Top of impoverished is not a privilege

ROSEMARY MCLEOD
Last updated 05:00 23/08/2012

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Rosemary McLeod

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OPINION: So help me, Hone Harawira is right. It's not the display gangs make of themselves that matters, but the reasons why gangs exist in the first place.

That blue-eyed, pink-skinned, blond MP Todd McClay, tagging along after ex-Whanganui mayor Michael Laws, wants gang patches banned illustrates the ignorance of even intelligent people when they demand draconian laws against whatever they dislike or don't understand.

I don't like what gangs do either, but I'd be tempted to join Mr Harawira and wear a patch myself in protest against such a dopey idea if the law change ever happens.

And when I link Mr McClay's mission to advertising man John Ansell, another pink person, who wants a referendum linked to his "Colour Blind" campaign, I wonder what planet they live on.

Mr Ansell says he wants to remove special "privileges" for Maori. What can he be thinking of? Could it be high unemployment, high suicide rates, high rates of child abuse, high rates of welfare dependency, high rates of diseases linked to poverty, education failure, high crime rates and high rates of imprisonment? That hardly looks like privilege to me. So should we hide the reality so many people live with by banning its visual expression, or should we - and they - be doing something meaningful about it?

The problem is not that Maori get "special" treatment: it's that they don't get enough of it that works. The problem is not that we have gangs, but that so many hopeless young Maori see a need for them. Gangs won't disappear if their patches do. Gangs already identify each other by the colours they wear, so will we ban red?

By all means send Mr Ansell a donation for his cause, if you can live with the company you'll keep.

My concern about Maori is that what we offer them doesn't work and we never seem to learn from that. The way we teach and the way we run schools obviously doesn't do it for them, but year after year we continue in the same way, expecting different results. Now new figures from the Government's youth guarantee scheme report more failure.

The scheme was introduced two years ago to keep 16- and 17-year-olds in school doing vocational courses. It's fair to assume many of these kids, who obviously disliked school enough to want to leave, would be Maori; fair to assume, too, that they'd need an approach that was an improvement on schooling - but perhaps not.

The Government sank $52.7 million into 28 institutions to fund 4000 of these kids. At 11 of the institutions, fewer than half qualified in their first year, and in some places fewer than a third qualified - whatever was meant by that. At $13,175 a head, plus $500 for pastoral care, that's costly failure.

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So do we blame the kids for that, or do we wonder about the usefulness of the many people who earned a decent living while not getting through to them?

As for the cost, the kids would doubtless have been on welfare in some form or other anyway, and some would have inevitably joined gangs, for the comradeship and acceptance that pink-skinned people get at law school, or in business and advertising, all infinitely better paid and far less stressful than crime.

I don't like gangs, but I don't like smug middle-class people offering inane, superficial solutions any better.

As for intransigence, there's the ongoing saga of the Beast of Blenheim and where he'll live - or not live - on release from jail. Lateral thinking is called for here, and I suggest sending criminologist Greg Newbold to negotiate with him. Some good might come of it, since Dr Newbold is used to commenting on such matters and isn't altogether daft.

The option most people would prefer, of course, would be a Hannibal Lecter one, with Wilson chained forever in an underground kennel, wearing a muzzle so he couldn't bite people and denied all contact with living things. It's probably not a goer.

- The Dominion Post

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