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.

 

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.

Tasks for Julie Anne Genter on return to work


Associate Minister of Transport Julie Anne Genter, who has been on maternity leave after giving birth to her first child, is back at work this week. Whilst she has been away there has been much going on on our roads, some of it good and some of it quite appalling.

As a result there are number of significant issues sitting on her desk:

  1. Action is needed on our soaring road toll, which is the highest in nearly a decade, having levelled with the 2009 total road toll with five weeks still left in the calendar year
  2. Requiring all road vehicles to have headlights that come on automatically – it is compulsory in Canada and was done to reduce the number of collisions caused in poor visibility
  3. A promise was made to invest $300 million into Christchurch transport as part of the rebuild programme following the earthquakes – let us set priorities for that spending and get on with it
  4. Investigate getting bulk material such as petroleum onto suitable railway carriages and reduce the number of large tankers and such vehicles on roads that are not designed for them.

Whilst these are all good things to be tackling some bigger beasts need to be tackled as well. One of them is reforming the New Zealand Transport Authority from one that is heavily road oriented, into one that works for all modes of transport and their users instead of a lucky chosen few. This is essential work to be done because N.Z.T.A. put little emphasis on rail and the merchant marine, which are better able to move large volumes of material, goods or fuel and are not likely to have to stop as frequently to refuel themselves.

Another one is addressing our carbon challenge. With the Government having announced an impending – even if it is some decades away from fully implementing – ban on oil and gas, we need to significantly up the efforts to develop sustainable, carbon neutral alternatives, which is something that is currently not happening.

It might seem strange to be putting so much emphasis on an Associate Minister, but Ms Genter is the true force in the Transport portfolio, and I think it is only a matter of time before she takes it off Minister Phil Twyford. It is important to note that Ms Genter did her postgraduate research in transport planning and has been the Green Party spokesperson for it since she entered Parliament. Mr Twyford has so far been underwhelming in his ministerial portfolio’s and Transport has not been an exception.

So, I welcome Ms Genter back. The time has come to do some serious policy lifting and before the 2020 election I am expecting to see some significant announcements come from the office of Ms Genter including maybe that she has taken over the portfolio.

Prohibitive road toll demands decisive action


This afternoon on their Facebook Page, New Zealand Police made an unusually blunt and direct statement.

Listen up New Zealand. 

We’re losing far too many people on our roads. 12 in the past week, 336 this year.

Road safety is everybody’s responsibility and your behaviour behind the wheel could change a family forever. Could you live with that?

I am sure the Police were probably quietly itching to put up a much stronger worded statement than that. Maybe a pic or two to jolt people. I would not have blamed them.

The causes of death for these twelve people over the last week will range. Some died from careless driving. Others died from alcohol related incidents. Others died in accidents where too much speed was involved. The results were the same. Several families torn apart. Friends and family wondering how it all came to this.

Cleaning up the remains of human beings from accident sites must be a horrendous job. No ambulance crew, police officer or firefighter looks forward to such events. And each day where they have had such an experience they must surely go home wondering who the people whose lives they literally picked off the road were.

Gavin Hawthorn is a man you do not want to meet on New Zealand roads. But when a man who is on his eleventh (11th) driving charge and has ended the lives of four people across his prior convictions appears in court for his twelfth (12th), clearly not able or willing to learn from his mistakes, there is a responsibility to remove the ability of such people to drive. But not only is there a responsibility to remove their ability to drive, there is also a responsibility to remove their ability to be a threat to the public, which this man clearly is.

It is also time to address our problem with Police chases. Far too many are ending badly. And I think that the problem has a very simple answer. People think that if they can get away from the cops, they will be fine, and so they try to take off inducing a chase. But when the chase comes to an abrupt end in someones fence, crashed or simply caught the Police are going to have much less sympathy for one than if they had simply pulled over when the blue and red lights were flashed. So too will the public, especially if it endangers people or causes a crash or other adverse outcomes that would have been completely avoided had the driver stopped when signalled.

Unfortunately the courts seem to be entirely out of sync with the public, with the Police who bring cases to the courts and prosecute, with society in general. Too much political correctness is coming into decisions. Too often the judge is siding with defendants because they don’t want their careers jeopardized or the “darling little Jimmy (or Jane)” does not normally behave like this.

I don’t honestly care what darling little Jimmy’s behaviour is like. He committed an offence, he can pay the price just like you or I would have had we been in that position. I do not care if someone’s career is going to be jeopardized when they got behind the wheel pissed because when they started drinking, fully sober, they would have known full well then that if they are driving they should not be drunk.

Cut the crap. If judges are not prepared to use the full range of sentences they can hand down appropriately, maybe it is time to consider a career change.

I welcome refugees to New Zealand – Do you?


New Zealand has a proud history of being a compassionate nation, a believer of giving people a fair go. With an unprecedented number of people having been made refugees by international or internal strife, some countries are shying away from accepting them. Some are becoming openly hostile. But that does not mean New Zealand should be like them.

Introducing the “I Welcome” pledge, whose aim is to pledge to help settle refugees in New Zealand. The I Welcome pledge is an Amnesty International New Zealand initiative that targets decision makers – district, city and regional councillors as well as Members of Parliament – and get them to help get refugees setled. It aims to help them with basic things that might be foreign to them such as establishing a bank account; getting a General Practitioner, helping them build a curriculum vitae, catching public transport and so on.

When a refugee arrives, they are likely to be bewildered, confused, wary. Such different ways and customs, expectations and hopes. Whereas many of them might have lived day to day wondering where their next meal is going to come from, here it is different. Here they will be wondering how to make the most of these strange yet welcome new opportunities and getting around everyday challenges. That is where people who have taken the I Welcome pledge come in.

By taking the simple I Welcome pledge you are committing to helping vulnerable people getting settled in New Zealand. The experience Amnesty has with refugees suggests that they will be hugely grateful for the opportunities and assistance, desperate not to make mistakes and very willing to learn.

You might have knowledge on writing C.V.’s or be familiar with the workings of the local public transport system. Maybe you are a nurse or G.P.; have cultural experience or familiarity with the countries that refugees are coming from. If you have knowledge and/or skills, or simply want to help, but am not sure how, take the pledge.

I am not suggesting and nor is anyone else that we take all known refugees – not least because New Zealand does not have room for well over 50 million refugees from all corners of the world. But there is no reason on Earth why New Zealand cannot double its refugee quota from the current pathetic 750 per annum.

With time these people will most likely become contributing taxpayers. They will be wanting to make a meaningful contribution, perhaps as a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or professional sports person. In other countries refugees have gone on to become world leading surgeons. Some in New Zealand who arrived as a result of the Tampa freighter incident involving Australia in 2001 are now small business owners.

So, I reject this notion that they will be a drain on the New Zealand taxpayer for these reasons, but also because at the end of it New Zealand’s reputation overseas will be enhanced. Our cultural diversity will be greater. Wealth is not all about dollars, though it certainly helps – we think of wealth in purely economic terms, but perhaps one of the greatest ways to become rich as a nation is by giving refugees a chance to develop as people, thrive and give back.

The I welcome Pledge enables that to happen.