New Zealand's Future?
Arriving home recently from rapidly modernising Britain, our state-of-the-art Airbus couldn't land in Auckland because of fog. We were diverted to Ohakea, the home for what our Government laughingly calls an airforce. Our A340-600 came to a stop, unsure what to do next. Eventually an old ute appeared. It carried a large yellow sign: "Follow Me". We fell in behind. Three small helicopters were the only aircraft in sight except for a couple of World War Two trainer planes looking like grandma's eggbeater. Two ancient fuel tankers rumbled up. A set of stairs was propped alongside, but no one was allowed off. Base staff left their World War Two buildings to view this modern invasion that grew to five jumbos in all, with more than 1,000 people aboard. A farmer in her pinny waved endearingly from a cow bail across the fence. New Zealand's ancient past was admiring modernity. Eventually we escaped. But the symbolism of that day haunts me.
As I caught up with local news I wondered whether as a nation we understand, or are equipped to face the challenges of the modern world. The Labour Party whose far-sighted founders built Ohakea was celebrating its 90th birthday. Would Mickey Savage, Peter Fraser, or Bob Semple recognise those who today use their party's name? Somehow I doubt it. In 1916 Labour's founders had a forward-looking plan in world terms to use the State to build infrastructure, encourage job creation through economic growth, and guarantee everyone the necessities of life through health, education and housing. In world terms, this was cutting edge thinking. If imports couldn't be afforded we'd "insulate" ourselves from the world and build behind tariff barriers and import controls. We did. For a time people came from far and near to view New Zealand's experiment. We basked in praise. But inflation grew behind those tariff barriers, growth eventually tailed off, job creation declined, our standard of living sank in comparison with outside, and we started looking like a backwater by the 1970s. We lacked the money to re-develop Ohakea or equip it with modern planes. Defence isolation in the 1980s was partially because we could no longer afford to belong to the real world. We'd cloak ourselves in "a moral foreign policy" instead. What would Peter Fraser, our greatest wartime leader, make of Helen Clark's choice to opt out of an airforce?
Then I caught up with developments in the Kahui twins' murder case. Bob Brockie's cartoon in the National Business Review summed it up. The whanau walking away from two elaborate tomb stones. One says "Pity about those twins Chris and Cru". Another says "Yes, we'll miss their child benefits". What would Labour's founders say about the tragedy that too much of Maori society has been turned into? Multi-generational under-educated beneficiaries who drink too much, breed recklessly and beat up their offspring. Governments created, and continue to tolerate family violence when there are proven overseas methods for breaking the welfare cycle. Fraser was very cautious about welfare for Maori, always listening intently to Sir Apirana Ngata who warned that it could destroy Maori. It is doing just that. Fraser's political descendents turn their backs because the DPB is so loved by feminists. Peter Sharples realises what is happening; his co-leader Tariana Turia refuses to.
Then I read the Taito Phillip Field report. Pure sleaze. A former union secretary diddling his employees as well as the taxpayer. And the government turns away from taking the obvious step to deal with him because it might threaten their hold on office. I always knew we'd regret MMP. I didn't realised it would totally debase our political standards. To survive, governments have to ignore sleaze, at least amongst their own. New Labour's ministers in Britain are daily held to account for lapses that are trivial alongside Phillip Field's. Anything goes here, especially now the numbers are tight.
Keeping up with world developments is fundamental to any small country's future. New ideas; upholding proper standards of accountability; taking steps that have been identified elsewhere as best for growth and jobs by providing the framework in which private enterprise can maximise its output and improve productivity; encouraging family endeavour, not trapping them in welfare; stimulating self-reliance through provident use of taxpayers' money; and securing the country adequately. Labour's founders eventually adopted all these goals. Sadly, right now, their shop-worn political successors show all the signs of wanting us to become the world's Ohakea airfield.