I love all aspects of lolly scrambles—the risk and reward involved, the anticipation, the hope, the urgency, the lolly snobbery as you hunt for your favourite lollies, the joy of the one throwing out the lollies, the mad dash in all directions, and so on. But in a former life when I was a youth worker in South Auckland, I learnt early on to not do lolly scrambles with the teens we worked with. Why you might ask? Firstly, because most of those Māori and Pacific ‘boys’ were bigger than me! Secondly, the carnage as they scrambled for the lollies! It was a mixture of UFC, the Avengers Endgame, and the WWE Royal Rumble … with a pinch of Covid-19 panicked-toilet-paper-shopping mixed in.
When I look at the Budget, I see it is as a lolly scramble, but just a lot bigger. The Government comes with the bag of lollies, throws a bunch out and then the mad dash and urgency begins. It reminds me of those South Auckland youth lolly scrambles. Now the Budget’s been released, the nation sits back and talks about the lollies—which ones they liked, which ones they didn’t like, which ones they hoped they could’ve gotten but didn’t. And the nation also talks about the lolly giver and wonders why the Government did some things and didn’t do other things.
Our fourth Covid-19 Social Impact Dashboard (released Friday 22 May) has more of an analysis of Budget 2020. But I want to give some very simple reflections on Budget 2020. Firstly, it’s always fascinating seeing people assess and analyse what should the Government allocate money to. There’s so much reliance on the lolly thrower and I understand why. But some of the most amazing development and transformation I’ve seen in local communities happen organically (warning: buzzword alert) in those places, often with little or no Government money, but with bucket-loads of passion and dedication. Of course, funding and resources can greatly help in these initiatives. But it can hinder change as well. I think of the Samoan man in Mangere who has a mini-plantation at home and who selflessly feeds his neighbours with fresh veggies and fruit. Or the youth clubs my usos (brothers) run in Otara working with at-risk high needs young people from deprived neighbourhoods (warning: triple buzzword points) that preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and provide some amazing youth work using sports, social and life skills, the Bible and hanging with their families.
My second Budget 2020 reflection is more a question—will all this money ‘given’ out actually achieve the transformation people want? That of course begs another question—how do you define transformation? The answer to that depends on your organisation, mission, values and so on. For a Christian organisation like The Salvation Army, the mission is to care for people, transform lives and reform society by God’s power. That’s how, at least on paper, the Sallies define transformation. For me personally, the key part of that statement is by God’s power. That’s not a popular or even politically correct kind of phrase in today’s New Zealand. But I believe it’s the truth because I’ve never seen anything truly transform an individual, family or community like the gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of God in bringing that transformation about.
Will the promise of more state and transitional houses bring the true change? What about the huge increase in the money given to food in schools? Will this transform families? And the major investment targeted into trades, training, wage subsidies and jobs—surely that will alter the situation of thousands of Kiwi? Will all this accomplish the desired transformation? Well, it really depends on how you define transformation. And it also depends on other factors like your political leanings, theology and priorities in life. I reckon these lollies thrown out will bring some real and massive change socially and economically to many Kiwi which is awesome. I also think there will be some lollies wasted and not found by the lolly-hunters or not be effective in bringing about the desired change.
But I am convinced that the spiritual question (see Sallies mission statement above), even when dealing with social and economic policy and politics, is the most crucial one that needs to be answered. Unfortunately, it’s a question that is (1) not politically correct to ask and (2) not included in the Wellbeing policy and Budget approach and framework from this Government. I think it should be asked, even in a policy setting. Why? Because as stated above, I’ve never seen anyone transform an individual, family or community like Jesus Christ. Maybe we’re so consumed with the lollies being thrown out in society, society has forgotten the One who said I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst (John 6:35).
By Ronji Tanielu (Disciple of Jesus, Lover of God’s Word, Son of Mangere and South Auckland, SPPU staff member)
Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash