A New Zealand good-news-story

 Good-news-story New Zealand style

Watching the 6 o’clock news on a Sunday night you expect a good news story somewhere to end the weekend on a positive note. Last Sunday the state broadcaster TVNZ managed the impossible feat of literally knitting the worst of the worst of our social and environmental problems together into one good news story. (https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/invercargill-prisoner-works-help-homeless-inside. )

Invercargill prisoner knits recycled plastic shopping bags into matts for the homeless. This makes their sleep on the pavement a fraction less hard and a fraction less cold as he knows from his own past as a rough sleeper.

The problems are :

Incarceration rate

New Zealand has one of the highest incarceration rates in the civilised world second only to the USA, which is fast losing the status of a civilised nation. This is a disgrace on an international scale. The nasty punitive streak in parts of New Zealand society is big enough to be significant for politicians to chase their vote. The “Sensitive Sentencing Trust” – if there ever was a misnomer – seems to dictate ever harsher policies, which have one thing in common. They don’t work to reduce crime. They only satisfy the bloodlust (in the time of the guillotine) of the nasty people. Today luckily it is only: Lock ‘m up and throw away the key. Three strikes and you are out.
New Zealand is the only country with falling crime rate and growing prison population. The only country worse than us are the USA. That has a lot to do with the fact that there prisons are big private business. The fuller the prisons the more profitable the business.  And New Zealand under the present neo-liberal government has also been  going down that same private prison road.



Homelessness is looking like the opposite of imprisonment. It is actually a sign of the same wider social ill. One is feeding the other.
We read that NZ’s homelessness the worst in OECD – by far.
The rampant neo-liberal ideology puts profit over people with the result that the God of the “Market” drives rents sky high and takes home ownership out of reach for most people. Landlords and speculators are benefitting.
The government is letting their housing stock fall into disrepair as an excuse to sell it off to private interests. The government has abandoned it’s social housing responsibility. It of course is just ideology and makes no fiscal sense. They are giving the houses away to their mates at mates rates and then pay millions of dollars to motels and even buying some for the temporary accomodation of the most vulnerable.
Believing in the absolute rule of the “Market” they ironically pay above market rates or receive less than market rates depending which side of the ledger you look at.

It is absolutely shameful and unacceptable that in New Zealand in the winter of 2017 people are forced to live on the pavement in down town Auckland or whole families in their cars parked up somewhere.

One of the biggest environmental problems: plastic bags

There is a growing recognition and discussion of the environmental problem plastic shopping bags pose. They are used on average just once for less than 10 minutes before they are chucked.  Enlightened countries have banned them outright. Others impose a financial penalty to reduce their use.
You don’t have to sail into the middle of the Pacific to realise the sheer size of the problem. Just  look at the numbers. Thousands of tons of plastic bags – an item which weighs next to nothing – end up in landfills. The rest ends up in the environment most in the ocean where they float in a circle in the middle of the Pacific called the South Pacific subtropical gyre. Walk along even the remotest beaches or just alongside our highways and you find plastic bags everywhere. And the plastic does not disappear but stays in the environment for a very long time.
Local councils, consumers even the big supermarket chains and the general public are calling for action.
Still our government steadfastly refuses to do anything about it.

Instead of solving any of these grave problems our neo-liberal government is running down infrastructure, services and the environment. Their main election strategy is to label the opposition as the “tax and spend” party. A brief letter to the editor of the NZ Herald by Michael Burton on August 14 summed it up nicely. It first sentence reads : I find the National Party’s description of Labour’s policies as “tax and spend” quite reassuring considering that National is the “tax and don’t spend” party.

The good news story

The lady reporter from Southland and the editorial team at Television New Zealand performed the miracle to literally knit together three of the worst social and environmental problems into one good news story. And it really is.
A long time prisoner from a rough background, who obviously should not be there anymore, has turned the boredom of incarceration into action. He knits and teaches fellow prisoners to knit hundreds of used plastic bags into one matt to be given to a homeless person. He has turned his own life around giving it purpose. He is recycling plastic, which otherwise would most likely end up in the environment. He gives a little comfort to the homeless who will sleep a little less hard and a little less cold. Most of all he puts our government to shame.

They should be turning around the incarceration trend ! They should remember their social housing responsibility ! They should deal with the plastic bag pollution !
May be they are thinking more prisoners to knit more plastic bags into more matts helps more homeless people. Problem solved.

Despite the valiant effort of our state broadcaster to fill the good news story slot on last Sunday night’s news it is not a good-news-story, not really !

Dr. Hans B. Grueber



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