Being a male in New Zealand

This is a note to the (gentle)men of New Zealand. This is a note that is written in the wake of the Grace Millane murder, and which concerns each and every one of us.

I understand that over the last week whilst this has been playing out, some of you might have wondered where all of the gratitude for the good we have done has gone. For the time being it has to take a temporary back seat. This unfortunately is something we all need to accept collectively as parents, uncles, brothers, nephews, that whilst many of us are indeed a good bunch, the number of guys undermining our great work by abusing women is far too high. It has to stop and we have to take responsibility.

But this article is largely not about that. This is about our other problems – ones not necessarily of our making, but which we are saddled with any way and which we need to stand up and demand assistance.

We have problems that we are reluctant to act on. They are as numerous as they are diverse and we, in a fear of being told by other males and sometimes females too that they need to toughen up, all too often prove reluctant to do anything about them. And this reluctance to act for our well being is harming us, badly.

One is our mental health. That thing in our head which can be exacerbated by our life conditions such as the physical environment we live in; where we work; how our marital and social lives are getting on. You might be the male head of your family and the primary bread winner in the house. That is potentially quite tough, especially if your employment is on the rocks – perhaps the company is not going so well; you might have troublesome employees. It is okay to reach out and ask a colleague you have good reason to think is a bit in the dumps if they are okay. It might save a life.

Another problem is our physical health. Many of us are born and raised to be masculine tough guys who are told only sissies cry. You might have problems with your prostate, but the tough male inside you says not to tell the doctor (even though they might be able to diagnose it). You might have an accident at work and think “bugger it, it’ll be right” and then find you barely get out of bed the following day, but you have half a dozen jobs at work that have rapidly approaching deadlines. You go to work thinking you will try to take it easily and wind up in hospital.

It is quite okay to have a couple of beers after work to chill and maybe talk to a few work colleagues. It was something I did a bit of after work at Environment Canterbury with other colleagues across the road. Most people went went over and had a couple and went home, were happy to have had the chance to de-tune from work.

It is okay to be a male. I do not apologize for being one and nor should you. It is okay to be masculine and play rugby, and be the one who cheers for the All Blacks or the New Zealand Warriors or whatever your sporting code is. It is okay to be disappointed when they are defeated – as a Black Caps fan I am disappointed when New Zealand get a thrashing they could have avoided. But I never take my frustrations out on anyone or anything, because it is after all just a game.

You might look at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and think her talk about kindness and compassion is a bunch of feminine codswallop. Well, actually, no it is not. It is quite okay to care about others around you, yourself, your mates, your loved ones and not only that, but it is quite encouraged.

You might wonder why there is negativity towards males being around children. Well, actually much of it just stems from the unfortunate impact of the Peter Ellis creche abuse case. Not all men are Peter Ellis. It is not your fault that he managed to create a culture of suspicion if males apply to work in creches or other early child care centres and primary schools. That might turn you away from working with children.

But there is nothing wrong at all – contrary to what anyone, females included, might tell you – if you turn up to your daughters netball game and cut the oranges and the apple pieces that the players will eat at half time. On the contrary, well done if you do. Well done for showing you love and care about your daughters well being and give her a decent male role model in her life. It is not only the right thing to do, but also the cool thing. Take pride in it.

So, guys, it is quite okay to be a man. Love your sport, drink your beer (responsibly!), and be a great male head of the family/father/uncle/bro/nephew. But remember you are only human at the end of the day, and when things turn to crap, it is quite okay to ask for help.


Disability sector crisis worsening

What is disability you ask?

According to the State Services Commission disability is not something people have. They have impairments. Disability is the process by which people create barriers by designing a world fit for them without taking into account the impairments of other people. Statistics New Zealand defines disability as any self perceived limitation caused by a long term condition or health problem, expected to last 6 months or more and not completely eliminated by an assisting device.

Having grown up with hand/eye co-ordination issues that are largely resolved other than not being confident driving a manual vehicle and hearing impairment since birth, I have experienced some of the issues that confront people with impairments. My parents and General Practitioner have confronted the issues around finding me suitable support and minimizing those impairments.

One might now say that the disability sector (I am starting to see why advocates do not like the word “disability”) now has an impairment of its own. Despite billions spent on health in New Zealand, the public would be right to ask whether we get dollar for dollar value in our health care, which by world standards is still pretty good.

But there is an impairment in the disability sector. Years of under-funding mean a lot of programmes are run on shoe string budgets and unavoidably force the District Health Boards to use money that they have not necessarily been allocated. That has created a short fall now reaching $150 million.

I find this quite disgusting given that Governments of the centre-left are supposed to support minority groups including those with impairments. For all the hot air coming out of politicians mouths about people with impairments, surprisingly little seems to get done. Two Members of Parliament spending a day working in wheel chairs to demonstrate empathy is 99% show 1% action.

A significant issue is public perception and one of the issues that needs to be tackled at school where students often find that their school has accepted students with mobility issues. Very often ignorance of what constitutes an impairment and what the actual capabilities of a person are – they might have perfect hand/eye co-ordination, but not be able to use their legs. Others might have speech impairments, but be able to communicate on paper, or using electronic media.

A second problem facing people who have mobility issues is quite simple yet fundamental. A person in a wheel chair cannot go very far if their wheels cannot do simple things such as get over the curb at a pedestrian crossing or over the lip of the floor in a door frame. Some of this is simple design of the buildings – when the building was designed there might not have been a requirement to provide for wheel chairs, or mobility scooters.

Am I perfect in terms of going to help someone who is stuck? Absolutely not, but I will go and help a person in obvious need of assistance no questions asked. One such time I saw a guy who had just crossed a major road on his mobility scooter as I drove past, who was stuck on the curb. I pulled over at the first safe spot and went back, but by that time someone else had moved him to safety. And I am reminded also of a gentleman who used to be a teacher aide at my high school. He had multiple sclerosis, which had limited the use of his hands and other muscles were failing too, yet he would also help out with the rifle club that I was a member of. Since he could not get the guns carry bags out himself, the students would do it for him. The school built a ram entrance for each building to enable him access.

But not everyone is so lucky. A family from not so good socio-economic circumstances will struggle to find appropriate support in a straight jacketed system. In a system with a short fall of $150 million that support could be seriously lacking in resources and staffing.

People jumping to conclusions on Grace Millane – Give due process a chance

On 01 December 2018 a 22 year old English tourist named Grace Millane disappeared in Auckland. For a few days hope was held that Miss Millane might be found alive and that she had simply got lost or gone walkabout. These hopes were dashed on 07 December when the New Zealand Police announced that they were looking for a person of interest. Several hours later, they announced that this person was under arrest. Then yesterday, the worst fears were confirmed: the case had been upgraded to a homicide inquiry and the suspect was charged with her murder.

Right from the start on social media, especially on Facebook people hoped and prayed for her safe return which is completely understandable. When it was announced that the suspect had been charged with murder, the hopes and prayers not surprisingly turned to anger. People have every right to be horrified and angry that it happened in New Zealand, a country thought to be safe for people to visit. They have every right to want want justice for Grace Millane.

But the number of people who are trying to be the judge, the jury and the executioner before the accused is even brought to court is quite serious. The number of people who think the accused is guilty before any plea has been entered tells me that many don’t care about due process and I wonder if they even know what it is?

I have been criticized by many on Facebook for insisting on due process, but I make no apologies. I want justice done, but it is not going to be done by social media. It needs to happen under a court of law before a judge and – if this goes to trial – a jury.

So, let us look at what sections of the relevant legislation deal with due process in a legal setting.

A person detained or arrested by the Police or other arresting authority has rights under Sections 23-25 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, 1990. Section 23 rights deal with the period immediately after being arrested. Section 24 deals with those who have been charged with an offence – this is where I think the Police are probably at with the suspect in the case of Miss Millane. Section 25 deals with the rights of someone being sent to trial.

As for the victim of a crime, their rights are set down in the Victims Code. The victims code is covered under the Victims Rights Act 2002. I assume that New Zealand Police are applying this to Miss Millane’s family who must be going through the most harrowing moments of their lives at the moment, sick to death at the thought that their daughter is gone.

But due process exists for good reasons and are a mark of a functional justice system in any first world country. That includes New Zealand.

So, let us put this suspect to trial. Let us find out what happened, whether he had accomplices who assisted and whether any evidence has been destroyed in an attempt to pervert justice. Let us find out about Miss Millane’s final hours, and why – just assuming for a moment it was him – he was driven to murder a tourist on holiday in New Zealand.

But above all, let us give due process a chance to run its course, because if it turns out there were other people involved, then the blame is not totally on the accused. If there were other significant circumstances involved we need to know about them. Let us do this properly so that two things happen:

  1. The perpetrator or perpetrators are tried, sentenced appropriately
  2. Miss Millane’s family get the justice that they totally deserve

Neither can happen if due process is not followed.

Kiwi Build needs to get a grip

During the previous Government housing was a major headache for a lot of people. Market oriented policies, increased international pressure and poor domestic policy making all combined to overheat something that was supposed to keep prices competitive. And at the end of the day, the working man was the one who paid the price. But a year after National exited office, there still seem to be unrealistic expectations of what New Zealanders can afford – or are prepared to pay.

Kiwi Build need to get realistic about the ability of people to afford their offerings. The simple fact of the matter is that our incomes, combined with their unrealistic prices and the high demand which means competition to get into one will be strong.

Some of the houses on offer are going for more than N.Z.$650,000 which is simply too much. It might be fine if one is on a high income, but what about the many who do not earn six digit figure incomes even before tax? What about those who cannot afford to put down a deposit, which is what is often needed in order to buy a house?

I earn $17.76/hr before tax. After income tax, but before further deductions for Kiwi Saver and ACC and so on are made I have $14.65/hr. What hits my bank is therefore not quite what I start of with before tax. Add in board and $125 per week for long term savings and what I have is significantly less than the $36,900 before I started divvying and subtracting. That says nothing about all the other weekly costs most people would have to pay.

Yes, Kiwi Build is meant to target New Zealanders wanting to get on to the property ladder and own their first house. But right now the cost to many New Zealanders is simply out of their current reach, but likely future reach even with higher incomes or sharing the costs with a spouse.

Minister in charge Phil Twyford is making a botch of the issue. At no point has Mr Twyford seemed like he is in full control of this very important portfolio, with a range of concerns:

  1. Lack of ambition – an arguable one, but it was raised by economist Shamubeel Eaqub
  2. An apparent lack of effort to engage the designers of microhousing, which has minimal floor space and could be an option for those not wanting a full house, but one that is suitable for just being a place to eat and sleep
  3. How to counter urban sprawl and get councils to promote apartment living

In fairness to him each house has other costs associated with it such as getting resource consents, paying the tradesmen to put it up and including the necessary services such as electricity, running water, sewerage and a driveway of some sort. Paying for these as well as allowing for competing market demands means that even if Mr Twyford is able to get the housing portfolio down pat his hands maybe somewhat tied by forces out of his control.

But that does not change the fact that as Minister in charge Mr Twyford has to take ownership of the problems posed and do his best to fix them.

Renewed calls to raise drinking age

An on going debate in New Zealand about what the drinking age should be has flared up again. Renewed calls from paramedics and others suggesting that the drinking age is too low have surfaced after a spate of incidents. But as we shall see, they ignore a problem that is as old as the existence of a legal drinking age.

The calls are coming after a Coroner suggested that the age should be raised back to 20 years, where it was up to the end of 1999.

This ignores an age old issue that was true even when I was at high school in 1999. Teenagers see alcohol as cool and until and unless that perception changes, minors will continue trying to find ways to get alcohol. They will get older family members or friends who are of legal age to do it for them. They will continue trying to slip into bars and night clubs that are not permitted to have them on their premises. These social pressures and dares are just quite simply something that happens. I was offered alcohol by mates when I was under age. I went to parties where there was alcohol present – I did not drink any except under parental supervision because my hypertension means I am on medication, which at the time I was concerned would react badly with it.

When I went to my Year 13 high school ball I had drinks at a mates place, along with about 14 others who were also going. Then the age to be consuming alcohol was still 20.

There are other things that can be done which would be more effective (all of which I have argued the case for in prior articles):

  1. Removing alcohol from supermarkets and restricting it to alcohol stores and licenced cafes, bars and restaurants
  2. Removing advertising from the media – can only be displayed on premises
  3. Tighten the penalties for non compliance

Of the sad case of Matthew Kyte who drove drunk on a regular basis, just like the man who was recently in court for his 12th drunk driving charge and who had killed 4 people, here is a guy who should have had his licence permanently revoked. The Police said of the case that Mr Kyte would have been potentially charged with murder had he hit two people who he narrowly missed on his last drunken drive.

Intoxicated crowds also seem to be becoming a problem at accidents. In the last few years there have been numerous instances of police, paramedics and fire fighters being abused by drunken crowds at parties where things have gone wrong. Some of the cases have involved violence, whilst others have involved items being thrown at the emergency services, who have had to call up Police to deal with the trouble makers.

But none of this will be fixed by changing the drinking age. Ones age is a bit different from ones intelligence quotient, or more specifically here, ones maturity quotient.