Bruce Bisset: Nation's soul sold piece by piece

By Bruce Bisset

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In many ways New Zealanders are a naive and trusting people. Which is why con-men of all capabilities find ready ground for their scams here - and equally why the idea of corruption in high places is treated with near-incredulity.

It is not that we don't know corruption exists, but we inherently do not credit that our fellows could be corrupt.

So when taints of corruption appear, they are generally attributed to foreigners; or, at worst, to Kiwis under malign foreign influence.

Surely no true child of Aotearoa could otherwise be that impure.

Which is why, looking around at the nets of impropriety now settling so insidiously into place throughout our culture, it is hard not to grieve for the broken heart of our collective psyche.

While the conmen laugh snidely at our native gullibility.

I suppose, from a Maori perspective, this is nothing new. After all, millions of hectares and thousands of lives were lost on the say-so of tricksters with the connivance of a government bent on taking and remaking this land in the English image.

And the wool and beer barons were only too pleased to keep a tight grip on our growing nation for a century or more thereafter, by fair means or foul - if oh so politely.

Nevertheless it comes as something of a shock to realise that as a nation we were conned into thinking the egalitarian dream was ever reality.

Yes, to give those who wielded power their due, we grew into the greatest social democracy on Earth - embracing the suffragettes, building the welfare state, keeping resources and infrastructure in public hands - but the chains, however velvet-clad, were always there.

It has taken barely 40 years for that cladding to be stripped bare, and all the socialist beneficence of our semi-pastoral way of life to be lost - sold off for promises, emptied of goodwill, enslaved by greed.

Is it any wonder the corrupt have emerged en masse to feast upon such virgin fertile spoils?

No. What is a wonder is that those of us born into the dream of egalitarianism have taken so long to recognise not only that it is dead, but that the system we once thought to protect us now preys upon us instead.

Forty years ago I reported on a commercial family feud, a case where the winner became one of the country's richest men while the losers faded into relative obscurity.

Doubtless because it turned on a highly-technical point of law, it was rumoured the judge, one of the foremost in his profession, took a substantial bribe to decide the issue. As unthinkable as that then seemed, I have never quite discounted the rumour - because it came from impeccable sources within the justice system.

Today, that would still be a major scandal. Yet every day now it seems decisions are made very publicly on the basis of favour over fairness, and cover-ups of everything from teapot-tapes to waiter-abuse are presented as if such dissembling was the norm.

Which, sadly, it is.

Corruption may have occurred spasmodically in the past, but has now become so commonplace as to be brushed aside with flippancy.

And still we kid ourselves as to the true nature of the beast.

This National Government seems intent on making deceit an art form, a garage sale of pieces of our soul only foreign billionaires are crass enough to buy.

Oh, and us, the voters who put them there. Except we're not buying, we're selling: the heart of our culture, our innocence.

That's the right of it.

Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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