Community groups have a vital role in New Zealand. In addition to speaking out on social problems such as poverty, mental illness and addiction, they also often have a direct role in fixing them via government funding. Unfortunately there's an obvious tension between those two roles - and one National is exploiting to stifle criticism of its agenda:
Community groups are being muzzled by fears that speaking out against Government policies will result in funding cuts.
One organisation, which wished to remain anonymous, told Radio New Zealand about subtle threats from a cabinet minister it refused to name, and said the fear of being punished financially for speaking out had worsened over the past three years.
Those fears were backed by a recent survey by Victoria University senior lecturer Sandra Grey and teaching associate Charles Sedgwick.
The pair conducted two surveys into advocacy at non-Government organisations with the same 93 community groups.
Dr Grey said in the latest survey, conducted over the past year, about half of respondents said if they spoke out their funding would be cut, compared with about 25 percent in 2008.
What changed in 2008? We switched from a Labour to a National government.
Naturally, the organisation which controls the purse strings, MSD, sees no problems here. But they wouldn't, would they? After all, they and the politicians who give the orders are the prime beneficiaries of this policy of fear. But terrorising and intimidating community groups doesn't exactly seem democratic, does it?