Westie lectures students

The Otumoetai College crew with Robyn Malcolm. Photo: Nicole Cameron.

She was the iconic no-nonsense matriarchal westie Cheryl West in TV3’s ‘Outrageous Fortune’. Both a saint and a sinner, said the blurbs.

And with the same mastery she used to steer her TV family away from felony, actor Robyn Malcolm was at Otumoetai College in Tauranga this week mentoring media studies students.

“Be naughty, be provocative, push boundaries,” was the actress’ advice. She was critiquing the work of a team of students who’d just produced a series of short movies.

“You’ve just had us sitting here for 20 minutes talking about tax. And Bill English couldn’t do that. Fantastic.”

The short films was a concept promoted by Closing the Gaps – a political organisation advocating social equality. The purpose was to highlight the need for an increase in taxation to enable the Government to increase funding to areas such as housing, education and health.

“We need a fairer, more comprehensive and progressive tax system,” Peter Malcolm of Closing the Gap – and father of Robyn – told students, families and teachers. “There’s a huge amount of research telling us inequality is bad for the country.

“And the burden is unfairly born by the poor.”

So the group asked Otumoetai College to produce seven short YouTube videos for its campaign highlighting “the need to increase the incomes of those at the bottom and control those at the top”.

The students cast three students in the roles of ‘Freja’ a Dane, ‘Hillary’ an American and ‘Sarah’ a Kiwi. And in six short, largely unscripted dialogues the group discussed the vagaries of tax regimes in the respective countries and their impact on economic and social issues.

In one movie they talk about the stigma of living in a state house in New Zealand. “In Denmark a state house is considered a desirable thing,” says ‘Freja’. And they are provided by a higher tax structure.

‘Freja’ also points out how taxation in Denmark, as much as 48 per cent, takes some of the pain out of child birth. “I feel sorry for you because in Denmark we can get full salary while we are having a baby.

“And parents have the right to a total of 52 weeks leave with maternity subsistence allowance.”

And in a room full of students and their parents watching the videos, the story about free tertiary education in Denmark struck a chord. The fictional ‘Sarah’ from New Zealand explained her daughter’s university education would cost her $50,000. And without scholarships it’s even higher in America.

And it seems lower inequality in Denmark means a lower crime rate. According to the video, Danish people feel more secure.

Robyn had her own personal story about the power of taxation. “An orthodontist told me it would cost $8000 for my son’s braces. Suddenly crooked teeth were looking very attractive.” Her partner in England said had the work been done in England the taxpayer would have paid.

The videos have been a learning experience for students like 15-year-old Anna Domett, cameraman on the Otumoetai College project. “I knew my parents paid tax but I didn’t have a real appreciation of it. Now the inequalities are very obvious.”

“It seems other countries are working to change while New Zealand doesn’t seem to think it’s an issue. We could be doing more.”

Then the actress applauded the students for becoming politically active and doing something about it. “If you believe this stuff, then go all the way with it.”

Performances in the videos were also critiqued by Malcolm, one of the country’s pre-eminent actresses for the last three decades. “Be as irreverent and as funny as you like. Especially when you are dealing with something as serious as tax. Make me interested, make me listen. Do whatever it takes to get noticed.”

The series of short videos will be up on Closing The Gap’s website, Facebook and twitter pages. They can also be seen on YouTube.