John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan: The country a baby could see

Tariana Turia has tried to find solutions to social woes that tap into the love and mana of Maori grandmothers. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Tariana Turia has tried to find solutions to social woes that tap into the love and mana of Maori grandmothers. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Every grandparent will know the electric charge that four of us experienced for the first time last Saturday. New life is always a marvel but a grandchild carries a bit of you into the future.

I heard Dr Peter Gluckman say the other day that a baby girl born now can look forward to living for 95 to 100 years. Imagine the world she is going to know.

Right after the birth she was blinking, breathing and studying her own little hand. We could watch her from the other side of the world. It's hard to imagine global communications could get better than Skype but I suppose they will.

Grandparent-hood feels like a rediscovery of wonder. When her father's postings permit the family to come home I'm going to take her to see the elephants the Auckland Council has decided to buy this week. I'm keen to see them myself.

It seems a lifetime since I've been to the zoo. I've read that it has changed and have long hankered to see the new set-up, but there didn't seem much point without a child.

You need those new eyes.

This feels different from parenting - less anxiety, more fun. We're lucky, though. It must be worrying for some.

The welfare of every baby in this country should be monitored with the home visits the Plunket service used to do. I don't care what it costs and I don't care how culturally insensitive it might be to rescue every baby at risk.

But nor do I care how "separatist" it might be to help Maori wrap their babies in tribal support if it works.

Tariana Turia said this week that poverty is no excuse for child abuse.

Give that grandmother all the resources she needs. She knows parenting is hard work and if you are young, poor and alone it could become too much. But reasons don't matter and excuses don't help.

Let me dream of the New Zealand my granddaughter could know when she is the age her mother is now, in 2040, our national bicentenary.

She might remember quite a bit of the second language that she and all of her generation - Asian, Pakeha or Polynesian - learned at primary school.

She might remember they loved to speak and sing in Maori, particularly when they went overseas and wanted to express where they came from.

The history she learns at secondary school would recall that the Maori Party emerged from the 2011 election with the balance of power, and quietly ensured that all teacher trainees learned te reo so that the language could take its place in the primary curriculum.

Her reading of political theory, a genetic weakness, would offer an explanation for the fact that Maori could drive a harder bargain with a conservative government than with a more sympathetic one. It is all to do with the electorate's trust.

She would know that the language breakthrough was quick and easy compared with the long struggle for Maori social services.

It was obvious that Maori had to somehow revive the strong family and tribal life that had nourished their children for centuries before they came to live in cities.

Yet every time Dame Tariana had built a programme that tapped the love, energy and mana of Maori grandmothers, she had to overcome one-nation racism.

Looking back from 2040, old Pakeha remembered that many of them were scared of the Maori revival when it started. They thought their race would lose power and their children would become second-class citizens.

The fearful were such a well-entrenched majority that their fear now seems ridiculous. There was no way they could be dispossessed of anything even if Maori had wanted that, which they didn't.

From their vantage point of 2040, they will give credit to Dame Tariana, Sir John Key and the prime minister who followed him, Sir Shane Jones. They had started the transformation.

Oddly enough, it wasn't social programmes that seemed to make the breakthrough in the end. It was cultural stuff.

Since language, ceremonies, festivals, anthems, flags and all the symbols of nationality don't cost much, it was easier to get governments to concede ever more space for Maori in the expressions of the state. And one day, without anyone knowing precisely when it had happened, Maori were no longer overwhelmed by the white suburban landscape.

Even they didn't know when or how it happened, but this had become their country too. Drinking dropped, so did crime, domestic abuse and family desertion. Parents' expectations for their children rose rapidly and nearly all were rewarded.

An amazing number of rural prisons, built at enormous cost early this century, had turned into luxury resorts or research centres for top-shelf food brands.

Call it a grandfather's dream.

- NZ Herald

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John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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