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A wish list for 2020

January 4, 2020

In the first week of each new year, for the past three or four decades, I have looked back through the scribbled pages of my now filled diary and wonder how we survived it all.

Then I look at the pristine unmarked pages of the new diary and wonder what issues and events will fill them over the coming 12 months.

There will no doubt be developments to celebrate like weddings and new additions to our extended clan and there will be sad but inevitable losses among the ranks of family and friends. These are the things we know will mark the pages of our year with tears of happiness and grief and we prepare for them as best we can but we have very little control over them.

There will also be major achievements to celebrate and be proud of as well as tragedies and atrocities which we should be able to avoid but too often fail to do so.

Among the successful achievements for the past year I have noted the campaign to have our history properly taught in schools. There had been many requests in recent years for that development which were, initially resisted by the Ministry of Education, some teachers and far too many parents. Like most other nations our history has not always been a pretty story and there are aspects of our beginnings as a modern nation which haunt us still but that was no justification to lock it away in old books in dusty cupboards where our children could not read and learn about it.

A promise that the Government was going to make rail fashionable again was also welcomed by many but, as yet, it is still just a promise. However given the massive fleet of huge long haul trucks wearing out expensive roads since the demise of rail few would disagree that making rail a key part of a balanced transport future was good idea.

The establishment of a new Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts in Waikato, following a trial in Auckland, was also a success during the past year. The trial court was a response to the apparent failure of the current system to halt the spread of alcohol and drug abuse. There is also the long-standing failure of our system of corrections to prevent repeat offending which goes back many decades.

Among the tragedies of the past year I have noted a number of times our apparent inability to curb the growth of the deadly illegal drug trade, particularly methamphetamine, which is taking a shocking toll among those stupid enough to start using it. Drug use is so widespread that some can be detected in sewage and wastewater. The results are also found in hospital wards and funeral parlours.

Foremost among our tragedies however was March 15 which is etched forever in our history when 51 people were shot and killed at two mosques in Christchurch. We have always had racism, religious bigotry, white supremacy, anti-immigration and many other extremist philosophies. Some are loud and blaring but most form an insidious background to every-day life to the point where it has become the norm in many places. In New Zealand we have been wilfully naïve in asserting that these things did not even exist here and we have paid a terrible price for that illusion; not just our Muslim fellow New Zealanders but all of us as this was an attack on our country via social media.

Close runner up in the tragedy stakes was the 17 people killed and two still missing following an eruption on the volcanic island Whakaari off the coast near Whakatane on December 9. The potential for such a tragedy was known five years ago and government scientists were banned from going to the island as it was too dangerous but tourists continued to be taken there. Tourists who want to take informed risks should be free to do so but those risks should not be taken for them without their knowledge. Without significant limits and regulations on tourism another profit driven tragedy is almost inevitable.

Unlike the natural tragedy of the Australian bush fires, our tragedies have been man-made and we have the ability to avoid most of them but we seem to lack the collective will to do so. So this year, instead of simply wishing people a happy new year, we could make it one by convincing candidates in this year’s general election that we want laws, not hollow promises, to regulate tourism, treat drug trafficking as attempted murder, regulate social media and outlaw extremist groups. That won’t be easy, or particularly popular in some circles, but it is possible and it would make 2020 a very happy new year for most of us.