A Civilised Society - the bulk funding battle

A Civilised Society is a documentary directed by Alister Barry - it's a story about the battle of ordinary New Zealanders against education policies such as bulk funding and individual contracts, policies they believed would wreak havoc in education


NZ On Screen have published the film A Civilised Society for free viewing and for free download

Education for all and not for sale

A Civilised Society tells the story of how the lives of ordinary New Zealanders crossed paths with a New Right political ideology intent on overhauling the education system in the '80s and '90s.

It is how the little man and woman New Zealanders - teachers, parents, boards of trustee members - railed against politicians and business interests intent on making education like any other good or service sold on the market place.

The battle over bulk funding is a central theme, but the story itself is much wider, canvassing the Picot report and the build up to Tomorrow's Schools - touted as more choice for parents and children - the removal of zoning, the Employment Contracts Act, and the numerous pay disputes that resulted from it.

Larger than life characters

The characters are often larger than the story itself. We see David Lange in top rhetorical form, former PPTA president Martin Cooney, at the height of his powers, delivering pitch perfect sound bites with bovver boy charm and NZ First MP Brian Donnelly explaining what bulk funding was really about - to get site bargaining and undermine the power of the PPTA.

There are some hilarious moments. Former Avondale College principal, the late Phil Raffills, waxes lyrical about the benefits of school-business partnerships "… if it has to be Pepsi Avondale College or Avondale Pepsi College then I'll do it if it's better for the kids" followed by scenes of Avondale students downing Pepsis with the company's CE at the time Kevin Roberts.

Then there is former National education minister Lockwood Smith, seductive and simply too engaging to be true, as he promises not to increase student debt before the 1990 election.

Celebration of everyday struggle and persistance in the face of powerful interests

For those who were part of the struggle, the film is a celebration of their efforts and their persistence in the face of ever-increasing governmental incentives (bribes as PPTA called them at the time) to implement the "fully funded option". At seven years it was a long struggle and by 1999, PPTA general secretary Kevin Bunker acknowledges that the increasing pressure on schools to opt in was taking its toll.

This is film maker Alister Barry's third film (after Someone Else's Country and In a Land of Plenty) in a loose trilogy of feature documentaries examining the New Right revolution in New Zealand. He has once again created a treasured resource for current and future generations about an aspect of our history that could have been quickly forgotten and its lessons quickly unlearned.

Directed by Alister Barry
Review by Matt Velde PPTA News July 2007


Last modified on Wednesday, 17 May 2023 09:11