Fran O'Sullivan: Hard times call for a frontier mentality

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One of the great joys of modern-day Christmas is to listen to stories that our parents, or grandparents, have to tell about the times they also faced privations and challenges that were, in all reality, greater that those many will face for the first time as the international financial crisis impacts on domestic economies.

So it was this Christmas as my 83-year old mother - a farmer's daughter - talked of the impact of the Great Depression in New Zealand. The "swaggies" turning up on her family's doorstep for food and shelter. The incredible devastation then wrought by World War II which left many New Zealand men of her generation emotionally scarred but left those women "manning" the home front with enormous survival skills that many of today's Gen X and Gen Y - who are focused on "having it all" at an early age - lack.

The frontiers my parents' generation faced are different from today. But the frontier mentality that led my forbears to be proudly self-reliant and adamantly against government dependence endures, with a capacity to take delight in life's simple pleasures instead of being captive to a consumerist affluenza with all its attendant dissatisfactions.

Far better to reserve our dissatisfactions for what really matters and can be used as a motivator to change things for the better.

With that in mind I have boiled down my top 10 story wish-list for 2009 to just one issue: How to ensure that New Zealand - a young country that many of us love - draws once again on that frontier mentality which spurred our forbears to make the radical reforms that will be necessary to secure both us and our children a strong future in a changing world. Given the extent to which so many Kiwis have been glued to the State's welfare teat, this won't be easy.

But change we must.

As for my wish-list of top 10 stories for 2008, most did not eventuate. Pity. It would have made a riotously interesting year much more compelling - at least in New Zealand.

- So, Helen Clark wasn't rolled by her colleagues - instead she resigned on election night.

- Many Kiwis did indeed break out in civil disobedience in protest against Labour's anti-democratic electoral finance legislation, but it was hardly a huge wave. The best news is the new Government is getting rid of the legislation and John Boscawen, the man who spearheaded the legal opposition, has come into Parliament on Act's list.

- The climate change science consensus has been challenged by Act's Rodney Hide (but the roll call of scientist dissidents has not snowballed) and the new National Government will opt for a more pragmatic response to this issue.

- I don't know if John Key and Bill English have formally cut a succession deal. English has yet to prove himself as Finance Minister in the most challenging economic environment of modern times. But he remains - like Gordon Brown and the hapless Peter Costello with their respective former bosses Tony Blair and John Howard - the prime internal threat to Key's leadership over time.

- May did indeed unleash the election bribe season. But Michael Cullen passed the opportunity to make a one-off payback to all New Zealanders. Instead his first (and only) round of tax-cuts during nine years as Finance Minister went into effect in October.

- The editors who published the results of the police snooping operation on the Urewera 12 were not jailed (sensibly) receiving, effectively, a judicial slap on the wrist.

- Hillary Clinton didn't get to impose a stipulation that White House interns must be 70 plus. Obama is already turning out to be as much of a babe magnet as Bill Clinton ever was. But wife Michelle would rip his eyes out if he was tempted to stray in the way Bill's more coolly calculating spouse would never have contemplated.

- Winston Peters was the only minority party leader to be tossed out of Parliament. We're still stuck with Jeanette Fitzsimons, Rodney Hide and Peter Dunne and the MMP electoral system.

- State Services Commission boss Mark Prebble resigned early on and Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard finally dropped interest rates.

- But the predominant story of 2008 - which will continue into 2009 - was the international financial meltdown which sent our dollar into wild Whirling Dervish fluctuations before it finally tanked.

Asset prices collapsed here and overseas and with them share prices.

The resultant job losses present a huge challenge to our Prime Minister who has made employment his number one issue for 2009.

On that particular challenge, good luck to you John Key.

Thank you my readers for your feedback during 2008. I wish you and your families a very happy New Year and a fulfilling 2009 where, even if life might be more difficult, we can rise to its challenges and take more delight in the simple pleasures.

- NZ Herald

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