When the past is forgotten, the future becomes risky

Jason Heale

Jason Heale
Auckland, July 7, 2022

We have a bad case of historical amnesia in New Zealand.

A venturesome claim, isn’t it? Yet, think about the following:

The Winebox Inquiry. The Spanish Flu and local lockdowns in 1918. Emergency powers during waterfront strike in 1951.

One of them involved accusations of corruption at the Inland Revenue Department and the Serious Fraud Office. Another saw the deaths of over 9000 people in six weeks.

How much of our social discourse points back to these events?

The memory of them is almost gone.

How much do the anti-mandate protests, which only occurred in February this year, occupy our discussion these days?

As a nation, we often want to forget a crisis and move on to “life as normal.” We are people who prefer to live in the present. But in neglecting the past, we put the future at risk.

We have a rich history in Aotearoa New Zealand; however, we seem too quick to forget lessons hard-won by generations past.

Role of public institutions

We can fix this.

Our public institutions must look to the past to inform our future. New Zealand is known to have the fastest law in the West. We need to slow it down. We need to look back as well as look forward. We need to reward those leaders who do. Perhaps there is an advantage in being able to pass laws quickly, yet not allowing for debate, discussion, or dissent creates problems. A fast law is not always a good law.

The new history curriculum is another way that we can learn lessons from the past. Passing on the story of our country, both good and bad, is a way to ensure that those mistakes are not repeated. Hopefully, we will be able to not just focus on the new at the expense of our history. Otherwise, no one can be held accountable because we have all moved on.

The recent decision in the High Court involving Grounded Kiwis, where the government was taken to court over the fairness of the MIQ system, is one example of this.

Holding the government to account

The Government will not appeal the decision. They also will not say if they will apologise for their actions. When the government is found to be in breach of the law, what happens?

How are they held to account? With a commanding majority in the house, there is no mechanism for accountability.

Fortunately, we live in a democracy. If we think the government is wrong, we can vote accordingly. We can hold them to account. But elections only come around every three years. That is plenty of time for our amnesia to kick in and for politicians to avoid the consequences of their actions.

As a people, we must engage in the politics of memory. If we do not, the next time we have an “unprecedented” situation, we may see future governments taking more, and more extreme, actions for supposedly “unprecedented” situations.

We need to get better at remembering. Otherwise, our society will fracture, divide, and fall apart.

Jason Heale is Communications Manager at Maxim Institute based in Auckland.

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