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Baby boomers blamed for “age of impoverishment”

Communication & Marketing
Massey University
Palmerston North
New Zealand

Speech Delivered 2.30pm Wednesday May 10, 2006

Baby boomers blamed for “age of impoverishment”

PALMERSTON NORTH – Educationalist and anti-racism campaigner John Minto has accused the baby boom generation of overseeing an “age of impoverishment” and urged his contemporaries to clean up the economic mess they created.

Mr Minto, an Auckland trade union organiser and former secondary school teacher best known for his leadership in the 1981 anti-Springbok tour protests, used his speech to a Massey University graduation ceremony in Palmerston North today to attack the Government for its education policy and failure to protect the jobs and wages of the low-paid.

The former Massey physics graduate congratulated fine arts and education graduates for making a very good first step in their tertiary studies by choosing a “quality public institution”.

Many tens of thousands of students had not been so lucky, he said. “They chose, with the best of intentions, to attend a private education provider and have been left out in the cold with low quality qualifications as well as huge student debts.”

Mr Minto cited last year’s Tertiary Education Commission report, which found 64 per cent of private tertiary establishments’ qualifications were either low quality or low relevance.

The commission withdrew funding for 78 of the 480 qualifications on offer in the private sector and threatened providers of a further 228 qualifications with no funding next year unless they improved the courses.

“This is the extent of the appalling debacle that faces tertiary education. This system was established by National in the late 1990s and then continued by Labour under local MP Steve Maharey as [Education] Minister.”

He described the “explosion” of funding for low-quality private education providers at the expense of universities and polytechs as “staggering”, an increase of taxpayer contributions from $17 million in 1999 to $150 million four years later.

This created a an “epidemic of low-quality courses – initially in the private sector but inevitably spreading to public providers as they too were caught up in the race for funding”.

It also saw “bribes and inducements”, such as free computers and cellphones given to students to encourage enrolments.

“This is a shameful legacy of market-driven madness in education…One of the most hare-brained schemes to come from the free-market ideologies of the past 20 years.”

Mr Minto then aimed his guns at Government employment policies and the failure to protect jobs and incomes for those low-paid jobs, particularly those trying to support families.

He cited an example of a bright student at his school who fell behind in his work and appeared unhappy and unhealthy and was found to be working 24 hours a week after school at a supermarket to help his family after his father lost his job and could find only part-time work.

“Similar stories are the rule rather than the exception in low-income communities. We still have 175,000 children growing up in families on a poverty income. There is no prospect of this changing under our current political setup.”

He said he was embarrassed to be part of a generation that was leaving New Zealand worse than it found it.

“We may have marched for all sorts of liberal causes from the 1960s to the 1980s but the baby boomers will be better remembered for their free-market policies which have impoverished so many in New Zealand and around the world.”
He said eras in history had been given names, such as the bronze age, the iron age, the industrial age and the space age in which he grew up. More recently we had the computer age.

“This age might be called the Bush age, God forbid, but if I were to guess I’d say it’s more likely to be called the age of impoverishment.

“I hope my generation can clean up some of the economic mess we have created before we depart the scene.”


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