indie_fabsIn an Independent editorial entitled 'The Fabian Alternative', Fiona Rotheram asks 'Can a new left-wing policy forum incite widespread public debate on economic and. social issues':

'Among the guests at a recent Auckland event staged by the right-wing think tank, the Business Roundtable, businessman Selwyn Pellett seemed an odd invitee.




He's one of the founding members of the traditionally left wing-associated New Zealand Fabian Society, launched this week to stir up public debate on our economic future. He's also behind the Productive Economy Council, a group of business people who want to see New Zealand return to the upper end of the OECD in terms of GDP per capita but don't subscribe to our current economic policies.

Perhaps the Roundtable subscribes to the old adage about keeping your friends close and your enemies even closer.


Finance Minister Bill English and Roundtable chairman and head of Ernst & Young Rob McLeod both gave rousing off-the-record speeches at the Roundtable do. Oddly enough, Pellett agreed with just about everything McLeod said about New Zealand's economic woes and that Prime Minister John Key needs to start taking more action on the policy front. Where McLeod and Pellett differ is on the solutions needed.

"The principle here is that we don't care about left and right, what we care about is right and wrong policies," Pellett says. He and the other 100 or so New Zealand Fabian Society members argue while there is general consensus that our economic future is precarious - our exports too low, our debt too high, and our relative standard of living in decline - the public debate has for many years been limited to the solutions of the neo-liberal right."We've had sound bite politics for the past 20 years where people vote on things when they don't understand the issues and it gets reduced to 'this soundbite sounds better than that one'," Pellett says.

Which is why the Society is kicking off a seminar and lecture series next week in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Entitled 'Bold ideas for a better future', the first seminar is themed on building a resilient economy and features BERL economist Ganesh Nana, media commentator and Sunday StarTimes columnist Rod Oram, John Walley from the Manufacturers'and Exporters' Association, and Pellett.The lecture series will focus on tax and budget issues.

Fabian Societies have been previously active in New Zealand, though not for the past 40 years or so, says chairman Mike Smith (former Labour Party secretary until he retired last September). One former member was William Pember Reeves, the Liberal MP who introduced the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1894 - the world's first compulsory system of state arbitration (see box story on other famous Fabians).

The Fabian Society started inthe late 19th century as a British intellectual socialist movement, aimed at advancing social democracy principles through evolution rather than revolution.The British society laid the foundations of the Labour party and today is a vanguard think tank of the New Labour movement. In Australia, the Fabian Society founded there in 1947 is that country's oldest political think tank. It also has strong Labour party links, with Gough Whitlam said to have adopted the Fabian approach from the day he entered Parliament. One US commentator (see has also alluded to Barack Obama's administration as the triumph ofthe Fabians because today's Democratic Party has embarked on a course to "remake" America. Smith and Pellett reckon the New Zealand Society will be independent of the local Labour Party."We don't want that and we will be a lot less aligned [than elsewhere] but progressive policy, by its nature, always comes from Left people who want to change things while Conservatives want to keep things as they are," Pellett says. Smith reckons it is not politicalv iewpoints or ideology that matters. "Everyone involved so far cares about what is happening to New Zealand and thinks there needs to be broader debate, and so do I. "They stop short of calling the new group a think tank because it hasn't got the funding (members pay only $20 to join) for in-depth research. Rather their motto is''inciting debate - Wero 0 te ahi".As Pellett says, getting people to debate issues with you is the fastest way to learn whether your arguments are weak or not. It's hard to argue with that.


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