I don’t know how or when tacky Auckland celeb and Seven Sharp frontman and ordinary bloke Mike Hoskins lodged himself in my memory banks as a probable National Party devotee and sloppy commentator. I had intended to include him in another blog about Resonating Ordinary Blokes for National but got overtaken by political events.
These included polls showing National might be able to govern on its own (not a huge advance) and the fall in Labour and Green support. I’m puzzled as to why the Greens have copped so much flak, but gobsmacked by the idiocy of David Cunliffe. He won’t be running under any slogan with the word trust in it. Gobsmacked by Shane Jones’ outbursts. Vanity, ambition, both? New minder Matt McCarten has his hands full. Update: the same may be the case for National’s minders, hooray for Judith Collins and Hekia Parata. I don’t think a one-horse race is good for a small democracy with a small parliament where the executive (in all probability a small cabal in the executive) dishes out patronage to sufficient members of caucus to ensure said cabal runs the country. Labour exploited this strategy very efficiently in 1984 and initiated an even bigger social and economic mess than the one they were claiming to fix.
Back to Hoskins, Wednesday 19th on Seven Sharp: It was serendipity that TV1 had been left on after the news. I wandered back into the sitting room as he told us he was going to look at Minginui which was a once thriving but now nearly derelict forestry town near the Ureweras 100 kilometers south of Rotorua. Population 150. I sensed where this would lead. The area is a bit outside my childhood territory but driving the same distance northeast through bigger townships on and around the Rangitaiki Plains (where we had a dairy farm) was gutwrenching in the early 1990s. Shabby houses, closed shops. This wasn’t long after Labour’s self-appointed philosopher kings threw regions onto the scrapheap. Minginui seems more at ease today than not far off crime troubled Murupara, Kawerau or Whakatane West. Neither Te Teko, on a main highway, nor Edgecumbe (now that only a small part of its dairy factory is functioning) look good. Minginui reportedly had a gang influence, drugs.
I wasn’t sure I had got the Minginui’s locality right till I checked the next day. I have maps, dictionaries, encyclopaedias, atlases and usually a laptop to hand so I can challenge the authoritative male voice of frequent error in my search for truth, justice but not the American way. It took about 30 seconds to check and seems near equal to the total amount of research Hoskins relied on.
We learned with no surprise that the town relied on benefits. Minister of Social Welfare Paula Bennett was asked to defend this situation and that of other towns in similar straits. Made over, plasticised, and meek, yes meek, Paula is trying to help solve their challenges. Yes, it was costing millions and millions supporting them all she girlishly chirrupped. I had to rewatch the programme to establish the population size (150) and determine the millions were spent across all such towns. Putting this information together would have been sensible and not raised the crazy notion that it was all spent on Minginui.
Exuberant, gutsy westie “butter wouldn’t melt in the mouth” beneficiary basher Paula was totally unconvincing in her new role. Not that it mattered. Hoskins could be relied on to do National’s work for them. As he did. Impeccably. Did they sort out the role play beforehand? You may recall Paula was going to knock sense into beneficiaries about contraception. Abortion was overlooked but can be helpful if you are already pregnant. If you had a second child while on the DPB it would be off to work when the first turned 5.
Hoskins boldly asked “should taxpayers be supporting people on benefits to enjoy this sort of lifestyle?” All in all a short, powerful propaganda piece. The blonde offsider (more accurately subordinate) briefly tried a more nuanced approach.
A nuanced approach, a necessary part in balanced reporting and comment, requires time. Hoskins didn’t mention near ghettoes of unemployed in major towns and cities or the costs of benefits plus accommodation supplements there. He didn’t even ask if comparative analysis of costs and outcomes had been done? He wondered if towns like Minginui shouldn’t be shut down. I think that was the implication, damn do I have to watch him for a third time, can’t, it’s listed on the website but mercifully didn’t show up. What about Wairoa? Did he mean bulldoze, with or without their townsfolk? AHOY ORDINARY BLOKES.
For all we know it may be cheaper to wait for the slow inevitability of the lights going out. Heartbreaking either way? We weren’t told how much help is available to help people shift. I believe there is some. I recall a story of one man (possibly a railway worker in Wairoa) who found work in Petone but couldn’t afford to move his family. They couldn’t sell their house. Is lost equity covered? What if their equity didn’t cover the mortgage as prices had slumped? Abandoned houses don’t fare well, probably can’t be insured. Family separation often results in family breakdown. The man forms a new relationship, new family. His partner has to rely on the DPB.
Some of the “ordinary blokes” Hoskins and National pitch their rhetoric to aren’t keen taxpayers , others are less ordinary blokes skilled at avoiding them through use of clever investment structuring and tax havens. How much does the black economy (estimated at about $15 billion not so long ago) in which ordinary bloke tradesmen play a significant role, with complicity of the general public, cost honest, hardworking, taxpaying Kiwi battlers? One estimate was it accounted for $750 million in lost revenue from GST and company tax.
There was a follow up the next night, Minginui Fights Back, which I’ve taped. How did I know to do this? I’ll look at it when I’ve recovered my equanimity.