Rebuilding a Spirit of Universalism

Rebuilding a Spirit of Universalism

Thanks to all our members who supported the PSA’s Aotearoa Wellbeing Commitment during the election campaign. We’ll be continuing this campaign for a commitment to universal basic services.

Here’s why writer and campaigner Max Harris believes universalism is so important.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been full of cries, the world over, that “we’re all in this together”. But so far the pandemic hasn’t produced the turn towards greater collective solidarity that some anticipated.

In particular, the election campaign in New Zealand revealed a striking lack of commitment to universalism in the policy offerings of the major parties.

Labour committed to free trades training and the Greens proposed extending ACC to long-term sickness.

But Labour’s free school meals policy focused on schools “with the highest disadvantage”. National’s ‘First 1000 Days’ policy proposed means-testing those with “additional need”. No party backed a plan for free dental care for all.

PSA LetsDoEvenBetter6It was up to the PSA to call for a collection of universal basic services through its Aotearoa Wellbeing Commitment campaign. It called for greater universality in healthcare, housing, education, income support, transport, and internet. FIRST union also reiterated its support for the extension of universal services.


Universal basic services is a simple idea. Services like healthcare or education should be publicly owned and delivered, comprehensive and free-at-the-point-of-use, and funded by general taxation.

It’s the idea that underpins our health system, even if it is full of gaps. It involves raising the floor of our basic rights – expanding what we can expect from life. Examples include free public transport and free broadband.

It recognises that means-testing is costly and stigmatising. It reflects the political reality that more people will support the provision of a service if it is provided to everyone.

Universal social policy has had its problems in the past. It’s often excluded migrants, or conflicted with Te Tiriti o Waitangi. These lessons must be learned in the future. 


A greater commitment to universalism will require not just political will. We also have to push back on the myth that the government needs to be cautious during the pandemic.

With relatively low government debt by international standards and low interest rates, now’s the time for New Zealand to invest in services and infrastructure.

Privatisation and outsourcing has dented government. We need to rebuild its capacity, and extend government provision into new areas.

Tackling challenges like public housing, under-funded health services, and public transport could even pay for itself over time, as we wouldn’t be spending so much to fix the consequences of under-investment, such as poverty, poor health and environmental damage.

We also need a 21st century vision of political leadership in Aotearoa, with Crown kawanatanga in one sphere and tino rangatiratanga in another.

Building on the Aotearoa Wellbeing Commitment, and strengthening the call for universal basic services, will be crucial if we want to live up to rhetorical claims that “we’re all in this together”.

Also in this issue:

Building Our Future

It was our biggest Congress ever, with more than 200 delegates gathering in Wellington to debate, network and make plans that will guide the future of our union.

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Welcome to our New President

We extend a warm welcome to Benedict Ferguson who has been elected as our new president by delegates at Congress 2020.

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News in Brief

An interim offer for the DHB admin pay equity claim, new collective agreements in the Public Service, and a new leadership line-up for our union feature in our News in Brief.

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What can we expect from the new Government?

With a new Government now in place it’s timely for the PSA to consider what we can expect, and what we would like to achieve in the next three years.

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"Our Māori membership stands proud"

Delegates at Hui Taumata came away feeling inspired and empowered to make a difference for their workmates and their people.

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"A Champion of the Vulnerable"

Allan Franks says he felt “privileged and a bit overwhelmed” to receive the Marlene Pitman Award at Hui Taumata, the PSA Māori Congress.

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Delivering on Equal Pay

The PSA is taking a two-track approach to delivering on pay equity - using the force of new law to settle claims and new guidance to end discrimination.

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Unions Unite for Home Support

The wider union movement has thrown it’s support behind the They Deserve the Best Campaign for home support that gives dignity to our most vulnerable people.

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PSA members were among the winners in Te Kawa Mataaho's Public Service Day Awards this year.

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Bring On the Holidays!

After the most challenging of years, many of us are counting the days until we can take a well-deserved break.

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HealthCarePlus brings Bikes for Good

Christchurch kids and their bikes will benefit from a PSA HealthCarePlus Grant for Good.

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"It's an eye opener"

The two researchers delving into the findings of our Mana Wahine Treaty Claim survey shared their own experiences of discrimination with Working Life.

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Saving Livelihoods

The Covid-19 pandemic is estimated to have claimed the equivalent of 235 million jobs across the Asia Pacific region.

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"There is a fear of being open about who we are"

The right to work is a fundamental human right - but people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics (SOGIESC) continue to experience discrimination in workplaces which can sometimes force them to leave.

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Rostering for Wellbeing

Members at a mental health unit in Auckland are “stoked” about their new roster system.

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Out of Office

Writing a waiata fit for a Prime Minister might seem daunting.

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He Uiui Raumati

Nau mai ki tēnei Uiui Raumati - Summer Quiz

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Around & About

Pink is the theme for our photo pages this issue thanks to the anti-bullying Pink Shirt Day and the DHB admin pay equity claim Pink Tuesdays.

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The Last Word

Retiring national secretary Glenn Barclay looks back on a time of growth and change at the helm of New Zealand’s largest union

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