National and the art of distraction
The failure of this National Government to properly address the big issues confronting this country is surfacing in numerous reports. However, the massively resourced spin machine, supported by Crosby Textor influenced strategies, has successfully managed bad press since 2008 and continues to be effective despite the following:
- A damning CYFs report from the Children's Commissioner revealed that the state was often a worse carer than the abusive families many children were being removed from. According to Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft, 83% of those in prison under the age of 20 have have a care and protection order with Child, Youth and Family.
- The Citizens Advice Bureau have reporting a doubling of enquiries for emergency accommodation since 2010 (over 3,000 this year) as Government departments failed to help.
- An Education Review Office report on infants and toddlers revealed that almost half of early child education centres were not meeting the developmental needs of under threes and many may actually be damaging the children in their care.
- A special Stuff media investigation exposed that not only is New Zealand one of the most dangerous developed countries to grow up in, but child abuse is on the rise.
- The first State of the Environment Report to be published since 2007 described rising greenhouse gas emissions, an increasing number of species threatened with extinction and degraded water systems and soils due to farming intensification.
- The Parliamentary Environment Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright released a worrying report on rising sea levels that required some immediate actions that the Government tried to downplay.
At the same time the Government has been receiving heavy criticism for their lack of influence over the treatment of New Zealanders being deported from Australia. The fact that legislation had to be passed under urgency to manage those arriving back in New Zealand in increasing numbers (despite knowing this would be needed over a year before) was concerning. John Key's attacks on the opposition, accusing them of supporting rapists, resulted in mass walkouts from female MPs that was widely reported internationally.
No matter where one looks this Government's care of our children, vulnerable individuals and families and the protection of our natural environment has been shockingly inadequate. Rather than the Government being held to account for its obvious failings the damning reports receive passing mention in newspapers and TV news and rarely make headlines. It is the distractions that receive ongoing attention instead and the Government is using them well.
The success of the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup saw John Key appearing in dressing rooms and constantly rubbing shoulders (although some cartoons had him rubbing other parts) with our country's sporting heroes. The suggestion of whether Richie McCaw should be knighted received more attention than our child abuse statistics.
While children are still arriving at school hungry, many schools are poorly maintained and we lack thousands of houses, the Government is prepared to latch on to the national grief at the passing of Jonah Lomu and is throwing hundreds of thousands at a stadium based farewell. While Jonah was an amazing sportsman we have had other deserving New Zealanders pass, like Sir Peter Williams QC, with barely any Government recognition. It is clearly a populist ploy to spend so much on Jonah.
The capture of the conversation between Obama and Malcolm Turnbull praising Key couldn't have happened at a more useful time. Key's international image had taken a series of hits with his hair pulling issues, the radio interview where he admitted peeing in the shower and his rape support allegations being reported widely overseas. The positive comments from the most powerful world leader gave Key some breathing space again.
The poor health of our Fourth Estate and a strategic focus on populist politics has allowed our Prime Minister and his Government to float above the mess they are creating and the damage they are responsible for. It is important that we have a strong turnout at the People's Climate Marches in 34 New Zealand towns and cities to show that we aren't all blinded by the spin.