The silly season, for the media, traditionally starts in about a week and runs well into January.

It's the time of year when the bread and butter news sources shut up shop, paving the way for stories that at any other time would hardly rate a mention to attract attention far beyond their merits.

Increasingly, it seems our bureaucracy has seized upon the concept, however. And not just over the summer holidays, although anticipation of a couple of weeks at the beach might have pervaded the collective consciousness of those who govern us from behind the scenes.

It is certainly difficult not to believe that some civil servants are becoming increasingly silly, to the point where one begins to wonder if they aren't indulging in some elaborate joke that we haven't quite grasped yet.


The Ministry for Primary Industries provided a classic example last week, when a spokesman spent some time on radio not answering questions about the spread of Mycoplasma bovis from the South Island to the North. Could he confirm that the latest outbreak, in Hawke's Bay, involved dry stock, meaning the disease was not the sole preserve of dairy cows? A trick question if ever there was one.

Having already made it clear that the farmer was entitled to privacy, he wasn't going to be sucked into identifying him/her by answering that. The farmer's right to privacy overrode everything else, despite the likely fact that everyone in the immediate vicinity had noticed that the farm was in 'lock down.'

This could have been just a new manifestation of bureaucratic determination to avoid any potential for getting into trouble. More likely it was a display of the increasingly common penchant for using privacy laws to avoid answering questions of significant public interest.

The individual's right to privacy is wielded like a shield these days, not necessarily in the individual's interests, and certainly not in the interests of the greater good, but a fail-proof defence against sharing pertinent information.

We're now told that until now New Zealand had been one of few countries in the world that did not have Mycoplasma bovis, and that while it can make life miserable for the cow it does not affect milk or meat, and is not transferable to humans. We are also being prepared for the news that it cannot be eradicated.

No one has told us yet how it got here in the first place. Presumably it was imported by someone who displayed scant regard for biosecurity measures, or slipped past our border defences. Unless, of course, it blew across the Tasman.

Like the bee varroa mite, we will probably never be told how it got here. If it was down to an individual or a company, they will again be entitled to their privacy.

Like Mycoplasma bovis, some silliness has a very long gestation period, however. Like last week's announcement that the taxpayer is about to begin subsidising the winter power bills of thousands of poor people, and, in many cases, far from poor pensioners. This dates back to 1998, when Max (Watch Your Power Bill Come Down) Bradford transformed the electricity retail sector.

In those days New Zealanders paid less for electricity than anyone else on Earth, with the possible exception of Norwegians. Now it seems we pay more than anyone else, in a country that is blessed almost beyond comparison with cheap, renewable means of generation.

Thanks, Mr Bradford. Your faith in the benefits of competition was not well founded, as, one recalls, you were repeatedly warned it would not be, but was trumped by the desire to reap dividends for shareholders. Your mantra, 'Watch your power bill come down,' has not been forgotten. One hopes that your meter is spinning like a whirling dervish, but you will be entitled to the taxpayer subsidy, so the news isn't all bad.

Actually the fact that taxpayers are about to begin subsidising power bills so shareholders, many of whom will no doubt qualify for the subsidy, continue benefiting from their investment goes beyond silly. Try insane. Or obscene.

The decision to change the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children's name to the Ministry for Children Oranga Tamariki is comparatively small beer, but will reportedly cost $418,000, at a time when KidsCan, an organisation that, whatever one's view on personal responsibility, actually does something for kids who are missing out on luxuries like food, is about to lose its $350,000 in government funding. That makes sense how?

Of course National blames Labour and Labour blames National, which Labour said had made the decision before the change of government. Even if that's true, it's unbelievably feeble. And it's unlikely to be entirely irrelevant that the Ministry of Social Development apparently decided at some stage that it would not be seeking the KidsCan funding in the next budget. A timely reminder that the real rulers of this country, whoever is in government, are bureaucrats.

If that is not the case in this instance, what's stopping the government from chucking $350k in KidsCan's direction in May?

Smaller examples of silliness abound. Retailers have reminded us that they don't appreciate being told when they can sell alcohol, as Kaikohe pensioner Shaun Reilly is proving in his appeal to the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority against what he regards as excessively liberal trading hours, as governed by the Far North District Council.

Mr Reilly argues that reduced trading hours will reduce some of the irrefutable harm done by alcohol. Progressive Enterprises, other retailers and the hospitality industry disagree. That suggests that they do not expect reduced hours to affect the amount of alcohol sold. So why the opposition? Clearly they fear that reduced hours will affect sales. Maybe they would like to explain the morality behind their defence of a customer's right to buy booze from 7am to 11pm?

Can't those who like a liquid breakfast just organise themselves a little better if they really can't wait until 9am, as the council wants, or 10am, as sought by Mr Reilly? And at the end of the day all ARLA can do is invite the council to think again. It can't actually make a decision of its own.

More silliness, this time costing us ratepayers a bundle, when common sense should have prevailed long ago.

Less expensive silliness is the sign the district council has erected at Waipapakauri Ramp declaring a 30km/h speed limit on 90 Mile Beach. It did that three years ago, apparently, by cunningly declaring the beach, which is legally a road that it cannot control in terms of traffic, to be a reserve, which it can. Trouble is, the limit can't be enforced. It certainly isn't being observed.

In fact for three years, no one seems to have noticed. Certainly tour bus drivers don't seem to be aware of it. If they were, and complied, the trip to Cape Reinga would have become an overnight excursion.

So much silliness and so little power to oppose it. But don't despair. The worm will turn one day.

In the meantime, enjoy a safe and happy Christmas, a wonderful summer holiday if you're getting one, and a wonderful 2018. Be nice to those around you, especially the young and the elderly, and if you can't entirely avoid being silly, comfort yourself with the knowledge that you are an amateur.