A short list of people who’d be fined under National’s school leaver policy

Simon Bridges is considering a policy that would fine parents of high school dropouts who don’t go into further education or training. Here’s a few successful New Zealanders who would have been asked to cough up.

National has released the first taste of the social policy they’re toying with taking to the next election, and boy is it a spicy meatball.

In line with their typical approach of lifting the most vulnerable members of our society up with, um, penalties, the National Party is looking at slapping a $3000 fine on parents of children who leave school early and don’t go into further education or training. Under the current law students are only required to stay at school until age 16.

For the sake of caucus unity, let’s hope Simon Bridges isn’t planning on applying the fine retrospectively or he might end up knocking on his deputy leader’s door asking for her to pay up $3000. Paula Bennett left school at 16 and started work in a stationery shop. Under National’s plan her parents, Bob and Lee, would’ve been asked to stump up $3000. Do as I say, not as I do!

Paula Bennett isn’t the only MP who would’ve been hit by National’s School Leaver Tax. Kiri Allan, a Labour List MP, dropped out of school at 16 and went to work at KFC before eventually studying at Victoria University. Hopefully the wages from the Colonel would’ve covered the whopping $3000 fine.

If that’s not enough for National to reconsider, perhaps knowing about New Zealand’s pop princess Lorde would stop this policy from getting the Green Light. After hitting the big time Lorde decided not to return to Takapuna Grammar to finish year 13, so along with picking up two Grammys, Lorde would have collected a $3000 fine.

Lorde isn’t alone among New Zealand showbiz royalty who would’ve copped a fine. Parris Goebel, who today choreographs and performs with with Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Justin Bieber, dropped out of Auckland Girls’ Grammar to be a dancer and won the World Hip Hop Dance Championships – twice. Hopefully there was prize money, because you guessed it…$3000 fine.

Sonny Bill Williams has represented New Zealand in both league and union, and been on the winning side in two Rugby World Cup tournaments (so far). Williams dropped out of school at 14 but recently returned to study and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree. $3000 fine.

Dr Miriam Cullen has just completed her PhD on international criminal justice at the University of Copenhagen, having dropped out of school at 17. Fellow lawyer, Dr Huhana Hickey was the first Māori woman and first disabled person to get a PhD in law from Waikato University, having dropped out of school in Taranaki. Both would have been handed a $3000 fine.

Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates aren’t the only dropouts who are making it in tech. New Zealand’s Ross Leitch dropped out of high school to set up a tech company, now based in Wellington, that employs multiple developers and makes podcasts and apps. He would’ve been hit by National’s planned $3000 fine for school leavers.

The Spinoff’s own Leonie Hayden dropped out of high school in Auckland aged 16. She went on to become editor of music magazine Rip it Up and Māori issues magazine Māna, where she won a best editor award in 2015, and is now the editor of The Spinoff’s Māori affairs vertical Ātea. She would have been landed with a $3000 fine.

National would deny that these talented New Zealanders who found success despite abandoning school early are the targets of their School Leaver Tax policy. Official government statistics reveal who the real targets are: a school leaver not pursuing further training or education is more likely to be Māori or Pasifika and more likely to come from communities with the highest degree of socio-economic disadvantage. In short, this policy wants to whack the families of poor brown kids with fines.

As Dr Rebecca Graham, a researcher in societal psychology, points out, one of the key drivers of homelessness and poverty is debt, and debt is often driven by fines. Introducing new penalties for those already disadvantaged under the guise of improving social outcomes is likely to do the exact opposite. You can’t penalise people into prosperity.

Reed Fleming is a former Labour Party staffer and Victoria University public policy graduate.


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