Foreign place in our country

Jim Hopkins has been to a foreign place, but it wasn’t in another country.

For all sorts of reasons, principally a stubborn refusal to challenge our own shibboleths, we’ve created a monument to indifference, an unintended but shameful urban disaster.

Calling it the perfect slum would be satisfyingly glib – and unfair. But it is the ghetto of good intentions, an ill-considered, ill-designed place created by well-meaning souls who’ve unwittingly turned a 1935 dream into a 21st century nightmare.

There’s no doubt they believed they were doing the Lord’s work. There’s no doubt the rest of us didn’t give a toss so long as things were out of sight and out of mind. And there’s no doubt the benign objectives of an egalitarian society have yielded a malignant result. . .

South Auckland is architectural evidence there is a Law of Unintended Consequences. It’s what you get when you marry munificence and indifference.

It’s what you create when no one asks questions about what they’re creating. It’s an accident of angels, a bureaucratic folly and a public shame.

The lawlessness, the fear, the deliberate damage and the neglect ought to be foreign to New Zealand, so why aren’t they?

Drug and alcohol abuse, lack of education, poor health, intergenerational dysfunction and poverty are among the causes. 

The welfare state which was designed to help those in need ought to have prevented some of that but it too has contributed to the problem.

Welfare doens’t cause problems when it’s short-term assistance for people temporarily in need. It’s not a problem when it’s long term assistance for those who will never be able to help themselves.

But it creates problems when it gives long term assistance for people who ought to be able to look after themselves and can’t or won’t. By giving without expecting anything in return it creates a culture of dependency, and a dislocation from society.

The benefit system gives people the right to other people’s money without making them responsible for using it wisely. Those who give that money – the businesses and workers who pay the taxes from which benefits come- have responsbilities and if they don’t meet them they face consequences, which could include losing their jobs.

Cutting benefits in part or altogether would cause more problems, especially for families where children would suffer. But the opposite extreme of allowing people to languish on welfare indefinitely and opt out of society while doing so isn’t working either.

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere between. It won’t be simple and it won’t be cheap but not finding it will be more expensive in human and financial terms than pretending South Auckland’s a foreign land whose problems aren’t ours.

5 Responses to Foreign place in our country

  1. stef says:

    As a flip side to this, I was out in a a suburb where 85% of houses have one landlord, the state, to visit the local school. The school was in perfect condition, the children were respectful (one opened a door for me) another two stopped to let the group pass. The principal mentioned that he was traveling to the US as the school had a partnership with an IT giant. I’m not saying that this community didn’t have issues, it did, but it is easy to get hung up on the media headlines and a few whistlestop visits every 3 years. I wonder what Jim would make of the local markets on a Sunday or the opera singer that performed a few nights ago in Manukau it doesn’t fit easily with state-sponsored 3rd world warzone that we are told it is (mostly because the people calling it 3rd world, haven’t actually been to the 3rd world or for that matter a warzone).

    As for your comments about welfare, having a strong labour market and economic opportunities is the best way to get people of welfare. There is no point punishing the unemployed for not having jobs when no opportunities exist, it just creates further social problems when the welfare runs. The problem is that many people coming off welfare end up in ‘low wage’ jobs which are disappearing off overseas where labour is even cheaper. Like I suspect you HP, I don’t think the answer is to have trade barriers but you have a certain group that were already poorly educated competing for jobs that have all but disappeared for their non-skill set.


  2. I live in an area where over 50% of the population is on welfare and this what I have witnessed:


  3. JC says:

    Once upon a time about 50 years ago NZ was a developing country, and scrubcutting was all the go.

    In the bad years the scrubcutters were Maori and Pakeha and in the good they were Fijians. We liked the Fijians because they came out on tightly controlled permits, did their job and left the country with little impact.

    But back then, we were coming to the end of the fastest voluntary diaspora on Earth as Maori moved from the country to the city to feed the post war boom of urban manufacturing and the like. The Pacific Islanders came there to work. Immigration fueled new houses, suburbs and even cities, and jobs were plentiful.

    Following the city boom was the forestry boom and the huge labour requirements of planting, pruning, thinning and logging.. and in came the Pacific Islanders. The Tasman Pulp and Paper plant got underway along with the Kaingaroa Logging Company. By the 1960s both the cities and rural areas were booming with new and old products and new and old labour.

    But in the 1960s, NZ lost its way, labour was shed and suddenly the new forests of the North Island changed from modest attempts at self sufficiency from native timbers to huge labour sponges that would plant a million hectares. A little later the infamous raids of PI homes started to get rid of the overstayers.

    Quite quickly both Maori and PIs became marginalised in the areas they frequented because there was no work, and those that couldn’t be repatriated were paid the dole, and so the underlying social problems of a rapid buildup of unskilled labour became our embarressment and problem.

    It all sounds like a soap opera, a Maori legend told with sad poetry, or even a Biblical tale.. yet it happened and we live with the results still; dispossessed and displaced peoples who sat around at night and conjured “Ten Guitars” or strummed the songs of the Islands which quickly became booze nights.

    During the 60s I was driving a 35 seater bus up the Taihape Rd (one of five with similar buses going to other forests) to the new forests in the backblocks and supervising scrubcutting and planting during the day. They were mostly ex freezing workers used to incomes of $30-50,000 even back then, and reduced to a hard physical life on $10,000. They’d never had to walk two miles to the job down a muddy track and swing a heavy slasher all day.. unionisation of forestry work didn’t exist for “temporary” workers or WEPs (Winter Employment Personnel), TEPs and other names. The loss of mana was huge.

    If you want to look for the causes of social disfunction, you’ve found one of them.



  4. homepaddock says:

    Stef – Do you know what makes the difference between the area you visited and the one Jim wrote about?

    I agree about a strong labour market – but unemployment has been below 4% which is getting down to those who can’t or won’t work and it’s the won’ts who are the problem.

    I don’t want to punish anyone, especially as unemployment is almost certainly going to get worse which means more people won’t be able to work. But for example if someone has difficulty finding work because s/he’s illiterate would it be wrong to require him/her to attend literacy classes?

    You’re also right about the problem of coming off a benefit on to low wages – and while I don’t like Welfare for Families for middle and upper income earners I think it helps at the lower end especially for those coming off benefits.

    JC – thanks for that.


  5. Rhys says:

    I agree with Stef. The South Auckland I live in isn’t the one Jim Hopkins writes about. What he describes sounds FOREIGN to me and I live there! Where’s the real everyday South Auckland that I live and breathe? Or is the media content on using South Auckland as a synonym for everything wrong in society? I was born and raised in South Auckland, and I don’t know any drug dealers. If I believed the media I should be scared to walk the streets, I should live in fear of the lawlessness, dysfunctionality is everywhere! But no, that is not South Auckland. A minority may be the cause of the negative connotations given to South Auckland, but it is a minority that I can honestly say I rarely ever see in all my years living here. Show me the real South Auckland!


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