Stand up and be counted

Didn’t elections used to be more fun? I remember giving an entire class of Japanese schoolboys a lecture on the New Zealand electoral system as a response to a request for ‘information about election.’ Of course they had been liver –lafting that very week, which was nice, as were the 39 penises, small but perfectly formed in blu-tack that they arranged on the desks. I bored them to death about New Zealand elections as a form of punishment and as an obtuse lesson in the importance of correct pronunciation.

This election is shaping up to be an exercise in a similar form of the death of humour by boredom. Borges once described politics as ‘two bald men fighting over a comb’ and watching Phil and John go at it is about as exciting as drinking tea at a fundamentalist wedding. They both look like fops with swords ritualistically slashing at each other without actually doing any damage or getting much else done.

This time round there is a lot more at stake. It may be, especially if you are young and unemployed, as Mr Key’s campaign kicks in; ‘time to stand up and be counted’ but the idea that questions about sustainability are the equivalent of a big stop sign to any form of development is – simplistic and just wrong. If it were all just a question of digging it up and shipping it out to build a well and wealthy community – Australian mining towns would not be the harsh, physically and psychologically damaged places they are and Waihi would have zero unemployment. New Zealanders made it very clear where it was inappropriate to mine when the idea of mining our National parks was raised. I don’t believe the protest was about stopping mining as much as it was about protecting the business interests of our tourism operators and the money that is engendered from the ephemeral nature of our image overseas. It was not about a bunch of hippies and actors walking off their lattes with a few placards – it was a rational undertaking of the mantle for the guardianship for the real world bottom line. A bottom line, which has significantly changed its definition over the last 20 years.

Ecuador; as are other countries in Latin and South America, is asking for the first time, not the worth of the oil underneath their national parks like the Yasuni, but what the value to the world is – of keeping it where it is. There will always be room for mining – I spent an hour listening to the benefits of sand mining over large-scale tourism from a well-respected ecologist on Stradbroke Island recently. She made a good case. It’s the ability to have a wide-ranging and constructive debate and the insight to be able to form the kinds of questions that lead to the redefinition of such terms as ‘value’ and ‘wealth’ as in the case of the Yasuni initiative, that will move the debate on from the lobbing of grenades between ideological bunkers. Failing that, if the politicians just keep randomly swiping at each other we can send our local representative a little blu-tak sculpture with a note saying. “Please. Stop being dicks.”

What is crucial for an interesting election is that young Northlanders get over their terminal apathy, get informed and stand up and make themselves counted. One way of motivating the under 25’s is: food. Call it the bribery barbie: it doesn’t matter whom they vote for as long as they understand what each party or candidate is offering them and that they exercise their right to choose. If I were a meddling kind of grandma with a big family, which I’m not and I don’t, I’d make sure they only got fed if they exercised that privilege – that civil obligation; to vote.

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