12 August 2006
Address to National Party meeting at Omapere : "Rights, respect and responsibilities"
It is 6:30 on a Sunday evening in Henderson, West Auckland. A truck driver is washing his truck at the Lincoln Road Washworld getting ready for work the next day. His name is Mani.
A youth wearing a bright yellow hoodie and dark shorts is lingering nearby. The youth suddenly approaches the driver and - out of the blue - just starts abusing him.
Mani is so stunned at this abuse he doesn’t notice the second youth sneaking up behind them until he is hit in the back of the head with a rock.
The second guy is wearing a blue t-shirt and he just keeps hitting Mani with the rock even when Mani is pleading with them to take his money and phone.
As the beating continues, the first youth produces a knife and tells Mani to stay quiet or he will be stabbed.
Mani is too frightened to let the newspaper use his proper name but his words from the hospital bed are haunting – “it was like they were having pleasure in beating me.”
Like many New Zealanders, stories like this disturb me.
They make me worry about what is happening in our country.
This kind of random violence seems to becoming more common.
It is one o’clock on that same day and two teenagers are hiding behind some bushes near the Flaxmere Shopping Centre in Hastings.
Nobody knows how long they have been hiding there, but it is obvious they do not have good intentions.
Elsie Jones walks past them on her way back from the shops. The youths leap out, knock her to the ground and rob her before running away.
Elsie Jones is 95 years old and weighs less than 50 kilograms. She is
the oldest resident at the nearby Swansea Village retirement home.
As a result of this cowardly attack, Elsie Jones goes to hospital – the youths get a loaf of bread and $2 in coins.
I was appalled when I heard about these two awful cases in July.
Some of the commentators have been quick to assign responsibility for attacks like these to society as if somehow we all have to share the blame for these acts.
These kind of commentators seem happiest blaming this kind of thuggery on anything from colonialism to Rogernomics
They don’t seem prepared to ask the questions that need to be asked.
I know I wasn’t the only person asking – where were the parents of these criminal youths?
It seems to me that segments of our society are increasingly losing their sense of discipline and responsibility.
You see, I firmly believe that the Government has responsibilities in a number of areas including ensuring that people are educated, housed, healthy and secure.
In return, people have a responsibility to be good citizens and to be respectful of the laws of the land.
It is what is sometimes described as a social contract or the basis of civil society.
Unfortunately, some people seem to know their rights to the letter and their entitlements to the cent.
But those same people either do not seem to know, or do not accept, the obligations and responsibilities which go with those rights and entitlements.
You can see this attitude demonstrated when National is criticized for daring to suggest that in return for receiving a benefit, parents on welfare should ensure their children should go to school and be checked regularly by the doctor and dentist.
Somehow, the sensible suggestion that people accept both the benefit and some responsibility, is taken to be an outrageous breach of some imagined human right. It’s nonsense.
Yet you can see that same attitude in the reduced authority of parents,
teachers and police.
You can see that same attitude in the increased influence of the street corner and the park playground.
You can see it in the example of the girl picked up by Whangarei police. It is a week after a youth was killed in a fight outside a club. It is 1:30am. The girl is so drunk she can barely stand. The girl is 14.
The Police take her home. There is no one there. They put her in the cells for her safety. They visit her home six more times but there is no sign of her parents. The girl is yelling and swearing at the police from the moment she is picked up.
She is released the next morning into the care of her older siblings the next day. There is still no sign of the parents.
I worry that there will be more questions asked about the police putting a 14 year old in the cells or more questions about lowering the drinking age than there will be questions of the parents who allowed her out at that time in that state.
The police said she was a prime target – her parents didn’t seem to know or care. I doubt they will accept responsibility for the danger their daughter was in. They may have even given her the alcohol.
This is not an isolated example.
Here is a solution. Parents should be responsible for their actions or inactions and that of their children.
When parents lend their child the car, and the child is caught doing 140km/h, I think when the child is up in court then maybe the parents should be right there beside the child?
Schools can’t be substitutes for parents. Many schools are struggling to perform their educational functions in an environment where kids have less respect for their teachers and seem more ready to disrupt the classroom by challenging the teacher’s authority.
This is a major reason why so many teachers are leaving the profession.
Some though are bucking the trend. I want to talk about a school in Northland.
When the current principal started at the school it was struggling in many ways. The Principal’s first action was to call all parents to a meeting and a good many responded. The Principal said he was going to do his absolute best for the kids but he needed two things from the parents.
One, he was going to give their children homework. He wanted the parents to support and help their children complete it. He could get the parents some assistance if they needed it.
Two, he was going to discipline their children if required. He wanted the parents to back his right to do so. He said they could question the individual decisions in private, but they had to back up his authority by taking his side when the kids questioned his right to discipline them.
When he took over at the school, just 4% of the kids were achieving at an average level.
Within six months achievement levels at the school had improved remarkably and five years on continue to improve.
There are other examples of this happening across the country. The difference is parental support.
All the people involved – teachers, parents, kids – began to understand both their rights and their responsibilities. In an environment of respect and trust, a great deal can be accomplished.
There should be reciprocal obligations in action here.
If we are to expect parents to accept more responsibility than some currently are, then we need to remove some of the State imposed obstructions that prevent them knowing about their children’s activities.
The Government has poked its nose into the family, saying what is OK and what is not, and parents can sometimes find the State in between them and their kids. It is hard to take responsibility in those circumstances.
The community also needs to accept a supporting a role. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child and there is an element of truth in that. Any parent who makes a stand on the behaviour of their child is sometimes pounced upon by those around them for being too harsh. I’m not even going to get into what happens if they smack their children to discipline them…
"Reciprocal obligation" should be the way. The State is obliged to look after its weakest and help them back on their feet. The individual also has obligations to be a good citizen and to act appropriately if receiving a benefit.
For example, if you are on the unemployment benefit there should be an obligation that you are actively looking for a job. If you are struggling to find a job, then you should look to re-train and then keep looking. And the state can and should help in that process.
One of the experiences which shaped the way I look at how a responsible society works comes from my time working for Hokianga County in the old PEP days.
The topic has a great deal of relevance today as the National Party rightly talks now about bringing back work for welfare schemes. It is a good idea and it is timely to look back at what the PEP actually did round here.
Back in those days, 650 people were involved in the Hokianga PEP work schemes. These were people who would otherwise have been unemployed, at home or even at the pub.
They did some useful work around their communities. They weren’t cutting in on the private sector – they were doing a lot of the jobs that no one else was willing to do.
More importantly, working regularly gave people a sense of responsibility and helped them regain respect for themselves and for others. They rightly had pride in their work and pride in working.
That pride and respect is infectious – it echoes through the community. It can be felt by families, community groups, sports groups and potential employers.
Some of the best days were when people on the PEP schemes who had previously been unemployed for a number of years would come up to me and say “John, I’m not coming in on Monday”. I’d say “why on earth not mate?” and they would just get this huge grin and say “because I’ve got a permanent job”.
It was, as the ad says – priceless.
But then Treasury started to get involved. Treasury started to question whether schemes like PEP represented Value for Money. They measured the dollars going in compared to the dollar value of the work being done.
The Treasury analysis didn’t pick up the social benefits like people
going home to their family after work rather than spending the day at
the pub. It didn’t pick up the job skills people acquired. It certainly
didn’t pick up the pride and respect the work created both for those
on the scheme and for those in the community.
Eventually though, as happened back then, the narrow Treasury view got its way and the PEP scheme was stopped.
The irony is that most of the money previously used on the work scheme was transferred to WINZ. WINZ then paid basically the same people the same amount for doing nothing. All the positive social advantages of PEP were lost – and nothing was saved.
One of the advantages of working for welfare was that it created work skills and a work ready attitude. It also reduced crime and it reduced demand on our public health system. You can not reasonably expect someone who has been sitting at home for years to suddenly be ready for full time work. Work for welfare provides that bridge – that hand up.
In a sense, the period when the PEP disappeared was where the meaning of the welfare state charted to change. The Labour government of Michael Joseph Savage always intended welfare to be a safety net – temporary Government support as a last resort. The initial concept of the welfare state expected people to undertake work or other activities in order to receive a benefit.
When people were stopped from working for a benefit, welfare gradually became more of an entitlement. And some began to see it as a lifestyle. Those attitudes are passed down the generations. The culture of dependency had begun to become entrenched.
We had lost sight of the fact that the welfare state should be a safety net, not a hammock.
The culture of dependency can be dangerous and there is no more poignant reminder than the tragic death of the Kahui twins. They were born to a mother who was apparently more interested in partying than parenting. Their short lives were spent in an extended family environment where only one person worked yet thousands of dollars of welfare were received each week.
The benefit money was taken in large amounts, but responsibility for these young children was clearly not.
When the babies were killed, the family knew all about their right to silence.
I care more about those poor children’s right to proper care – their right to love and life.
There is no dignity in dependency. It erodes respect and pride in ones self and for others. It diminishes responsibility in favour of entitlement and jealousy.
The danger is that more parents feel no responsibility for their kids and no obligation to raise them well.
The danger is that more kids have little respect for others and feel no obligation to behave.
When that happens, we increasingly see a New Zealand:
- where the parents don’t seem to care that a drunk 14 year old girl is out all night.
- where a 95 year old woman is mugged for a loaf of bread.
- where a truck driver is beaten for a thrill.
- where innocent twins will never be given a chance at life.
That is not what I want to see. That is not a New Zealand I want for our children.
I care about our children and so should our community.
I want to see a country where both the Government and the people know and accept their rights and obligations.
A country where both the Government and the people respect the rights of others.
A country where both the Government and the people accept responsibility for their actions or inactions.
Basically, where people are good citizens in a great country.
Only the National Party has the policies to make the change that will get us there.