We need a bit less blame and more responsibility

By Jay Kuten

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Jay Kuten PHOTO/FILE
Jay Kuten PHOTO/FILE

YEARS ago, shortly upon arrival here, I attended a psychiatric conference in Rotorua.

An older Kiwi psychiatrist gave a lecture in which he declared that New Zealand's culture was one of blame. I was new here and, while the words registered, their meaning had not crystallised.

I prefer to think of New Zealanders as, with few exceptions, responsible adults, but I have found that assessment challenged by several recent examples.

A prime example is the violation of trust by the four convicted directors of Lombard Finance. First among equals is Sir Douglas Graham - he and Bill Jeffries were former justice ministers, lending a heavier weight to their cases.

The four were charged with having misled 4400 investors through false statements made in company prospectuses, and - under section 58 of the Securities Act - faced a maximum of five years' jail and $300,000 fines.

Having been convicted, Graham and the others appealed their sentences of community service, arguing they had not been responsible because they had not understood the signed document.

This "the-dog-ate-my-homework" defence did not prevail and the court increased their sentences to six months' home detention. At that they got off lightly - a just sentence would have required them to serve each of the 4400 investors whose savings they destroyed for one day's unpaid labour.

If you can't do the time, don't do the crime.

A second example is more local.

Some readers have praised local MP Chester Borrows for his supposed stand in criticism of UCOL for the Palmerston-based administration's failures in marketing Wanganui arts courses and not adapting to changed circumstances in the manner of other businesses.

A close reading of his article (Chronicle, February 5) shows our friend Chester with the sleight of hand of a good politician.

He manages to use fudge words such as "perception" and "impression" to underline the fact that the amalgamation of Wanganui Polytech with Palmerston's UCOL in 2002 was the work of a Labour Government. It's been 12 years - five of them under the present National Party's sway.

The withdrawal of funding for tertiary education by minister Steven Joyce, the fellow party member of Mr Borrows, receives no mention, although UCOL has used that fact as an excuse to defund Wanganui programmes, including the Community Education Service.

There is much to criticise in UCOL's management, including the allegations by some in the faculty that UCOL systematically encouraged students to apply in Palmy for courses started in Wanganui.

From Mr Borrows comes only the expectation that Palmerston will act in the best interests of Wanganui - he seems content to stand by and let our silk purses be turned into sows' ears. But before you can act to solve a problem, you must first accept some responsibility in it, not just fob it off on others' past mistakes.

Finally, there's the recent brouhaha that began with skipper Dean Barker's claim Grant Dalton was responsible for the decision to grant rivals Oracle a rest day during the recent America's Cup regatta. Barker said that cost Emirates Team New Zealand the cup.

This is what we used to call "Monday morning quarterbacking" of the worst sort. Who knows what would have happened had Oracle been refused that request?

As it was, on September 18, Oracle Team USA trailed the series 8-1. With Team New Zealand on match point, Oracle came back with eight consecutive wins, one of the greatest comeback victories in sports history.

If, and it is a big if, the decision to rest was a mistake, it does no one the slightest good to air that grievance now and thereby deflect from Barker's own responsibility. Not a few suggest this is a sacking offence.

Barker needs to realise that most dirty linen is not worth airing.

For me, it raises again the question whether minister Steven Joyce and Prime Minister John Key should be subsidising this professional team engaged in a sport created for billionaires to the tune of $36 million of taxpayer money. I can think of better uses - such as tertiary education.

Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable

- Wanganui Chronicle

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