A child learns young that if you cry loudly enough, you're more likely to get attention. Do A, and you'll probably get B. So why can't New Zealanders and our governments so incapable of figuring out the same truth?

Ploughing through the news of last week has led me to one inevitable conclusion, that New Zealanders just haven't been able to get their head around 'cause and effect'. Y'know, the idea that if you do A, then you're likely to get B.

A lot of countries, governments or other collective groups go to great lengths to debate and anticipate the implications of their decisions, but over the past week news story after news story suggests that it's not a great strength here.

It hit me first reading the news of the Pakuranga parents who had organised an after-ball event for their under-age children. We'd just been through a week when many New Zealanders were rocked by the death of Auckland schoolboy James Webster, who died after drinking a bottle of vodka. His parents' grief was harrowing and had a huge impact on many who saw it; it was the drink-driving ads, but in real life.

Some genuine pondering about this nation's pathetic binge-drinking culture was begun, backed by the Law Commission's profound report, with its emphasis that a third of all crime is alcohol-induced and that a nation of four million people spends $85 million on alcohol in an average week.

Yet just days later, other Auckland parents were charging their own children $55 a head to attend an "all you can drink" party; a party that was not only going to be a primer class in getting not just drunk but trolleyed; a party that was illegal.

Exactly how stupid and negligent are they? How is that in any way acceptable parenting? There is way too much middle-class parental hypocrisy around drinking. So here's the first lesson in cause and effect. If you organise for your kids to drink, literally, a van load of spirits and beer (A), you're creating the binge-drinking culture (B).

An interesting note from an A&E doctor is that when the hospital calls the parents of many of the youngest drunks that wind up in his emergency room, they're too drunk to come pick up their own children. Lesson two: You model drunk behaviour in front of your young children (A), they mimic you at a young age (B).

After the alcohol, however, it just went on and on. The government came out with its solution to leaky homes; it would pay 25% of the costs, the councils another 25% and the home-owner, who in most cases did nothing wrong, was stuck with the bill for the remaining 50%. The builders, many of whom have disappeared in a puff of limited liability companies, get away scot-free. (I don't know how they sleep at night, I really don't).

In this case, the government and councils know all about cause and effect, they're just trying to pretend that it doesn't exist. If in a fit of deregulation a government passes the 1991 Building Act and creates an environment where builders can use cheap, non-watertight materials (A), then cheap, non-watertight homes will be built that later being to rot and leave their trusting owners penniless (B). And if councils out-source their inspections to inexperienced "inspectors" who sign of on any old rubbish (A), then (B), as above. And if a government cuts apprenticeship schemes so that untrained young people are appearing on building sites not knowing the importance of treated timber, eaves and the like, then, well, you get the picture (B).

All of the above happened under a National government, the party that supposedly stands for responsibility and hates bludgers. Yet when they err, when numerous businesses fail in their duty of care to customers, they have a hundred excuses why it's impossible for them to take responsibility, and they all bludge off the poor old home-owner who trusted them in the first place.

The next one involves educated guessing on my part, but I'm guessing that my children will look back on the handling of New Zealand's rail system and ask, 'didn't they see what was coming down the track?'

The government announced a three-year $750m spending package for KiwiRail. As far as it goes, it was a good start. The cause and effect here is that more trucks and commuters on the roads (A), means more gridlock, more fatalities and crashes, more cost (B). This glimpses that reality, but John Key's short-sighted statement – that the funding is intended to make " KiwiRail group become within 10 years a sustainable freight-based business that is able to fund its ongoing operating and capital expenditure from customer-generated revenue – raises three questions...

Why are we waiting ten years for Kiwirail to become a national asset? Why limit its focus to freight? And why must it be self-funding, when the government subsidises road travel to the tune of many millions of dollars each and every year?

If you want to cut greenhouse gases, make our roads safer, ease congestion, and build the business muscle of your state-owned assets (B), why wouldn't you invest more in your own public transport and freight company (A)?

Yes, it's been a week where our fine country has once again shown its short-sightedness. Perhaps it's our 'she'll be right' culture. Perhaps we just haven't been around the block enough times to learn. Perhaps our three year election cycle and the upheaval caused by Douglas and Richardson has promoted a wary short-termism.

My hope, however, is that weeks like these stick in our minds, so that we make better decisions next time. Fingers crossed.







Comments (12)

by stuart munro on May 24, 2010
stuart munro

"I don't know how they sleep at night, I really don't..."

While honest men and women are sleeping, these people, with the help of folk like Rodney Hide & John Key, are busy conspiring to defraud a whole new generation of New Zealanders.

No rest for the wicked. http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0446.html

by Phil Sage on May 24, 2010
Phil Sage

"And why must it be self-funding, when the government subsidises road travel to the tune of many millions of dollars each and every year?"

Do you think that repeating a lie makes it true?

Taxpayers more than pay for the cost of roads through the taxes on petrol.  Rail on the other hand needs continuing subsidies because it is uneconomic.

On the subject of leaky homes you make better points but are still wrong. You should read Peter Cresswell on the subject to get the best understanding. http://pc.blogspot.com/2009/11/leaky-homes-part-1-myth-of-deregulated.html

Homeowners are by no means blameless.  They took the cheap option.  I listened to advice in 1999 and paid a little more to build a house that had eaves and did not suffer from issues.  People spending hundreds of thousands on their largest purchase should have paid more attention to what experts were saying.

by Tim Watkin on May 24, 2010
Tim Watkin

Ah, you may be making my point there, mightn't you Phil? We agree, the government spends huge amounts of taxpayers money on roads each year. $11 billion for state highways alone over the next decade. The roading network isn't run as a business, isn't required to make a profit, is paid for by massive taxpayer spending. We can quibble about how much is the right amount, but my point is why rail is subject to a different standard.

Why limit the tax spend on rail when you're spending vast taxes on roads? If you want the sort of outcomes mentioned in the post, you invest in rail so that it becomes more economic. (And before you repeat the "uneconomic" line, KiwiRail is making a profit).

As for home-owners, I said "in most cases". How many got the same advice you did? How many got conflicting advice? How many looked at the rules and thought, 'well, if it's legal and will be signed off, it must be safe'. You assume perfect knowledge, and when you have it deregulated markets work pretty well. But in areas where we rely on outside experts, we need boundaries.

Rather than put the boot in, perhaps you might think, 'there but for the grace of God go I'.

by stuart munro on May 25, 2010
stuart munro

Homeowners are to blame Phil? They did not call for the deregulation - it was building industry types who wanted it. There'd be a pretty solid action in negligence against them if they didn't know they were doing anything wrong - and in fraud if they did.

by Graeme Edgeler on May 25, 2010
Graeme Edgeler

Homeowners are to blame Phil? They did not call for the deregulation - it was building industry types who wanted it.

Perhaps someone can clear this up for me ... I know when deregulation happened - not long before RMA and other requirements were imposed - but when did regulation happen? How highly regulated was the building of those wonderful old houses in Thordon or Parnell(?) ?

by stuart munro on May 25, 2010
stuart munro

There were of course shoddy houses built before the deregulation. But the leaky homes met the new regulatory requirements - traditional jerry building did not meet the standards of the day.

The Code of Hammurabi had building codes; under it home buyers were assured that no-one would continue to build substandard structures. New Zealand should aspire to emulate the advanced building standards of ancient Uruk and Akkad.

by Chris Trotter on May 25, 2010
Chris Trotter

You're quite right about the nation's collective inability to learn, Tim. The explanation is simple: learning would require those whose primary preoccupation is private profit to change their ways. And, as Phil Sage so brilliantly (if unintentionally) demonstrates, that just ain't in the script. Why? Because the fate of the Nation is in the hands of those whose primary preoccupation is private profit.

Sad, but true.

by Tim Watkin on May 26, 2010
Tim Watkin

Chris, profit might drive the scurrilous builders (although they might argue they're simply protecting their family by folding their businesses and hiding), the RTD manufacturers and the roading lobby, for example. But the government doesn't profit from these decisions, indeed they pay a price (tax money wasted on leaky homes, wasted hours in A&Es spent on drunk kids) – it's ideology or vote harvesting.

Then there's the parents... they pay a price too. So there's a cultural thing here, don't you think?

by Chris Trotter on May 26, 2010
Chris Trotter

If I may quote my old pal, Charlie Marx, Tim:

"The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie."

What he neglected to add was that it hardly ever succeeds in managing them well.

by on May 30, 2011

It's a shame because we end up being the Biggest Loser.

by Frank Macskasy on August 18, 2011
Frank Macskasy

"Homeowners are by no means blameless.  They took the cheap option." - Phil Sage

Unless you can back that up, Phil, that sounds suspiciously like victim-blaming.

"People spending hundreds of thousands on their largest purchase should have paid more attention to what experts were saying."

"Experts"? You mean... like the architects who designed the leaky houses? The builders who built the leaky houses? The inspectors who signed off on the leaky houses?

Pray tell, Phil - which "experts" are left to advise the hapless home owner?!

You know, Phil, blaming the victim just seems pretty crass. To me, it signifies that the victim-blamer is unable to really address the root-causes of the problem - and opts for the easiest option; the victim "asked" for it. There. Sorted.

If I may be cheeky enough to post a link to my own view on this issue (which is close to Tim's);


In a way, we do have a collective responsibility here - but not quite as you infer, Phil.


by Anna Finley on November 09, 2011
Anna Finley

Well, honestly I don't understand why i see people complaining in countries like NZ, USA, Uk..etc AUstralia..I mean you guys have such high quality of life, what's there to dislike? Also, governments are also human, there should be room for mistakes.

Anna FInley, from butcher block countertops

Post new comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.