Hard News by Russell Brown


It was the older boy's birthday yesterday, and, as was his wish, we took a crew to Goat Island Marine Reserve and spent the day swimming with the fishes. We cut the cake up on the grassy slopes and sang him happy birthday. It was marvellous: and, apart from anything else, a nice break from being bombarded with various flavours of hysteria.

The media - led by TV One's close-up, which doesn't seem to be able to find an issue it doesn't want to get hysterical about - is starting to resemble 'The Monologue' in Metro magazine. NCEA? In crisis. Bring back school cert! Police? In crisis. Bring back traffic cops! And so on …

George Hawkins' recent hopeless performance notwithstanding, I'm far from sure that cases such as the handling of a 111 call in Hamilton raised in Parliament by Tariana Turia, convince me that there's a crisis on. According to accounts released so far, this happened: a woman calls to say she has been "touched up" four hours previously, that she is on the street and and has support and is near the police station. The call-taker suggests she makes her way to the station to file a complaint. She and her male friend walk to the station, which takes them 20 to 30 minutes. Her friend later says the woman was in shock and so distressed that he had to carry her part of the way.

On their arrival, it quickly becomes apparent that there has been a misapprehension as to the gravity of the situation. She has, she says, been raped. The alleged rapist is still in the house where the offence allegedly occurred and is immediately interviewed by police officers. The decision to suggest she made her own way to the police station turns out to have been a bad one, which has put the woman though unnecessary suffering. But was it completely unreasonable in the circumstances?

John Roughan appeared to take a similar view, linking the response to that which followed the flap over the threat to national security represented by Tame Iti shooting a flag on a marae:

Why, they demanded, had the police not charged him with a firearms offence? Not so long ago the police, backed by good governments, resisted this sort of pressure. Not now. On every issue from road patrols to dubious 111 calls, the commissioner has adopted the policy that it is better to call an inquiry than to stand by a contentious but reasonable decision.

It will be interesting to see how the Clark government handles control of the (presumably) somewhat unexpected damage resulting from her official musing about the participation of women in the workforce. The soul-saving Sandra Paterson was among those to strike a pose of high dudgeon about the Prime Minister (and what would she know about mothering? etc) undervaluing motherhood by commanding women back to work.

Paterson reels off a string of motives and beliefs that didn't feature in Clark's speech, and dismisses most of what was in the relevant section of it, which sought to highlight policies and goals for: targeted support for low-income working families, four weeks' annual leave, increased financial support for early childhood education and childcare, British-style paid parental leave for up to a year, and encouraging more flexible working hours.

Paterson, a single mother, describes herself as an "adapter"; in that she is able to earn money working at home as a freelance journalist while her children are at school. She is - and I speak with the experience of someone who picks up one kid from school at 1.30pm and the other at 3.15pm - lucky to have the experience and skill that allows her to do one of the most flexible part-time "jobs" there is.

So what would she do if she had skills that applied only to office or factory jobs? Would she still be slinging off at women who leave their kids "in state childcare for the day" (which, by her own admission, is the advantage she is taking of her kids being at school)? Or declaring that "home-centred women … often resent their husband's taxes being used to subsidise childcare for women with other priorities"? Has she tried finding a job that offers handy 9am-to-3pm hours?

What few of the ranters and ravers seem to have picked up is that the very high participation of women in work in the Scandinavian countries namechecked by Clark is at least in part a consequence of more flexible attitudes to employment hours. Job-sharing and part-time work are more common in those countries. They allow men and women to both work and be at home. To be "adapters", that is.

Ruth Laugesen noted as much in an intelligent feature that led the Sunday Star Times' Focus section yesterday (I'd link to it but Stuff is unreachable via either the Ihug or Xtra networks this morning): pointing out that "Swedes may work in bigger numbers, but they won't work as many hours. In contrast we have something like one-quarter of fathers of children under five working more than 50 hours a week."

The interesting thing is that the employment market may already be responding in such a vein. The Weekend Herald lead story reporting that New Zealand's unemployment rate is now the lowest in the developed world said the following:

Most of the growth in the latest quarter was in part-time jobs, a break from the pattern of previous quarters. That may be more a matter of necessity than choice from an employer's point of view.

ANZ chief economist Dr John McDermott said: "The intensity with which employers are searching for labour is very strong.

"We see that in the high levels of job ads. And there is a lot of evidence that employers are thinking about alternatives like job sharing.

"There are a lot of experienced and qualified women out there who can't work full-time because of other commitments."

Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly and Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Alasdair Thompson agreed that some of the increase in part-time employment reflected employers becoming more flexible i

You could also look to address the labour shortage with more immigration and the problems of single-income families by sharply raising rates of take-home pay, but in context, Clark's statement hardly warrants the alarum it has generated in some quarters.

Of course, apart from any economic merit it might have had, Clark's statement was probably crafted to portray Labour as economically diligent but more caring and positive than National and Act (whose draft welfare policy, as I noted last week, appears to ascribe an intrinsic value to motherhood of roughly nil). The backlash will have been unexpected and will doubtless trigger a response of a slightly different nuance. But it would be a relief if critics of whatever that response turns out to be could concentrate more on what's actually said than what is assumed.

And, finally, quite some queerness in Murray McCully's newsletter from last week:

Seen the Health Department’s "Hubba Hubba" ads, promoting condom use? There are several different versions. Watch carefully and you will see that one features two young men, as they say, getting down to business.

Now, leaving aside the minor fact that we, at the worldwide headquarters of mccully.co display unambiguously and rampantly heterosexual proclivities, there is an important issue here. We are now well past the debate on legalisation of homosexuality. And all manner of protections from discrimination against gays now exist in the law of the land. But this ad goes way further than that. Cynics suggest that its subliminal message is clearly that homosexuality is officially endorsed by the Government of the land (which has gone to the trouble of buying the ad) as one of the lifestyle options to be carefully considered by young people. Above all else, the ad will simply cause offence to many people. The ad is being pushed hardest on TV2, where the largest audience of young people is to be found.

The Sisterhood will no doubt defend the advertisement on the basis that it delivers a health message. But they could easily have done that without graphic depictions of sexual encounters of any kind. And they certainly did not need to spend taxpayers’ cash rarking up the very un-gay folks at the worldwide headquarters.

Leaving aside all the crap about the government "officially endorsing" homosexuality (rather less than it "officially endorses" heterosexuality, one would think), have you seen the ad he's talking about as if it contains wall-to-wall buggery? From memory, there's a second or two in which two young men kiss once and smile at each other. This, according to McCully, is a "graphic depiction" of a "sexual encounter". If it wasn't such a wholly terrifying subject for conjecture, I'd be tempted to conclude that McCully must be very dull in the sack.