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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ... Part of me feels sorry for Christine Rankin. She was no doubt subject to some intellectual
arrogance. She was unfortunate enough to have been appointed under one government and be unwanted by its successor. I
think much of her style and behaviour speaks, deep down, of personal insecurity.
But another part of me is bloody angry about the way she used a court of law as little more than a platform to play to
the gallery. At the way she presented something that was less a case in law than a PR campaign, involving evidence that,
in the view of Judge Goddard, should never have been presented in his court.
At the way she parlayed her failure to measure up as a senior public servant into accusations of sexism and sexual
harassment. At the way she asked Mark Prebble to a private meeting, solicited his admittedly tactless advice on a
confidential basis - and then humiliated him for it in court. At the way she made it all about her precious bloody dress
sense. At the way she made it all about, at all times, herself.
And now she has got not a sausage. The Employment Court has dismissed her claim and Judge Goddard, at the conclusion of
a written judgement that appears to be the stylishly crafted opinion we'd been promised, has noted that even if he had
found in her favour he'd have been tempted to award her not the $1.2 million she was trying to milk from the taxpayer,
but no money at all.
Having arguably made herself unemployable in the conventional sense, Rankin has now apparently set her sights on the
speaking circuit. So if your little National Party ginger group wants to replay the drama all over again, she's yours
for a fee. Good luck to you. Good luck to her. Whoops, sorry. She's now threatening that "it's not over" and threatening
either an appeal or a sexual harassment suit. Read my lips, Christine: Get. Over. Yourself.
This has also been the week of the Catching the Knowledge Wave conference, which for all the ravings of Fran O'Sullivan,
hasn't exactly ignited the public imagination. But that's not necessarily a sign of failure: sometimes the quickest way
to effect change is to convince your elite first. And there have, it appears, been some really fine presentations.
And then some not so fine: Reserve bank governor Don Brash got his turn on the mic and, basically, declared that we're
not hard enough to do what it takes to get consistently high GDP growth. If we were, we'd follow the example of
Singapore, which has no unemployment benefit. Until we come to our senses and cut off all money to people without jobs
and their children, we'll never get anywhere, apparently.
Yes, well ... The bits about Singapore that Dr Brash forgot to mention are as follows: it is true, Singapore manages
without government benefits of any kind. But it does so largely by dint of a compulsory savings scheme.
If you live in Singapore, you are compelled by law to put an amount equal to 40% of your income up to a salary ceiling
of about $30,000 in a special kind of savings account - this on top of your taxes. Half of this comes from your own
pocket and half from your employer - I'm sure that would go down terribly well with the Employers and Manufacturers
You can only use the money in ways and amounts stipulated by the government. Part of it can only go on housing or
certain other investments, part is a pension (unless you're relatively rich, better hope you don't live too long) and
part covers basic medical care. If you want any kind of serious care you'll need the separate government health
insurance; if you worry about losing your income you'll want the government mortgage repayment insurance and the
government dependents' protection insurance.
This system is undeniably effective - it has delivered Singapore the highest rates of savings and home ownership in the
world. But Singapore's system is possible only because it is an extraordinarily paternalistic and controlled state. Its
housing scheme works mainly because the government, as the major landowner, has been able to control the market by
doling out property over decades.
It's just fanciful to suggest we could get there from here by eliminating social welfare, even if we wanted to. There
are a bundle of other flaws in the argument - such as that job market flexibility is a rather different beast in a
city-state than it is in a proper country, and that Ireland, with a fully-functioning welfare state, is barreling along
at 11% GDP growth - but I can't really be bothered pointing them out. Sit down, Dr Brash, your time is up.
The Knowledge wave has also drawn out our old friend Richard Poole. Along with the Auckland School of Business he has
surveyed the New Zealand diaspora to find out what would bring it home or induce it to stay. Or, rather he has largely
surveyed the people who signed up to his 'Lost Generation' ads last year.
The professor who helped him, Dr Marie Wilson, assures me that whilst self-selected, this is still a relevant and
representative sample and pointed out that quite a range of views was captured. And certainly, alongside the expected
whingeing about tax and tall poppies, there is obviously massive concern about the continuing impact of the student
loans scheme. I still can't help but feel that in failing in its duty of care to a generation, New Zealand produced a
whole lot of people who feel no duty back. Yes, Guy Sellers, I agree with you.
But I choked on the response to one pair of questions. Ninety percent of those surveyed agreed that New Zealand is a
worse place for young people than it was 20 years ago and the same amount disagreed that it is a better place.
If we take young people to mean people in their twenties, anybody who thinks NZ was a better place for young people in
1981 than it is now obviously wasn't there.
I was, and in a great many respects, it *sucked*. No late nights, no trendy bars and restaurants, mostly dull food,
rotten coffee, little consumer choice, unemployment rising (as opposed to falling as it has been for the past three
years), very high tax rates (60 or 70% on income; 40% on records, books and most anything else that was cool),
economically bizarre wage and price controls, import licensing, huge social discord around the Springbok Tour,
homosexuality a crime and a *really* ghastly government ...
The main pluses that come to mind are that the government was still paying people to get a university education and
Radio With Pictures was still on.
You can certainly argue that it's a much worse place now to be poor or brown-skinned, or to be raising a family, but
compared to what it was then, New Zealand is twentysomething paradise, more so for the Poole people than almost anyone
else. Believe me. But my charitable instinct comes to the fore here: it's nice to see Mr Poole giving it a go ...
Anyway, it all comes as a bit of a shock to the system after spending a mere four days in the enclave that is
Queenstown, observing a charity ski race and the entertainments attached. As one of the locals pointed out to me on
Friday night, it is not New Zealand - indeed, it's probably one place where Dr Brash's welfare-free dream would actually
work. It is prosperous, younger in feel than I expected, and the cab drivers are brilliant. It's a fun place to visit,
especially when someone else is picking up the tab.
And yet, I feel bound to point out, a new menace stalks its sparkling slopes. A new party drug, hailing from Germany,
known on the street - or possibly the piste - as "mulled wine" is everywhere. I am appalled to report that groups of
healthy young people are going out "on the mull". It can only be a matter of time until there is a tragedy - G'bye!