Conflict of Disinterest

SOMETIMES I miss the straightforward nature of South American politics. You know from the get go that local councils are corrupt and business people go into politics for their own personal gain.

There's none of this pussy-footing round with rules, you simply work out who to pay off and how much.

Things are more troublesome here however because we like to think we are squeaky clean. Every year we parade our ranking in the world's least corrupt countries over our TV screens and rejoice, laugh at other less fortunate countries and then flick back to the footy.

But while we're all smugly satisfied nobody has their eye on the ball of where political pressure is being placed ``to get things done''.

We're so nice that we give everybody the benefit of the doubt because to not do so would wreck the myth of our paradise of pressure-free politics and then we'd be sitting closer to Panama than Denmark on that corruption list - and that might not be so funny.

But we have an Auditor General don't we? Surely he's there to sort out any conflicts of interest in the public sphere?

Apparently not - Mr Brady, the Auditor General has let the Mayor of Thames, Philippa Barriball off the hook by accepting that she was ``unaware her subdivision application had been made'' the day before the council was to make an amendment to the district plan that would negatively affect her ability to subdivide one of her properties.

Tui should take him up as a copywriter for their billboards. He'd be hilarious. Gee - I'd love to have so many subdivisions on the go that I just ``forgot'' one.

Then, three councillors at the meeting went and publicly admitted that they'd been lobbied by Ms Barriball to ditch the amendment. So amateur ... that would never happen in Panama.

The plan to restrict the ad hoc development in the area was scuttled in the end which means that Ms Barriball, the mayor, can now subdivide to her heart's content. How convenient.

The Auditor General also decided it was not in the public's interest to charge the mayor ``due to the seriousness of the consequences of conviction''. Like what? A court case would ruin her Chrissy holiday plans?

I don't remember anyone else applying this logic in the justice system. Let's see: ``We won't charge you with burglary because it'll be a bummer if we find you guilty?''

I may not have noticed this particular news story - flying as it did under the media radar if it weren't for two things; 1) a friend came back from Whitianga recently and asked ``How did such a pretty little seaside village get so damn ugly - don't they have a district plan?''

Then the Moehau Tearooms in Coromandel burnt down. They were more than 120 years old. They were what Coromandel is all about. Turns out the council initially wanted to keep the buildings to protect the unique heritage status of that area. Wharf Investments wanted apartments and commercial outlets.

The developer appeals, Thames District Council overturns its initial decision and, in a public-excluded meeting, decides it would be too expensive for the developer to maintain the building and agrees to it being demolished.

Members of the community are outraged and join together to keep the tearooms.

The Ministry of the Environment thinks they have a case. It notes it has received a letter forwarded by the local National MP Sandra Goudie from the developer giving reasons why the community group should receive no funding. And then five days before the developer and the Thames council have to submit evidence before the Environment Court - the Moehau tearooms burn down. On a night of torrential rain.

This ain't no state of Denmark -but something sure smells stink in here.

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Scary Fairy Tales

When you live with small people you get to read a lot of great books – but the ones you choose at 7:30 at night when the 500 creative ways with toothpaste activity has been accomplished, you’ve explained that there is no way the dog is allowed inside and that no, the kennel won’t fit a small person - you find yourself reaching for the short ones – not the best ones.

These are the stories where you can skip two pages and the small person doesn’t notice, which should suggest a lack of compelling narrative in itself. The junk food of kid lit; for girls there’s a heavy dependence on vapid fairy stuff, cute friends that spend an unseemly amount of time making berry delicious stuff and way too many princesses.

image of scary fairyThe fairy books in themselves have got to come up for scrutiny under the fair trading act and whoever is publishing them sent to prison for pecuniary gain from the peddling of addictive substances to minors.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading their trillionth fairy book here is a plot summary; fairy person gets locked in tricky spot by evil spell. Bored/unhappy/ slightly marginalised small person uncovers imprisoned fairy and is asked to save the fairy dominion from some evil being when suddenly…… and then the book ends. You’ve paid $19:95 for half a story and now you have a very tired small person extracting a promise from you (in a way that can best be described as ‘emotional water boarding’) to buy ‘Rainbow Fairy goes to San Francisco’ or whatever it is so that you don’t have a complete melt down on your hands just when you thought you had an hour or two to yourself. Brilliant.

I can’t quite believe that the small person loves all this fluff as much as she does and am inwardly appalled as I read Barbie and her Skyfairy Friends Fly again (same plot as above – exchange flying Barbies in bathing suits and you’ve got the idea) that I’ve bought into it at all.

I mourn the Disneyfication of the old stories. Winnie the Pooh has lost his slightly sketchy randomness and now looks like he lives on cheeseburgers instead of honey and even the witches are no longer scary. Where have all the decent witches gone? They used to be scary and cantankerous and about as far removed from the Earth Mother archetype with all her nurturing responsibilities as you could get. These new feeble Disney versions bake cakes and mend butterflies wings. Come on! They’ve lost all their bollocks! A decent nasty cunning witch is there to tell girls that being female is not all about physical beauty – which could only be a good counter to the popular cultural myth that a girl’s only value lies in her looks. She’s the ultimate female anti-hero and the shadow side to the good princess – the wake up call and the ‘eyes of the snake’ when all of society conspires with girls to own only their ‘heart of a lamb’.

In a slightly deranged attempt to wage war on Barbie and Strawberry Shortcake I bought kids’ books on Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keefe, thinking they might tell stories of resilience and resourcefulness rather than the importance of matching bathing suits. They remain pristine in the bookshelf.

‘Barbie’s Fairy Princess Day of Unending Niceness’ however is still part of the routine night time punishment.

Sometimes you have to know when to give up. Which I almost had until I offered to take the small person for a bush walk and found her preparing herself by shovelling handfuls of gravel into her pockets. When asked why, she replied ‘Well, if you lose me I’ll just drop these, like in the story and find my way back out.’

While it may be disturbing that my girl had considered it a possibility that I might set her free in the forest as some form of training exercise – I took it as a good sign. A princess would wait for someone to come and save her. A witch would find her own way out. Sometimes – they just make you so damn proud.

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‘I Hunt, Shoot and Vote!’

Sitting behind a ute the other day I wondered what this bumper sticker is supposed to mean. Does it mean that if I vote for someone that doesn’t let him hunt and shoot willy nilly – that he will vote for someone who will?

There’s something vaguely threatening in these slogans.

If I had a bumper sticker on my car which read ‘I Embroider, Watch Coro St and Vote!’ would it have the same impact? What about … “I Morris Dance, Make Love to Rubber Chickens and Vote!”?

Who cares what your hobbies are or why they are intrinsically linked to your voting behaviour if your hobby happens to be shooting stuff? I know. It’s duck shooting season and most people want to put food on the table so why should the actions of a few lunatic loners restrict the leisure hours of everyone else?

But Jan Molenaar wasn’t a loner. It’s standard in every nutjob shooting story for reporters on the scene to claim that the madman was a loner, but how alone can you be with friends whom you text in your dying hours, a Mum, a brother, a partner and a son? This was a man with family and by all accounts, more than a few friends. Surprisingly he wasn’t on P but anyone who spends hours in the gym and eats raw eggs for breakfast has got to be mentally unstable.

But it seems that not even your nearest or dearest can pick when you’re going to go loopy so is there any point in having the gun user rather than the gun registered? The problem in Jan Molenaar’s case seems to have been his easy access to an unlimited arsenal of weapons and explosives. The fact that the police turned up at his house unarmed meant that no one who knew him thought that a stash of guns and bombs ‘enough to blow the house of its foundations’ might be more than a bit of weekend fun and that perhaps someone might want to notify the authorities. Jan Molenaar wouldn’t have been on the police radar for having guns because he wasn’t a licensed holder of one anyway. Easy.

Before 1983 every gun in New Zealand was registered to a particular license holder i.e. the guns not the people needed the license. Every gun picked up in a crime could be traced back to its owner – a fast trail of accountability for police to work on and a real incentive for gun owners to report stolen guns and notify authorities on their sale. Not so now. In Napier, front-line police were left to play eeny meenie miney mo from a veritable catalogue of possible weapons that might have been in the house while simultaneously being shot at.

Given that customs officials estimate that over a million unregistered guns, some off-loaded from foreign vessels have found their way, into the country and the army in a genius attempt to gather revenue appear to have upgraded their weaponry in the late eighties and sold all the old gear (specifically designed for killing people one would imagine) at public auction, it’s a wonder the police show up for breakfast unarmed.

It’s one big unregistered gun garage sale out there. After the Port Arthur massacre where 35 Australians were murdered by a lone gunman the Australian government got serious about gun laws. They confiscated, destroyed or bought back over 700,000 weapons effectively taking them out of circulation in a population of just over 12 million people. They prohibited the guns designed to kill in quick succession (pump action rifles among them) and made gun registration to licensed holders obligatory and only possible after a thorough vetting by police. Their gun suicide and homicide rates have plunged and they’ve been mass murder free for over a decade.

Read carefully for I will write this only once. The Aussies are doing it better. Pass it on.

The idea that we all have to start arming ourselves to the teeth is the acceptance that we have lost all faith in the law and those that uphold it and it’s every man for himself. I’m thinking of what kind of stickers I could ride around town with.

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Foreign Policy

Looking back at the last few months of New Zealand politics the words ‘bull’ and ‘china shop’ come to mind.

We’ve had the lightning speed bulldozing of the Resource Management Act (with the odd tree hugger getting crushed Tiananmen style in the hearings), the bold move to speedily make John Banks the Grand Emperor of the Universe (or at least our largest city) and now (poof!) the disappearance of NZAID and what it represented as an almost autonomous agency for the distribution of the New Zealand Aid budget.

Now once again ensconced under the artful cloak of the Foreign Affairs portfolio we can all sigh and rest assured that it will now be politicians not aid specialists who will be accountable for how aid money is spent. Professional politicians being famous for being accountable.

It’s also good to know that the intended use for this money has shifted from ‘poverty reduction’ to ‘economic growth’ which sounds great but how exactly do you measure the success of your aid policy using economic growth as a factor?

According to the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Murray McCully, ‘The aid mandate will now focus on sustainable economic growth with objective measures such as trade and tourism statistics as indicators of success.’

Which then begs the question; ‘Is Murray McCully a complete plonker?”
I suppose it has occurred to someone in the new foreign affairs ministry that measuring trade and tourism statistics will only indicate how well the boys in the club (the hotel owners, charter boat operators etc) are doing and not how well the overall development of the country is succeeding. If Mr McCully had suggested using other statistics like drops in infant mortality rates or jumps in literacy rates in all age groups it may have sounded more convincing.

Instead we’re back to the good old days where aid is not so much a helping hand but according to Murray; … “needs to align, as much as possible, with our wider foreign policy interests"

Great! We can use our benevolent gift giving as a means to firmly mark our territory round the Pacific in Grand Schemes rather than the slow boring long haul job of helping developing nations lift communities out of poverty.

Mr. McCully has wisely said that: "There, as have been the case in too many locations around the Pacific, others from outside the region, have moved into the space that we have unwisely vacated." Which is code for ‘China has been giving some pretty flash gifts away and we want to play the game’. This will be fun! Lets see.

We could start by giving away a solid gold throne to a Pacific monarch – much more interesting than training midwives or helping form a school curriculum. Mmm. Too late. China already gave one to Tonga.

We can’t put up an impressive new Ministry of Justice building in Avarua, Cook Islands – the Chinese have already been there done that. Never mind that all the internal signs are in Chinese and all the electrical wiring is in Chinese colour coding and can’t be understood by local electricians. It’s the thought that counts.

What about building an enormous Tertiary Education facility on Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu – we won’t need to follow it up with actually providing teacher trainers or a curriculum or worry that the literacy rates are sufficient in the country to ensure enough students able to study at this level. If it doesn’t work we can turn it into a hotel and call it development! Damn! Murray was right – China’s already been there done that. China is really good at the big gift game, and let’s face it – dollar for dollar we’re never going to beat them at it.

What New Zealand used to be good at was the slow long haul approach to the reduction of poverty in the Pacific through education and raising health care standards that was the old NZAID mandate.

The Pacific People aren’t stupid. Let New Zealand aid be the genuine old school tortoise in the so called ‘race’ for the Pacific, not some flash Harry Santa using gifts as bartering cards.

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