Are we there yet? Hmmm by Anna Sutton

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I grew up in the 1970s.

Im one of those people who automatically tap my feet to disco music. I cant help it. We were the era of big families. If you were an only child, we felt sorry for you. Kids of my generation roamed the neighbourhood being in and out of each others houses. We ran in slow motion, like the Six Million Dollar Man and stared intensely into the distance pretending our eyes were bionic.

We swam like the Man from Atlantis (or tried too) and drew the bridge of the Star Trek enterprise on some logs left in a farmers paddock. Everyone wanted to be Mr Spock because you got to say: thats not logical whenever anyone asked you a question. We argued about who was cooler: the Osmonds or the Jacksons.

For the record: I always backed the Jacksons.

We danced disco (God help us) with the finger pointing and hip wiggling. Disco would be superseded by break dancing and Michael Jacksons moonwalk. My attempts at the moonwalk were only slightly better than Boys in the movie. Friends from that era would disagree with me and say they were much, much worse.

Our takeaways were fish and chips. We got fizzy drink on special occasions and you could earn some money by recycling the glass bottles at the local dairy. The most lucrative were milk bottles (actual glass ones and not the lollies). I once sold mums to get some salt and vinegar chips, and a coke ice block. Mum well, lets just say, she was not happy.

We watched Bastion Point and the Land March on a black and white television. By the time the Springbok Tour came along, we got to see it in colour. We were the generation influenced by those pivotal movements, but most of us were too young (or not allowed) to participate. The change that would directly affect us came via the Fourth Labour Government and is known as Rogernomics.

Its probably hard to imagine today, but when we were growing up, work was plenty. In our early teens we were recruited straight out of high school to fill the labour shortages in the orchards. Many of us had part-time jobs after school (the milk run if you were in the first XV), the local dairy, baby-sitting etc, but the orchard jobs in the school holidays? They were the big earners. Most of us went to work as soon as we could and tried to stay working even when we were supposed to be back at school. This prompted our school principal to ring our parents and demand we return. Some kids returned, some ignored the warnings and took their chances. Others, who were 15, left and kept working full-time. When it came to school leaving age people either left school to go straight to work, Polytech, trade training schemes or onto higher education. Everyone I knew was either in work or training to go to work. The opportunities seemed endless and everyone I knew was pretty optimistic. We werent raised to think of work being in short supply, but come 1987 with the stock market crash, things changed and not for the better. My old school mate, Philip Solarz, became the face of that crash. Hes the person holding the phone above his head with a look of complete shock on his face.

The implementation of Rogernomics into our lives was done with a speed that was breathtaking.

Worse, it was characterized as a good and of benefit to all marginalized groups, especially Maori. They told us they wanted to level the playing field so we could all compete equally. You still hear remnants of this argument today, but now theyre couched in notions of Maori privilege and supported by the party Roger Douglas fled too after hed left Labour. I know very few Maori that benefited from the reforms. I know far more that were adversely affected by them and bore the brunt. Work-wise, our area was decimated. The jobs we took for granted virtually dried up. People who had been trained for specific roles were made redundant and struggled to find employment. The jobs that many people did were privatized or shipped overseas.

To top it off, the general message (similarly to today) was that people who were unemployed were somehow responsible and if you wanted work you just had to look harder.

When the National government took over in 1990, they, who had campaigned on the return to a fair and decent society, continued the reforms. We were in the position that there was no real difference between the two major parties on economic policy. They just differed on social. We changed the electoral system from FPP to MMP to slow them down and provide more options. Now this system is under review. I hope when people vote in November, they remember why we changed the electoral system to one that provided balance in parliament. Governments should not enjoy the unbridled power that comes under an FPP system, where parties can make promises to New Zealanders and when they receive the reins, ignore them completely until the next election rolls around.

For me, the last 30 years have been the era of benign neglect which allowed good people and good ideas to be thrown on the scrap heap, and left there. The path we took led us into a cul-de-sac and it is time to rethink our positions.

Rogernomics trickle down theory was a myth or worse, they were literally trickling on us. Quite frankly, I think we deserve better and since the recession, people have been rethinking where we were at, and where we should go. If there is one thing I would like to see return is the sense of optimism and hope. This can only come from developing a shared purpose and vision that values its people, rather than treating them like economic collateral.

Anna Sutton
Are We There Yet? Contributor
July 2011

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