If there is one great demographic truth about New Zealand, it is that we are no longer one country, but five or six.
The homogeneity that used to be our population has long since vanished. Instead we most resemble micro-states – defined by our differing geography and diverse culture.
So it is that the South Island is now a separate country, an alternate New Zealand. Even-paced, wide and white. Closer in cultural patina to Queensland than Auckland. And you don't really appreciate this stark contrast until you travel there and instinctively reach for the passport.
I feel that way about the East Coast too. And parts of Northland, where Kaikohe and Kerikeri may be just down the road from each other, but inhabit wholly different hemispheres.
I'm sure immigration accounts for some of this diversity. But by no means all. Over the past generation, New Zealanders have trooped in different directions, despite staying here. And we are not stopping anytime soon.
Gore is a case in point. It was once embarrassed about itself. It was known as a sort of hickdom – Kiwi hillbillies. But it has turned its country feel into an asset, embraced both cows and guitars, and enjoys chasing smart-arsed metros out of its eateries. Gore: solid and stolid, maybe, but also sensible.
But even this rural Southland community is being required to fight the virulent infection known simply as political correctness. And it emanates from a most unusual source: the police.
Cue principal protagonist – 70-year-school bus driver Jim McCorkindale. He will be quitting his role this week after being hauled before the district court for assaulting one of his 12-year-old male passengers. On the face of it, a nasty case of bus rage.
But the conclusion was as reported: the 12-year-old complainant being marched off to the court's holding cells and Jim walking free. Because it turned out that Jim was not some child-beater after all, but a child saviour.
The boy – something of a behaviour issue according to his own dad – had been teasing and pulling the hair of one of the girl passengers. Jim stopped the bus and told him to stop. The boy swore at him and carried on tugging.
At which point Jim did something extraordinarily old-fashioned. He grabbed the boy's arm and threatened to punch him in the stomach if he didn't stop tormenting the girl. The boy stopped. Then got off the bus at the next stop and did something extraordinarily post-modern. Called the police, and told them that irascible old Jim had assaulted him. For no reason at all.
All these facts were known to the police before they turned up in the Gore court with Jim in the dock. They were very soon known to Judge Kevin Phillips. And hence the actions described above, with the 12-year-old also lectured about respecting his parents and the need to obey those in authority.
End of story, you might have thought. But no.
Enter Gore's senior police sergeant Steve Gregory. Who says that, given the same set of facts, he would prosecute again. And that police did the right thing because there was an assault. Jim had laid his hands on the boy. Which is also, apparently, why the lesser option of police diversion was rejected. Despite Jim's blemish-free past.
This politically correct madness – that adults may not physically intervene when kids are teasing/tormenting other kids – is exactly the reason why so many teens and adolescents are out of control. They are smart enough to discern that no effective sanction can ever be applied to them.
At worst, they might get a family group conference. At best, they might get the intervening adult arraigned with criminal charges.
It is also the reason why so many adults turn a blind eye to teen excess. Not only are many of them armed these days – knife crime a speciality – but there is no back up available from the police. Instead, their aim will be to prosecute you.
The UK police are experiencing similar credibility issues for exactly the same reason. A perceptible softness in dealing with anti-social teens and their intimidating behaviour. Except their top cops have finally recognised that their relative inactivity – and kid-glove attitude with kids – is losing them public respect.
In the most horrific case, they refused to take action in favour of a solo parent, with a severely disabled teen daughter, who was routinely harassed and victimised by neighbourhood thugs. Eventually, the woman killed her daughter and herself because of the continuing bullying, and the police inertia.
The silly statement of the Gore police sergeant suggests a similar attitude prevails in too many local stations as well. Teen anti-socials are bullying, vandalising, assaulting and swearing at any number of innocents – peer or adult – every day and in virtually every city/town in New Zealand.
They do so because they know there is no real sanction, no real consequence. They are not a police priority and civic-minded adults are thinking twice about intervening.
After the events in Gore last week – and after the official police response – then thinking twice is now over. It is not safe to intervene at all. You will be arrested. You may end up in jail and can't always rely upon Kevin Phillips being on the bench. So, political correctness triumphs, even in Gore. Which means there's bugger all hope for the rest of us.
Sunday Star Times, March 14, 2010
source: data archive