne Salmond of the University of Auckland in response to what she describes as the Slippery Slope of Democracy in New Zealand. The first paper was written in the wake of Dirty Politics, the book released by Nicky Hager that has

For Richer, For Poorer

Dame Anne Salmond

The three Briefing Papers posted today were written by Professor Anne Salmond of the University of Auckland in response to what she describes as the Slippery Slope of Democracy in New Zealand. The first paper was written in the wake of Dirty Politics, the book released by Nicky Hager that

Domestic Violence and Child Abuse

Ruth Herbert

Intimate partner violence (IPV) and child abuse and neglect (CAN) are at epidemic proportions in New Zealand and are undoubtedly two of our most critical social issues. Despite a plethora of reports, a strong legislative framework and the efforts of successive governments and many NGOs that have strategised and delivered

New Zealand’s Wages System is Buggered

Bill Rosenberg

Wages and salaries (henceforth just ‘wages’) have a number of functions: providing income to households, distributing the income generated by the economy, providing incentives. None of them are working properly. Providing income to households The most important function of wages is that they are the primary method of providing income

Too Many Immigrants?

Richard Bedford

The triennial election year debate about immigration has been warming up over recent months. The switch from a small net loss of people through permanent and long-term (PLT) migration in the year ended 30 June 2012 (-3.191) to one of the largest PLT net migration gains ever in the year

Local Government

Christine Cheyne

A healthy local government sector is vital for a healthy democracy. It is the tier of government that is closest to people and therefore provides access to decision-making processes at the local level. Much of our environmental and transport planning, for example, is devolved to local government. Underpinning the philosophy

Regional Development

Paul Dalziel

Regional Disparities The two maps on this page were drawn by Statistics New Zealand (the originals can be accessed in a Hot Off the Press release available here). They show the percentage changes in the populations of district and city councils between the Census of 2006 and the Census of

The Public Sector in New Zealand

Len Cook

In a democracy, the public service is more than the operational arm for doing what Ministers want. It is in essence a guardian of the constitutional foundations, processes and practices of our society ensuring the equality of all citizens in the way that they are regarded by the state. The

Policy and Prosperity

John Walley

Over the past 30 years economic strategy has separated into two broad camps, largely driven by the underlying culture which made the choice. The Anglosphere countries such as New Zealand, the US, Australia, Canada and the UK have followed a deep belief in the primacy of markets, an intent if


Ivan Snook & John O'Neill

Just over 30 years ago, OECD examiners reported on our education system: “To an extent greater than in some other OECD countries the parents, citizens, employers and workers of New Zealand appear to be reasonably happy with what is done for them in schools, colleges and universities.” (OECD Report, 1982)

The Cost of Doing Nothing

Elaine Rush

Gabriela Mistral, a Chilean Poet who received the Nobel prize in literature in 1945, wrote: “Many things we need can wait. The child cannot. Now is the time his bones are formed, his mind developed. To him we cannot say tomorrow, his name is today” We cannot wait for more

What should be done about Child Poverty?

Susan St.John

Budget 2014 was presented in an environment of economic recovery and growing optimism. A more buoyant economy provides an opportunity to repair the damage to the social fabric suffered during the recession by policy measures aimed at reducing child poverty and inequality. What is deeply troubling is that there no

The Purpose of Government

Bryan Gould

The proper role of government is perhaps the most central and hotly debated issue in democratic politics. Even during the immediate post-war era, which we can now see in retrospect was the heyday of confidence in government and its power and legitimacy, contrary voices warned against the threats to personal

The Conversation

Ranginui Walker

The longest running conversation on the New Zealand Constitution between Māori and the Crown is climaxing in our time towards mature nationhood. The conversation began in 1840 when the rangatira, the sovereigns of the soil made it clear to the British Resident James Busby they would not surrender their mana

Population Matters

Natalie Jackson

It is ironic that as Paul and Anne Ehrlich were writing their influential book The Population Bomb (1968), the global population growth rate was beginning to fall. Driven by declining birth rates, it has continued to fall, and today is half its 1960s’ level of 2.2 per cent per year.

The Purpose of Social Policy

Ian Shirley

Social policy in New Zealand from European settlement to the present day has fluctuated between two dominant traditions. The first can be traced back to 1547 when the city of London imposed a compulsory tax on the rich in order to alleviate poverty. It was an imported model based on

The Purpose of Economic Policy

Brian Easton

The annual May budget is a public spectacle. The Minister of Finance is photographed holding aloft a copy of his speech while those from political parties and sectors dominate media discussions debating the significance of economic growth targets, the level of inflation, and the fiscal deficit – there will even


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