The trouble with New Zealanders, I’ve decided, is that we’re just too darned nice. We’re decent and anxious to do the right thing. Our sense of fairness, respect for human rights and lack of corruption are recognised worldwide, which explains why New Zealand is often invited to play a bigger role in international affairs than our size justifies.
But at home, these admirable qualities are a crippling liability. Why? Because whenever anyone proposes a course of action that threatens to disadvantage someone or strip them of some privilege, we wring our hands in anguish and say it can’t possibly be allowed. Someone, or something, might suffer.This applies regardless of whether we’re talking about welfare reform, public sector cutbacks, changes to teacher-pupil ratios, new roads, oil exploration, hydro-electricity schemes, mining on wilderness land or even reducing the opening hours of public libraries.
The moment someone protests that some initiative might be unfair to someone, or pose a theoretical threat to the environment in a remote valley that no one has ever heard of, we tut-tut and earnestly nod in sympathy with whoever claims to represent the aggrieved party.We’re suckers for a hard-luck story and ever ready to side with the perceived underdog. This is wonderful for moralistic crusaders and sectional interest groups, which have become adept at exploiting the public desire to do the right thing, and even more skilled at disguising their self-interest as a matter of morality or public wellbeing.
But it’s a sure formula for political and economic stagnation, which is what we have experienced in recent years. And it’s hugely exacerbated by MMP, a system we were persuaded to embrace because it seemed to be fair (always a winning argument in New Zealand, even when it’s fallacious), but which holds the major parties hostage to the demands of political rats and mice, thus snookering all chance of decisive reform.Effective government means making hard decisions that are bound to upset and even disadvantage some people, but this is altogether too brutal for fair-minded New Zealanders to countenance. So nothing happens, except that we continue to lose 40,000 people a year to Australia.
Karl blogs at www.karldufresne.blogspot.co.nz. This article was first published in The Dominion Post, June 19.