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Associate Professor Barry Milne

Barry Milne is an Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Methods and Policy Application in Society Sciences (COMPASS) based at the University of Auckland.

Barry focuses his research on longitudinal studies in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, particularly in the area of mental health. His areas of expertise include micro-simulation, administrative data, longitudinal studies, socio-economic and ethnic inequalities and child development.

Q: Why did you join the panel?

New Zealand society isn’t as equal as people think it is. I want to challenge people’s opinions – it’s not about telling people the type of society that is best, but to challenge their beliefs about what New Zealand society is like.

I think what is happening more and more is a silo-ing of people. People hang out both in the real world and their online worlds with people with similar views to themselves. Their perceptions of what people are like is based very much on them, their friends, and the people they interact with. This isn’t all of New Zealand and I believe people have a distorted view of what New Zealand is.

For example, in the discussion last year about whether or not there should be a capital gains tax, there was a big discussion about “well I’m a normal New Zealander, who owns two houses and I want savings for my retirement”. Actually, you’re better off than most if you own two houses, but if you surround yourself with people who also own two or more houses, it’s not surprising that you think you’re just like everyone else.

Q: What do you bring to the panel?

I bring to the panel an awareness of the data that are available in New Zealand and the indicators for things. So indicators for example, of where people in New Zealand own two houses, or where people sit on income distribution, or the number of people who experience discrimination and how that varies by different groups in society. I have a knowledge of what data is out there, and how it compares to the past, and where New Zealand sits in relation to the world.

Q: Will there be a fair future without change?   

It’s a broad question. My gut assumption is that without intervention the future will see a less fair society.

I am concerned about the future of work and the concentration of wealth among a few if we carry on the way we are. I can really see the situation developing where there’ll be a need for something like universal basic income to support people, because there won’t be the same societal roles and jobs that have been needed in the past. That’s not a future I want necessarily, but I’m looking into my crystal ball into how things might turn out. But, I’m no futurist so I don’t really know. 

Adding Covid into the mix I’m less sure about how the next year will play out, let alone the next twenty. Will Covid exacerbate inequality, or hasten changes that bring about a more equal society?  I have no idea, but I think discussions around opportunities to improve how societies function will be had, and we have a chance to contribute to these.

Q: What can the panel do?

We can help people realise we do have a choice – we don’t have to have society as it is. Not everyone has the ability to live in a house, not everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the same level of affluence as other people. If we can get people to say “I didn’t realise it was as unequal as it seems to be, let’s do something about it”, the panel will have achieved something.

Q: Are there grounds for optimism?

Youth are going to be the leaders and creators of the future, so if we can challenge their perceptions, that would be good. Youth themselves are diverse and to some extent will have already silo-ed into rich kids being surrounded by other rich kids, and poor kids being surrounded by other poor kids, both in the real world and online as well. But if we can convince people that society is more than their silo, then we will have achieved something, and if that spins off into actions taken by the leaders of tomorrow, then all the better.