Policy students tackle New Zealand’s big issues
08 December 2021
The chance to have an impact on large organisations that make important decisions about people’s lives was too good a chance to miss for two University of Auckland Public Policy Institute students.
Masters students Lucy Redwood and Libby Orr did ten-week internships at the European Union and Auckland Council respectively, to devise, research and present a useful piece of policy that would fill a current gap for those organisations.
The pair were among a larger group who all successfully completed internships this year and received positive feedback despite the increased difficulties of Covid lockdowns, says Dr Tim Fadgen, a lecturer in Politics and International Relations in the Faculty of Arts and director of the Master of Public Policy Programme.
“I was so impressed by our students’ grit and determination this semester. They barely made it through the first month in their organisations, where they were meeting colleagues and getting acquainted with their offices when lockdown began.”
He says they continued to hold the regular seminars and the students formed close bonds with their smaller, sector-based workgroups.
“I could tell from their weekly updates that the students came together to help each other through a very challenging semester. In fact, when we held our usual end-of-semester event, a virtual tea this year, nearly every workplace supervisor spoke about the incredible work their intern had done.
“This is a testament to the resiliency of our students and to the work that their lecturers and the university had done to put them in the strongest possible position to succeed. I am already looking ahead to next year’s cohort and hopefully a return to the norm.”
Combatting climate action delay
Lucy Redwood worked with the European Union (EU) to explore how their policies could help encourage more ambitious climate action in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Selecting three key stakeholders representing different sectors of society – Federated Farmers, the National Party, and Business NZ – she analysed their responses to climate policies through academic frameworks on climate action delay tactics.
“The different types of climate discourse fall into four themes: Redirecting responsibility, pushing for non-transformative solutions, emphasising the downsides, and surrendering,” Lucy says. “Having that academic baseline allowed me to be objective in my analysis.”
Federated Farmers’ messaging focused on the adverse social impact on the rural economy and the suffering caused by climate change action, while National’s rhetoric was threaded with wellbeing concerns, ‘policy perfectionism’, emphasising technological solutions that do not currently, and may never, exist.
“I was careful not to conflate genuine opposition with climate policy delay,” Lucy says. “They’re not the same thing, there are real wellbeing arguments that we need to talk about, but there are also unhelpful tactics involved.”
“Business NZ exhibited fewer delay tactics and often emphasised the economic opportunities of moving towards a low emissions economy – I wasn’t trying to force an opinion that wasn’t there.”
The EU have human resource and manpower that we just don’t have in New Zealand.
The EU offers solutions to push back against these delay strategies. Lucy’s recommendations included becoming a partner in ‘Horizon Europe’ an international funding programme for research and innovation, and adopting ‘Farm to Fork’ strategies on sustainable food systems and carbon removals.
There is also the opportunity to learn from the EU’s Social Climate Fund which was designed to address the issue of a just transition. The fund uses revenue from an expanded emissions trading scheme encompassing transport and buildings to support vulnerable groups in becoming more energy efficient.
“The EU is this beast; they have human resource and manpower that we just don’t have in New Zealand,” Lucy says. “And if they have these solutions and are willing to share policies – well, why wouldn’t we take that opportunity?”
Attracting diverse candidates and more voters in local elections
Libby Orr partnered with Auckland Council to investigate how to increase voter participation and attract diverse candidates in local body elections.
“The team were keen to get someone in to research this voting challenge, as speaking to the diversity in Tāmaki Makaurau is a key focus within the council," she says.
Libby examined both academic and council-produced research to align the two bodies of work and provide suggestions for the 2022 election and future campaigns.
“I looked at voter diversity in all forms – socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnic diversity, age groups, renters versus homeowners.
“Diverse candidates and voter participation are very much linked. It doesn’t have to be exactly like-for-like between the voter and candidates, but you’ll be more engaged if you see varied views. Council is motivated to speak to all Aucklanders and have more nuanced conversations.”
She says a key finding was the importance of energising social media messaging for younger and rental groups.
“The current narrative is very much about homeowner and rates, so it’s trying to bring in the renting population as voters.”
Diverse candidates and voter participation are very much linked.
Libby also tackled practical barriers, such as a 42 percent decrease in physical post boxes. Auckland Council run a one-stop voting shop bringing mobile ballots to workplaces, and her research highlighted the importance of those initiatives.
Other findings were less expected, such as her research on online voting.
“International research indicates that putting all this investment into online voting doesn’t always increase participation. Effective communication and civic education are often more constructive than new-fangled tools.”
Libby, now a permanent adviser for Auckland Council’s Governance Services, has been presenting her research to different council groups working on election campaigns.
“People have been so positive and engaged with this work. Everyone is dedicated to the city; they all want to get as many people voting as possible – because that’s when you get true democracy.”
Politics and Policy internships
The Politics and Policy internship programme has been running for several years and has successfully placed dozens of students in policy and politics roles throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, with many crediting the programme with providing them with an edge on the job market.
The course model is aimed to attract a small number of high-achieving honours and Masters students and match them to roles with government—both local and national—and community organisations.
The students are integrated into the work of their organisation for a semester-length project where they apply classroom learning to address a policy issue identified by the placement organisation. The Univerersity has built strong relationships with these organisations and our students are in high demand.
The model has been so successful that they recently launched the online Masters of Public Policy version of the internship, which uses a group-based project model to allow students based throughout the world to engage in virtual policy consultancies with partner organisations.
Julianne Evans | Media adviser
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