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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