Laws: Failed NZ towns attract losers

Last updated 05:00 20/01/2013
Sunday Star-Times columnist Michael Laws: The partners of all criminals should be held liable if they know of their spouse's illegal activities.

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The public beating of Kawhia police constable Perry Griffin has elicited a great deal of media attention this past week.

OPINION: As has become usual in such cases, the victim is being held to blame in certain quarters - either because he shouldn't have arrested a wanted criminal, or because in arresting the criminal he perhaps didn't observe the strict letter of police protocol.

When the reality is simple: If the alleged criminal has done as requested, and his mates not egged him on, then a group assault on a law enforcement officer would not have occurred. The full weight of the justice system must fall upon them.

In the meantime, Kawhia has no cop and Perry Griffin is the third in less than a decade to be run out of town by local thugs. Kawhia is right, the rest of New Zealand does think that the western township would be a good place to avoid.

The response of the police hierarchy, though, has been intriguing. Faced with calls to boost their presence, police leaders have pointed to budget constraints. There are more than 60 similar one-cop towns in New Zealand, and the cavalry will not be coming. It will be business, and assaults, as usual.

The reality is that many small towns in New Zealand are, in essence, failed communities. Those who live in them have largely been left and forgotten by the country's economic and social progress. They exponentially attract the losers in life -attracted by cheap living and the complete absence of jobs.

For those seeking a welfare lifestyle, the failed town is perfect. There is no risk of employment which is exactly why they go there. Unsurprisingly, drugs, alcohol abuse and ethnic gangs flourish in these odd outposts.

I'm not sure if Kawhia qualifies, because I've never been there and am unlikely ever to have the desire to go. But the Bay of Plenty and the East Coast will provide plenty of examples, and the west coast of both the North and South islands will add to the score.

Indeed, the decline of the small town is one of the most depressing stories of the past generation. And there is no hope for them: they will get worse not better. They are casualties, as are many of their inhabitants, of a world and an economy that has moved too far, too fast.

Neither our politicians nor policy-makers have yet found a solution to them. As they become meaner and less attached to general society, they will pose greater risks for the police.

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They are also inter-generational: One set of losers is providing the next. Welfare, drugs, anti-social behaviour are not so much lifestyle choices as the only choice. Their educational levels rarely ascend out of the ooze, thus sealing any of the kids' future fate.

And so the cycle repeats, aided by migrants from the cities who have also given up.

Then we leave it to the police to do the best they can. Oh, we tut-tut when things go wrong but forget the failed towns of this country that will make future tragedies inevitable.

- Sunday Star Times


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