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MICHAEL BASSETT: THE VIEW FROM ABROAD AND THE HARSH REALITIES

Someone once wrote that “distance lends enchantment to the view”. After several weeks in Canada and the United States, I found returning to New Zealand anything but enchanting. Seventy years ago, our country enjoyed a standard of living the equal of Canada and the US. In those days everything looked promising, and was. But we have now fallen way behind, and it’s distressingly obvious. Our public facilities, like airports, are inadequate. Roads have badly filled potholes, while contractors seem unable to construct anything on time, or within budget. In the main streets of Auckland and Wellington lots of shops are closed because there are no longer many shoppers in town. Rough sleepers curl up in doorways; recently I saw a man in Queen Street, Auckland’s main street, piddling against a shop front at 11am on a weekday. Only the foolhardy go into the city at night where there have been several murders in recent months.

New Zealand was once viewed as a land of achievements and opportunities. Overseas, our country still enjoys a bit of a reputation for cleanliness and its scenic attractions. But the reality is that today it has a downright dowdy appearance; it’s a bit like trying to stage a gala performance in your gardening clothes. Worse, we can no longer communicate properly with each other as radio and TV journalists spout off in made-up words straight out of the Maori Language Commission. And it’s all being done, they tell us, to preserve the Maori language. Pull the other one! English, the world’s premier language and an international sign of quality in other countries, is no longer good enough for them. Not only has our way of life languished in recent years, but there is every sign that nobody in authority cares any more. Cabinet ministers openly rubbish the fundamental underpinning of democracy: one person-one vote. Our self-styled “Labour” government regards separating our society by race as desirable, even noble. This week’s Vivamagazine in the New Zealand Herald is full of Pakeha women with a drop of Maori ancestry posing in what they purport to be Maori-style wear. Elsewhere, over recent years, the crime stories in the paper feature the less creditable side of Maori society. These days few in authority see any virtue in the cultures of the other 83% of our population. We are well on the way down a slippery slope.

To be fair, Canada and the United States are also experiencing a minor craze for “first nations”. So is Australia. But not to the extent of wholesale rubbishing of their countries’ other cultures. So far as I could see, there were few signs elsewhere that the courts were actively inventing rules that should govern the operation of our democracy as several rulings from our Supreme Court appear to be doing. What a pile of nonsense judges produced to justify votes for sixteen-year-olds! If ever there was an issue that should be left to the politicians who make the laws, that was one. The almost daily rulings by our Independent Police Conduct Authority seem determined to undermine Police operations and to boost expectations from the underworld that they’ll be able to get off scot-free for their criminal conduct.

Not all New Zealand’s relative backwardness can be blamed on the Ardern-Hipkins governments. John Key’s government failed to take the steps promised to lift New Zealand’s standard of living to the equal of Australia’s, even when a template for doing so was provided by a highly respectable committee of experts. And intellectual laziness let him sign us up to the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights when we have no indigenous people, thus causing many of the ructions that have followed.

But the collective failures of the post 2017 government have pushed our country into near third world status. Poor educational stewardship, mostly at the hands of the current Prime Minister, have cast a blight over the prospects of today’s young where standards have dropped and school achievement levels have never been so bad. The health system was overturned during a pandemic and is in substantially worse shape than it was in 2017. Hospital staff shortages were exacerbated by that silly little fellow Michael Wood’s misguided immigration policies and show few signs of improving. Money thrown out the window during Covid lockdowns contributed to today’s inflation and to the judgement by the International Monetary Fund that New Zealand’s forecast economic growth in 2024 will be worse than all the other 159 countries they surveyed except Equatorial Guinea that is being ripped apart by civil war. Sky-rocketing public service staff numbers, supplemented by hundreds of millions spent on consultants, have contributed towards the appalling state of the Crown’s accounts that is likely to be revealed in the Pre-election Fiscal Update on 12 September. Grant Robertson knows it’s coming and his recent scramble to pull back hundreds of millions to the Crown coffers is to try to mask the laxness that will be revealed in his books.

Fortunately, we get an opportunity on 14 October to begin the rebuild of New Zealand’s standard of living, its educational and health policies, and move away from the dismal condition we have been reduced to by six years of the most incompetent government of my lifetime.

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