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Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 15. 1969.

Taxing yourselves for others

page 12

Taxing yourselves for others

This week students are being asked to give one per cent of their incomes to an overseas development project. The gesture is not charitable, but political. Aid is the issue. Overseas aid given by New Zealand is substantially less as a proportion of national income than the aid given by any other developed Western country except South Africa.

New Zealand has largely turned in upon itself and left the impoverished peoples of Asia and the Pacific to nurse their own problems.

This does not mean that New Zealand is unable to help. Rather, it reflects governmental apathy and lack of political leadership on the issue.

In this amosphere, a highly-organised, vigorous and imaginative pressure group was born early this year. Drawing together some university staff, students, churchmen and economists, and blending with them some political methods borrowed from Amsterdam, One Per Cent A.I.D. (Action for International Development) smung into action in March 1969.

As President Kevin Clements exchanged catcalls with Mr Muldoon in the newspaper columns, eager young activists in every university in the country laid plans to strip the student pocket on an unprecedented scale.

If it works, the Self Tax Scheme will be a gleaming new weapon in the arsenal of New Zealand aid activists. Better still, it will have released from Government coffers a flow of funds for aid far more in keeping with the real urgency of the development problem than the present trickle of assistance.

New Zealand today offers roughly 0.3% of the national income as overseas aid. One Per Cent A.I.D. is asking that this be increased progressively to reach one per cent by 1973.

What are the chances of this spunky little organisation pulling off such a substantial increase in the aid figure? On the basis of performance to date, they may not be as slim as a cursory glance would suggest.

The aid petition bears over 27,000 signatures, and seven and a half thousand people have pledged one per cent of their own incomes.

Victoria's Deputy Vice-Chancellor. Professor I. D. Campbell, will be leading this petition, and notable economics are preparing submissions for the Petitions Committee in support.

One Per Cent A.I.D. has been returning persistently to the headlines in recent months, and earning editorials in big newspapers across the country.

No less than six Cabinet Ministers have felt obliged to defend the Government status quo on aid: Messrs. Holyoake, Marshall, Muldoon, Hanan, Shand and Thomson. This prominent showing reflects the increasingly broad base of the aid movement and the respectable image that One Per Cent A.I.D. has wisely cultivated for itself.

Its bi-partisan political lobby, its strong Church support, and its recruitment of respected national figures such as Sir Guy Powles and Sir Edmund Hillary have given it a political viability that other student movements have been unable to attain. The organisers have grasped the essential political reality that the success of a movement of this nature depends on its having the broadest possible base of support.

This means very close co-ordination with bodies outside the university, and foregoing the student's ingrained ivory tower isolation from the wider community. For example, One Per Cent A.I.D. made extensive use of Church Youth movements to circulate the petition in suburban areas, stirring grass-roots community consciousness of the aid movement at the same time.

The ground has been thoroughly prepared for the political impact of the Self Tax scheme, and students may expect favourable comment from various quarters. This will be a pleasant change for us and will, of course, add to the publicity generated by the whole operation.

When the money, comprising one per cent of the income of as many students as possible, has been collected, it will be forwarded to the Prime Minister amid considerable fanfare. The hint will be dropped that the Government could well follow the students' example.

All this is rather unfortunate from the Prime Minister's point of view since he is not legally permitted to accept donations of this nature. The donation will be tagged with a special proviso asking the Government to establish a bursary fund for Pacific Island students to attend the University of the South Pacific which has recently been established in Fiji. He will regretfully send it back with a polite letter.

The next stage in the game is for One Per Cent A.I.D. to forward the money to Fiji themselves. This project has been chosen after careful consideration by One Per Cent A.I.D. as the final resting place for the funds it has raised. The potentialities of this project deserve closer focus.

The University of the South Pacific is a territorial university serving the entire Pacific Region. Founded in 1968, it has had a great many ties with New Zealand since its inception. In the first place, it stands on the site of what was an R.N.Z.A.F. base, and site improvements to the value of two and a half million dollars were financed by the New Zealand Government. Its Vice-Chancellor, Dr C. C. Aikman, its Registrar. Mr S. F. Perrot, and several members of its academic staff were appointed from New Zealand universities.

In May of last year, a Programme Planning Seminar was held by the University to determine the areas of greatest social and economic need in the region to which a university could contribute. Accordingly, three initial schools were instituted this year: Natural Resources. Social Development, and Education. The emphasis on regional thinking in the planning of the courses is instanced by the School of Natural Resources. Areas of study which will come in for special attention at this school are those which have a special bearing on a tropical, island economy, ecology, oceanography, soil science, and micro-biology. Hopes are held for the eventual establishment of a Centre of Tropical Ecology.

Regionalism is foremost in the thinking of New Zealand-born Dr Colin Aikman, the Vice-Chancellor. In his view, the university has something to contribute to all tertiary education in the region, both as a trendsetter, and as a means for co-ordinating the work done by other institutions such as the Derrick Technical Institute, the Regional College of Tropical Agriculture at Alafua in Western Samoa, and Teachers Training Colleges all over the region.

The hope, then, is that the university will act as something of a regional catalyst. Unfortunately, this gives rise to a major problem, and this is the point where One Per Cent A.I.D. enters the picture.

The problem revolves on the question of financial assistance to students to attend the university. Bursary assistance is hard to obtain: in fact, curiously enough the good student from a Pacific territory would find it easier to obtain a scholarship to attend a New Zealand university than to get one for his regional university in Fiji. For Dr Aikman, as for Sir Norman Alexander, the Academic Planner before him, this is the crux of the problem. Hence the One Per Cent A.I.D. Bursary Scheme is particularly apposite.

The project is a clear and definite target for the funds raised by One Per Cent A.I.D. It is one which students in particular can understand and sympathise with. Furthermore, it seems to symbolise the kind of assistance One Per Cent A.I.D. feels New Zealand should he offering to the developing countries.

When graduates from the Solomon Islands, Samoa, the Gilbert and Ellis Islands, the New Hebrides and all the other Pacific territories return home, they will be starting the revolution of development in the Pacific. To this revolution, New Zealand students, acting through One Per Cent A.I.D., will have made a worthwhile contribution.

It is clear from the foregoing remarks that all money donated under the Self Tax Scheme during this week will have a two-fold value. First, as a political instrument, it will be manipulated to focus pressure on the Government to increase its own aid-giving. The money that would be released for aid purposes if this is even moderately successful will far exceed the amount originally donated by students. The technique has been successful overseas, notably in the Netherlands and Sweden. Secondly, as an economic instrument, the money will be directed to a worthwhile project that will have significant impact on the progress of development in the South Pacific.

This article has attempted to examine both of these aspects. In a judgment is to be made on One Per Cent A.I.D.'s effort at this stage, it is that the scheme looks as though it deserves a fair try-out.