Banks' impassioned poverty plea

05:58, Jan 28 2014

Embattled ACT leader John Banks has given an emotional speech in Parliament, describing his impoverished upbringing and how it shaped his political views.

Speaking after Hone Harawira during Parliament's first session of the year, Banks attacked the Mana leader's policies.

Banks said Harawira did not know anything about the poverty in which his Far North constituents lived.

"The seeds of my political philosophy lie in my background ... I know a lot about child poverty," Banks said.

"I know what it is like to live in a house with no power, no running water, a bath once a week in a 44-gallon drum cut in half, sleeping on straw covered with sacks, going to bed every night hungry, piddling the bed every night, psychologically disturbed, being thrashed every morning for piddling the bed every night, going to school every day in an ex-army uniform with no shoes, spending all day, every day out of the classroom stealing other kids' lunches, and going home to bread and milk, at best, at night cooked over an open fire with sugar on top, and if I'm very lucky taking Weet-Bix covered in dripping to school each day, and living in a very dark hole," he said, his voice breaking.

"That's child poverty."


Harawira did not understand child poverty and his socialist policies would do little to address it, Banks said.

"Why would I not support Hone Harawira if he had the answers to this country's deep, deep vein of underprivilege, desperation, desolation and despair that so many of our kids live under."

Banks will leave Parliament at the next election because he has been charged with knowingly filing a false electoral return.

He said the way out of child poverty was children living in homes "with unconditional love, and I never knew anything about that," and having access to a world-class education.

The newly established charter schools would help underprivileged young people who needed more support, he said.

"Of course, I support sandwiches and food in schools.

"I would have loved some sandwiches and some food in schools, but that is not the answer."

In his speech Harawira said most Kiwi families were going backwards as the cost of living increased and wages failed to keep up.

"Big bank economists tell us we are about to benefit from a rock star economy in 2014, but that's rubbish," Harawira said.

"Everywhere in the world the benefit of the economic recovery is going to the richest 1 per cent while the 99 per cent either stagnate or go backwards and New Zealand is no exception."

The Government had not done enough for poor families and was not doing enough to ensure impoverished children were succeeding in schools, he said.

Instead, it was focusing on "a failed charter schools model from overseas" and "drop-in teachers".

Increasing inequality was "at the heart of increased social problems in low-income communities", Harawira said.

"All we get is policy after policy, bill after bill to take in even more from low-income workers in employment rights, social support, tax dollars and all of that, to feed oil and mining giants, property developers, casino bosses and the like."

Children should be be fed in schools and GST on food and essential services should be abolished, he said.

He wanted 10,000 homes built each year, especially for low-income families, to ensure every child and every family had access to adequate housing.

Immigrants should also have to build new homes rather than buy existing ones while a "serious" capital gains tax should be imposed to free up housing by forcing investors to sell.

He also wanted an indexed minimum wage, to raise taxes on the wealthy "to free the poor" and a tax on all financial transactions.

Fairfax Media