A rite of passage

Insights Newsletter
11 August, 2023

In politics, there are certain things you need to be taken seriously.

Some are formal things. You need a platform, of course. And a leader.

Then there are less formal things. Rites of passage, if you will. Survive a scandal. Engage in some backstabbing. Manage a couple U-turns here and there.

And, every election cycle, you need at least one dumb policy. This election is no exception.

The Green Party wants to “focus New Zealand’s defence policy on climate change responses.” Because everyone knows the best way to fight rising CO2 emissions is with bullets. This should play well to their supporters.

The ACT party is an unwavering supporter of libertarian principles, unless you’re a 17-year-old with a troubled past. In that case, you should get tried as an adult because you're "old enough to know better” - though you're still not old enough to have a beer or know who to vote for.

Meanwhile, Labour’s apparent policy to have at least one ministerial scandal a month doesn’t seem to be going so well for them. Then there’s their announcement of a massive green energy project – if only they can get it through their own resource consent regime.

Finally, the National Party has announced that it wants to ban phones in schools.

But why is this policy dumb?

Well, because it doesn’t change anything.

Schools that have problems with kids on phones can already put restrictions in place.

Since National wants the schools themselves to decide how this new rule is implemented, they’ve basically announced that nothing will change.

A good policy requires substance. This policy, though, is a tasty nothingburger.

And yet it’s a nothingburger that has generated at least three days of news.

Prime Minister Hipkins was quick to point out that schools “don’t need Christopher Luxon’s permission” to ban phones. I mean, sure. But criticising National for taking decision-making agency away from local actors is a bit rich coming from a government that seems to want to centralise everything.

Secondary Principals’ Association president, Vaughan Couillault, said the policy is “unworkable”. Apart from the schools that already have restrictions on phone use, of course. It’s working fine for them.

What really matters to the National Party is not whether this policy will actually accomplish anything but whether it’ll give them free coverage with their name on it.

And here I am now, unwittingly obliging. And all for a nothingburger.

Maybe the policy isn’t so dumb after all.

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