The New Zealand Project

Publication cover The New Zealand Project

The New Zealand Project
by Max Harris (Bridget Williams Books, 2017)

Book review by David Dunsheath

TINZ Board Member

Newsletter Editor

This is a book about the state of politics and society in Aotearoa New Zealand that will stimulate your thinking no matter what your political bent.  It is a comprehensive, non-partisan exploration of New Zealand’s society, politics and values (or lack of), set against a backdrop of historical events and international comparisons.

Max Harris is an Examination Fellow at All Souls College in Oxford and former Rhodes Scholar. After graduating from University of Auckland he became a clerk for Chief Justice Sian Elias, then a consultant in Helen Clark’s Executive Office at UNDP. Collectively these experiences led him to preparing this book.

Harris provides ideas for rediscovering New Zealand’s lost direction as observed by him during this time of global political upheaval. He invites both establishment and youth to examine the status quo, form opinions and seize opportunities to address his observations of increasing discontent with current social, cultural, political and economic problems. By this means, looming complex issues such as climate change, future of work, wealth inequality and new populism can be addressed.

He argues that social values as well as economic indicators are needed to determine whether governments are effectively focused and to test policy outcomes. Discussion is structured around “the lack of values-based politics at the electoral level and the need for a politics grounded in three cornerstone progressive values”, which are: (i) Care, comprising freedom, equality, dignity and integrity; (ii) Community, comprising identity, security, responsibility and inclusiveness; and (iii) Creativity. Harris refers to these three Cs as the “politics of love.

He identifies three barriers to values-based politics. First is “a rise of selfishness and self-interest in society at large, mainly due to economic reforms. Second, the framework for determining the purpose of politics has been lost. Third, there’s been a continued emphasis on a technical and value free approach to political activity” [i.e.] “cost-benefit calculations without open-ended moral and ethical judgements.

The New Zealand Project, which is well structured, easy to read, and extensively referenced, is a valuable contribution to the advancement of a values-based government resulting in structural changes to “… help ensure that people power, a fuller realisation of the ideal of democracy, drives and disciplines the state”.


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