Story: Political values

Page 4. The fair society

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Freedom, equality and security

Like other western societies, especially the United States, New Zealanders value ‘freedom’. But they have given equal value to ‘equality’. They have been willing to tolerate restrictions on their freedom of action so long as those restrictions contributed to greater equality. In general this did not mean an absolute equality, but rather an equality of opportunity and a fair distribution of wealth.

Most New Zealanders were also willing to accept restrictions intended to contribute to economic and political security. From 1938 until the mid-1980s, for instance, New Zealanders were unable to send their own money overseas without approval from the Reserve Bank (the country’s central bank). Long-standing exchange controls were justified as a necessary part of maintaining a stable and secure economy.

Statue of Equality

In 1948 New Zealand’s first professor of political science, Leslie Lipson, wrote that if New Zealanders chose to erect a statue like the Statue of Liberty, embodying the country’s political outlook, it would probably be a Statue of Equality. This reflected New Zealanders’ view that equality (rather than freedom) was the most important political value and the most compelling goal for the society to strive for and protect.

Fairness

A central value for New Zealanders is ‘fairness’. ‘Fair enough’ is a common response in conversation, particularly to unwelcome news. To be ‘fair’ is to be ‘reasonable’. The 1985 Royal Commission on the Electoral System contained 10 criteria for evaluating electoral systems, with many involving ‘fairness’ – to Māori, to ethnic minorities and to political parties. For New Zealanders an electoral system – and, more broadly, a political system, or a set of government policies – is defensible only if seen to be ‘fair’.

Honesty

New Zealand is regarded as one of the most honest countries in the world, often ranked number one by the organisation Transparency International. New Zealanders reject corruption from politicians and public officials. There is no expectation that public servants or elected officials will use their positions for the purpose of illegal or inappropriate private enrichment. Residents do not expect to be required to offer bribes, and officials do not expect to receive them.

Patriotism

New Zealanders have pride in their country, and pleasure in being ‘Kiwis’, but it is generally a more subdued patriotism than elsewhere. While New Zealanders joined with enthusiasm in Britain’s major wars, a militaristic (or aggressive) patriotism has gone out of fashion. New Zealanders are not, in general, given to conspicuous patriotic display – as in the flying of flags, the singing of the national anthem, or marching down streets on a particular holiday. There is, nonetheless, a patriotic spirit, honouring the country and its achievements. The much-noted involvement of young New Zealanders at Anzac Day commemorations, in New Zealand and at Gallipoli, in Turkey, is one example. So is their passionate support for New Zealand sporting teams.

How to cite this page:

Stephen Levine, 'Political values - The fair society', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/political-values/page-4 (accessed 22 April 2019)

Story by Stephen Levine, published 20 Jun 2012