Saturday, March 22, 2014

Easy-going, or just defeated?

(First published in The Dominion Post, March 21.)

WE’RE generally an easy-going lot, we New Zealanders. Problem is, I can’t decide whether that’s good or bad.
I recently attempted to catch a Saturday morning train from Masterton to Wellington. It didn’t turn up. The word among the 30 or so people waiting at the station was that the train driver had called in sick.

Eventually a bus came, more than an hour after the train had been scheduled to leave.
There was a cricket test and a music festival on in Wellington that day, so a lot of people were heading into the city. By the time the bus had stopped at all three Masterton stations, passengers were standing in the aisle.

What struck me was the good-natured resignation of my fellow travellers. Doubtless arrangements had been mucked up and inconvenience caused, but it was accepted in good humour.
I didn’t know whether to be proud or exasperated. On the one hand some might think it charming that we’re so laidback. On the other, I couldn’t help thinking there were parallels with godforsaken Third World countries like Haiti or Tanzania, where citizens are so inured to institutional incompetence – for instance, failing to ensure backup for a sick train driver – that they consider it futile to protest.

I experience similar feelings when Air New Zealand flights are delayed, which seems to be most of the time. I often seem to be the only passenger seething with frustration, not just at the inconvenience but the apparent indifference of the airline’s ground staff (who, incidentally, could learn a thing or two about customer relations from the Tranz Metro employee who accompanied our bus to Wellington).
On a much graver level, I marvel at our complacent reaction when politicians and unaccountable bureaucrats launch outrageous assaults on our rights.

In Auckland right now, Len Brown’s council is considering a draft plan that would force thousands of property owners to seek something called a “cultural impact assessment” from local iwi before they can undertake work such as earthworks or vegetation removal.
Private property rights have long been a cornerstone of our legal and economic system, yet here they are being usurped by newly discovered pseudo-rights arising from ill-defined (but politically voguish) notions of cultural sanctity.

It’s easy to see where things might lead if, as proposed, 19 iwi are given power to determine whether property owners can proceed with even modest development proposals. I can imagine koha being paid to clear away obstacles.
But are the people of Auckland marching in their thousands on the Town Hall? No. Probably too busy polishing their BMWs.

* * *
I WONDER whether Judith Collins ever learned the biblical adage that pride comes before a fall.
You can get away with being supremely cocky as long as events are running in your favour, but when you eventually get your comeuppance you’re likely to fall further and land harder.

Ms Collins needlessly made things more painful for herself by trying to brazen her way out of the Oravida controversy, thinking her customary imperiousness would get her through. After all, it’s worked for her in the past.
But that only made it all the more humiliating when she finally had to acknowledge she was wrong. Her fall from grace was all the more pronounced because it was from such a lofty height.

There are some lessons here. The first is that no politician is bulletproof – not even one who revels in the sobriquet of “Crusher”.
The second is that the media will take even more exquisite pleasure than usual in bringing down a politician who is perceived as arrogant and haughty.

It’s not too late for Ms Collins to catch up on her bible studies. She’ll find the relevant verse at Proverbs 16:18.
* * *

SO MORTGAGE holders face a slight upward adjustment in their interest rates. Pass the tissues while I sob in sympathy.
You’d never guess, from all the fuss over the Reserve Bank’s raising of the official cash rate, that mortgage rates will still be low by historical standards. In the 1980s they were running at more than 20 per cent.

And what’s overlooked is that far more people will benefit than will be penalised. That’s because far more New Zealanders are savers than borrowers – by a ratio of five to one, according to the ANZ bank. 
These borrowers have suffered in silence since interest rates crashed when the global economy tanked in 2008. In contrast, people with mortgages have never had it so good.

All that’s happening now is a very modest and long overdue levelling of the playing field in favour of savers and investors.
Why is this positive news so conspicuously ignored? It can only be because most of the journalists reporting on interest rates have mortgages.

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