Jane Silloway Smith

By Jane Silloway Smith - 24/01/2014

Jane Silloway Smith

By Jane Silloway Smith -

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David Shearer and political bravery

I’ve always liked David Shearer – and really, who wouldn’t? The guy dedicated his early adulthood to helping some of the neediest people in the world, and then he came back to New Zealand and became a public servant. He may no longer be the Labour leader, but the guy himself is quality.

Further evidence of this quality arose this week in an op-ed he had in the Herald. Last year Shearer drafted a private member’s bill—which was then drawn from the ballot—that would see the government provide free food to all low-decile schools in New Zealand. The impetus behind the Bill was a good one—who wouldn’t want to provide food to children who were potentially hungry?—but I’ve always doubted the merits of such a handout approach that separates parents from children by taking over one of the primary tasks of parenthood, providing for your child.

It seems now that David Shearer would agree with me.

He writes: 

Is it right to impose a one-size-fits-all solution on to every low-decile school in the form of a food hand-out?

There’s an old saying: give someone a fish and it will feed them for a day; teach someone to fish and it will feed them for a lifetime.

Of course, we all agree that no child should be hungry at school. But what’s missing is a programme that will not only fix that but also improve nutrition and ensure self-reliance.

Before coming into politics I ran huge feeding programmes for starving kids, including one for 30,000 children in Somalia.

Without that food, those children would have died. But the programme was always designed to be temporary. As soon as the crisis passed, the families moved on, relying on themselves.

My fear is that we will institutionalise dependence through relying solely on a feeding programme. We need to be far more forward-looking.

After consulting with principals, doctors, charities, and communities, and visiting Owairaka District School, where the school, parents, and community have instituted a garden-to-table programme, Shearer’s decided to make adjustments to his Bill.

Development in perspective, continued conversation with communities, and a public pledge to amend a bill before Parliament in accordance with that development and those conversations—that’s true political bravery.

So well done to Shearer for not only recognising that support for communities and their initiatives can be more productive than just another handout, and for actually acting on that recognition.

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Jane Silloway Smith

By Jane Silloway Smith -

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