I love my kid because...

It’s that time of year when those with small kids wonder if terrorists, in conjunction with drug companies have come up with a cunning plan to take over the world by ingeniously turning the small people into weapons of mass biological destruction. As they sneeze, drip and grizzle their way through a day when you should really be at work, there is always the excitement of a trip to the letter box to pick up the overdue bills and postcards from friends having fabulous times in exotic places, friends one notes sardonically, who were obviously more vigilant with the contraceptives.

Normal Mums, like the ones in nappy ads who spend their days in floral prints swinging their disease free offspring around them in a delirium of hormonally inspired happiness wouldn’t have to do what I’m about to tell you. Every minute is spent in archetypal mothering bliss.

For the rest of us, especially in winter, we need some reminding. Which is how I spent a morning, in between mopping mucous, writing The List.

It starts : I love my kid because…

  1. She’s listening even when you’re convinced otherwise. After a day of shouting at her not to draw all over herself and to find a piece of paper, in town the next day she marches up to a Black Power member with a full facial tattoo – plants her hands on her hips and says “My Mum says you’re not allowed to draw all over your face – find a piece of paper next time ok?”
  2. She reminds me not to make excuses. Having just been pulled over by a policewoman for a speeding infringement and mentally preparing to talk my way out of it, I wind down the window just as the small person pipes up “So… are you a boy or a girl?” And you know that you should just ask for the ticket before things can get any worse.
  3. She actually knows that the world revolves around her. It’s nice to be by someone who is the centre of the universe: ‘The moon! The moon! It’s following us!’ she says.
  4. She reminds me that charity really does start at home as she practices her new reading skills ‘Hungry and Homeless’ on the cardboard in front of a dishevelled looking boy on the street. I find that it is easy and non-confronting to support a family in Nicaragua but quite embarrassing to be sent home by a small person to make a ham sandwich for a boy living down the road. I draw the line at inviting him home to share her room.
  5. Her unwavering belief in the goodness of everybody puts my sceptical nature to shame. When asked what she would do if a stranger drove up and offered her a sweet if she’d hop in the car, she said… ‘Mmm I’d ask him if the lolly has any milk in it.” She’s allergic to dairy.
  6. After a fight she shouts at me ‘I hope Santa brings you a poo and a prickle for Christmas!’ and that actually is the worst thing she can imagine happening to anybody.
  7. Her unfailing ability to look on the bright side is the perfect refute to any Eeyorish tendencies. Coming out of A and E with two arms in plaster, sucking on the mandatory lemonade ice-block (which judging by her enjoyment of it is almost worth breaking two arms for) she looks at me, shrugs and says “It doesn’t mind Mum, at least I’m not an octopus!”

But most of all, I love her because, after a fight about clothes – from memory it was me not letting her wear her togs and a tutu to town in July, she told me “One day when you’re old, I will push you through town in a wheelchair with a yucky dress and lipstick on and everyone will laugh!” And I thought two things: A) She’s actually thought this through and B) She will be the one making the decision to put me in the retirement home, I should be nice to her while I can.

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Hone the Hitching MP

I like the idea of Hone Harawira the hitching MP. His idea of cutting travel costs round Tai Tokerau by hitch-hiking is one I hope lots of MP’s will be taking up. He’s been doing it for years he says and finds it a great leveller to be left in the dust when someone whizzes past in their flash car – something you’re unlikely to get sitting in the back of a chauffeur driven limo. There may be a few MP’s who might find it difficult to hitch round the country though and some that are particularly hard to picture standing at the side of the road. How long would it take Jenny Shipley to get a ride? Who would pick up Lockwood? And what would Paula Bennet offer the driver in the ‘70’s rule book of hitching? Gas, Grass or.. you get the picture.

Apparently Hone thinks John Key would have no trouble hitching his way round Tai Tokerau but wouldn’t have advised Don Brash to do the same. What advice could anyone give Melissa Lee on the motorway exit from South Auckland? But Hone’s right. There are very few times we get to meet MPs in a relaxed personal way without all the politicking. We may catch a glimpse of them powering through a vegetable market as John Key did here in Whangarei just before the election and then he’s gone and we’re left standing in the wake of his security guys. It’s difficult to get a sense of a politician as a person before we have to vote for them to represent our viewpoint in the public sphere. A few Prime Ministers ago (before they got guys who used to own Telecom and can buy and sell famous football teams to lead them), Thailand had a tradition whereby the Prime Minister would get up at 5am with the monks and sweep the streets for an hour before starting his prime ministerial duties. For Buddhists, sweeping has a deeper spiritual significance of metaphorically sweeping away the material ‘dust’ that clouds better spiritual judgement – a physical expression of a deeper metaphysical way of being in the world. And it was a great leveller – a reminder that we are all, despite any apparent transitory difference in status – just very small street sweepers in the great cosmic wheel.

Perhaps initiating a New Zealand tradition of hitching MP’s would offer the same insights. People, locked together in a small metal pod racing along a highway are free to talk and shift views in a way that would never happen in the ordinary world. About 20 years ago now I was hitching home from the Cape with an Australian friend and we got picked up on a dusty gravel road having lost all hope that there was anyone even alive in that part of the world. We or rather our driver started talking about the Treaty – something I knew nothing about. With all the confidence of the young and ignorant I entered into a rant about forgetting the past and moving on with the future. He jokingly said that he would train an underground army and take the land back anyway. I wished him luck finding camouflage gear in his size and hoped they came in stretchy bits over the puku area. He found this cheeky but funny and took us out to dinner. Which was great because we were hungry and had no money. Embarrased, we said we’d just share something, so he ordered a whole chicken with all the trimmings, put it on one plate and gave us two side plates. While he amicably talked on everything from the Treaty to catching tuna- both of which he seemed to know a lot about, I made a mental note to read up on both when I got home. Having already driven in a less than salubrious car for more than 6 hours he proceeded to drive a further hour out of his way so that he could drop us off at my parents’ house as he felt it inappropriate to leave two 20 year olds on the motorway at 3 in the morning. He got out of the car and kissed us both goodbye. “I’m sure I know you from somewhere” I said. “You can just call me Matiu” he said. “Matiu who?” I insisted. “Matiu Rata” he said.

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Blow up the Post Offices

“If this was India, you would all be running in the streets and blowing up the post offices.”

This is still one of my favourite lines from a teacher. An Indian professor of political science, commenting on our reaction (or rather lack of it) to a fundamental change in the way New Zealand operated as a state. From memory, that was the year Lockwood Smith promised he would resign if we ever had to start paying for tertiary education and Ruth Richardson seemed keen to take up where Roger Douglas had left off. You have to get the sing song accent, head waggling and the look of utter dismay to get the full effect – but I still find this line irresistibly hilarious and often use it while watching the 6 o’clock news.

Quite why the Indian postal service had to bear the brunt of political dissatisfaction still escapes me or what ‘running in the streets’ might hope to achieve for that matter but the fact remains that he was so right. He surveyed our complacency and what he obviously took to be borderline criminal political apathy and obviously wanted to shake us. We must have looked as full of youthful cutting edge political activism as your average bath sponge. And nothing much has changed.

As the MP’s travel and allowance perks have been revealed there has been a base note of quiet grumbling in the media but there’s been the same absence of any spontaneous running in the streets in protest. The average kiwi as a rule, is running so hard trying to pay the mortgage that there is little time for any blowing up of post offices or to worry where exactly all those tax dollars might be going.

When Roger the Dodger formed the ‘Association of Consumers and Taxpayers’ otherwise known as the Act party I don’t recall fleecing the taxpayer for every dollar you can get while being in office to be one of the policies. “I’m entitled” says Roger. Well, yes, obviously, but some are far more entitled than other public servants like nurses or primary school teachers. And we’re not talking a trip to Taupo either. We spent twice the average wage this year on Rodger and his wife to fund his duties as… well, a Poppa. But when exactly is a perk a heart-felt ‘thank you’ and when does it become old fashioned graft? Taito Philip Field after years in parliament obviously found the lines blurred a little and to be honest I almost felt sorry for him being the first MP to be convicted of corruption. If you’ve spent a lifetime soaking up a culture of tax-payer rip offs it must be sobering to find that there are consequences when the perks of the job are no longer technically legal.

As for Lockwood Smith’s assertion that ‘this place (meaning Parliament) chews up and spits out relationships and families’ – here’s the thing: so does the real world. Business people work long hours and commute, other people who serve the community, from school principals to doctors, work huge hours and their families just have to cope. In the ‘welcome to NZ’ pack, applicants are told the divorce rate is really high for new immigrants and to consider their decision carefully. It’s called life in the modern world. While a good MP will work hard and travel a lot in office that is what you sign up for when you put your hand up for the job, and taking away some of the more ridiculous perks like being paid to live in your own house might mean that only the right people sign on for the right reasons. This new found transparency does not go far enough – if we’re paying for it I’d like to know what we’re getting – like, for example, who paid to fly all those MPs to Lockwood’s wedding. As for any ideas of rewarding long service – I’m sure there are secondary school teachers in South Auckland who would applaud the idea after 30 years at the chalk face. I know Roger will listen. Failing that they could enrol in their local community education course; Explosives 101.

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Investor XXXX plus

If you’re going to make your money by being a person of easy virtue then you may as well make a decent living out of it. By lowering all the standards for immigration under the Investor Plus category our current immigration minister Jonathon Coleman has hitched a fetching red light outside our nation’s front door and put a big sign up saying ‘Cheap! Cheap! Cheap!’ We don’t mind who you are just show us your money honey. At least the immigration department will check good health and character at the door. For those of you who have had nothing to do with New Zealand’s immigration department and are therefore not on the floor laughing at that last comment; the only way that you can believe a clear police record or business references is when you accept them from people who don’t have any money. Only hard working immigrants who have no other option have to come up with the genuine article – everybody else just pays cash.

I once spent a year as an illegal alien in South America as a consequence of a diehard refusal to pay a bribe to the local immigration officers on the grounds that I had all my papers in order and I was legally working there. I wandered in shifts of yellowing paper, holding a full-house of documents standing in lines that sometimes went twice round the block being ritually humiliated by guys in uniforms whose sole purpose in life seemed to be to slouch and eat pizza. My case officer then ‘lost’ everything and I was told I’d have to start the process from scratch. (If you are thinking ‘yeah… only in South America’ the exact same thing happened in New Zealand when my partner applied for residency here.) Eventually, my boss in Buenos Aires got bored with my moral stand and the effect it was having on my productivity and went and bought a clean NZ and Argentine police record – or something that would be accepted as such, a doctor who would vouch for my vitality, paid the appropriate official and had my working visa within an afternoon – all without me even being there.

At least under the previous government the threshold for being allowed in the country – almost no questions asked, was 20 million. Now it’s 10 and while it may be true that Russian billionaires are feeling the pinch and cutting back on the Lamborghinis this year, there are around 4 million millionaires in the Asia Pacific alone with Latin America quickly catching up. Great! They can all invest in adding value to New Zealand’s resources and we’ll all benefit. Except – if I were an ageing millionaire and I wandered across a country with no capital gains tax and I could be an instant citizen, I know exactly what I’d do. It wouldn’t involve the hassle of employing too many people either.

We are systematically hard on the working poor whom we allow into New Zealand. We now require skilled workers like nurses and early child hood workers to have the same level of English that only a few years ago we required of psychologists and surgeons. And so we end up losing them to Australia or the States where there are lower English requirements and better pay. Yet many of these people are exactly the kind of hard working families that grow an economy and contribute to the community over the long term. Thinking that we are going to fix a slow economy by inviting rich people to stay with us for a couple of months in the year on the condition that they keep their money here for a paltry 3 years seems slightly shallow and more than a little desperate. In sourcing new immigrants it shouldn’t just be about the cash. When it comes to wallets… like a lot of other things… bigger isn’t necessarily better. Unless of course it really is just all about the money – in which case I guess you should just sell yourself off to the highest bidder.

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