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Professor Jonathan Boston

Jonathan Boston is Professor of Public Policy in the School of Government at Victoria University of Wellington.

His research interests include: climate change policy (both mitigation and adaptation); child poverty; governance (especially anticipatory governance); public management; tertiary education funding (especially research funding); and welfare state design.

Jonathan has served at various times as the Director of the Institute of Policy Studies and the Director of the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. In the early 2000’s he served as a member of the Tertiary Education Advisory Committee and helped design and implement the Performance-Based Research Fund in New Zealand’s tertiary education sector. During 2012-13 he co-chaired the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty in New Zealand.

Recent books and major reports include: Child Poverty in New Zealand (with Simon Chapple) (2014); Governing for the Future: Designing Democratic Institutions for a Better Tomorrow (2017); Safeguarding the Future: Governing in an Uncertain World (2017); Foresight, Insight, and Oversight: Enhancing Long-Term Governance through Better Parliamentary Scrutiny (with David Bagnall and Anna Barry) (2019); and Transforming the Welfare State: Towards a New Social Contract. He is the editor of Policy Quarterly.


Q: Why did you join the panel? 

The panel is addressing some fundamental and fascinating philosophical and policy-related issues. In particular, there is the question of how fairness or social justice might be enhanced in Aotearoa New Zealand. In my view, this is one of the most important and urgent questions facing our society. If income and wealth inequality increase further, we are likely to witness less social cohesion, reduced opportunities for home ownership and increasing political polarization, as is evident in the United States. We must seek to avoid such outcomes. But this requires serious thinking and deliberation. That is central to the panel's focus.

Q: What do you bring to the panel?

I have been undertaking research over many years on a number of issues that are highly relevant to the panel's focus. One of these is the topic of poverty and what to do about it; the other is climate change. Both topics raise major issues in relation to fairness.

Q: Will there be a fair future without change?

No. Sadly, without significant policy reforms, Aotearoa New Zealand faces increasing intragenerational and intergenerational injustice.

Q: Are there grounds for optimism?

There are certainly some grounds for optimism, not least the growing public recognition that Aotearoa New Zealand is no longer the egalitarian society it once aspired to be and a broad desire, especially among the young, for change.

Against this, the evidence suggests that it is much easier politically to increase income and wealth inequality than to reduce it. For instance, the main factors contributing to greater societal fairness during the mid-20th century were two world wars and a global economic depression; these events enabled radical policy shifts to occur, especially with respect to taxation and regulation, that would otherwise have met with strong resistance. It would be tragic if we end up needing damaging events of this magnitude (e.g. major climate-induced natural disasters) to trigger the reforms required to enhance fairness in this country. I live in hope, but I am also a realist.