Tragic life of JJ Lawrence

05:00am 18 Nov 2012


Another month, another dead Maori child. In a country well used to appalling child-abuse statistics, the conviction of Joel Loffley for the murder of 2-year-old "JJ" Lawrence still has the capacity to shock.

All the usual ingredients are present: ethnicity, welfare dependence, drugs, previous violence and the feral boyfriend. But there is another ingredient that we often overlook - the feckless and useless mother who sets up her child for harm.

A jury determined Joel Loffley's fate. A man consumed by cannabis, crime and a nasty propensity for violence and domestic abuse.

But it is the mother - Josephine Lawrence - who should now attract our attention.

Because she should have been standing beside Loffley in the dock and, based on her own sworn evidence, seems significantly responsible for her son's death.

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Usual snake versus mongoose

05:00am 07 Oct 2012


When Education Minister Hekia Parata flipped the bird at the PPTA this past week - by advancing the causes of teacher pay performance and pronunciation - she drew the predictable response.

The PPTA is essentially a division of the Labour Party so there has never been any respite in the struggle between ministers and union. It's snake-versus-mongoose stuff and often imbued with the same death imperative.

And yet this past week was a perfect reminder that education is far too important to be left to educators. And to politicians. Because those of us who are its consumers - either as pupils or parents - tend not to get a look in.

Which is why, with all its flaws, we have embraced national standards. We love the idea of knowing how our children are really doing. And national standards forces teachers to tell us that.

Of course the revolution has taken place in the primary sector - not the secondary sector haunted by the PPTA. So the latter and its concerns are pretty much irrelevant at the moment: the primary sector is commanding the prime attention. And so it should.

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Inquiry needed over paedophile

05:00am 26 Aug 2012


If there is one thing that was obvious about paedophile deputy principal James Parker this week, it is that there will be more victims.

Despite his tearful and tactical confession, Parker exhibits the mind of a sex offender by seeking public sympathy and to diminish his offending. He has claimed that an errant third party, his sickness, led him astray and his defence lawyer has blamed school authorities.

But the truth is that Parker was the classic groomer from day one. He deliberately sought out young Maori boys from dysfunctional families and pretended to care.

One can only imagine the cumulative effect of the kids' lifestyles - and now this. Northland, and the justice system, will be reaping the consequences for decades.

Incredibly Education Minister Hekia Parata has refused to launch her own inquiry into this scandal. She claims a report released earlier last week, on serial fraudster Te Rito Henry Miki, tells her all she needs to know.

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End of ways

05:00am 01 Jul 2012


All she wanted was a plate of savoury mince. All I wanted was a cheese toastie, a cream doughnut and a spearmint milkshake.

Noon, Saturday. We were queuing at the coffee bar at the local mall. Around us people squirted wasabi on their sushi and sopped up orange butter chicken with their naan. They asked for extra hummus on their lamb kebab and placed flimsy wontons on their towering stacks of noodles and black bean beef.

She was elderly, unkempt and musty, a woman beyond living alone, she had pushed in front of me, and I let it pass. It wasn't much to ask, surely. A plate of savoury mince. But the cashier's English didn't extend to ground grey beef, mixed with frozen corn, peas and diced carrot, and he could make no sense of her increasingly furious request. Spittle collected in the corners of her mouth and her eyes grew wild.

I tried to help. To translate and to mediate. Not serve here, he said, finally, holding up empty hands.

What do you have to do to get a decent meal around here, she spat. At me, at him, at modern society. And she shuffled off, muttering that the world was coming to an end.

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Water off a duck's back

05:00am 15 Jul 2012


Whether it's viewing Pixar's latest epic or Tinkerbell's candy-coated fluff, we are but slaves to kiddish command. Fortunately, movie moguls understand our sense of school holiday entrapment and try to enliven our gloom with their wry and sly fare.

While the kids laugh at the slapstick, we guffaw at the cult references and re-appreciate old-fashioned morality tales. So how instructive this week that the Maori Party should provide their own holiday rendition of The Boy Who Cried Wolf as they threaten, yet again, to uncouple from the National Party over something not very important.

Prime Minister John Key is their latest whipping boy because he had the temerity to express a truth: that the Waitangi Tribunal has no powers to mandate or manipulate legislation. That any recommendations it may care to make, are as persuasive as politics allows. Its latest hearing – designed to stall the Government's partial privatisation of its energy companies – is likely to be yet another example of excess. A waste of time, money, effort and energy.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia has pronounced herself mortally offended by such observation. She is seeking urgent talks with the prime minister in an effort to avert a crisis of her own making.

An informal survey of the party's membership is under way. The Government plane is in danger, political media tell us, of losing its left wing. Or at least its left rudder. Which won't happen.

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