Dismissing expert advice is costly to us all.

By Te Pou Ahurei | National Secretary Sandra Grey and Tumu Whakarae Tiriti | National President Tiriti Dr Julie Douglas

Making decisions for the country is a complex business. Governments have to think about what the public wants, what can be afforded, and of course what will work.

Elections, public meetings, electorate clinics, and various polls can help governments make decisions on what the public wants.

The tax take and advice from Treasury lets governments know what is affordable – though where it should be spent is another story.

The final component is ‘what will work?’

This is where members of Te Hautū Kahurangi | Tertiary Education Union and their colleagues come in. They are experts on everything from making buildings safe to designing new medicines; and from how brains work to addressing the climate crisis.

Many experts are trying to provide advice to the Government. However, this government has ignored some very significant advice – such as around the leadership Aotearoa New Zealand was showing to prevent people taking up smoking; and advice around the positive impact of providing lunch in schools.

Professor Boyd Swinburn, of Waipapa Taumata Rau | The University of Auckland, is one example of an academic who is telling the government that academic evidence shows free school lunches “improve children’s health and educational outcomes” as well as “enrich school environments, boost local economies, enhance availability and affordability of healthy foods and encourage innovations, such as sustainable packaging.”

Meanwhile Ōtākou Whakaihu Waka | The University of Otago’s Associate Professor Andrew Waa and Professor Janet Hoek are amongst a large chorus of academics, doctors, and scientists who say the repeal of our smokefree laws will cost thousands of lives.

The public funds our universities, polytechnics, and wānanga to teach, yes. But also to ensure that everyone – the public, government, industry, and community groups – know that there are experts out there to give them unbiased scientific advice.

This government should make sure that it uses that advice properly as a base for decisions. In fact, not using evidence and expert advice in decision making contradicts the fundamental notion of accountability and credibility for any government.

Aotearoa New Zealand’s world leading response to COVID 19, our advances in farming, leadership in the sciences and medicine, our exceptional film industry work, can be credited to strong innovation in universities, polytechnics, and wānanga.

The government must listen – really listen – to what the public health leaders, teachers, and climate scientists are telling them.

Would you want politicians deciding on how to repair your damaged heart or broken hip? You want experts to make those calls. Similarly with legislation and public policy, the expert advice needs to be a critical part of the decision-making process otherwise we’ll get populist and damaging decisions from our elected politicians.