Saturday, 4 August 2007

Excuse me, but Hodgson - we've got a problem

I don't often agree with Jim Hopkins stuff, but this is so worth it.

By Jim Hopkins

An open letter to ... Mr Pete Hodgson, Minister of Health, Wellington and ... Mr Steve Maharey, Minister of Social Development, Wellington.


The truly amazing thing is not the silliness of the idea - that's probably par for the bureaucratic course - but rather the breathless enthusiasm with which you have announced it.

Now, to be fair, you chaps undoubtedly know much we humble folk don't, but we are nevertheless gobsmacked - assuming Sue Bradford will permit it - by your apparent conviction that the best answer to an awful problem is ... the compulsory introduction of a perfunctory hospital questionnaire.

Our heads are being scratched, sirs. Especially since none of the three questions you've decreed that nurses must ask includes the word "children". This makes many of us very confused.

If you'll permit the discourtesy, Hodgson, we've got a problem. And this is it. Some people treat their children in a revolting and disgusting way. That is the problem. Some people inflict pain on their children. Pain that makes us weak - and weep - when we imagine it.

Some people beat their children; with fists, wood, tools, jug cords, or all of the above. Some people torture their children. Some people see fit to punish their children by putting them in a clothesdryer.

When we hear that, sirs, our reaction is simple. And so is our solution. We would put anyone who does that into a clothesdryer themselves. And we would leave them there for a month. Please understand this, Mr Hodgson - and you too, Mr Maharey. We want such cruelty to be punished. Yes, gentlemen. Punished. Look, we know that "punish" is not a word that comes easily to the ministerial tongue but that is what we want. And we want you to want it too.

More to the point, we want an immediate end to all the inducements and all the incentives that are available to those who visit hideous harm on children. We want all the well-intentioned but shamefully administered unconditional taxpayer-funded assistance stopped! Immediately.We don't want our government - through the neglect of its agencies - implicated any longer in the violation and murder of innocents.

Gentlemen, you can do this. You needn't wait for the Mayor of Rotorua to suggest that some conditions might possibly apply to the payment of benefits before saying, "Gosh, that's a good idea!"

Find a mirror, Mr Hodgson - and Mr Maharey - then say to yourself as you gaze in the glass, "I can do that myself!"

Because you can!

We do not want any more stories about people popping into McDonald's before, finally, delivering their brain-damaged twins to hospital.

We do not want any more reports of famished children locked outside in the rain and driven to scavenge in neighbours' rubbish bins while their parents watch TV in a warm, bright house. (You may have forgotten that one but check your files, it'll be there.) Well, not any more! That's our message. Stop it. Now. Do everything you can to end this ugliness. And that includes accepting unintentional complicity.

See, we're not silly. We may not be clever - as you are - but we're not silly. We can read. We can listen. We can watch TV. And we're literally sick and tired of discovering, time and again, that our taxes (and your employees) are implicated in these shameful deeds.

So be brave, gentlemen. Tell your 25-year-old senior policy analysts that asking an 80-year-old lady who's spent two years waiting for a hip replacement if she feels "controlled or always criticised" won't fix the problem. Tell them that asking a nun admitted with a heart murmur if she's been "asked to do anything sexual that you didn't want to do" won't save the life of a single child. Tell them, if they want to spend $11 million preventing domestic violence, not to waste it on questionnaires, but post it as rewards for any information that might spare a child and convict its abuser.

Better still, tell them to write a speech explaining why the Government is no longer willing to ladle out cash and neglect in equal quantities. Tell them you want everyone to know why benefits - like wages - will henceforth come with conditions attached.

Tell them to find a nice way of expressing this old and inescapable truth: "We've all got to sing for our supper" and precisely how this will apply to those being paid by the state to care for a child.

Spell out the terms and conditions of the contract clearly and unambiguously and then spell out the consequences if they are ignored. That's what we want, gentlemen.

You see, sirs, when all's said and nothing's done, the national scandal described in this week's headlines is not that adults are beating children. That is a personal disgrace.

The national scandal is that your government, our government, is all too often a party to the outrage. But it's not doing an effective thing about it.

So here are your three questions, gentlemen: Do you care? Will you do anything worthwhile?


Now that didn't cost $11 million, did it?

Yours sincerely,
A Citizen.

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