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Nigel Latta: Ten things I've learned

By Nigel Latta

As his hard-hitting TV series about New Zealand’s biggest challenges draws to a close, Nigel Latta reflects on what he knows now

Nigel Latta says we are a caring country but there's still scope to make things better.
Nigel Latta says we are a caring country but there's still scope to make things better.

1. People really do care about other people

The first episode was barely five minutes in and I was getting emails from people asking what they could do to help. Those emails and Facebook messages and tweets have continued right throughout the whole series. It has been humbling, and deeply gratifying. We are a nation of people who care about each other. Yes, there are divisions, and factions, and cynical opinion-piece writers, and toxic bloggers, but the rest of us really do care. That might seem a little hokey to some people, but it makes me feel better about it all. It confirms what I've always believed about us as a people: We might have our moments, but underneath it all there beats a good heart.

2. We don't talk enough about the really important things

I learned things from this series that I feel I should have known. I know a lot of other people have too. Things like alcohol being a group-one carcinogen, and the sobering fact that 40 per cent of households living in poverty have at least one adult in paid employment.

These seem like things we should all just know. But we don't. A lot of people told me they were astounded by the facts and statistics in this series. That tells me we need to have lot more dialogue about this stuff. Instead we are constantly bombarded with trivia. Brangelina getting married. Lady Gaga falling off a piano stool. Some politician saying something dumb. Maybe we need to talk less about that stuff, and more about the things that are really important.

3. There are dark shapes swirling around under the water

We're all busy trying to put food on the table, pay off mortgages, and keep our jobs. Because of that there's a lot going on that many of us simply don't pay attention to. Things like supermarkets threatening local councils with expensive legal action if they try to restrict the hours alcohol can be sold. We're busy trying to get ourselves signed up to free-trade agreements that have huge implications for all of us, and we're not allowed to know what those implications are. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, and I truly do believe that business has to save the world, but I also believe there are large multinationals out there with very big tentacles into governments all over the world who are trying to quietly get us to sign away our democratic freedoms. We need to stop them.

4. There is more cause for hope than ever before.

There is a growing discontent out there in Kiwiland. I think more and more of us are looking at the way the world has developed over the past 30 years with an increasing sense of dissatisfaction. I think more and more people are starting to question the idea that the rising tide has lifted all boats. Some boats have done very well. A whole lot more are bailing like crazy just to stay afloat. So I think a momentum is building where people are going to start to ask for more than just increases in GDP. I think more of us want fairness. I think more of us want to see that everyone really is afforded the same opportunities.

5. People who should know better seem to ignore the science with hardly a backward glance.

Science is one of the greatest things the human race has going for it. It has given us the things that now make our lives easier, healthier, more interesting, and longer. Yet our policy makers seem to ignore good science when it doesn't suit. The science about the harm that alcohol causes is conclusive. The only dissent is from those allied to the alcohol industry. Does it cause harm? Yes. Massive harm. Harm to us individually, to our social fabric, and to our economic wellbeing as well. It takes far more than it gives. So why did we ignore the very clear evidence-based recommendations from the Law Commission? I have no answer to that. Just questions.

6. The bad guys fight dirty

During the making of the alcohol documentary, I was warned about the industry. Watch out, I was told, they play dirty. We've heard more about that since. Allegations in Dirty Politics that alcohol lobbyists paid Cameron Slater to publish their smear-tactic writings under his name on Whale Oil would seem to paint a much clearer picture of how some in this industry operate. They're big multinationals with a friendly local face, but a ruthless ambition to sell us more, and more, and more. They played nice at the beginning but none of them would front for an interview. In the end they gave us the woman employed part time running their "information" website. They stayed hidden away in the background. One can only surmise that's because they're relying on all of us forgetting about this stuff and moving on to the next thing. I'll be doing whatever I can to make sure that doesn't happen.

7. We are further apart now than ever before

Elections are won and lost in the middle, so politicians play to the middle. The left can count on the left, and the right will always have the right, but the middle is where governments stand or fall. So they play to the middle. The problem is that the middle has lost touch with the bottom. There are a lot of people out there who think poor people are lazy, people in prison are all bad buggers, and anyone who wants to make something of themselves can. I hope this series has helped people to see that these things aren't necessarily true. It's important for all of us to look after all of us.

8. We're hungry for leadership

I've got a number of emails asking if I'm going to get involved in politics. I'm not, just by the by. One can never say never, but I can't imagine ever wanting to be part of that whole world. What I did learn, though, is that people are hungry for leadership. People are hungry for someone to lead us, they think will really care about all of us, and stand up for all of us. People want a leader they can trust.

9. Television can be meaningful

I've always had the belief that television can do meaningful things. Telly cops a lot of flak for being trivial. Oddly enough, "Despite all the reality television, there's precious little reality" is a complaint I hear a lot. I think this series has proved television is still an important medium. It can still get people talking about important things. Most of all I think it proved that there is a very real audience for interesting and challenging ideas. We need the fun stuff, but we need the serious stuff as well.

10. Things can be better

Most of all I think the biggest thing I learned from this series is that things can be better. We know a lot as a country about how to make things better. There are lots of amazing people out there working away everyday to make things better. There are lots of us who want things to be better, not just for ourselves, but for all New Zealand. This is still a good place to live, but we can make it better.

The final episode of the six-part documentary series, Nigel Latta: Is Sugar The New Fat, screens this Tuesday 9.30pm TV One. All other episodes are available to watch at TVNZ On Demand. A DVD will be released later in the year.

- NZ Herald

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