• Our Words Matter

Fairness will shape our response

Contributed by Stacey Shortall


Media headlines over the past several weeks suggest New Zealand could be facing some type of culture war.


A bill giving people with a terminal illness, or a grievous and irremediable medical condition, the option of requesting assisted dying passed its second reading in Parliament and may yet become subject to a public referendum. An Australian rugby player’s views on gay people, not to mention the Silver Ferns playing our national men’s netball side, ignited strong reactions across New Zealand. Whether the law around abortion should change saw people take to the streets in protest. Children turning up to pre-schools without food and the removal of blankets from homeless people provoked action. Widely viewed and debated around the country was the video story of an attempted removal of a Maori baby from his mother by Oranga Tamariki. Much publicised was a Waitangi Tribunal finding that the Crown has breached its Treaty of Waitangi obligations in relation to Maori health outcomes.

Unlike other countries, however, these issues are unlikely to become galvanising political footballs here. Fairness will shape how New Zealand responds. For getting broad support from the general public in New Zealand typically boils down to what is most fair.

Fairness drive us. It stops us cutting the line at the supermarket or, frankly, anywhere there is a queue. It prevents us from grabbing all the chocolate biscuits off the plate when there are other people still wanting one. It curtails us from showing overt favouritism to anyone in particular. It causes us to give every toddler at the park, who wishes one, a turn on the swings and every child who signs up for rippa rugby or junior netball time in the game.


New Zealand is unusual in the extent to which questions of fairness rather than partisanship shapes our politics. The most vivid images of the way that fairness drives New Zealand politics are the pictures taken in the wake of the March 2019 Christchurch terrorist attack. From across the political spectrum, people came together under the umbrella of diversity, kindness and compassion that our Prime Minister made clear at the time New Zealand represents.


These values will stymie any culture war now.


No matter whether we identify as progressive or conservative, liberal or traditional, moderate or extreme, religious or agnostic, our shared values can guide us towards a fair outcome.

In a country driven by fairness, we recognise that treating people fairly does not mean treating us all the same.

We accept that fair is fair, but it is not always equal. We know that people have different needs and vulnerabilities. We realise that the playing field has a steep incline rather than a flat surface and that not everyone starts or finishes life in the same place on the incline.

As we face into further questions, debates and inquiries about issues such as euthanasia, tolerance, freedom of speech, abortion, poverty, discrimination and racism, we can choose fairness to unite instead of divide us. We can agree that whatever is most fair is how we will respond.

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