Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Chilling reminder to diversify

A reflective David Bain. Photo / NZPA
A reflective David Bain. Photo / NZPA

Fonterra always made it clear it was in the business of making dairy products, not friends. Even its milk-in-schools programme was acknowledged as a strategy to build consumers of the future.

Fortunately, it filled a lot of wallets, so corporate arrogance was indulged by most of the populace and critics marginalised as little better than economic saboteurs. Yet there was no pleasure for those critics in seeing the company twisting in the wind of media scrutiny this week when some of its whey was revealed to have been contaminated. The Chinese and other foreign critics were particularly vituperative. Back home, by contrast, there was a hint that the reaction was one of concern more for Fonterra's finances than for the health of the babies its products endangered.

Because, in a chilling reminder of how small we are, New Zealanders knew this could affect us all. Fonterra is to us as General Motors was once to the US - the corporate behemoth whose sneeze will give us all not just a cold but double pneumonia.

The debacle may see some improvements made, but as calls to action go it was like the cancer scare that makes you stop smoking: it would have been better to stop the smoking without having the scare.

It's clearer than ever that we need to become more economically diverse. We've got to get those eggs into more baskets so our economy is not at the mercy of one company's fortunes. It's no good looking to the Government for help. It sees economic salvation in movie location rentals, dodgy resource exploitation, conventions and rebuilding a city. Heaven knows what we would have done if we hadn't had that earthquake.

More revenue streams would also get us out of a PR bind by making it easier to drop the clean green 100 per cent Pure New Zealand claims, created to encourage visitors but not completely accurate. "Not nearly as dirty as Delhi" would be a more honest slogan. New Zealand may no longer be known as the paradise at the end of the Earth; but it would be good not to be known as the place that makes poisonous baby food.

Although he was a polarising, erratic and vindictive Prime Minister - to name a few of his good points - Rob Muldoon had a sense of natural justice. So when he was presented with incontrovertible evidence that Arthur Allan Thomas' conviction for the Crewe murders was unsound, he made sure Thomas got his pardon as soon as possible and that a commission of inquiry into the mess was held. That was when justice meant treating people fairly - accepting responsibility for misdemeanours, acknowledging wrongs, and quickly rectifying mistakes. How wistfully must David Bain, whose innocence has been confirmed by one authority after another but not to the satisfaction of the Minister of Justice, look back at the case of Lucky Arthur.

Certainly, in addressing Bain's claims, processes must be followed and checks and balances kept in place. But those things can be done expeditiously; they do not need to be dragged out in a way that brings our institutions into disrepute.

As for Teina Pora - it was clear from the first story Phil Taylor wrote about his case in the Herald that he should not be in jail for the rape and murder of Susan Burdett, and subsequent revelations have reinforced this. Why will this Government not do for him what was done for Thomas? Why are walls being built where doors should be opened? Is it that hard to admit a mistake has been made? Even Fonterra knows how to apologise.

- Herald on Sunday

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