Deborah Hill Cone

Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Lift the drawbridge, it's Fortress NZ

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Deborah Hill Cone.
Deborah Hill Cone.

Have you noticed? Formerly swept-up sophisticated people seem to have suddenly gone all creepily nationalistic. It used to mark you out as a redneck Truth reader to hold parochial batten-down-the-hatches-against-foreigners kind of views.

If enlightened, you raved about how civilised other cultures were, and ate sushi. But since the GFC (handy that the Global Financial Crisis now has an acronym) everyone is deeply freaked out. Feeling under attack, they are retreating to the most conservative and protectionist positions.

It is now chi-chi to advocate that we should have locally owned everything, especially banks and land. On the chattering classes dinner party circuit it is acceptable to be downright racist against Chinese interests buying land here - if anyone is too sensitive you can always dress it up as concern about Fonterra's market position.

On the other hand, it is spiffy for the Harvard Endowment Fund to buy up chunks of the South Island. Riddle me that one, Batman. I suppose they're "people like us".

This new closed-door era - New Zealand has shut up shop, see ya - is predicated on a widespread acceptance that it is cool for the Government to own everything: airlines, rail, utilities, even telcos with the ultra-fast broadband initiative.

Trust me, I'm not doctrinaire; I can see there are arguments for the state to do some stuff. But what bothers me a little is that the current nationalistic position - let's become the world's recluse in our remote tumbledown economy - is based solely on fear. We have become a nation of scaredycats.

So New Zealanders don't want foreigners owning our land because they feel a deep soulful connection to our environment. But are locals really much better as custodians of our natural heritage?

I'd wager that most of the wealthy foreigners who buy land here, going through the onerous foreign ownership regime, are extremely passionate about our environment and vigilant about not ruining our natural landscape. They frequently have to follow more stringent rules than the locals who can just put up 400 townhouses on Young Nick's Head. We need to feel the fear and embrace the rest of the world or we are destined to become increasingly, grimly parish pump.

It seems a shame that Julia Gillard was not Prime Minister of Australia at the same time as Helen Clark was our PM. They would get on famously, both being cerebral, childless bony Tilda Swinton lookalikes.

When Gillard swept to power anyone who raised her lack of family was bitch-slapped as being anti-women, prejudiced and, simply, mean. But I think they have a point.

I believe you need to have children to understand what life is like for most people and what their concerns are. Personally, I scoffed at Hillary Clinton's folksy "it takes a village" homily before I had kids.

It is only since having children that I understand the concept of community and feel like being part of it. I feel an obligation to care for everyone's kids, not just my own. Frankly, I find it hard to take parenting advice - and isn't that a big part of what the Prime Minister in a welfare state does? - from someone who doesn't know what it is like to sit up all night with a sick child.

When you have children you become capable of thinking about someone other than yourself. Sure, this might happen to people without children, too. I'm just not convinced.

dhc@deborahhillcone.com

- NZ Herald

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