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Insights 17: 17 May 2024
Newsroom: Dr Oliver Hartwich on how a philosopher's ideas could revolutionise NZ education
Podcast: Dr Oliver Hartwich talks to Dr Murray Horn about his insights on NZ's fiscal challenges
NZ Herald: Dr Matthew Birchall on how road pricing can work for everyone

The Future of Our Universities
Dr James Kierstead | Research Fellow |
The Future of Our Universities is now in the past. The long-awaited symposium, hosted by the Initiative, took place on Wednesday at the Royal Society Apārangi in Wellington. It brought together senior academics, politicians, and policy wonks for a day-long discussion of university reform.

The ongoing cuts at several universities loomed large. One speaker with experience in banking regulation argued that our universities’ finances are basically sound, with adequate liquidity and very low debt. Others warned that university balance sheets can create a false sense of security. Property assets, for example, are not easily realisable.

Many attendees argued that the university funding model is fundamentally broken. Government funding increases continually lag behind inflation and universities are unable to set their own prices in the form of fees. Meanwhile, New Zealand lags behind most of its OECD peers in research and development expenditure as a percentage of GDP.

Another topic that loomed large was mātauranga Māori (Māori traditional lore) and its place in university education. One speaker argued forcefully that what she called the ‘indigenisation’ of our universities undermines their fundamental purpose as truth-seeking institutions. Another insisted that indigenous traditions can preserve local knowledge, which can often be sensibly integrated into mainstream science.

A teacher of mātauranga Māori at primary schools shared that though he loved his ancestral culture, he also valued science, which he saw as a distinct endeavour.

The final topic that came up again and again was free speech. Several academics shared their experiences of feeling unable to express their views, or even of being disciplined for them by university managers.

For one speaker, it is a mistake to conflate free speech with academic freedom. She sees the latter as more specialised and believes that it applies only in academics’ areas of expertise. Others insisted that academic freedom and free speech have considerable overlap, with academic freedom best understood as an enhancement of the universal right to free speech.

Three politicians – Labour’s Deborah Russell, ACT leader David Seymour, and Minister for Tertiary Education Penny Simmonds – addressed the symposium. The day ended with a barnstorming run-through of the current state of American universities by the writer Jonathan Rauch, whose visit was sponsored by the Free Speech Union.

Universities are among New Zealand’s oldest institutions. Their present situation is not great. But though our symposium on The Future of Our Universities is now past, it engendered optimism that, with careful reform, the future of our universities can still be bright.

The Tikanga Challenge for Law Schools, the Rule of Law – and Parliament
Roger Partridge | Chairman |
Barrister Gary Judd KC’s complaint to the Regulatory Review Committee has sparked a fierce debate about the place of tikanga Māori – or Māori customs, values and spiritual beliefs – in the law.

Judd opposes the New Zealand Council of Legal Education’s plans to make teaching tikanga compulsory in the legal curriculum.

AUT Law School Dean Khylee Quince derided Judd on social media as a “racist dinosaur”. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters condemned the planned tikanga requirements as “woke indoctrination”.

While Judd has taken aim at the Council, the underlying issue is not so much the Council’s compulsory tikanga requirements, as the Supreme Court’s controversial 2022 Ellis decision.

Despite the case having no Māori connection, the Supreme Court relied on tikanga in allowing Peter Ellis’s appeal against his convictions to continue despite his death. Three justices went further, indicating that any issue of law before the courts may need to be addressed in the light of tikanga.

The transformation Ellis represents is hard to overstate. Before Ellis, the courts accepted that tikanga-based custom could be recognised by the common law. But the courts did not recognise tikanga as a standalone legal framework. Ellis changed that at a stroke, elevating tikanga as “the first law of Aotearoa.”

Little wonder the Council now says law students must study tikanga.

What then of Judd’s complaints? Judd argues that compelling the study of tikanga will teach students that a fluid belief system lacking the certainty and consistency required by the rule of law should nevertheless be treated as law.

Judd’s call for caution has surprising allies – even if they don’t agree with his views. Professor Jane Kelsey suggests implementing compulsory tikanga study may be “rushing it” as “the complexities and nuances of tikanga and how it relates to Te Tiriti and to common law, is not quite there.”

The Law Commission’s 2023 report on tikanga also emphasises “the need for caution when the common law is engaging with tikanga.” The Commission warns, “Where there is a public policy context, the courts may sometimes be ill-equipped to weigh the considerations involved.”

The Supreme Court should feel chastened by aspects of the Commission’s views. Despite the government asking the Law Commission in 2021 to advise Parliament on the proper place of tikanga in the law, the Supreme Court decided it knew better. In an area fraught with constitutional complexity, it barged in. The compulsory tikanga controversy is just one of the consequences.

Parliament has the means to restrain the Supreme Court’s activist tendencies, including legislating to reverse the Court’s more aberrant decisions. However Parliament does this, the sooner it reins in a wayward Supreme Court, the better.

The T20 takeover and lessons for New Zealand
Nick Clark | Research Fellow, Economics and Advocacy |
While instant gratification reigns supreme and attention spans are shorter than a Tik-Tok video, the grand old game of test cricket finds itself, like the New Zealand economy, on a sticky wicket.
The rise of T20, with its frenetic pace, flashy uniforms, and pyrotechnic displays has left the traditional five-day format looking as outdated as a record player. In February, South Africa sent a below-strength test side to New Zealand so its marquee players wouldn’t miss its own T20 competition.
The two-month juggernaut that is the Indian Premier League (IPL) concludes on 27 May. A few days later, a month-long T20 World Cup will begin in the West Indies. For almost three months, almost no test cricket will have been played anywhere.
Gone are the days when spectators would settle in to witness batsmen meticulously build an innings and bowlers steadily build pressure. Now, it's all about the thrill of the next six and knowing the match will finish before bedtime. Stadiums that once echoed with applause now throb with the pulse of dance beats. Players who once prided themselves on textbook techniques now focus on perfecting ramp shots and reverse sweeps.
This cricket revolution reflects wider societal changes. We live in an era of fast food, fast fashion, and fast news. Politics is no different. In New Zealand we see heavy use of parliamentary urgency, a fast-track approvals bill, and even faster turnover of Green MPs.
Purists argue that T20 is to cricket what a Big Mac is to fine dining. They lament the loss of the nuance, strategy, and sheer grit required to excel in the test arena. The same can be said of politicians’ appetite for difficult but necessary reforms.
Test cricket is struggling to keep up, but there is hope. It is adapting to the brave new world. Far fewer matches end in draws. Scoring rates have accelerated. Bazball has transformed the previously underwhelming England test team. Similarly, New Zealand’s economy needs a productivity rev up.
Will test cricket’s evolution be enough? Will it revive like vinyl records which have made a comeback in the age of streaming? Or in a few years will we be raising a can of Red Bull to mark the demise of the test match?
That is as uncertain as how to ramp up New Zealand’s sluggish productivity and economic growth. Three days after the IPL final Nicola Willis delivers her first budget. Maybe we’ll get an answer to that question at least.

On The Record

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