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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

OPINIONPoliticsSeptember 21, 2022

It’s time to have the debate

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

With the Queen’s funeral over, it’s time for New Zealand to talk about whether we really want to continue supporting an ultra-wealthy hereditary elite.

For 10 days, our news organisations have talked about little other than the Queen’s death. They’ve sent what appears to be 50 to 75% of their journalists to London, many of whom have arrived to find not much happening. Patrick Gower has interviewed a guy who pilfers swans for the royals. Corin Dann has taken to filming selfie videos in a field.

The flurry of royal coverage reached its zenith with in an episode of Morning Report almost entirely devoted to people remembering things.

The all-consuming outpouring of grief is in many ways understandable. Queen Elizabeth II reigned for 70 years, and her presence has been a constant fixture in our lives.

But with the official period of mourning over, New Zealand should be able to move on to debating an issue important to its future as a nation. Even if it’s hard, and just raising the matter may hurt some people, we need to ask ourselves: in this day and age, can we really continue to uphold and support an ultra-wealthy hereditary elite while many of our people live in poverty?

New Zealand sees itself as an egalitarian society where people get a fair go. That national id jars with the fact the country’s political system has long been lorded over by a group of people who hold huge amounts of wealth and power, not by any real effort of their own, but by a mixture of state-enforced privilege and birthright. 

Our political acquiescence to this group allows them to continue to exploit and profit off their subjects; to treat people as tenants on what should be their own land. Their wealth accumulates no matter what they do. They possess a vast property empire; more houses than they could ever need. That would be a bad look at the best of times but it certainly grates when many New Zealanders are suffering homelessness or living in precarious rentals and emergency motels.

It’s hard to even know how much wealth this group really owns due to tax laws which help them hide their fortunes, but the sums are thought to be enormous. If their position is ever threatened, they simply lean on governments to introduce rules which keep their bank balances intact.

Many of these rulers are at best average intellects. Some are of incredibly low moral character. It doesn’t matter. They maintain their privilege and influence by virtue of their wealth and station.

I’m talking, of course, about those who own property in New Zealand’s housing market.

If we want to restore some semblance of equity and self-respect to our nation, we need to emulate monarchist Britain, which has a capital gains tax, inheritance tax and a gift tax. Its government uses the resulting windfall to pay for things like a £12,500 (NZ$23,968) tax-free threshold and a fully funded healthcare system that offers free GP visits.

These measures wouldn’t completely wipe out the power of a ruling class which has entrenched over many decades, but they would help bring a measure of fairness to our society. It’s simply not right that some people are able to gain huge amounts of wealth, power and influence by accident of birth, while many others are condemned to a life of struggle and hardship through no fault of their own.

The current situation is anachronistic and backwards. It’s 2022. Can we really allow Aotearoa to be lorded over by an unappointed landed gentry? It’s time for this country to break the shackles of its offensive class system and move forward into a more equitable future.

And while we’re at it, we could consider becoming a republic.

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