Richard Long's parting shots

16:00, Nov 12 2012
Richard Long
Columnist and former editor Richard Long is signing off from The Dominion Post.

Alas, this is my last column for a paper I have been associated with for 40 years as reporter, political editor, editor and columnist.

I can hear the cheers of delight from some readers already, but spare a thought for my withdrawal symptoms. They will be severe.

The column needs to be relinquished as I am joining the board of a government entity. So let me get a final barrage off my chest:

Let's start with grandparents. They are a hugely undervalued resource in the community. I'm not a particularly good example, I must admit, but I am constantly amazed at the numbers of grandparents who have adjusted their lives to care for preschoolers to enable young mothers to return to work to pay the mortgage.

I am in awe of one couple, now in their 80s, who have basically adopted their two grandchildren because of drink, drugs and mental issues with the parents. The kids are a tribute to them, well-adjusted and thriving, and have no wish to return to their former destabilised life.

And that gets me to the point of health issues at preschool and primary schools. Our 5-year-old grandson returned from his first week at school with nits, prompting his long-haired elder sister to demand that he should be housed in the garden shed. An 8-year-old came home with scabies. They are all constantly exposed to other youngsters with streaming noses and hacking coughs.


It is one thing for working parents to drop their kids off to receive early education, but completely selfish for them to expect these centres and schools to cope with health issues, as well, especially as this just spreads the infections through the community.

Get tough, I say. Playcentres and schools should summon parents of infected kids and tell them to take them home and care for them themselves. Parents should be warned, in writing, when they sign up, that this is the expectation.

Asian languages. We live in the economic powerhouse region of Southeast Asia, but our high schools, with a few laudable exceptions, simply do not offer the languages to prepare our youngsters for the huge opportunities to the north.

Australia failed with a campaign to foster Bahasa Indonesia in schools, but is trying again with a broader campaign promoting Asian languages. We could tap into this, except that it will need Prime Minister John Key and Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully reading the riot act to convince Education Minister Hekia Parata and her chief executive. Education officials are understandably preoccupied trying to cope with that 20 per cent school failure rate, but there are compelling reasons for us to also follow Australia and sign up to the Asian future.

Leaky homes. This possible $20 billion catastrophe is a financial and health scandal, with the Government pretending it has a solution, but with so many limitations that only 24 homeowners (of the 20,000 to 90,000 affected) have so far received compensation.

Families are living in unhealthy mould-infested homes, some without hope of raising the repair money, and too many are having to waste repair money on legal bills. This is crying out for oversight by a competent team such as Attorney-General Chris Finlayson and Minister for Everything Steven Joyce. Maybe we could move to the Canadian solution, with the Government funding repairs, to be recompensed on the death of the owner or when the house is eventually sold.

I would be inclined, too, to draft in a Labour Party high-flier and UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne. Over many years I have come to respect Mr Dunne for his independent stance on issues, thoroughly earning his title of Mr Sensible. And while we are about it, could Labour take it easy on leader David Shearer at their weekend conference. He's got what the public relations people describe as the ideal "legend" to make an outstanding Labour leader. He's also doing better than Helen Clark in Opposition: her polling was in margin-of-error territory. Give the man a break.

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