Saturday, April 13, 2024 | Shawwal 3, 1445 H
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Compassionate response to society needs a blueprint

Ray Petersen
Ray Petersen

I was absolutely delighted two weeks ago to see my home country, New Zealand, seek to take a new path in terms of its emphasis and priorities in the presentation of the annual government budget.

In what is labelled a ‘Well-being Budget,’ it focuses significantly upon those who need help, real, genuine, money and resources help. Of course this is nothing new in terms of how we see a Labour government anywhere in the world, given their left of centre political profile, however it is new in terms of the scale of the assistance to the less affluent, at risk, disadvantaged sections of the community, in what is not a ‘poor’ country.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has demonstrated remarkable compassion and dignity in the aftermath of the Christchurch Mosque shootings recently, appears to have again scored a stunning political coup with her recognition of the ills and challenges facing this new technological, Internet-obsessed age.

There can be no doubt that the technologies are beneficial to us, but at the same time they do many jobs much quicker, and better, than do we humans, so this shrinks the job market. Then, due to that shrinking, we have more people, young and old who are placed under more and more pressure to achieve results or be shown the door. No

one is safe, and everyone is insecure, to some extent.

Thus, the mental or psychological pressure builds, and it is a disturbing fact that many people, more often than not in their late teens and early twenties, who are made to feel worthless, who may or may not cry for help, and are not heard.

Ardern and her government have said, with this budget, we may not have all the answers, but let’s try to be better prepared, more open, more responsive, and let’s see what happens? The Prime Minister opened her budgetary speech to Parliament saying, “We said that we would be a government that did things differently, and for this budget we have done just that. Today we have laid the foundation for not just one Well-being Budget, but a different approach for government decision-making all together.”

In doing so, she signalled that this tiny country seeks alternatives to the confrontational manner of political party posturing over health and societal issues. One can only hope I guess, but it is a genuine and positive step in the right direction.

She continued, “Usual practice would have me traverse various and disparate initiatives, the many areas of need and investment. Not today. Today, I want to pick up the first thing I talked about when I took on a leadership role in the Labour Party — I want to talk about mental health.”

And then she went on to discuss her own watershed moment two years ago, when a group of bereaved people, family and friends who had lost loved ones to suicide met near Parliament House. They had brought with them pairs of shoes to represent the number of lives that had been lost to suicide during that year.

Ardern said, “I knew who one of those pairs of shoes belonged to, just like every single member of this House will know someone. We have two degrees of separation to each other, but there is no separation when it comes to New Zealand’s experience of suicide. It affects all of us.”

She went on saying that the issue of mental health and wellbeing more generally is a challenge that the World Health Organization says will be the world’s biggest health problem by 2030, and that we, as a civilisation can’t afford to wait for that to happen. Sound sentiments, and positive actions, rare in today’s political world.

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