Well done New Zealand for planning, staging and creating a wonderful Rugby World Cup. Visitors from many nations have found us to be caring, warm, engaging, generous and hospitable. That's a reputation worth having and building on.
Why then are we not as caring as a nation when it comes to our own children and young people? When I look at the appalling statistics on child abuse and neglect, youth unemployment, crime and suicide I must agree with Dame Anne Salmond when she wrote in the Herald that "more than a change of government, what is needed is a change of heart".
How on earth did we reach the point where we are now? First there is our record on child abuse. It is a national disgrace. The statistics show why:
* New Zealand has the fifth-highest rate of child abuse in the OECD (and the second-highest rate of teen pregnancies after the US).
* A child dies of child abuse every five weeks (most are under 5; the largest group is less than a year old).
* 150,757 notifications of child abuse were made to the Child, Youth and Family Services over the year ending June 2011.
* Every five days a child under 2 is admitted to hospital with preventable injuries.
* Over one in four adults has experienced childhood trauma or abuse, family violence or sexual assault.
* The estimated cost of child abuse in New Zealand is around $2 billion annually.
Having myself invested heavily in youth development and protection programmes around the globe, I am well aware that complex issues are involved in the stories behind the statistics.
I have argued on a number of occasions that the solution doesn't have to come solely from traditional sources such as Government. Grass roots initiatives would be wonderful to see. For example, this is where investment from Treaty settlements could make a real difference by putting money into measurable, and accountable, grass roots programmes.
But make no mistake, these issues are not confined to any ethnic grouping and we share both individual and collective responsibility for all of our young people. It is the responsibility of all New Zealanders.
For those abused children who happen to make it through their childhood years, the news doesn't dramatically improve. New Zealand's record on youth unemployment, crime and suicide is also very troubling. We need to turn the tables.
Unemployment, a byproduct of those who are either educationally disengaged or not given a helping hand, is a major area of concern. There also is a correlation with other problems that affect our youth. The reality is that disengaged, inactive youth are at greater risk of lower earnings, criminal offending, substance abuse, suicide, homelessness and mental or physical ill health plus they need more social assistance.
In comparison to the OECD, statistics recently published by the New Zealand Institute show:
* New Zealand has the highest rate of youth unemployment in the OECD. Of New Zealand's total unemployed 45 per cent are youth.
* While youth make up 15 per cent of our population, they make up 40 per cent of those remanded in custody and 25 per cent of the prison population.
* Our suicide rate for 15 to 19-year-olds is the highest in the OECD and double that of Australia.
Maori and Pacific youth account for a significant proportion of all these statistics. Many OECD countries insulate their 15 to 19-year-olds from unemployment mainly by insisting they remain in some sort of education and training environment rather than having to take their chances in the labour force with little or no training.
A fresh approach to vocational training investment is one way to address the problem. The $43 million payout heralded by the Government for private contractors to aid job seekers is, in theory, potentially a good model and represents the sort of action that is needed.
One thing we should do immediately is re-establish the youth minimum wage. This policy could have great effect in taking young people out of their downward spiral and also giving prospective employers the motivation to start employing again. Figures released by the Department of Labour show the minimum wage increase accounted for approximately 20 to 40 per cent of the fall in the proportion of 16 and 17-year-olds in employment by 2010.
Child abuse and neglect, young people dropping out of education, joining the ranks of the long-term unemployed, becoming involved in criminal offending, substance abuse and suicide are a stain on this country's reputation.
We need to demand of our elected lawmakers and ourselves that we are not willing to allow this shameful state of affairs to continue.
As New Zealanders we all bear individual and collective responsibility for our children and young people.
This is the game that we really cannot afford to lose.
Owen Glenn is a businessman and philanthropist and an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.