Deborah Hill Cone

Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: An expensive lesson in snobbery

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Allan Hubbard believed his self-righteous hype - sadly, so did we.

Deborah Hill Cone.
Deborah Hill Cone.

On June 18, two days before Commerce Minister Simon Power made the shock announcement that he had put Allan and Jean Hubbard's affairs under statutory management, I wrote that the Crown Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme could be called the "We love you South Canterbury Finance Scheme".

I was right. Back then I was confused why the Government had made the move to extend the scheme when it appeared it was solely for one company.

I'm still confused. An Official Information Act request for all the Treasury correspondence and advice on the issue might be revealing. Of course one is unlikely to find a drongo-ish official has been dumb enough to actually write down what was really going on: politicians were just pandering to sentiment.

The Government knew it would look bad - as if it had caused the collapse - if SCF failed just as the scheme ended. All the emotion generated by Hubbard didn't help.

There has been quite a bit written about the cult of Hubbard and his affectation of having an old VW and so on. But the phenomenon is bigger than this one man.

Hubbard is a product of Canterbury's peculiar culture. If you don't venture down there much, you may not realise there is a unique social micro-climate centred south of Christchurch - the area where men all wear RM Williams boots and Aertex shirts, and women have their collars turned up.

It started with the first four ships and all that revolting Debrett's Peerage blueblood toffeeness but has mutated into a local aristocracy that exerts a curiously powerful influence on the entire country. That's nearly $1.8 billion of influence.

On the face of it the Canterbury culture appears admirable based as it is on values of honour and noblesse oblige; the kind of "welcome to the club, old boy" code of being noble, looking out for other people's interests and being seen to "do the right thing".

Wearing threadbare tweeds and eschewing conspicuous consumption is all part of the "trust us" schtick.

The nuances of class are all rabidly noted ("What school did he go to?") but part of the bogusness is to pretend money doesn't matter. What a load of baloney.

It is this kind of reverence for class which led gullible New Zealanders to sign up as Lloyd's Names, but at least that didn't cost the taxpayer a billion bucks.

Snobbery is dangerous. It stops people seeing things as they really are. You might think I'm drawing a long bow trying to link the born-to-rule Cantabrian arrogance with the SCF collapse. But there is no doubt everyone's fawning reverence for Hubbard led directly to this mess.

We were duchessed. Hubbard believed his own self-righteous hype. Unfortunately so did we. As one reporter admitted this week: "Mr Hubbard's reputation as a man of integrity meant few questioned his actions". Now we are all paying the price.

I would like to think this financial disaster will bring down the whole snobby Canterbury clique. Unfortunately with nearly $1.8 billion poured into it, I think it just got stronger.

dhc@deborahhillcone.com

- NZ Herald

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