Passing the Buck

Over the years I have come to realise and rail that what we know matters little but who we are matters more and who we know matters most. Hardly an epiphany or cause celebre even though we love celebs.

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We’ve decided it’s much better to be deaf, dumb and blind to what spoilsports, Greenies and Labour luddites dare to call cronyism. Instead we should take the lead from the well heeled northern slopes and be grateful that John Key decided to be our Prime Minister and play golf with President Obama when he could have been making mega millions more offshore as a money man – a role we should all aspire to because rich is good and you can still remain common.

images (2)No one wants to listen to you bleating about the erosion of our democracy, ethics, morality and the loss of values of a caring society.

No one is interested, take JK’s word, in hearing anything more about out of order spying agencies, hackers, Cameron Slater, the crushing of Judith Collins, Oravida advertising, Donghua Liu’s political donations, hobnobbing and criminal charges, the Auckland Convention Centre deal, Auckland trains and motorways and Pike River.

And certainly not another word needs to be spent debating poverty, shoeless, hungry children and newlyweds unable to buy their first quarter acre pavlova paradise. (Anyway there’s an easy fix to the housing shortage if we take up curmudgeonly capitalist property developer, Bob Jones’ suggestion and ship in thousands of labourers from China, Indonesia, India or wherever and pay them peanuts. I’ll pretend he never said that! Just forget it.)

So let’s get on with how to make friends in high places and perfect the fine art of a brain fade. It works for some.

imagesYou have to have lots of friends and networks to get on the merry go round to fame, fortune and a minimalist concrete, glass and steel batch at Omaha that costs the max.

You’ll recognise the familiar faced senior executives, bureaucrats and the politically anointed that you need to buddy up to. They’re not going anywhere but just pop up again and again regardless of their previous incarnations.

They are acolytes and experts at self-aggrandisement, self-entitlement and self-validation. Life is very good for this clutch of big boys and girls who are mightily well paid and mightily well connected. They are made and there’s no point in raining on their parade of wealth, status and influence. These titans of the padded desk chair are impervious. They can’t see or hear you. In fact you should be grateful. They’d be getting zillions more if they were in the same role in other countries – and be fair, not all of them are nesting feathers but have done a great job by any measure. So there.

Hush your moaning and stop wishing for a schadenfreude moment to cut them all down to size. It won’t happen and if it does they will be recycled after an honourable period on the back benches. All you need to know is that these people are worth it.

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Multinational fast food chain workers, supermarket checkout operators, cleaners, gas pump attendants, rest home workers, couriers, care-givers, casino workers, security guards, call centre operators, retirement home workers and a multitude of others are not. This includes women who 100 years after emancipation still have no pay equality or equal representation in C suites and Boardrooms.

And while it’s not yet done and dusted there’s been a light bulb moment. A landmark court case recognised the inequitable pay and working conditions of women rest home workers compared with similarly skilled men in different industries. Oops. Someone switched off the light and removed the bulb. Apparently fair pay for these women could cause rest homes to close because “Remember, the biggest cost centre of any aged-care facility is wages.”  And this is the 21st century!

A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work is – rather was – a touchstone we were proud of and naively took for granted, but New Zealand is a horribly low wage, high cost country, even for the basics like milk, with shrinking equality of opportunity.

Nothing should be taken for granted, particularly continuous power and internet supply if you live in Auckland. Nothing is sacred, including the tea break. The Employment Amendment Bill, first to pass the post in National’s third term legislative calendar, takes away the legal right to a tea break and weakens collective bargaining. It is, however, a marvel of flexibility for the employer which is not all bad. And at least there is a shake-up of worksite health and safety laws to reduce the workplace injury and death toll by 25 per cent by 2020 – and what’s more there is now provision for officer and director liability – too late for Pike River unfortunately! It’ll all be in your contract.

But you need to have the right kind of contract. The outgoing head of Kiwi rail had one of those. He was paid a generous bonus for getting the interisland ferry to the “other side” but not necessarily back again because of a plague of breakdowns, It was a crying shame really. In fact he made the nation cry with a maudlin television commercial promising we would get to the other side and then got us all choked up again with a gorgeous scenic train journey advertisement to the emotionally charged score of Bizet’s Pearl Fishers.

Don’t forget it is who you are and who you know that takes you into the winners’ circle. That’s probably why that larrikin in a suit, the touchy feely Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority boss, Roger Sutton remained at his post for eight weeks while a complaint about his humiliating sexist behaviour was investigated. Roger’s employer, the State Services Commission (SSC) rewarded the complainant for her courage by allowing her to be victim-shamed and sent home. Roger, whose contribution to team building was an idea to introduce G-string Fridays, remained at the office.

images (3)The complaint was upheld. But the SSC did not deem it serious enough for Sutton to be sacked.

And so in a truly disgraceful display of public service arrogance, the SSC head, Iain Rennie – against all public relations advice – orchestrated Roger’s tearful exit from the job he loved.

Surrounded by his wife, Iain and Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet boss Andrew Kibblewhite – the top tier of the public service no less who had travelled from Wellington to attend his farewell.

Iain praised him, Andrew hugged him. Sutton’s wife, Jo, gave more tearful interviews and the victim remained silent, bound by the terms of the confidentiality agreement all were meant to honour. Well Roger is gone. Iain is not gone. He is overseeing a review of how the investigation was handled. Bully for him! Dinosaurs are not extinct. Inequity rules.

These out of touch generals do not just strut their stuff on public service stages looking out for the somebodies and down-trodding the nobodies. They are everywhere and have their own idea of fair.

Think of the teenage Pak’nSave checkout assistant on the minimum wage whose boss wanted to dock $700 from her wages when organised thieves ran off with loaded trolleys of unpaid groceries, or the Gull service station attendant who had to pay for drive offs, or the courier from Fastway Couriers who had to pay for a package she delivered that got eaten by a dog. These stories do have a happy ending, thanks to public outrage and Campbell Live going into bat for the little people. That exposure in the nation’s lounge rooms forced double somersault, backflips from the named and shamed employers.

zero hoursThe spotlight now needs to be turned to the awful “zero-hour contracts”, a worldwide phenomenon that employers like to dub as “flexible” working hours. They are contracts that bind a person to the employer but don’t have any guaranteed hours even though the worker may be regularly employed.

These insecure work arrangements have been decried as unfair and exploitative but are common around the world.  In the US, a series of hard hitting stories in the New York Times recently shamed Starbucks into announcing they were changing their shift rostering system, another euphemism for zero-hour contracts, and as the first rustlings on the hustings emerge, a “No Jobs But Crappy Jobs: The Next Big Political Issue?” movement is growing louder – it just needs a national leader to take the message higher.

New Zealand too must grab destiny by the shirt collar.

New Labour Party boss and erstwhile employment lawyer and union leader, Andrew Little, is making a good stab at shedding the union bogeyman of the dark ages and cutting a new swathe for himself as someone in a suit who is at least thinking about what the future – and the future of work – could be as we try and transform our economy from a commodity producer, choking under a growing mountain of milk powder, to an agile, innovator – not improviser – of high value niche products and services in a digital world.

That’s where the buck stops. I am a cheerleader for sustainable growth and I want New Zealand to be a great country on every level. I am not asking for anything to be handed out on a plate, but everyone, not just the chosen few, must have equal opportunity and encouragement to make their contribution and earn a slice of the pie. That’s the fair deal our country was built on.

Something nasty in the woodpile

C-Right-wrongThere was a time when ordinary New Zealanders rejoiced in living in an egalitarian society, comfortable that we all shared the same values and knowing that we looked out for each other.

We liked being a nation of small businesses and big farms, trusted that our banks would always be New Zealand owned, that the St John’s ambulance would come immediately to an emergency 111 call, the police would treat our complaints of a house burglary or of sexual abuse respectfully every time and that politics was an honourable profession.

Most people didn’t know – and probably didn’t care that much – how government and politicians worked, which no doubt correlates to our trusting natures, sense of fair play, decency, honesty, tolerance and celebration of being ordinary.

And once upon a time our Prime Minister, John Key, personified those values. He was one of us, liked and respected because he was so ordinary, so inoffensive, so lacking in vision, philosophy, policy and diction, but admirably rich with overseas business experience ergo really smart and took the tongs at a kiwi barbecue for royals or the wretched press. He was a safe pair of hands and he’d do right by us.

Those were the days my friend. Our world has changed.  Now there’s something nasty in the woodpile and our national apathy and she’ll be right attitude is but cold comfort.

While you may, as ordinary New Zealanders and, if Epsom voters, obey the exhortation by Honest John, not to read Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics, the book has blasted open the door on a vicious, vile, devious and duplicitous world of Machiavellian immorality run by the Nats and seemingly condoned despite the firm protestation by Bill English that these shenanigans were not his “style”.10393455_600x400

Mr Hager is in good company for lifting the lid on this political underbelly.

His book does not have the same global impact or shock, horror revelations as the whistleblowing of Wikileaks, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, nor the Winebox and Watergate.

But we’ve learned and confirmed what we should have known but didn’t want to see: that there’s an official version and there’s the true version, that’s the one not for public consumption, and it beggars belief.

While John Key, in his guise as Mr Nice Guy, has been doing what he does best, spreading the positive stories, kissing babies, charming conservative Remuera matrons who buy his biography, anointing cronies and talking up New Zealand on international golf courses, he’s let himself become surrounded by an orchestra of advisors skilled in the ‘dark arts’, ‘attack’ troupes, his panzer division, formerly known as Judith Collins, and a congress of miscreants spreading dirt.

download (1)Cameron Slater, the author of the Whaleoil blog, recipient of National Party and Beehive inside information, publisher of paid content from lobbyists and guest of an Israeli government-sponsored PR educational, is a titan of venality. He’s a foul-mouthed, giant feral, posturing as a fee fi fo fum power ranger, out for blood and it doesn’t seem to matter whose blood. “Time to let those pricks know they can be got. I want to take out some pollies,” one of his hacked and published emails says.

Mr Key and Team Key are pretty sure that the ordinary New Zealander won’t read the e-mail laden content of the Hager book – only 4000 were published but it’s available on kindle – because he’s not one for reading anything much and he’s pretty sure they’ll be bored.

But it is not the content alone that is the smear the National Party should fear nor should it curse the timing of the publication for derailing its election campaign and leaving policies to rain on deaf ears. It is the undressing of the Prime Minister’s carefully framed public persona.  Mr Nice Guy and his party has been found to be bereft of any moral compass.

10401066_600x400No-one can accuse the Prime Minister of being stupid, or at least so stupid, unobservant or negligent to believe he didn’t know what his officers and advisors were doing.

Even he, a man with only a money-making philosophy, must now know the answer to the age old question: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Yes Mr Key it does. We ordinary New Zealanders are receiving the message loud and clear and seeing it everywhere, not just whirling like a dervish in the blogosphere.

The first rule of politics is never believe anything until it’s been officially denied. Bismarck said that and look where it got him and Sir Humphrey’ knew how to wrangle his Prime Minister into line and call off the wolf pack when he had a slip up.

Obfuscation, Mr Key, is not going to make the outing of this disgusting and damaging behaviour go away nor is trying to shrug it off as perfectly normal for friends and foes alike to swim in the same political scum.

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The Panzer Division, formerly known as Judith Collins

You can try and dismiss the emails as unreliable because they are hacked and the stories they tell as slanted but this defies comprehension when there really is only one possible slant, particularly when the actions of the panzer division, formerly known as Judith Collins, are concerned.

Allegations that this is a left wing conspiracy is really boring and offends the intelligence of ordinary New Zealanders who still think for themselves and won’t be bullied into following National Party advice on tactical voting in blue seat electorates.

Distancing yourself from the obscenity that is Cameron Slater doesn’t cut it either.

Look, we fully empathise with you when you say “at the end of the day, he’s not my guy” (and we know you probably rue the day you met him and correctly judged him as a law unto himself but tolerated him as the son of a blue blood Nat, sponsor and former party president,

It’s not okay to infer it is okay for your loose-cannoned panzer division, formerly known as Judith Collins, to be the “unwise” pimp who provided her mate, Mr Slater with the name and private details of a civil servant he wanted to name and shame as punishment for the leaking of information showing Deputy Prime Minister Bill English had been claiming $700 a week in allowances for living in his own home. The publication on the Whale Oil blog of the man’s contact details resulted in death threats against him and his family. Would it still be okay if the threat had been carried out, Mr Key?

Is it okay in your books for a government servant, even if he is an insider on the ninth floor of the Beehive, working alongside other National Party insiders, to “borrow” information belonging to the Labour Party because they could. Does that mean it is okay to steel the family silver because someone left the back door open and you stepped in? Or do you practice situational ethics?

And why was it okay for you to be so morally outraged that a police complaint was necessary when the media wanted to publish what you and Mr Banks actually said over your cup of tea, which proved it was nothing more than a clumsy, publicity stunt. We right thinking, ordinary New Zealanders call that a double standard.

In fact, National has become a moral hazard – a popular one at that for the time being – but don’t let your smugness make you complacent and platitudinous.

How are we to vote, positive or not, unless not voting means a vote for National by default  – we need team Key to provide credible evidence that it is capable of delivering positive change with inspirational policies and a plan that benefits more than the favoured few.

End of the DayAt the end of the day, Mr Key, you need to earn back our trust with more than hollow words and don’t knows. You are the leader of a party that has acted high handedly and badly and exhibited publicly that the only ship to leak from the top is the ship of state.

We ordinary New Zealanders are disappointed. Your MPs and the legions of advisors, officials, bully boys and girls in the ranks, cronies and muckrakers need more than a pulse to enter the House and the ninth floor. They need to be held to account with a code of conduct that has consequences and public outing if they break it.

It will need to go well beyond swearing self-serving allegiance to their own re-election and re-appointment to positions of power and influence. The parliamentary oath obviously doesn’t hold sway anymore so will the court of public opinion have to sit in judgement more frequently, alertly and noisily to protect transparency and preserve the values we hold so dear and make us New Zealanders?

We’ll be watching you.