Editorial: NZ must get head out of sand

By Annemarie Quill

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My favourite telly ad at the moment is for a heating system.

The first half presents the saccharine version of pure New Zealand. A carefree land of milk and lamb roasts. Barefoot kids jumping in waterfalls.

The second has the cold truth: Damp homes and chest infections. As this is an ad, all is solved by installing said heat pump.

It is not so easy to fix issues in real life. Perhaps because so many cling on to the first romantic version of New Zealand and refuse to face reality.

This reality is one in five Bay people live in relative poverty, as we reported when this paper undertook its Christmas Foodbank appeal. And one in five Kiwi children leave school without basic literacy and numeracy, as reported by the Government when it introduced National Standards into New Zealand schools.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

In a land of cows, the Government is conducting an inquiry into the price of milk.

A Housing Affordability Survey reported last month house prices in New Zealand were "severely unaffordable" compared to household income.

Our child abuse figures are shameful. New Zealand's rates of youth suicide still top the world, a study released last month found, with the highest male youth suicide rate in the OECD.

Tackling these issues requires tough decisions and intelligent politics, not romantic idealism like that of Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, who this week proposed to make te reo compulsory in primary schools.

His argument is that as an official language, all children should learn this as a way of understanding Maori culture.

The opportunity to learn another language at a young age is desirable but the reality is parents have to pay for areas of the curriculum once free: Learning an instrument, sport, or art.

Even if money could be made available for learning a second language, in a multicultural New Zealand, parents and children should have the right to choose whether our children learn Te Reo, Mandarin or Arabic.

Compulsory te reo in primary schools shows how out of touch Dr Sharples is with what is going on in our education system and our country.

It is the sort of idealism which clings on to the idea that the Treaty of Waitangi's promise of biculturalism can still be achieved or is even relevant when today New Zealand is made up of many cultures.

We should be embracing a multicultural society with multiple choices. One that includes opportunity for people to identify with their own cultures as well as those of others. One that doesn't fear foreign investment in our assets. One that attracts affluent immigration. One that holds on to the cream of its crop. If we want to achieve the dream of Godzone, it is time to look forward, not back.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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