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By Trevor Amundsen.

A Need for Equality?

One of the major issues the coming election will be fought on is the equality of all citizens. What is driving this is the debate around so called Co-Governance, which cedes 50% of ownership of certain national assets or processes, with potentially related income streams, to a minority of the population. This is compounded by several attempts to alter rules (in Health, Education, Welfare etc) to favour one group of people based upon the belief that this group was previously disadvantaged by said rules.

A core tenet which determines what side of the debate you favour is your belief in equality. Is this an essential part of our society or is it just a nice old principle? In some areas of our society, equality has been in a state of flux for many years. Take sport for instance. Let us consider the history of the Olympics as an example.

Historically, the Olympics were for the best athletes who were men. Women were not strong or fast enough to compete, and besides they had cooking and cleaning to do. There was only one division, so if you won your race, you were the champion. This was challenged in 1900 when a Swiss Athlete, Helene de Pourtales, was the first female medal winner as part of a gold medal winning yachting crew. She was one of a crew of three, with two male family members. At that Olympics, women could also compete with men at Croquet and for the first time were given their own divisions in tennis and golf events.

This was a momentous Olympic Games in terms of sexual equality. For the first time women were allowed to compete as equals, showing they could succeed. It was also the first time that women acknowledged they needed their own divisions if they were to compete, ceding that they were not the equals of men in a sporting sense.

If we move forward to the modern era, we see how the concept of equality at the Olympic Games has been altered by creating divisions for everything. There are not only men’s and women’s divisions, but entire events for various levels of the physically and mentally impaired. The argument now is not whether anyone should take part; this is encouraged, but whether fairness applies within those divisions. The prime example is with transgender athletes wanting to compete as women which is generally felt to be unfair. Presumably the Olympics will shortly offer Men, Women and ‘Blokes who are Uncertain’ divisions, before investigating new divisions for the height impaired and so on.

Despite this explosion in divisions and competitors, the Olympic Champion is always the person who was best overall, a male generally, but not always. For example, the fastest or strongest persons are always male yet in sports such as Gymnastics, the best female is generally felt to be the Champion.

How does this history relate to our current equality discussions? The first lesson is that in 1900, with Olympic yachting, they recognised that you must compete as equals. The crew with a female were not given an outboard engine to help; they were equals. If you apply the same thinking to our current Three Waters and RMA issues, both of which promote a 50% ownership/co-governance change, this appears to be completely wrong. Water distribution and building governance were both aspects of our society that were created after the Treaty of Waitangi, when we were now equals. They benefit all equally and any bias in favour of one group is as wrong as giving an outboard to female yachties.

The second lesson the Olympics has given us is that the so-called level playing fields do not enable everybody to have the chance to join in. We need therefore, to create some divisions to give others an opening. These Divisions are needed to ensure our population is as healthy and well- educated as possible, as well-educated healthy people generally can look after themselves well and progress through life with pride.

The argument is what should be the basis of these divisions? Should we select divisions based upon ethnicity or by need? The Government has sought to create divisions to enable one ethnic group to gain preference for medical surgery despite the need. I would argue that this is wrong, need should be the determining factor for surgery. For general medical treatment however, where aspects such as language and the attitude of staff can impact on the delivery of medical services, perhaps a separate division is needed, and the Maori Health Authority is not a bad thing. In making these decisions we need to be outcome driven for all people, equal outcomes for all.

As the election proceeds, discussions on the topic of equality are likely to become more heated which is a pity. To me it is quite simple, if you want a policy due to greed then I do not agree with you, but if you want a policy due to need then I am on your side.

Caption: “Current equality discussion….appear to be completely wrong.”


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