Cracker by Damian Christie

Don and Dusted

1984, or thereabouts, I recall sitting in a closet with a flashlight, reading a book. At any moment I was going to get busted, and definitely, definitely get a hiding. The book was called What’s Happening To Me? and as a 10 year old, it was possibly the rudest thing on the face of the Earth.

While I still don’t understand a lot of what was in that book, a lot of it served me quite well over the coming years. I was able to anticipate what was about to happen, and duly note its arrival when it did. Hair in odd places – check. Deep voice – check. Interest in girls – check. That book, and its predecessor “Where Did I Come From?” were a great help to me, and I dare say many thousands of my generation.

Twenty years on, as I approach my 30th birthday, I’m wondering where to find the third in the trilogy. I’ve Googled and searched Amazon and ebay, even local heroes TradeMe have never heard of such a title. As I undergo some fairly dramatic changes, I’m forced to ask you, dear readers – has anyone got a copy of What the Hell?! I can borrow?

I have to say I’m not particularly concerned about turning 30. “Nor should you be”, snort the like of Russell and Rob, “We turned 30 years ago, and it didn’t do us any harm.” True, true, the age itself doesn’t faze me, it’s the symptoms I’m worried about.

It’s odd how unobservant the human mind can be when it wants to. When you’re a kid, you don’t notice anything for a bit, and suddenly one day, bang, there’s a whole bunch of hair under your arms. Obviously it all grew there, slowly, one piece at a time, but you only decide to acknowledge it when it reaches some critical mass.

I think it’s the same with turning 30. The signs have been there for a while. Bit thinner on top, bit thicker around the middle, headphones a bit louder, clothes a bit quieter. But it wasn’t until the other day, driving to a friend’s engagement party, reading a Freedom Furniture catalogue (I was in the passenger’s seat), suggesting we stop in to look at the King’s Plant Barn sale (40% off all ferns, you know) that it hit me. Somewhere along the line, I got old. Well, old-ish.

Anyway, more on that as the countdown to 30 continues (just under two months today)...

I don’t know whether it’s another symptom of ageing, or just being a news junkie, but part of me thought it was important I read the entire text of Dr Don Brash’s “state of the nation” speech this morning.

To begin with, Don outlines his five key issues (declining income, welfare, education, law and order, Maori) and promises to speak on each. No doubt realising the paltry coverage a speech on “relatively declining incomes” would garner, Brash has decided to go straight for that political jugular favoured by his predecessor, the bloody mow-ries. Whether he has the will (or survives long enough), to deliver the other four speeches is anyone’s guess.

As Brash himself notes, Maori culture, race relations, the treaty industry etc “are complex, highly sensitive, even emotionally charged” issues. Having acknowledged this however, Brash then intentionally oversimplifies, plays on sensitivities, manipulates emotions, and generally helps cement the divisiveness he is highlighting. Fairly standard stuff, and as Act’s Ken Shirley notes in a press release this morning, it’s “what ACT has been saying since its inception 10 years ago.”

I’m not going to go through Brash’s speech line by line, but here are a few points that stuck out for me:

Over the last 20 years, the Treaty has been wrenched out of its 1840s context and become the plaything of those who would divide New Zealanders from one another, not unite us.

Erm yes. Such as any politician wanting to make cheap political mileage by playing on the fears of Pakeha?

…where people who weren't around in the 19th century pay compensation to the part-descendants of those who were…

This is a great line, and really sets the tone for the speech. It plays on a couple of sentiments widely-held by Talkback Callers:

First, it wasn’t me who ripped Maori off back in the day, so why should I pay to put it right? I’m sure you don’t need me to draw a picture for you, but if someone steals your car, and gives it to their son or daughter, does that make it okay?

The second part is that great honky stand-by “there aren’t any full-blooded Maori left anymore anyway, are there?” I shouldn’t need to even touch that one.

…But in fact Maori income distribution is not very different from Pakeha income distribution…It is the bottom 25 per cent of Maori, most of them on welfare, who are conspicuously poor. They are no different to Pacific Islanders or other non-Maori on welfare; it's just that there is a higher percentage of them in that category.

I might be missing something here – and I stress I’m open to correction – but can anyone else spot the contradiction? Is Brash saying that while there are more poor Maori than anyone else, the fact that poor Maori are only as poor as poor Pakeha means it’s okay? Anyone?

Brash then goes on to list a number of areas where Maori historically have done well, or at least done as well as Pakeha. They got the vote, (well sort of), and “by the 1930s, they possessed equal rights of access to state assistance, be it pensions or subsidised housing loans or access to education”.

Of course Brash doesn’t feel it necessary to mention in any detail the many injustices visited against Maori over the past 150 years, the 1908 Tohunga Act which essentially banned Maori practising their religion being just one example. It doesn't really help his message, does it? He instead glosses over it, with the summary:

Let me be quite clear. Many things happened to the Maori people that should not have happened.”

For Dr Don, clarity is apparently next to godliness:

Let me make it quite clear. National is absolutely committed to completing the settlement of historical grievances.

…those are the grievances you talked about before then, committed by people who are now dead to people who aren’t even real Mow-ries?

In many ways, I am deeply saddened to have to make a speech about issues of race.

…and if National weren’t languishing so low in the polls, I wouldn’t have had to stoop to this…

The indigenous culture of New Zealand will always have a special place in our emerging culture, and will be cherished for that reason.

…and brought out for tourists and at state functions.

But we must build a modern, prosperous, democratic nation based on one rule for all.

And anyway, you'll always have Rotorua...