New Zealand 25 years on from “Once Were Warriors”


25 years ago a movie exploded on to New Zealand theatre screens. Audiences were shaken, stirred, angered, horrified at what they had just seen. A – within its R-16 censorship rating – cold hard look at something New Zealand had been sweeping under the rug: the dreadful toll of domestic violence on our communities, our families/whanau and ourselves. Once Were Warriors, based on the book of the same name by Alan Duff, shone a light onto things and into places in New Zealand society that people did not want to talk about. 25 years later, what has changed?

To understand the problem we should look at the movie itself, first. It centres around a dysfunctional Maori family whose male head is hopelessly lost – not so much wilfully but perhaps having never known any other way. Handsome, muscular but dangerously prone to violence, which is all too frequently inflicted on his wife, his sons and daughter. Slowly Beth Heke is realising that Jake is too dangerous for her and her family and they need to get out, but not before his eldest son Nig becomes a patched gang member and daughter Grace is raped by an uncle. She commits suicide. One day Beth finds her diary and starts reading through it, then she happens on a page where Grace mentions being raped. The movie ends with Beth and Nig confronting Jake in a pub with his drinking mates including Uncle Bully.

25 years later some things have changed for the better, but all who are working towards ending domestic violence and the effects it has on society know there is a long long way to go. Sexual violence, addiction and domestic violence have not changed much. Whereas then it was almost taboo to grumble about sexual violence, it is becoming more acceptable to make a stand, but not without the real risk of being ostracized by supposed friends and family. Whereas alcohol was probably the substance of addiction in 1994, it is more likely now to be methamphetamine or synthetic cannabis.

In 1994 many people would say “harden up” or “get a divorce, Ma’am”, movements such as White Ribbon Day have brought an annual focus with Defence Force and emergency service personnel turning out. Law changes on the books now make strangulation an offence and police have better training and resources for dealing with such violence. Calls for people who have suffered domestic violence to be allowed time off work to get their lives in order are also happening. Most recently recognizing that pets may be the subject of abuse when victims have walked away from dangerous situations, a pet refuge programme has been established to take pets that cannot be taken by families fleeing.

But unless we address how men come to be bullies, dysfunctional people who only know violence, we will not address the causes of domestic violence in full. Unless we look at the broken homes, the lack of male role models and support for those who have learned right from wrong there will still be the Jake Heke’s who know no other way; the Beth Heke’s who find themselves trapped by powerful figure, but know they need to leave. Tragically there will also be the Grace Heke’s who find themselves propping up the sexual violence statistics and the Nig’s who join a gang. We can avoid this, and 25 years later one would have hoped that significant progress would have been made at the least. But all of the statistics suggest that there is a long way to go before Rena Owen can say that her character Beth Heke has done her job.

 

Is neoliberalism holding New Zealand back?


Recently commentator Tracy Watkins wrote a column about the absence of big bold new policies being announced by the Government. It came after a Fiscal Budget where Treasurer Grant Robertson announced the loosening of expenditure limits, but with a clear lack of ideas as to what the more readily available finances would be used for and why.

Ms Watkins pointed that in today’s world big and bold are the key names of the policy game. The policy needs to be substantial in that fluffy, airy fairy stuff that is loaded with rhetoric but no detail is out, and bold in that new ground is broken and preferably with a vision of what might be the outcome. That does not seem to be happening readily in New Zealand politics.

As a former New Zealand First member I find this disappointing. I note that at N.Z.F.’s annual convention many great ideas would get put forward with an appropriate degree of detail released given the size and nature of the receiving audience, only for much to never see the light of day. The ideas were both internal (ones to do with party structure and governance) and external (policy that would benefit New Zealand).

Perhaps Ms Watkins was thinking also of the absence of direction in New Zealand scientific research, how it contributes to society and where it gets its funding from. Just by chance if she was, another commentator named Peter Griffin has penned a column addressing exactly that. And although Mr Griffin is correct, he is not the first person to bemoan the lack of direction or funding for science. I have written columns about it as I believe that New Zealand has still not developed the “knowledge economy” that Dr Michael Cullen talked about in 1999 or the “a brighter future” that former Prime Minister John Key had in mind for New Zealand when elected Prime Minister in 2008.

Where I think the problems lie are:

  • A war on science – an undeclared one, but ultimately one that parties on both sides of the House of Representatives are jointly waging – has been going on for over a decade, with little new funding or initiatives to encourage researchers to conduct their work here and little effort to encourage science at high schools
  • Declining academic standards – I still think that N.C.E.A. has a part in this, but in fairness the rot had probably started earlier than that and may have more to do with teacher workloads, which have taken a quantum leap in complexity since the “Tomorrow’s Schools” outlook came out in 1989
  • Neoliberalism – the trend towards free market capitalism has had only modest gains at best for New Zealand with a huge increase in socio-economic disparity between the lower and higher income quartiles in terms of quality of life, ability to afford the basics and understanding of their place in society
  • Socio-political messaging about priorities have made environment; poverty; democracy lower priority issues and have combined to create a toxic combination of health, judicial and human rights issues – which in turn have undermined the democratic foundations on which this country is supposed to be built on

New Zealand needs to wean itself off neoliberalism or at least take a really hard look at how it is impacting on New Zealand society. To me ultimately getting off this addictive “Me, me, me; Now, now, now” where short term individualized gains trump long term collective benefits is probably a bit like trying to roll over whilst the body is in a deep slumber – it will take perhaps a couple of Governments to build up enough inertia that the public mood swings against neoliberalism. However in the end the collective gain that makes New Zealanders across the board feel a part of the same society, instead of a multi-tiered one where the elite and lowest echelons are so far removed that the rest of society is being dragged down, will far outweigh any “Me, me, me; Now, now, now” capitalism.

Enabling the flow of big and bold new ideas might actually start with the biggest and probably the boldest idea of them all – changing the system.

A question of justice


I have a question for you all. The question is one that has been bugging me for some time, but which in recent months has become more immediate, more urgent. It is a question of justice.

Over the last few years I have become increasingly frustrated with the New Zealand justice system as I am sure many others have too. Our reasons for our frustration will be many and varied, but deep down they all point to the same problems:

  • a failure of the courts to hand down sufficiently grave sentences
  • a lack of acceptance of what they have done
  • a failure to prepare those soon to be released for the post jail world – if they have no money or housing to go to, a potential life of crime await

My frustration stems from watching the rising tide of people who think that Police chases are games. They are not and every time someone is killed or injured because they ran away from a police check point, the Police have to be able to explain what went on to their superiors. But not only that, they have to explain it to the family(ies) of the deceased/injured as well.

The frustration, when I try to boil it down to its basic points stems from two separate issues. One is that there does not seem to be a working deterrent to the problem – i.e. something that would stop or discourage people from running before they even considered it, namely a short period of guaranteed jail time of say 48 hours to see how the offender reacts. To many the New Zealand justice system’s ability and willingness to dispense satisfactorily strong sentences is a joke and those handed down are viewed as being slapped with a wet bus ticket.

But it is not just car chases that make me wonder what the problem in the justice system is. How much crime is driven by socio-economic issues? My guess would be quite a bit. From a very early age, way back when a boy is young and just starting to learn about the world and society around him, too many are missing the adult male role model in their lives and the huge difference having a real male role model can have. If or when the boy is subject to bullying will he decide to fight back and possibly suffer disciplinary action that sets in motion a downward spiral or will he have second thoughts?

Maybe it stems from poverty and not going to school on a full stomach, thereby becoming disruptive in class, because the “second brain” of the body is not having due attention paid to it. Maybe it stems from a lack of love at home with no one being at home when a student gets home from school and so they go out and fall in with the wrong crowd. The brain in ones head is the academic one, but a persons stomach in some respects acts as a emotional brain. Between them they determine what might be described as emotional intelligence.

Maybe, as the case I am about to describe, is simply one of no boundaries being set from an early age and now had that aforementioned feeling of being bullet proof. A 13 year old dying in a crash caused by trying to flee the police was one whose caregiver had described as being out of control.

But, okay, lets assume a person does go to jail and do their time in full. They come out genuinely remorseful and admit to the past offences at job interviews, and then cannot get a job because no one will hire someone with a criminal record. Meanwhile the recently released prisoner has to feed, clothe and do all the other things a person needs to do to live, but cannot find the money to fund it all.

And so, the man who had turned his life around, and owned up to his past is now being denied the means to move forward in life and get away from his negative influences. Thus begins a cycle that I suspect is being played out all too frequently among our former jail bird population.

So, what do we do about this?

Toxic masculinity vs non-toxic masculinity


I recently watched a video on masculinity and the need to separate out the good from the bad. By bad I mean the masculinity that leads to, as the narrator says, rape, war and murder.

But this does not mean masculinity is bad. It just means there are two types of it:

  • Toxic masculinity (has any one or more of the following features) – degrades women and/or views them as meat; thinks violence is an acceptable method of solving problems; may feel threatened by women who stand up for themselves
  • Non-toxic masculinity – competitiveness, feeling of duty and the need to be brave in the face of danger

Now, to be clear, this does not condone in any form the “boys will be boys”/”just boys having a bit of fun” behaviour that is toxic masculinity, but for the period that is taken up teaching them to become men boys will indeed be boys. They will want to play computer games with shoot ’em up/war/combat themes; they will go through a period of being under peer pressure to do things that are not necessarily proper such as street racing their cars and want to engage in sexual activity with girls. There will be most probably alcohol involved. It is about learning to use these devices properly and the appropriate environment to do so in. This is where having a male figurehead in the household becomes important. In in an ideal situation that male role model will guide the growing adolescent male into being a young man. This period is what I call developmental masculinity – a type that is when their understanding and exercising of it is clearly in development. It is not a permanent phase and some will quickly grow out of it.

I played Postal and Zombie Apocalypse which were both restricted games. Both involved killing everything in sight. But I understood clearly, as did everyone else I know who played them that this sort of conduct was obviously not acceptable in society. It did not harm us. I do not remember ever having any sudden compulsion to get one of my fathers guns and go kill people. I played Command and Conquer, Civilization and other strategy games and had great fun being aggressive, but at the same time – and maybe this was because I was learning about war time history and the crimes of the Nazi regime – I also would often go back and replay missions to see how cleanly I could carry out my orders.

I watched Demi Moore in Striptease at age 16, just like several others in my age group did. When Mum and Dad were not at home I watched adult only programmes on television until I saw a car in the drive and then like a bullet I was in bed, tucked up and pretending to be asleep – pretty sure others did that too. Did they adversely affect my mind or make me want to do bad things? No.

As an adult I like to go white baiting on the Waimakariri River. I like to have a beer, and mow the lawn. I go to the pub on a Friday night and catch up with a regular bunch of guys for a yarn, a laugh, and something to eat. I watch sport, have no problems with watching the restricted rated movies on the Sky movie channels – some of which are tainted with excessive nudity, violence and other content – all the while knowing just as I did as a teen playing graphic computer games that this is not proper conduct in society. And that is fine with me.

The best men in my life are non toxic. I have a father. He is a man and not apologetic for being one. He drinks beer, is happy to go duck shooting, bag a rabbit with the rifle or hook a 26 pounder from one of the hydro canals in the Mackenzie Basin. He was the coach of my cricket team and taught us all aspects of the game – batting, bowling, and encouraged all to have a go. He was the primary income earner as an environmental planner. But at the same time he taught my brother and myself right from wrong. He taught us never to lay an injurious hand on a lady; that we must have her consent. He and my mother never acted without the other at least knowing.

I have a brother. Like me he did many if not all of the things I have listed above. He turned out just fine. He is very happily married to a lovely lady and is well liked by her family. He has a good paying job and they own a house in Nelson. He tried cannabis at University (I was offered it too, but declined). He has drunk and gotten drunk. He has brought friends home to crash after nights out on the town – all of whom likewise turned out to be thoroughly decent people.

All three of us have maintained our masculinity. Because it is not about whether a man is masculine or not, but whether that masculinity is toxic or not.

 

Cannabis reform coming – But is it enough?


Reform of the laws around the use of cannabis is coming to New Zealand. Minister of Justice Andrew Little has announced there will be a referendum in which people will be asked a simple yes/no question about the legalization of cannabis in New Zealand.

I support reform for a range of reasons. New Zealand society sees and deals with the effects of cannabinoids every day. New Zealand Police see and deal with the aftermath of cannabinoid related emergencies each day as do the emergency departments at our hospitals. An unknown number of families are despairing as they watch loved ones become consumed by the effects of synthetic cannabis, which is many times more powerful than ordinary cannabis.

I wonder what the socio-economic cost would be if someone tried to add up the money spent on rehabilitation, Police and hospital time and resources, the cost to individual families and finally to the public at large – in a twelve month period in Auckland alone St. John Ambulance was averaging 20 synthetic cannabis related call outs a day.

At one end of the spectrum, I hope to see cannabinoids:

  • Legalized for medicinal purposes
  • Of the synthetic ban them completely
  • Restricted to age 21
  • Subject to strict controls on nationwide cultivation of it

However cannabis is only part of the problem. Much worse drugs are making their way into the market both in New Zealand and abroad. In the United States, fentanyl is currently the drug causing alarm bells to go off, as part of an opioid epidemic. As I see it unless we address these other drugs as part of a comprehensive plan involving both the authorities  and communities, there will not be a meaningful gain in terms of reduction of harm.

At the other end of the spectrum, there needs to be a quite different response:

  • Dealers, importers and cooks of methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin and so forth should have all assets and money illegally made from the business confiscated and the proceeds put forward for rehabilitating addicts
  • Aforementioned dealers, importers and cooks be given 20 year starting sentences
  • A nation wide drug education programme that everyone must go through at high school
  • Have fentanyl classified as a licenced GP administered drug only to reduce availability and prevent abuse of it

In terms of communities, people in New Zealand need to step up with perhaps a confidential line that people can call if they have concerns about someone’s drug use. It would be monitored by the Police and give people a way of ensuring no harm is done whilst at the same time making sure they are not harmed themselves. Community leaders need to work with the Police and start having regular meetings, work out a strategy and integrate it with other local communities.

Because the results of failing to do so can be in clips on Youtube and having viewed a couple, I can say right now they are NOT General Audience viewing.