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Young legal scholar offers new solutions for New Zealand

05 May 2017 - By Lynda Hagen

In 2014, a brilliant young New Zealand lawyer, Max Harris, suddenly found himself having open heart surgery in England to repair an aneurysm.

The experience caused him to think hard about how best to use his talents: “It brought into sharp relief the need to use my time well and to stir up debate about the issues that my generation cares about,” he says.

The result is The New Zealand Project, a recently-launched, thought-provoking book offering bold new thinking on 15 diverse but important issues facing our country. Max’s analysis ranges across foreign policy, constitutional reform, race relations, education, health, environment, workplace regulation, homelessness and penal policy with a perceptiveness and insight belying his 28 years.

“There are many issues in New Zealand politics that aren’t being talked about enough,” he says. “We are getting a good discussion on some topics, such as housing, but there’s a whole lot more issues that flow from those conversations.”

The book makes compelling arguments for restoring progressive income tax rates and trialling a small universal basic income, as countries such as Finland and Canada are doing. It discusses the importance of reducing inequalities between schools and between Pakeha and Māori/Pasifika, along with ways of achieving this.

He argues for “de-carceration” as a real alternative to New Zealand’s internationally-high imprisonment rates, through policies like restorative justice and problem-solving courts.

Harris also opens debate on some less-immediate but important social questions, such as the need for civics education in schools and what constitutes masculinity in modern society: “I talk about my experience of attending a boys’ school, the challenges New Zealand men face growing up, and why we need to have more open conversations about those things,” he says.

Underlying Max’s choice of issues is his desire to instil “values-based politics.” While he accepts that politicians will draw different conclusions about specific policies that could flow from a values-based framework, he says it is still important to start from a values standpoint.

“I think our politics has become directionless,” he says. “I have proposed the values of care, community and creativity – that partly informs why I have chosen the topics in the book; I’m trying to show how these values can be made concrete.

“Partly because we don’t have a written constitution we don’t have a shared starting-point – in the United States they might disagree on the specifics of what freedom of speech means, but at least they have the framework to consider the issues.”

Max Harris is currently an Examination Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, and has been a Rhodes Scholar, a clerk for the Chief Justice, and the author of articles in the New Statesman, the Huffington Post and several law journals.

Lynda Hagen lynda@lawfoundation.org.nz is Executive Director of the New Zealand Law Foundation. The New Zealand Project was supported by the Law Foundation. For further information and to order the book, visit www.lawfoundation.org.nz.

Last updated on the 5th May 2017