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I grew up in a New Zealand where we looked up to really inspiring people. People who made a supreme effort and brought respect to our country. World-famous researcher Ernest Rutherford, mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary; rugby-playing great, George Nepia; Olympian winner and world record holder Peter Snell; operatic diva Kiri te Kanawa who could electrify world audiences and bring tears to my eyes. They performed on the world stage and encouraged Kiwis to do their best, to strive for excellence, and to put our country on the map.

Things have changed under Jacinda Ardern. We no longer have stars to look up to. She has given us a world where in the run-up to Christmas, after a very trying year, we are staring at the lowest rung of New Zealand society, hoping above hope that a motley collection of losers will stir their stumps and release themselves, and us, from the COVID prison. A few are lower-level civil servants, even teachers, God help us. They are the ones who despite all the encouragement, and now an assortment of blandishments, haven’t bothered to get vaccinated so that they and their fellow citizens can get on with their lives. The only burst of speed that some of them have ever shown in their lives is getting to the WINZ office to register the latest child, unwanted for anything other than the benefit it brings. Debbie Ngarewa Packer tells us the health system is “systemically racist” when she knows that care is readily available to her people and vaccination stations are open long hours each day, wanting to deliver a free jab or two. Somehow, it’s always someone else’s fault rather than the screamingly obvious failure by much of the underclass to get off their bums. Inspirational like the motivators of my younger years? Sadly, not.

But they remain Jacinda’s pets. She’ll smile at them, waste money on them, bribe them, exhort them, but not get to the nub of what’s really wrong. Leave aside the antivaxxers who get their inspiration from Facebook foolishness. Too many of the underclass are paid by the state to do nothing, allowing them simply to opt out of society. Social welfare authorities possess the names of all the vaccinated. With computers they could easily identify those who are currently holding the rest of us to ransom. Officials could – if their Prime Minister had the guts - tell them that after the next welfare payment they’d be cut off until they produced evidence that they’d had their two jabs. It wouldn’t be long before 80% would comply. They would miraculously return to some element of social responsibility, and the rest of us could get on with our lives. The remaining handful of irresponsible anti-vaxxers could be left to look after themselves, preferably well away from Intensive Care Units.

Meantime, those of us with our two shots months ago have had to sit and watch while a pitiful series of excuses are rolled out by the most seriously challenged minds in the country, seeking to excuse underclass failure. It just isn’t true that governments, Labour and National, haven’t been trying to reach Maori and remote communities with health services. Community Health nurses started going into remote areas under the governments of Peter Fraser and Sid Holland. In areas like the East Cape, significant numbers of GPs were on the public payroll when I was Minister of Health. I added to their number. Their services were free. Health agencies called Whanau Ora, staffed by Maori, have been funded in many regions now for decades. Are they doing their job, or should we abolish them? We need to be able to assess their effectiveness. Right now they should be under scrutiny. District Health Boards carefully monitor usage of their specialist services and know that many “do-not-shows” come from the extra 10% we want vaccinated. Chemists tell me that these people all-too-often fail to collect their prescriptions. It’s an educational challenge. But their children, for whom we pay welfare, are the poorest attenders at school. Welfare dulls the sense of parental responsibility amongst too many. The young males drift off into petty crime which gradually turns more serious, and they join gangs; too many young females get pregnant, and start the welfare cycle all over again. They see no positive role models.

Yes, we’ll be watching the ongoing struggle to persuade enough of the underclass to get vaccinated. Our livelihoods and their lives depend on it. But once things get back to some more acceptable form of life, let’s try to tackle the problem we have let develop at the bottom of the social heap. Minister Hipkins and his deputies could pay attention to the Education portfolio. That will be a positive change. They should start with serious work on the appalling truancy statistics.

Article 3 of the Treaty of Waitangi guarantees Maori “the same rights and duties of citizenship as the people of England”. Note the word “duties”. There was no mention of spoon-feeding, arm-chair rides, or mollycoddling. It was assumed by both the Crown’s agents and the chiefs who signed that everyone would be prepared to avail themselves of opportunities. It’s high time those who fail to look after themselves are held to account, especially when their failure threatens others.

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