People who gloat tempt fate

23:14, Jun 27 2012
Crushed car
CRUSHED: Transport Minister Anne Tolley stands on top of the remains of the boy racer's car.

Hold on to last week's image of Justice Minister Anne Tolley posing on a boy racer's crushed car. People who gloat tempt fate. Their time will come.

Tolley wrecked a 19-year- old digger operator's pride and joy at the push of a button, but didn't get the thunderous applause she must have been expecting. It was more like the sound of one hand clapping - her own.

There's an art to winning graciously, just as there is in making a political point without making an ass of yourself. National passed a law enabling boy racers' cars to be confiscated and wrecked, and that should have been the end of it. To crow about it, and actually be the one to push the button, is going a hundred yards too far. Justice must be seen to be neutral, not over-excited, especially in high heels.

"It would be devastating for me if it was my car, but I don't hoon around in neighbourhoods doing wheelies," Tolley declared at her calculated photo opportunity, like some simpering Miss Goody-Two- Shoes.

Thus she achieved the impossible: she made you feel some sympathy for a reckless young hoon who'd drive you mad if he lived anywhere near you and terrify you if you shared road space.

Let this unpleasant incident be an object lesson in manners. They are why victors shake hands with the vanquished in sport, and why a haka comes at the start of a rugby match, not the end. Gloating is best left to trial lawyers and other riff-raff; the rest of us know that pride comes before a fall, and are wise to a host of other insights, biblical and otherwise, that come with life's inevitable humiliations.


Anyway, why write off the value of the car? Wouldn't it make more sense to auction it and donate the proceeds to charity?

With this in mind, I'm keeping an eye on the case of a prominent investment banker charged in the Auckland District Court this week with an alleged road- rage incident that left another man with two broken legs and a shattered ankle. The prosecution is bringing 20 witnesses to support the proposition that the banker effectively used his car as a weapon. As is routine in matters involving the middle class, the accused sought name suppression. He didn't get it.

Should he be convicted, you may be sure his car (Audi? BMW? Mercedes?) will neither be confiscated nor crushed, though he'd be guilty of an offence arguably as serious as performing testosterone-fuelled burnouts, annoying fellow citizens hugely and taking idiotic risks with the safety of fellow drivers. In the 19-year-old's favour are his youth, which will pass, and the sheer good luck that he has, as yet, injured nobody. We'll hear in due course what's in favour of the banker.

I'm also unimpressed by ACC's policy - new to us all - of rewarding staff for getting long-term clients off its books. Like prancing about on the roof of a squashed car, that strikes me as making what should be dispassionate procedural matters much too personal.

Still less am I impressed by the bureaucrat-speech currently used to describe the actual lives of human beings. As an example, ACC's general manager of claims management, Denise Cosgrove, told an actuary conference in Brisbane last November of what was then called a secret plan in development. It sure sounded like gloating.

"You might just sit there and say, 'Well, yeah, sure that's just all the low-hanging fruit and the easy gains'," she told the conference, in the sort of jock-speak that currently passes for management English, adding that her workers had switched their focus to high-cost claims because the "actuarial release" would be stronger.

I think what she meant was that ACC would pick on injured people (low-lying fruit) who need help longer than most. I also think she was forgetting that we pay compulsory ACC fees in order to be insured against just such misfortune, regardless of "actuarial release" and any other buzz-words currently being flicked around among senior government staff (plain English: high-rise plonkers).

The Press