OUR ATTITUDE TO ALCOHOL
With the unfolding of the Zac Guildford tragedy, great attention has been paid to the support he has been getting. What is not getting attention is the number of potential Guildfords (of both genders) in the making. The year is not even a month old, but already alcohol has contributed huge misery and costs to society: a much publicised quad-bike accident, several attacks on police, road deaths, boating accidents, etc. And these are just the incidents that get media attention. What should be looked at is how Guildford was introduced to alcohol and by whom, and how this is happening throughout the country. (A recent letter to the NZ Herald described how a young male was initiated into his sports club by being forced to drink half a bottle of whisky.) Whereas successive governments were willing to tackle tobacco, several generations of politicians have either ignored the problem of alcohol or actively made it worse. Maybe it’s time some society or movement is established to try to change New Zealand’s attitude to alcohol over the next few years. Or are we going to carry on letting alcohol dominate the lives of so many of our young (and not so young) people?
Linda Sanders’s Money column (January 26) on local productivity growth raised some important issues. Having spent 10 years living and working offshore, I would generally affirm – as I believe most expats who were my contemporaries would – that her key conclusions are correct. However, I would make some additional observations. Unlike the fast-growth economies, we spend time and effort trying to recreate our past. The debate on “affordable housing” is a case in point. Even as the average number of people per household falls, we tie ourselves in knots debating how to build cheap, non-leaky, large (compared with historical norms) homes close to the workplace, complete with a large section. Having all these is clearly impossible. The debate should surely be about which of those criteria, apart from the obvious requirement of being leak-free, we will forgo to achieve the others. Focus on the achievable, make a decision and then get on with it, which is what tends to happen in other small but faster-growing economies. We work longer hours but we are not particularly productive, despite a belief that one leads to the other. There are two reasons for this. Even in quite large businesses, we tend to reinvent the wheel in a cottage-industry fashion, which is laudable as a national can-do characteristic but hopelessly inefficient as a way to build internationally competitive businesses that can be scaled up. Our organisational skills seem similarly well-intentioned but poor from a productivity point of view, a case in point being the building trade’s tendency to remain loyal to suppliers and contractors at the expense of people travelling, and materials being carted, considerable distances. The wish to reinvent the wheel or do it “our” way manifests itself elsewhere. Rarely would business visitors from New Zealand looking for export opportunities want to hear or take advice from the local expatriate community, even when it was offered for free. The converse also applies. Knowledge gained from offshore experience was often seen as inapplicable to local businesses. For these reasons, opportunities to learn from our large, skilled expatriate community are missed.
The impact of the more stringent emission standards for used-car imports described in “Pity the poor driver”(January 12) rightly highlights the affordability crisis facing many families around their transportation needs. The cost of motor vehicle ownership really hits home when registration or warrant of fitness time comes around. Some families then have to choose between meeting housing costs and food bills and ensuring their vehicle is legal. That many slip into illegality should not be surprising. Unfortunately, the article fails to explore the absence of real alternatives to motor vehicle ownership for many families. Parents feel obliged to drive their children to school or themselves to work because of the absence of safe options for walking or cycling. If they live further away, public transport may be infrequent, unreliable or simply not operating when required. Consequently, both local and central government need to prioritise access to realistic alternatives to vehicle ownership. Every city and town needs a network of footpaths, pedestrian crossings, separated cycle paths and public transport that allows people to get around reliably and safely. Sometimes, people will just walk or bike or use public transport; other times, they will use a combination of these. Until safe and reliable transport choices are provided for all ages, we will continue to burden people unnecessarily with the cost of car ownership.
Steve Cox (Letters, January 19) wonders how many people know whether their car is up to warrant of fitness standard, and admits he doesn’t. I suggest he gives up driving until he learns. It has always been a legal requirement to ensure your car is safe and it is the driver’s responsibility to do so – not the owner’s. It doesn’t take a genius to check for worn tyres regularly or to check the vehicle lights. Likewise, worn brakes are designed to make a loud squeal when applied. Checking fluid levels can indicate brake problems. All basic stuff that any driver should know. Pilots perform checks on their aircraft every time they use them, so it’s not too onerous for drivers to do a weekly check as well. The real problem is that most people take no pride in driving and treat their cars like household appliances. The difference is that neglecting your fridge won’t kill you.
Young Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett is certainly impressive and would appear to have a bright future (“Young & restless”, January 19). He acknowledges he was not the youngest mayor in our history, and like many, especially those in the Labour Party, he gives that accolade to Norman Kirk, who was elected Mayor of Kaiapoi at 30. Josiah Ralph Hanan was elected Mayor of the City of Invercargill in 1938 at 28. That may not have made him our youngest mayor, but he was certainly younger than Kirk and Leggett. Hanan served as a captain in the legendary 20th Battalion in the Middle East and Italy and was wounded three times. On his return, he was elected as a National MP and he remained in Parliament until his death in 1969. He held ministerial office between 1954 and 1969 and is remembered as a liberal thinker, law reformer and legislator. The Status of Children Act passed shortly before his death remains intact and is still admired around the world as courageous, far-sighted and enlightening legislation. Another admirable feature of Hanan’s ministerial career was that he often discussed policy with Labour Party politicians before he brought up issues in his own caucus or in Cabinet.
We in the Greater Wellington region are indeed proud of Nick Leggett. However, the Kapiti Coast is not, as stated in the article, part of Porirua. The communities of Paekakariki, Raumati, Paraparaumu, Waikanae, Te Horo and Otaki make up the Kapiti District, which, with a population of about 50,000, has its own mayor, based in Paraparaumu. Like Porirua, Kapiti is also threatened by a takeover from Wellington City to form an Auckland-style super-city, but we intend to strongly oppose such proposals and are demanding an election over the issue, so perhaps there is hope that Porirua will also survive as an independent entity. Auckland with its contiguous municipalities is one thing, but the Wellington region with its towns and communities separated by harbours, mountain ranges and extensive pastoral lands is quite different.
DAVID & GOLIATH
Yes, New Zealanders are fair-minded (Editorial, January 12), but to believe David Bain is factually innocent – not just presumed innocent – requires a faith matched only by a suicide bomber dreaming of 72 virgins. There is a chain of improbabilities from here to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Bain was wearing his mother’s spare glasses that weekend; before the first trial he said so. Then he changed his story. The glasses were broken and a lens was found in Stephen’s bedroom. Stephen was strangled. David cannot account for the broken glasses. The Privy Council said this evidence was important. Who is Justice Ian Binnie, a former politician appointed to the Supreme Court after no experience on the bench, to wave it away in his report? Binnie may have considered all the evidence together. There is simply no way of telling; he shows no working. He says he did because if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have said he did. Wow! It is difficult to see how, if his methodology was valid, he arrived at the conclusion he did. It seems he liked David, as many people do. Many nice people work all their lives and don’t retire with several million dollars. Nice doesn’t come into it.
Dennis Horne BDS MSc
In the January 26 issue, a production error led to part of Reg Fowles’s letter being inadvertently transposed so it appeared as the first two paragraphs of the letter from Scott Lelievre. We regret the error.