Sue Bradford: A Leftwing Think Tank For Aotearoa

Interviewed by Tim LynchMay 27, 2015
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Sue Bradford interviewed by Lisa Er.

A strong lady with a soft heart Sue Bradford has been an activist on unemployed workers and beneficiary issues for many years. She was a Green Party MP for ten years from 1999-2009, and stood for the Mana Party in the 2011 general election.

Sue wrote a piece for Foreign Control Watchdog in August 2012 called A Major Leftwing Think Tank In Aotearoa: Call To Action Or Impossible Dream, which resulted in her refining her PhD research into the concept of a possible Leftwing think tank in this country.

She has since gained her PhD in public policy at Auckland University of Technology. See a link to it below.

Sue is currently working part time for the welfare activist group Auckland Action Against Poverty, (AAAP) and is starting work on a project to establish an activist/academic transformational Left think tank in Aotearoa.

Because Sue’s research was so bound up in the world of “Left” and “think tanks” it was important to provide definitions of these concepts before she started interviewing people.

Sue’s definition of Left is defined as a commitment to working for a world based on values of fairness, inclusion, participatory democracy, solidarity and equality, and to transforming Aotearoa into a society grounded in economic, social, environmental and Tiriti justice. This definition was deliberately intended to be as inclusive as possible of the spectrum of “Left” from social democracy and the Greens through to the farther reaches of socialism, anarchism and communism, hence it is unlikely to please everyone.

A Think Tank is a community-based not for profit organisation which undertakes detailed research and policy development in order to influence and enhance public policy formation across a broad range of issues, through publications, media work, lobbying, conferences, workshops and other forms of advocacy and education.

Sue was trying to find out:

  • Why no major Leftwing think tank had developed in Aotearoa, despite the existence of Right and Centre think tanks.
  • Whether there was any support from Left academics and activists for such an entity (or entities).
  • If there was, what was the nature of any think tank they would like to see established?
  • What did the state of the activist Left in Aotearoa 2010 - 2013 indicate about the possibility, or otherwise, of establishing of a Leftwing think tank?
  • With such an initiative in mind, what might be learned from the experiences of some of the think tank-like Left organisations that had already existed in New Zealand in the period 1990-2013?

Sue used a qualitative methodology called political activist ethnography as a way of maintaining academic rigour while carrying out research which had the purpose of attempting to help the Left activist world from which she came.

She looked at the possibilities of transforming oppressive social relations and how to set a course for using the knowledge derived from informed research to inform the social justice and political work of those labouring on behalf of oppressed and marginalised people. This way she felt she could bring some activist knowledge into the academic realm.

Some of the difficulties Sue has now to face includes;

  • That we seem to have lost the struggle against the neo-liberal agenda. This has lead to widespread demoralisation.
  • Much of the community sector is colonized and afraid to speak out politically.
  • Unions have been systematically weakened.
  • The Left is fractionated, including within te ao Maori.
  • Parliamentary parties (Labour and the Greens) are shifting right of their original stances.
  • And there is no easy way of funding such an initiative

(You can donate to the Left Think Tank Project via Kiwibank 38 9016 0380440 00 )


  • There has been a rise in activism recently as seen in movements such as the Occupy movement, where people are wising up to the impact that the incredibly destructive banks and banking system is having on the world.
  • There has been surprising respect for the Mana movement.
  • People are becoming more concerned about environmental issues and willing to look at the underlying causes, which are always underpinned by corporate greed.
  • There is a growing willingness to cooperate and listen to each other across old sectarian and ideological boundaries, although there is still some remaining suspicion and inflexibility within the radical far left, of anyone not sharing all of their views.

To improve the lot of the many disadvantaged New Zealanders it is imperative that we Kiwis join together and stand up for a significantly more egalitarian society. Quite frankly the income gap is disgraceful. We need to break down what divides us and look at what unites us in order to address this and other poverty issues.

If a Left Wing Think Tank can share input and influence in all sorts of areas where people show compassion for those less fortunate than themselves, then it will be well worth the effort getting this initiative off the ground.

Knowing Sue and her reputation for hard work, I am sure that the effort to get this moving will be enormous.

Here is the link to Sue’s PhD Thesis:

Auckland Action Against Poverty

Sue Bradford is contactable on both Facebook and Twitter.

FYI there is a very good definition of Neoliberalism on this site:

This interview was sponsored by The Awareness Party.

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Tim Lynch

Tim Lynch, is a New Zealander, who is fortunate in that he has whakapapa, or a bloodline that connects him to the Aotearoan Maori. He has been involved as an activist for over 40 years - within the ecological, educational, holistic, metaphysical, spiritual & nuclear free movements. He sees the urgency of the full spectrum challenges that are coming to meet us, and is putting his whole life into being an advocate for todays and tomorrows children. 'To Mobilise Consciousness.'

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