Deborah Hill Cone

Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Struggle Street needs fast broadband too

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Lorraine and Waa Whareaitu are calling quits on their Kaikohe cafe after more than a dozen break-ins. They have lost hope. Photo / APN
Lorraine and Waa Whareaitu are calling quits on their Kaikohe cafe after more than a dozen break-ins. They have lost hope. Photo / APN

Dear John Key, Happy New Year John! Can I call you John? We are practically neighbours; actually, I run past your house pretty often. Dig the topiary.

But anyway the reason I'm writing is that I wanted to tell you about my holiday. I went up to the Hokianga again. I know, it's not Hawaii, but I really love it up there. I find it inspiring and creative and actually, very cool.

Anyway, the nearest town is a place called Kaikohe. Have you been there lately John? Its main street is called Broadway. Ironic huh. It used to be full of shops but there aren't really any left.

There is a KFC and a store that takes Winz vouchers and there is a doctors' surgery and chemist.

The reason I am telling you this John is that the week I was in Kaikohe, news came out that the economy is booming. On yer! Business confidence is at a 20-year high.

There are nationwide predictions of more jobs, better pay and stronger economic growth. You guys seem pretty chuffed about how well things are going.

In fact, as I write this the pavement outside my house in Parnell is getting dug up as part of your ultra-fast broadband roll out. Hey, a friend of mine who is a brainy venture capitalist in Silicon Valley - I know a few fancy people too - jokes that Wi-Fi has been officially added to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, even before food, shelter, safety and warmth.

But seriously, she says with fast broadband, "even in the most industry-less towns, like Kaikohe, people have the ability to tap into global online economies - including freelance work, mechanical turk (it's low level work that anyone can do via Amazon.com - it's very low paying, but it's work) or selling items on eBay, Amazon, or Etsy. As well as access to educational opportunities, and like-minded people around the world."

I'm sure she's right, but I don't think Kaikohe is getting broadband, is it? According to the Northern Advocate, you did visit Kaikohe in June and local people told you attempts to lure new jobs to the region will fail unless the Government includes the town in its roll-out of ultra-fast broadband. But it's not. Look, I don't want to sound like I'm expecting you to swing in with a bossyboots government magic wand and "fix" the people of Kaikohe who might not want or need to be fixed.

Just that the area which seemed to be if not thriving then at least functioning when we first started coming to Hokianga a decade ago, now seems so sad and moribund.

What made me feel most sad about Kaikohe was not just the almost Gothic down-at-heelness of the place, but that the people didn't seem to feel much hope. It's not just the lack of money, but the sense of optimism.

Even with high-speed internet I think a lot of people there have a feeling of hopelessness about themselves and their lives that means they're hardly likely to be taking advantage of Ivy League courses being online, or even mechanical turk.

I'm not sure how you get that optimism back. Other people seem to think they have the answers and it's all to do with the dope-smoking, junk-food-eating ways of the "indigents". But personally, I think that's another example of that thing I learned about last year, the Just World Phenomenon (the tendency of people to believe that the world is just and therefore people get what they deserve - to acknowledge the truth that sometimes random horrible stuff happens through no fault of your own is too terrifying as it means accepting terrible things could befall you, or me).

Personally, I don't have the confidence that if I had been dealt the pretty crappy hand in life of being born into poverty in Kaikohe that I wouldn't be indulging in some pot too.

So anyway as I said, I don't know that you politicians can fix it or make the world just. But I do think you might have a different perspective of positive economic news - less crowing - if you opened your eyes to communities like Kaikohe.

Maybe you should pop up there again sometime, John, and see what they have to say?

Anyway all the best kiddo. See you round the hood. Deb.

- NZ Herald

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