Prime Minister Helen Clark’s attempt to take the wind from John Key’s election sails, by claiming today’s young violent criminals are the children of “the mother of all budgets”, betrays an element of desperation.
Toss in Police Minister Annette King’s claim that the hot summer and full moon have contributed to a mad January in South Auckland and you would have to wonder when Nicky Hager will get around to penning a sequel to The Hollow Men.
If the spate of summer madness afflicting the Beehive continues, The Hollow Women promises to be a pre-election best-seller.
New Zealanders are justifiably unnerved by reports of the groups of thugs who are alleged to have senselessly bludgeoned lovely young people enjoying our great summer without the slightest provocation. And the youngsters who have been knifed to death as they help out in dairies, or go out for strolls.
Too many lives have been ruined or lost in a demonstration of psychopathic behaviour by our teenagers, something we do not want to continue.
My stomach turned when I read news reports passing off the murders as a statistical blip.Middle New Zealand knows the syndrome is much more dangerous than that. Parents of my generation know what happened in the 1980s and 1990s when young men and women took their own lives in a spate of copycat suicides.
How we feared for our vulnerable youths whenever reports surfaced of another such death, particularly as those youngsters became increasingly despondent at the lack of job opportunities after the 1980s sharemarket crash impacted on our disastrously over-leveraged economy.
Today’s parents have a new fear that their children will get in with the wrong crowd and come to believe that using a knife on one another is a demonstration of urban cool.
Or that they will be the victims of some random killer.
There are no easy answers.
The social malaise may have some linkages to the family breakdown which has occurred since the introduction of the domestic purposes benefit in the mid-70s.
This led to an explosion of solo parent families living on the DPB rather than trying to make their relationships stick.
And a situation where one-quarter of families are now headed by a sole parent with all the attendant strains that causes.
Clark is now in her ninth year as Prime Minister. But surely she doesn’t need reminding that National Finance Minister Ruth Richardson’s mother of all budgets took place in 1991.
If she truly believes Richardson’s benefit-slashing budget spawned a tribe of young Damiens then she should set about trying to rectify the conditions.
We want our Prime Minister to seek answers and try and unite us in facing up to some unpleasant realities.
Not play “dog whistle” politics by trying to seed in the public’s mind the belief that electing National to government again would simply exacerbate youth murder sprees if the Key Government embarks upon a hidden agenda.
Clark’s not on solid ground when it comes to hidden agendas. As deputy Prime Minister and Labour’s key strategist at the 1990 election she helped perpetrate the big lie of that campaign.
In 1990, New Zealand was teetering towards economic recession. But the Labour Cabinet kept claiming right up to election day that the Government’s accounts were in surplus.
National Prime Minister Jim Bolger’s plans for a decent society were scuppered when he was confronted by officials just one day after the election with news of a serious fiscal crisis that they had kept secret under Labour’s orders.
The Bank of New Zealand was about to go belly-up, something senior Labour ministers had known about for weeks, and the Treasury was forecasting a $3.7 billion deficit for the 1991/92 year which would blow out to a $5.2 billion deficit by 1993/94 unless drastic actions were taken.
Bolger’s Cabinet had to cut costs to avert a major credit rating downgrade for New Zealand.
These are the conditions that led to the mother of all budgets.
But beneficiaries were not the only ones to feel pain.
New Zealand businesses folded as the recession bit and many Kiwis lost their jobs and were forced into major reductions in their living standards. It was a horrible time because the country was broke.
I’m sure we would rather have been prepared for the hard times ahead by a truthful Government instead of being conned by the snow-job perpetrated by Clark and her senior colleagues at the 1990 election.
It’s notable that Bolger later pushed through the Fiscal Responsibility Act to make sure no other Government could deceive its successors or the public in such a way again.
Ironically Clark is now the political beneficiary of Richardson’s tough calls.
The expenditure cuts made then deepened the recession in the short term but quickly got the country back onto a growth path.
The problems New Zealand households face today – low wages and increasing financial stress caused by the rising costs of mortgages, petrol and food – are where Clark should put her focus. Not playing a two-decade-old blame game.