The recently reported scandal re the Ministry of Pacific Affairs living it up at taxpayers expense, shocked me when I read this outfit has 128 staff. This is a typical example of the appalling mismanagement by the current government.
Apparently it’s brief is to monitor the welfare of Auckland’s Island community, who as an aside number a third of Auckland’s Chinese community, so why not a corresponding outfit for the Chinese? We know the answer, specifically, there’s no need. Rather they get stuck in and look after themselves.
But the report resonated with me for another reason.
Back in 1956 I left school. My welder father wanted me to be a plumber which he viewed as an elite trade. My mother aspired for me to be a white collar worker.
At the time the Public Service was chasing school leavers with U.E. and issued an attractive publication detailing the various government departments’ activities.
I wanted to study but couldn’t afford to go to uni full-time so I read the publication. One took my fancy as interesting so I applied and was duly taken on board while studying at Victoria part-time.
That was the Department of Island Territories. It administered what was then called Western Samoa, the Cook Islands, Niue, the Tokelau and Chatham islands. All subsequently became independent except the Chathams, now under the jurisdiction of Internal Affairs.
From memory there were about 30 staff. At best 12 had something to do, When I asked for something to do I was told to read my university books.
For example, it had a staff clerk, a Mr Heatley, who sat in a windowless room perpetually rolling cigarettes.
There was also a Legal officer, also with nothing to do; a German migrant, Dr Eichlebaum. Eventually, I spent most days sitting with him. He would talk about German philosophers, some quite oblique to me and give me their books which I still have.
His son, the late Sir Tom Eichlebaum, was to become Chief Justice. I knew Tom and he once told me that his Dad would come home and talk about me. I was initially puzzled but then worked it out, specifically because talking to me, he having nothing else to do, filled his day. Anyway, after a few months I pulled stumps and walked out with the staff clerk, Mr Heatley’s voice ringing in my ears, “You’ll never get a job in the public service again”.
I vividly recall standing on the street euphoric, excited at the world of then unknown opportunities awaiting.
Reflecting on this I dug out from my library Roger Hall’s play “Gliding on”, a satire on the Public Service which caused a sensation half a century back. Trust me; it was a massive under-statement, at least based on my experience.
But even if on my estimation only about a dozen of the 30 strong personnel Department of Island Territories had anything to do, nevertheless their responsibility was a hundred times greater than today’s Auckland Ministry of Pacific Affairs with it 400% greater staff numbers.
Add to that, a number of privately funded welfare charitable operations providing advisory help for South Auckland’s maori and Pacific communities, over and above many other Government Departments as well.
The incoming National government, based on their history, will tinker around the edges when a much more radical approach is needed. It’s why I last voted for them in 1981.
But I’m picking that ACT will not be a tag-on coalition partner but instead a meaningful one, with 20 to 23 MP’s. Unlike the Nats, and like Labour when in opposition they’re driven by a passion for reform, the National Party’s main concern being to simply run the shop and stay in office.
Such will be the scale of the coming political landslide with Labour justifiably decimated, there will never be a better time for true radical reform.
Not rocking the boat as a policy is why National have dominated our post-war politics, specifically, we all crave stability, which is what they bring to the table.
But there are times when radical measures are required, such as the appalling mess the current government has left us with. Normally this is a job left to the occasional Labour governments so it’s ironic that this time it’s the reverse. That’s a direct consequence of Winston putting them in office when they simply weren’t ready. It was like handing the keys to a bus to a 10 year old to drive.