Opt-out contraception for all girls overkill


Health researchers have suggested long-term contraception be provided for all teenage girls before they become sexually active:

In an article in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Dr Neil Pickering and Dr Lynley Anderson from the university’s Bioethics Centre and Dr Helen Paterson from its Department of Women’s and Children’s Health say teen pregnancy places significant costs on the individual and society, and is associated with higher perinatal mortality.

“We also know the children of teen pregnancies do poorly in statistics related to poverty, imprisonment and teen pregnancy.

“In a worryingly large number of cases, pregnancy in the teenage years is bad for the teenager, is bad for the child of the teenager and it is bad for both of them during the whole pregnancy. Obviously that also impacts on society.”

That isn’t controversial but the suggested solution is:

Dr Paterson says teenage pregnancy and abortion rates in New Zealand have improved recently, possibly since the LARC (long-acting reversible contraceptive) Jadelle became funded by Pharmac five years ago.

“If you use withdrawal as a method, pregnancy rates are 22 per cent per annum. If you use condoms it is 18 per cent, if you use the pill it is 9 per cent, and if you use a LARC it is 0.5 per cent.”

Dr Pickering says there is a good case for making it an opt-out programme which provides adolescents with the opportunity to have a LARC, rather than having to go and seek care.

“For a programme to be effective you need to get as many people involved as possible and an opt-out programme seems to be more effective. You still get the right to say no and in terms of justice it treats everybody the same.”

There is an alternative view:

. . . Family Planning chief executive Jackie Edmond says most young women aren’t having sex before they turn 16.

“We’re overkilling it putting implants in people who aren’t intending to or aren’t having sex,” she told NZ Newswire. . .

Family Planning is much more interested in ensuring there are good services and contraceptive options available to young women, Ms Edmond said. . .

The conversation around contraception also needs to extend to the role of young men.

“They need information around choices and access to services,” Ms Edmond said.

“It’s not just girls who are having to manage (fertility).” . . .

And it’s not just pregnancy that is the only unwanted consequence of sex.

LARC might be an effective contraceptive but it would not protect people from sexually transmitted diseases nor the emotional trauma that can follow early and casual relationships.

Then there’s the question of ethics in prescribing anything for all young women, most of whom don’t need it.

Health researchers might not be concerned about the moral dimension of this issue but would there not also be a danger of normalising early sexual experience?

Or have we come to a time when legal, moral, or not, that doesn’t matter?

If you have to teach appropriate . . .


Teachers’ Council’s disciplinary tribunal member and principal of John Paul College in Rotorua, Patrick Walsh, wants appropriate behaviour with pupils to be a mandatory part of teacher training.

. . . Mr Walsh says there are basic rules to guide teachers’ behaviour.

“They don’t need to be a friend of a student – and there’s a distinction between that and being friendly. Secondly, use of social media: it’s not appropriate for a student to join your Facebook page, to text students late at night in the weekends, to accept gifts and whether it’s a good idea to attend a 16th or 18th birthday party of a student.” . . .

This has been prompted by a blurring of lines between what was acceptable between teachers and pupils.

Teachers have accepted gifts of underwear, and invitations to students’ birthday parties – and later claimed to be unaware such actions were inappropriate. . .

Good grief – aren’t teachers supposed to be responsible adults and role models to their pupils?

If you have to teach them what’s appropriate in teacher-pupil relationships are they the appropriate people to be teachers?

No tolerance for corruption


Friends from overseas opened a bank account here.

It was going to take a couple of days before it was activated by which time they were going to be somewhere else.

The teller said if they left the money with them she’d deposit it as soon as the account was activated.

They had no hesitation in giving her the money but said if they’d been in their own country they wouldn’t have trusted the bank staff.

We take such honesty for granted here but it isn’t something about which we can be complacent.

In Monday’s ODT (not online) Bob Jones recounted examples of corruption he’d encountered around the world and concluded:

. . . I mention all this given the outrageously light sentence of nine months’ home detention accord on utterly specious grounds to Christchurch policeman Gordon Stanley Meyer. Offering to trade fines for sexual favours is not simply sleazy, as the judge seemed to view it. It’s about a principle which is absolute, regardless of its nature or monetary dimension, It behoves the police commissioner to appeal this ridiculous sentence so that wiser heads can send a vitally important message, namely the corruption is corrosive, strikes at the heart of civil society and will absolutely not be tolerated.

New Zealand has regularly tops Transparency International’s index as the least corrupt country in the world.

The only way to stay there is to ensure no tolerance for corruption.

UPDATE: the column is now on-line at the NZ Herald.

Is he respected as a person of good sense, character and integrity?


Questions are being raised over Len Brown continuing to be a JP.

But Alan Hart from the registrar for the Royal Association of JPs says it’s not that simple.

. . . “Whilst individually we find difficulty in how they reconcile that behaviour with being a JP, it’s not wrong,” he says. “It’s not legally wrong, it’s not morally wrong, it’s just people behaving as people do.” . . .

Len Brown’s actions may not have been legally wrong but I beg to differ with Mr Hart over whether they’re morally wrong and while it might be what some people do, that doesn’t make it acceptable.

That ought to matter when a JP:

. . .  should be of good standing in the community (which is not to be identified with material prosperity), and should be respected as persons of good sense, character and integrity.

The problem is that Brown is a JP because he is mayor.

. . . Mr Hart said that JPs appointed as a result of their roles were not covered by the federation’s rules, including its code of conduct.

He can’t be sacked as mayor and as long as he’s a mayor he’s a JP even though he’s clearly demonstrated his standards aren’t those not just expected but required of other people holding the office.

Right to cheat?


Attempts to stop students in China cheating in their exams led to a riot:

. . .When students at the No. 3 high school in Zhongxiang arrived to sit their exams earlier this month, they were dismayed to find they would be supervised not by their own teachers, but by 54 external invigilators randomly drafted in from different schools across the county.

The invigilators wasted no time in using metal detectors to relieve students of their mobile phones and secret transmitters, some of them designed to look like pencil erasers.

A special team of female invigilators was on hand to intimately search female examinees, according to the Southern Weekend newspaper.

Outside the school, meanwhile, a squad of officials patrolled the area to catch people transmitting answers to the examinees. At least two groups were caught trying to communicate with students from a hotel opposite the school gates.

For the students, and for their assembled parents waiting outside the school gates to pick them up afterwards, the new rules were an infringement too far.

As soon as the exams finished, a mob swarmed into the school in protest.

“I picked up my son at midday [from his exam]. He started crying. I asked him what was up and he said a teacher had frisked his body and taken his mobile phone from his underwear. I was furious and I asked him if he could identify the teacher. I said we should go back and find him,” one of the protesting fathers, named as Mr Yin, said to the police later. . .

. . . According to the protesters, cheating is endemic in China, so being forced to sit the exams without help put their children at a disadvantage. . .

I don’t think we’re in danger of riots over measures to prevent cheating here.

I’d be very surprised if it was this rife but I couldn’t be confident that there is none.

If people think they have the right to cheat they must think it’s right to cheat.

If they cheat at one thing, how can you trust them not to cheat in another?

Hat tip: Kiwi In Canberra

Can’t be complacent about corruption


An Argentinean visitor looked out the kitchen window of our crib in Wanaka and commented on the absence of a fence between the lawn and the street.

She asked if we had a  burglar alarm, camera or other security measures.

I said no and that sort of thing would be rare in most parts of New Zealand.

It isn’t like that in Argentina where most homes have alarms, bars on their doors and windows and most people use deadlocks even when they’re home.

The next day we were with an Argentinean who lives here and she told us of hosting two of her countrymen when one realised he didn’t have his money belt.

It contained not just money but credit cards and his and his brother’s passports.

One of their friends remembered he’d taken it off in a bar the night before. The host rang the bar and was told the manager had left a note saying she’d found a money belt the previous night and would take it to the police.

The tourists couldn’t believe that someone would be so honest and that the police could be trusted with the money belt and its contents too.

I am very pleased that we live in a country where most people are honest and are institutions are too but Transparency International reminds us that we shouldn’t be complacent about corruption.

The New Zealand public sector has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the least corrupt in the world. On the day of its 100th Anniversary, Transparency International (New Zealand) warns that there is no room for complacency in the quest towards higher standards of governance. Later this year, Transparency International NZ (TINZ) will publish its Integrity Plus National Integrity System report, which looks at twelve key institutional pillars covering Parliament, political parties, the executive, the judiciary, the public sector including local government, key watch-dog institutions, the media, law enforcement agencies, community and voluntary organisations and business.

“The fact that many government agencies are contributing funding to support the study indicates that the public sector also recognizes the importance of maintaining a high integrity society, and is not complacent about the risks to integrity in today’s more globalised world” says Suzanne Snively.

“National Integrity System studies have been carried out for the last 10 years or so, in countries all around the world” says Suzanne Snively, co-director of the research project for TINZ. “We conducted a study in New Zealand back in 2003 and, as with that study, we will again be going beyond a narrow focus on corruption to assess New Zealand against best practice standards of transparency and accountability, taking account of our unique constitutional and cultural features. Emergent findings are beginning to be identified. For example, the Office of the Controller and Auditor General and the Ombudsman are particularly strong in terms of transparency and accountability. TINZ welcomes the just announced increased level of resourcing of the Office of the Ombudsman”.

There have been significant developments in other areas of public life since the 2003 report as well, such as the creation of the Independent Police Conduct Authority in 2007, as well as in a number of areas where the 2003 Report recommended changes. These include the introduction of the State Services Commission survey of public servants, the strengthening of the governance framework of Crown Entities, the establishment of the Judicial Conduct Commission, the introduction of reporting of tax expenditures, and, updated codes of conduct for Ministers and Crown Entities in 2008. But the picture is not all positive with a number of concerns raised in the 2003 report remaining unaddressed, while new areas of risk to integrity have emerged.

“In this time of budgetary restraint” argues Suzanne “as the public sector faces reductions in funding, transparency and public engagement it is more important than ever to ensure that the best choices are made about effective ways to economise and innovate so that they impact in a way that improves service delivery”.

To test integrity systems, the NIS assessment includes some in-depth research into private sector organisations to assess the strength of their business ethics and processes. To compare them with the public sector, this means drilling down into specific areas such as exporting processes and financial transactions.

TINZ will be holding a number of events this year to engage with New Zealanders throughout the country to discuss its findings about public, private and community sector integrity systems. “All members of the public are welcome to go onto our website now and comment,” says Suzanne. “New Zealand’s reputation for integrity and anti-corruption remains high in the international arena, but that does not mean that it is perfect and it does not mean that it can’t be improved. Integrity in public life increases trust, which is essential to maintaining a healthy and participatory democratic country”.

We can’t expect our institutions and government to be more honest and less corrupt than society.

That depends on all of us maintaining standards and there is no room for complacency there, even in little things.

When my daughter and I were leaving the supermarket on Saturday we noticed a doll on a counter which looked like one our guest’s young daughter had been given.

When we got back to the house we asked if she’d lost it and were told she had.

I phoned the supermarket and said the doll on their counter belonged to our guests and we’d pick it up.

Our guest was amazed and said that if she’d lost a toy at home she’d never expect to get it back.

We didn’t get back to the supermarket that day and when I went on Sunday the supervisor couldn’t find the doll. She said she’d ask the staff who’d been on the day before and told me to call back.

I went back yesterday to be told no-one knew what had happened to the doll.

Perhaps someone else claimed the doll or maybe when we didn’t come back on Saturday someone thought we weren’t going to.

I wouldn’t call this corruption  but I’m sorry that the impression of honesty our guests had isn’t quite as glossy as they thought and we hoped.


What’s appropriate, where’s the empathy?


If you’ve been at a 21st or wedding recently you might have been subjected to speeches with content you’d prefer not to have heard and that many would regard as inappropriate for the occasion and audience.

After one such speech, discussion on it ended with the observation – if people don’t know what’s appropriate at social occasions,  how do they behave at work?

The answer for 2Day FM, the radio station which recorded, mulled upon and then broadcast the phone conversation with a nurse about the Duchess of Cambridge’s health, is that they don’t know what’s appropriate there either.

The DJs who made the call couldn’t possibly have anticipated the nurse who first answered the phone would later commit suicide.

Nor could any of those who listened to it and okayed the broadcast.

However, during the vetting process someone should have questioned whether it was appropriate to phone a hospital to ask after the health of a patient, regardless of who she was, then broadcast the conversation with the nurse who gave the information.

Had that question been asked, the answer should have been no.

There’s nothing new about prank calls and they can be funny.

What’s funny is very much a matter of opinion, so too is what’s appropriate.

At Sciblogs, Michael Edmonds has some rules to judge  if a prank is acceptable:

1) The prank must not do any damage, physical or otherwise. If it creates a mess you get to clean it up

2) The person being “pranked” should find it funny (i.e. it must be someone you know and can anticipate a humorous reaction from)

3) The prank must not humiliate the person in any way

4) You must be okay with being pranked in return. If you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t dish it out.

Anyone with a reasonable degree of empathy would have realised that the call to the hospital wouldn’t have passed the first three tests.

The question to be asked is not just what’s appropriate, but also where’s the empathy?

Denmark, Finland and New Zealand 1 = least corrupt


Denmark, Finland and New Zealand tied in first place in Transparency  International’s Global Corruption Perceptions Index.

While welcoming this recognition for New Zealand, the local chapter of Transparency International is promising that its newly launched National Integrity System assessment will provide a much more nuanced and detailed report on the country’s vulnerability to corruption.

“Our ambitious National Integrity System Assessment will give the most detailed answer yet to the question, ‘What factors cause New Zealand to rank consistently at the top?'” Says Suzanne Snively Chair of TINZ and NIS Steering Group Co-Chair.

Snively continues, “The NIS assessment is more ambitious and comprehensive than any previously conducted. The strong support we are receiving through funding agencies and participants indicates a commitment on the part of New Zealanders to remain a high trust society. New Zealanders are recognizing that not only is this ranking a source of pride, it represents a significant competitive advantage and economic benefits for New Zealand business.”

Lack of corruption is something most of us take for granted.

It’s usually not until we travel to other countries where the institutions and people can’t be trusted as they can be here that we understand and appreciate the value of integrity.

We met the head of an international bank a few month ago and were discussing which countries it operates in.

We asked if it had plans to do business in a couple of countries in South America.

His answer was swift – no, you couldn’t be sure you’d get your money back.

New Zealand’s high trust society is both a national treasure and an economic asset. Forbes magazine ranks New Zealand first on its most recent list of the Best Countries for Business thanks to a transparent and stable business climate. According to Phil O’Reilly Chief Executive of Business New Zealand “New Zealand’s high trust public sector is it’s greatest competitive advantage.”

We need inward investment and we’re far more likely to get it than other countries where transparency, stability and trust are less common.

Quote of the day


“Modern life is so complicated that no amount of terms and conditions can possibly do what they claim to. Consequently, the world stumbles along as it always has – relying on trust and human nature, not Clause 39b, to get things done.

If someone wants to break a contract they will do so. No matter how thoroughly you try to shield yourself with the armour of small print, what matters is whether the parties involved can be relied on. Most people can be. Others cannot. What is written on a page makes little difference, as Bridgecorp investors know to their cost.” Paul Little

Quote of the day


If Tony Blair, a former Prime Minister, makes untold millions trading deals with shady despots in the Third World, is it really any surprise that many people – the electoral peasantry of our political masters – feel that to be honest in these circumstances is to be naive, a fool, a mug.

They are wrong, actually: it is important to be honest for the sake of one’s self-respect, but not everyone values their self-respect. . .

. . . Dishonesty is contagious. And the example our business, political and intellectual leaders give us is, to an unprecedented degree in recent memory, bad, corrupt and corrupting. . . Theodore Dalrymple in Cheats, spivs and small-time crooks: Britain is getting less honest, and it starts at the top

Quote of the day


. . .  It is within the state-sustained underclass that the greatest danger to children appears to exist. And even if it is doesn’t, even if it is merely part of a larger problem, it is the part we can influence.

Forget colour. Consider circumstance. Multiple babies, different fathers, transient partners, a lifestyle entirely dependent on benefits paid by state agencies so haunted by the memory of the soup kitchens that they refuse to make anybody “pray” for anything. So they write the cheque and leave the bridge. They don’t stay on board. They don’t come to the rescue. They don’t even know there’s been an accident.

This is not Daniel Moynihan’s infamous “benign neglect”. It is malign neglect, a breech of the duty of care. It is the state failing the most vulnerable, the most helpless, the most dependant of its citizens. If money is paid for the nurture of children, then those who pay it must do everything in their power to ensure those children are nurtured. If they don’t, they are complicit.

There’s nothing wrong with asking people to perform certain tasks in exchange for payment they have freely sought. That’s how the world works. . .  Jim Hopkins

Quote of the day


. . . “We mustn’t judge” has become the national mantra.

We actually feel righteous about giving up on any belief in right and wrong, so we can simply feel indulgent about a public slow death from addiction and malnutrition, just as we draw back complacently from condemning a vile crime.

We are, quite simply, morally lazy. It’s too much effort to set our minds to the task of upholding what’s good, and condemning what’s not; we’ve fallen into the trap of believing that an explanation for abhorrent acts is in itself an absolution. . . Rosemary Mcleod

Twelve little lies plus one


National’s campaign manager Steven Joyce has a little list.

It has 12 lies Phil Goff has told during the campaign:

  • 12.      Labour left the economy in good shape. WRONG – The economy had been in recession all year in 2008, floating mortgage rates were at 10.9 per cent, government spending was up 50 per cent in five years, and Treasury      was forecasting debt to rise out of control forever.
  • 11.      National has cut hundreds of millions from early childhood  education.  WRONG – ECE funding has risen 40 per cent over the past three years.
  • 10.      ‘We will get back into surplus the same time as National.’  WRONG –      Under any straightforward scrutiny of Labour’s revenue and expenditure  numbers over the next four years.
  • 9.      ‘We will only borrow $2.6 billion more than National over the next three  years.’  WRONG – Latest calculation is $15.6 billion extra over four  years (excluding the Greens).
  • 8.      ‘Labour would forgo power company dividends and reduce prices.’       WRONG – Labour now says it will keep dividend income in government  accounts.
  • 7.      ‘National will sell Kiwibank’ – WRONG
  • 6.      ‘Borrowing money to buy assets in the Super Fund is not borrowing.’       YEAH RIGHT
  • 5.      Fruit and vegetable prices ‘continue to spiral upward’.  WRONG –      currently same price as November 2008.
  • 4.      Prices have risen four times faster than wages in past three years.      WRONG – After tax wages up 18 per cent in last three years, prices up 8      per cent.
  • 3. Mixed ownership means forgoing dividends of $6-700 million per year.  WRONG      – Actually, around $220 million per year, and save that amount at least in reduced interest.
  • 2. The  income gap withAustralia has widened.  WRONG – After tax incomes here have risen faster thanAustralia over the past three years.
  • 1. Police recruitment being cancelled for all of next year.  WRONG – One intake only postponed      two months because of increased staff retention.

“Labour said they would campaign on the issues, but in fact they’ve gone back to the old Labour way of making things up, and hoping if they make a false allegation often enough people would start to believe it.”

Lindsay Mitchell has another lie: “New Zealand has the highest youth unemployment rate in the developed world.” . . . .

The rate for 15-24 year-olds is currently 17.3%

This is lower than the US, the UK, France, Finland, Sweden, Chile, the Czech Republic, Italy, Belgium and a few others.

Kiwiblog has a link to Sean Plunket’s interview with Goff  this morning in which the latter refuses to admit he’s wrong about police recruitment.

And Whaleoil has the tweet of the day:

Did Phil Goff really not know his police numbers claims were a sack of excrement? Or was it a lie to scare people into voting Labour?

about 5 hours ago via HootSuiteReplyRetweetFavorite


An accident?


Quote of the day:

Anyone gullible enough to swallow the story the taping of the Key-Banks tea party last week was inadvertent, as the Herald on Sunday claimed? The reality is Sunday tabloids don’t cover events other media attend during the week, unless they can get an exclusive. And the only way to get an exclusive of the tea party was by way of subterfuge. But you have to admire the HoS brazen effrontery in claiming it had acted ethically. And how about those politicians who in one breath said it would be illegal to tape a private conversation, and, in the next, said John Key was panicking in filing a complaint with the police? Trans Tasman

Whether or not people are swallowing the story, the latest One News Colmar Brunton poll shows the issue hasn’t done much damage to National  and has done nothing to help Labour.

It also shows that the vandalism of National’s signs by a now-former member of the Green Party hasn’t cost it any support.

The poll had National dropping a point to 53%, Labour down to a 10-year low of 26%, the Green Party up to 13% and, thankfully, New Zealand First on only 2.2%.

If you can’t trust them with the rules you can’t trust them to rule


What can you say about a party that breaks the rules it helped to enact, makes a half-hearted apology, says it won’t do it again then does it again while under investigation by the police?

Whaleoil has a flyer that was delivered in West Auckland yesterday.

It has the parliamentary crest which means you and I paid for it. That is stretching the rules because it is for political not parliamentary purposes.

It has no authorisation statement. That is breaking the rules.

What does it say about Labour?

They’re broke and so desperate they’ll stretch the rules around parliamentary funding and they’ll break the law – again – even while under investigation for the same offence.

If you can’t trust a party to work within the rules you can’t trust them to rule.

Drs shouldn’t need court approval to do no harm


“How aggressive do you want us to be in treating Tom?” the doctor asked.

He was referring to our baby who had a degenerative brains disorder, had stopped breathing, been revived and taken to hospital.

We said that if he was fighting for himself he should be helped but if it came down to using technology to prolong the inevitable he should be left alone.

A few hours later another doctor asked the same question and I gave the same answer. Tom died a few minutes later, in my arms.

Nearly seven years later Tom’s brother Dan stopped breathing. The registrar treating him asked the nurse to get the crash team but I said “no”.

The paediatrician in charge of Dan’s care had discussed this situation with us when he was only a few weeks old and it was obvious he had the same condition which had killed Tom. The consultant’s advice was that if something life threatening happened, Dan shouldn’t be treated.

I explained this to the registrar who asked me if I was sure. I said “yes,” and he said, “I think that’s the right decision.”

That was 17 years ago tomorrow and I thought that this sort of  situatio, while not common-place, wouldn’t be unusual. Life is fatal and not treating someone who is terminally ill can sometimes be the best way of doing no harm.

I thought that was accepted practice.  But just a couple of weeks ago a special court was convened at night to determine whether a health board’s decision not to do surgery on a terminally ill boy would amount to homicide.

A judge ruled it did not, finding it was in accordance with “good medical practice” not to do the life-prolonging operation. The seven-year-old boy died the next day.

This sort of decision shouldn’t be taken lightly but I don’t understand why there was a need to take it to court. As Dr Richard McGrarth says at Not PC:

 I find it disturbing that a court should even be considering whether they can force a surgeon to operate on anyone, or charge him with homicide if he declines to operate and the patient then dies of natural causes.

I have no doubts that not treating my sons was the right thing to do.

If I was in a similar position with a similar prognosis I’d make the same decision again and I’d be very upset if I had to go to court to protect the doctors I was asking to withhold treatment.

Doctors shouldn’t need a judge’s approval to do nothing when that is the best way to do no harm.

Pak and Steal


Self-service check-outs at supermarkets save time for customers and wages for the business but they also provide opportunities for the dishonest.

Expensive fruit and vegetables are keyed in as cheaper ones; the inexpensive bottle of wine is scanned, the dearer one put in the bag and the cheaper one scanned again.

These are just a couple of the tricks a supermarket owner told me his staff had caught customers trying.

One or two items is bad enough. Some opportunistic shoppers took advantage of an electronic glitch which opened a Hamilton Pak and Save supermarket with no staff and turned it into Pak and Steal:

“I actually believe a lot of these people just came in today innocently to shop,” says security guard Basil Way.

He’s been reviewing the footage of the confused shoppers.

“People have the opportunity to be honest, or be dishonest. Or just run for the hills,” he says.

Management says it’s highly embarrassed by what’s happened and says thanks to a quick police response – they didn’t lose too much.

The management says if any of the thieves come in and pay for what they took, the money will be donated to the Red Cross for Christchurch.

And it warns that it already knows who some of them are, because they’re regular customers.

What saddened me more was that some people who were asked what they’d have done had they found the shop unstaffed  appeared to find nothing wrong in the thefts and said they’d have taken the groceries too.

That makes them not only dishonest but unashamed to admit it on national television.

Is it too much to hope they are a tiny minority or is honesty no longer the norm?

Doing the right thing needed to change culture


From the time I did lifesaving at high school I worried that I’d be called on to use what I’d learned but panic and not be able to do it.

The only time I’ve had to do CPR was the night our son stopped breathing. Those long ago lifesaving lessons had been reinforced by more recent ones before we’d left hospital with Tom and I automatically did what I’d been taught to do.

There weren’t a lot of options that night, but sometimes the situation isn’t so clear-cut. What if someone needed help and I didn’t recognise it, if I didn’t realise how serious the situation and made the wrong decision to not seek medical aid?

It appears this is what happened the night James Webster died.

When I saw his parents on television at the time I was amazed at how measured they were in their response, not casting blame on the people who’d been with their son, not asking what happened, how it had been allowed to happen and why no-one did anything to help him.

They still aren’t casting blame and they’re not saying James wasn’t at fault,  but they are asking questions and they’re not getting many answers.

Auckland mayor John Banks’ son was at the party and:

Banks is one of the few parents associated with that fatal night, to front up to the Websters as they desperately seek to find out exactly how their son died.

It is up to the coroner to determine what happened that night but – if the story as reported is accurate – others at the party could help the Websters put together the pieces of the puzzle over their son’s death much sooner.

One of the things which can help people come to terms with the death of someone they love, is knowing that some good can come from it and that lessons have been learned which could prevent a similar tragedy.

After meeting the Webster family, Banks grounded his son and sent him on a first aid course.

“He now knows and can recognise that when someone’s in trouble with alcohol he calls 111 – had it happened on that night James Webster would still be alive.

“I say as a father – there but for the grace of God go I.”

. . . Reporter Mark Crysell asked Banks what he said to Alex after James’ death. Banks, whose own mother drank herself to death, had an emotional response.

“Well I said to Alex this is very sad … for our families and you’re going to have to stay home and not go out at night until you’ve undertaken a comprehensive first aid course so that you understand the dangers of alcohol.”

But what of the other people there – the young people and the adults who were supervising them – who haven’t fronted up to the Websters?

Have they learned from the experience and changed?

Have all of them learned that unconsciousness is a sign of something badly wrong and it’s better to call for an ambulance for a false alarm than delay over something serious?

Has none of them drunk to excess, or encouraged someone else to do so, since James’ death?

And why haven’t they all done what they can to help the Websters?

Until they do, James’ parents won’t be able to piece together what happened. Nor will they have the comfort of knowing that those who were there have learned enough to ensure they and the people they’re with drink sensibly and safely in future.

It is dangerous to make judgements on information gained from a television story, but if this one was fair, the other people at the party should do the right thing, meet the Websters and help them understand the steps which led to their son’s death.

The government announced proposals last week to change liquor laws. The one proposal which might help prevent a repeat of this tragedy is the one which will make it illegal to supply alcohol to anyone under 18 without parental approval.

But even that law will only be effective if there is a culture change as well, one that means drunkenness isn’t acceptable and drinking to excess isn’t funny, it’s stupid and it’s dangerous.

The people who were at the party could be part of the culture change which is needed to prevent a similar tragedy happening to someone else. They could start by talking about it to the Websters.

Any  of us might not recognise how seriously ill someone was and make the wrong decision about calling for help. But I’d like to think that if I did and someone died as a result, I’d have the courage to face the family and help them understand what happened.

UPDATE: Apropos of this Roarprawn posts on teenage hell.

Question for accountants useful for politicians


An accountant had a business failure as a result of which he lost almost everything.

Many of his former clients wondered how they could trust him to do his best with their financial affairs when he’d failed so spectacularly with his own.

That’s not a bad question to ask of politicians too.

I’d have thought someone’s attitude to the public purse might also be an important consideration if they were seeking election as  mayor.

If polls on mayoral elections in Auckland and Christchurch are to be believed, the majority of voters aren’t particularly worried about that.

If they were Jim Anderton’s big $100,000 trip to Europe   and spa treatments charged to his ministerial credit card  – against the rules, though later repaid  – and Len Brown’s misuse of his mayoral credit card would put them well behind but recent polls put both are in front.

I know little about local body affairs in either city. But I am sorry that character – about which attitude to spending public money on private purcahses  says much – doesn’t seem to count.

It’s about character


The glovebox in the stock agent’s car was full of petrol vouchers.

The friend who saw them there asked why so many. The agent without a blush said, he’d bought them on the company petrol card.

Misuse of cards isn’t confined to ministers and Michelle Boag has just made a very good point on Q&A – it comes down to character.

Some people are mean and will claim every cent to which they are entitled and more, others won’t claim anything, most will err on the side of caution when making legitimate claims.

Some people have left comments wondering about Helen Clark and Heather Simpson. Any regular reader will know that I am not a fan of either of them but I will be very surprised if there is anything untoward on their cards. Labour under Clark was very good at spending taxpayers’ money on policies to help other people who may or may not have needed it, but she was not personally extravagant.

The only thing that’s been commented on her card so far is a $19 pair of gumboots. That’s very cheap, the last pair I bought cost around $100.

People who misused their cards deserve the opprobrium being heaped on them but it wasn’t every minister who did and some of the expenses being queried are legitimate.

If people are running the country and travelling the world as part of their duties we can’t expect them to stay in backpackers and eat at street stalls.

I might also accept them putting everything on the minsiterial card and including a cheque for personal expenses when they sent receipts.

But given some can’t be trusted it would be better to leave them to pay on their own cards then claim back legitimate expenses.

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