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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 34, No. 18. October 6 1971

The Responsible Society in New Zealand

The Responsible Society in New Zealand

Woodcut image of two people operating a printing press
Dr W. B. Sutch, MA. (Hons). B.Com.. Ph.D., is New Zealand's best-known combination of economic, political and social historian.

Dr W. B. Sutch, MA. (Hons). B.Com.. Ph.D., is New Zealand's best-known combination of economic, political and social historian.

Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd Late October 1971. Retail price $2.40, 141 pages

What sort of future do New Zealanders want for themselves, for their children? What sort of society has New Zealand become? What sort of society could and should it become? This short book is about these facts. Of interest to all who live here. Also, to those of us (i.e. all of us) who have in some way benefited by Social Security, Health Services, Child Allowances and Education bursaries. Originally written for the Royal Commission on Social Security it has become the most outstanding contribution, and an important document about the social history and social future of the New Zealand people.

The Royal Commission has been described by the chairman, the Supreme Court Judge, Sir Thaddeus McCarthy as being "at the very marrow of our way of life in New Zealand". Together with the Royal Comission on Personal Injury (The Woodhouse Report) they are the two most important papers concerning the social cohesion of the nation in the past 30 years.

Throughout ten chapters we are taken through the economic basis of society, the philosophy and history of social services. The gradual growth of the welfare system, the misuse of its founding ideals and concepts to protect and promote services for the rich, and submit those on lower incomes to indignity and punishments for being poor and sich. The complete misuse of the 1938 Social Security Act, by successive governments is exposed; thus enabling New Zealand to regress deeper into Poor Law values and attitudes of the 18th and 19th century.

Here the University Departments particularly Political Science, Economics and Sociology have failed to teach and show in human terms the practice and principles of the English Poor Law. N.Z. society was nurtured and conceived in these practices and still operates them today. The means test, the Hardship Allowances for students and Legal Aid procedures might ring a hell.

Much new material evidence is given. The Medical 'War' of the 1940's and the complete failure of N.Z. to develop an adequate Universal Health Service; the betrayal of this service as planned to the Doctors is described. They were the most politically arrogant group to hold N.Z. to ransom, in spite of the declared wishes of the people on two occasions at the polls.

The crisis - covered up today - facing the needs of the children, older people, the health services, social services - regressing deeper into patchwork poor law, operations are examined in some depth. The final two chapters suggest ways out of this degrading situation. This is the challenge to everyone who is a citizen of New Zealand. One that affects all, and cannot be Ignored. Silence simply means consent.

The book's opening sentence "The most important economic asset of any country should be its people". This not only Dr Sutch states but believes as an article of practical application and faith; whereas the large majority of the 50 odd university economists pay less than lip service to it. He goes on to say that social policies should be actively persued to this [unclear: end] "the quality of the economic growth depends on the quality of the people, the two are inseparable"

He says with reference to New Zealanders, "they are morally entitled to this desirable 104,000 square miles of this earth, if they can, make a marked contribution to the welfare of man by evolving systems of education and health, which are in advance of others with the emphasis on social, spiritual and intellectual attainment and human quality and dignity".

He is concerned with a society of 2.8 million people, not 196 millions, not 50 millions but of about 3 to 5 million within 30 years. An elementary fact, ignored by sociologists and economists here who live in the academic security and myopic state of University day dreams.

There is plenty to do to stop the social rot. How it can be done is outlined. In this endeavour, the University staff are not only timid and conservative but have treated this Royal Commission with contempt, ignorance and casualness.

Out of over 50 economists at universities none made any submissions to this Royal Commission, out of either personal, social or even professional interest or concern. Yet they are paid by the N.Z. taxpayer. The same also applies to Accountants in Commerce Departments (over 50 of them), Political Scientists (over 40) and of course Sociologists (over 50). Altogether over 200 'professional' staff. Two minor submissions by a small group of sociologists from Victoria University were made. One which developed an insurance scheme outdated 25 years ago God help the students and the future of New Zealanders if this is taught as enlightened social thinking.

The best that can be said of these 200 economists, sociologists, accountants, political scientists is that they should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. There is no excuse for their failure. The Vice-Chancellor of Victoria - in an address to the Commonwealth press union, as his second plank of University staff in the life of the Community said the staff should be involved in the community and giving it leadership. Here was a great opportunity, the first for 30 years, in a major field for their "expertise" to be used. Perhaps the ignoring of pleas for salary rises or even cuts in salary might help them find social consciences.

Dr Sutch's book deals with the real social issues in New Zealand and develops a coherent vision and sense of social purpose. The book is important educationally for schools, church groups, universities and for anyone concerned for a just and sensible, even Christian based, society in N.Z.

It should be used in all economic, political science, public finance, and sociology courses - and even education, law, psychology and history. It is a basic text where each chapter (self-contained) should be discussed, discussed and discussed until each tutorial group has thrashed out its collective social concepts -staff and students alike. Thus avoiding boring, useless enemic essays. This will depend on students and/or staff taking the initiative. Will it happen? It certainly should and is needed. This depends on the desire and will of the students, staff, church leaders etc. The University staff apparently couldn't care less. So will the students and Christians see that the book can be discussed as part of their courses? The title the Responsible Society is taken, the World Council of Churches Assembly 1954 - criteria for, a just society. So far the churches in New Zealand show very little signs of realising the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and the motivation and structure of our economic system are contradictory. This book will point the way for study by churches so they can produce definite statements of conviction on social policy.

Sir Thaddeus McCarthy has described it as a submission which will cause "a minor social revolution in the attitude and thinking of New Zealanders". Dr J.O. Mercer C.B.E. says he hopes it will be read by all concerned with Medical Services.

All New Zealand's Health services, social services and approaches to education should be judged by the standards set down in the Responsible Society. These are United Nations ones signed over 25 years ago, by politicans on behalf of All New Zealanders.

For those who live in the semantic artificial world of academic phantasies Dr W.B Sutch. in the field of experience has been Head of the Dept of Industries and Commerce, Advisor to five Governments, N.Z. U.N. delegate. Chairman of the Social Commission of U.N. and also the Economic and Social Commission, Visiting Fellows to various Universities.

Finally some one has at last set the criteria and guidelines for us all. The choice is ours. Time is short, will we act?

The N.Z. Labour Party will have a chance to redeem itself. So also will the Christians and Churches. And alas those dynamic people the staff of our Universities and students too. All will find social objectivies to commit themselves to.


N.B. The N.Z.U.S.A. may promote the book at a special price, contact them.