It is generally accepted that New Zealand changed forever as a result of the massacre that began at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch at 1.32pm on Friday March 15, 2019.

Certainly we will never again buy Helen Clark's long-ago assertion that this country offers a "benign strategic environment," that we are too far away from the hate and violence that plague so many societies around the world to be directly affected by it.

The then Prime Minister demonstrated her faith in her assessment by effectively stripping the RNZAF of its ability to defend our skies, Richard Prebble famously saying that if someone decided to fly a Cessna into the BNZ in Auckland we wouldn't be able to do anything to stop them.

The Cessna has never materialised, but had such an assault on our sense of safety occurred it could hardly have been worse than the massacre of March 15.


There is little doubt that we have changed. Some are certainly edgy — 5000 people were evacuated from Wellington's Homegrown Music Festival on Saturday night because someone was sporting a tattoo that was initially interpreted as supporting white supremacy or some such nonsense, but was subsequently established as representing no such thing.

Better safe than sorry, perhaps, but hopefully our trust in our fellow man has not been irreparably damaged.

We have changed too, no doubt, courtesy of the response from New Zealanders the length and breadth of the country to the murder of 50 people. The rest of the world has not been slow to notice that response, and to compare it with the common reaction in other countries when tragedy is delivered on a grand scale.

If we must now accept that we are not immune from the hate that consumes so many, we can be gratified that the world sees us as a truly caring society, one that is determined to be inclusive, and to reject the abomination of violence.

Much of the credit for the respect that has been shown for this country over the last 11 days goes to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Her response to this unspeakable tragedy has been a perfect mix of compassion and firmness. Whatever our politics, whatever we might think about a capital gains tax or Kiwibuild, every last one of us should be proud of how she has represented us, at home and around the world.

Her patently genuine empathy was very much needed, but, sadly, revealed the paucity of such common human decency among the politicians of the Western World. It is not often that Americans point with envy to the example set by New Zealand, as many have done, and ask why the people who lead them cannot display similar qualities, rather than indulging in platitudes that have been repeated so often as to lose all meaning.

Ms Ardern's response to the massacre included the instant (by political standards) decision to ban the possession of assault and military-style semi-automatic firearms in this country. To be cynical, that decision might have displayed a fine political instinct. To be fair, it was the utterly rational political response needed to assure us that our country can be made safer than it has obviously become.

[Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's] patently genuine empathy was very much needed, but, sadly, revealed the paucity of such common human decency among the politicians of the Western World.

The banning of such weapons will not, of itself, achieve anything though. All it takes is one madman, or whatever you want to call the Christchurch terrorist, to wreak havoc, and stricter gun laws will not deter them.


Fish & Game chief executive Martin Taylor was wrong when he said last week that the proposed measures would ensure the safety of all New Zealanders. They cannot and will not ensure the safety of anyone. And therein lies the problem.

The mass displays of emotion that have filled our newspapers, radio waves and television screens since March 15 might offer the world an example of how a good, decent society should respond to such horror, but the assertion that 'This is not us' is an expression of what we aspire to be, not what we are.

Hate did not disappear from this country 11 days ago today. It took a back seat; it went underground, but it is still there. Even the response to the promise of tougher gun laws was not universally welcomed.

You wouldn't know that judging by the people who have shed tears for victims they never knew, but it is telling that the declaration of a ban on the possession of assault and MSSA weapons from 3pm on Thursday last week prompted a run on such weapons. Before 3pm that day media were reporting that every last such firearm for sale had been bought.

It seems a safe bet that those newly-acquired weapons will not be surrendered willingly, if at all. And while there is no reason to believe that those who bought the guns plans to use them to murder, the prospect of ridding this country of them seems bleak, to say the least.

It behoves us to strive to make the words 'This is not us' mean something tangible, but we are a very, very long way from that.

Within a week of the shootings we began to hear from immigrants to this country saying that they had not been made welcome here. That they were routinely told by total strangers, to go back where they came from. That is the the reality for at least some who have chosen to live here, and who are now being told that they are more than welcome — they are us.

That has clearly come as news to some.

Unless we change our national psyche to genuinely welcome all faiths, all ethnicities, with understanding, tolerance and a willingness to share all that we have, the tsunami of emotion that has followed March 15 will be an illusion. At best it is a statement of intent that we must now work upon as we have never worked before to make this a better place.

Last week Rotorua's Daily Post reported business owners there were seeking police protection in a city that had been overrun by bullies, thugs and drug dealers. That is an equally valid reflection of our society as protestations of boundless goodwill and affection for all men.

Much of what we have seen so far has been symbolism, a great wave of emotion that will mean nothing if it is not followed by meaningful actions. Contributions to our national wellbeing such as Whitcoulls' removal of Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson's book 12 Rules for Life from its shelves, while Hitler's Mein Kampf remains on sale, and shutting down debate on the UN's Immigration Pact are tokenism, and misguided to boot.

And, while countless thousands tearfully professed their acceptance of all faiths and cultures, the bureaucrats among us have a thing or two to learn. The coronial decree that the Christchurch victims had to be identified by fingerprints, DNA and dental records rather than by their families delayed by up to six days a process that, according to Islam, should have allowed their interment within 24 hours of death.

Hopefully March 15, 2019 will change this country for the better, but that remains to be seen. And it will not be achieved with vigils and marches. It must begin within the hearts of every last person who lives in this country. Our best hope is that the vast majority of us will resolve to treat others better than we might have in the past, but some won't. The good people of New Zealand have shown themselves over the last days. The others have not, but they are still here.