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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Hot-air protests fail to find the answers

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Marches and Hitlerian jibes don't provide any answers. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Marches and Hitlerian jibes don't provide any answers. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Which of the following is most critical to this country's future?

A. Halting or at least significantly reducing the exodus of many of our best and brightest to Australia.

B. Managing our finances to ensure we don't end up like Greece, only worse - broke but without the European Union to keep us afloat.

C. Ensuring our national security and sovereignty in an increasingly unstable world.

D. Maintaining our clean, green, nuclear-free "brand".

A casual observer of our political discourse would assume the correct answer is D, given that A, B and C generate little discussion and even less animation.

Coincidentally or otherwise, D is the one which involves doing nothing, or relatively little, and requires the least soul-searching and hard-headed analysis of our economic performance and prospects.

Take transtasman migration. The recent Australian Census found there are 483,000 Kiwis in Australia. The influx over the past five years equalled that of the previous 10.

With each passing year Sir Robert Muldoon's jibe that emigration to Australia raises both countries' collective IQ seems more like whistling in the dark. The founder of a new Australian political party that wants to end our unrestricted access is closer to the mark when he notes that "New Zealand is losing a lot of its best-trained professionals".

The exodus is a regrettable fact of life, like snow in lambing season and the holiday road toll. Extrapolating from the recent trend, one could envisage us becoming a nation of waiters and nurses, heavily reliant on tourism, in which the only growth sectors are retirement homes and care for the elderly, and the only 20-somethings to be seen are those too stoned to organise a passport.

Yes, Australia has better weather, but if that was all there was to it Tauranga would be our biggest city. Australia's magnetic pull is the unavoidable truth that most can earn more money there than here.

Mineral wealth makes Australia the lucky country. It's doubly lucky in that the minerals are mostly in areas that nobody - apart from Aborigines, whose views have never counted for much - would want to occupy or visit.

Our oil and mineral reserves - largely theoretical at this stage - are under the sea or in wilderness areas, and if the green-tinged, white collar new left has its way, that's where they'll stay.

Whenever anyone suggests surveying, let alone exploiting, these resources the Greens and assorted eco-zealots make enough fuss for the media to declare that the proposal caused "public outrage" - i.e. a couple of strident press releases and 20 demonstrators chanting inane slogans - after which silence descends for a decent interval.

Why can't we have a proper discussion, as opposed to a shouting match or an exchange of worst-case scenarios, about the merits or otherwise of extracting these resources? If those who insist we shouldn't touch the oil which is apparently beneath our territorial waters or the minerals we're apparently sitting on have an economic strategy to ensure our long-term prosperity, let's hear it.

But if we're really being asked to bet our children's future on green technologies which are barely a twinkle in their inventors' eyes, or accept that the price of a pristine environment may be lower expectations, a reduced standard of living and shrinking social services, let's hear that too.

What we can do without is the sound and fury signifying nothing that greeted the passing of the Mixed Ownership Model Bill this week.

Responding to National's entirely valid point that it campaigned on partial asset sales, Labour MP Megan Woods plumbed the depths with her claim - which she apologised for but didn't entirely repudiate - that "Hitler had a pretty clear manifesto that he campaigned and won on".

This would have been marginally less crass if Hitler had made it clear that, if elected, he would annihilate six million Jews and start a world war, but he did nothing of the sort.

In fact, in 1932/33 the Nazis soft-pedalled their anti-Semitism to make the party more electable, while Hitler ran for the presidency on this less than incendiary slogan: "Bread and freedom."

Then we had Labour leader David Shearer bellowing in Parliament, "The fight isn't finished; it will be out of here and on to the streets." Is he saying that since Labour doesn't have the numbers in Parliament as a result of its election rout, it's going to get the mob out? What happened to that cornerstone of the democratic system "the people have spoken"?

And if he's talking about citizen initiated referenda, he should think on this: If we're going to override Parliament and put every contentious issue to a popular vote, why do we need politicians?

- NZ Herald

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