As Rob Rattenbury pointed out in his Monday column, just 12 months out from the election National predictably cranks up the hoary old spectre of the gangs – or, at least, particular types of gangs. Naturally Simon & Co are talking about one type of gangs in particular.
But when it comes to taxpayer fraud, by far the biggest culprits are the avaricious white collar corporate gangs, whose estimated collective tax evasion dwarfs any low-decile welfare misdemeanours. And the corporate legal drugs such as alcohol, tobacco and opioids are still the major destroyers.
Not to say gangs aren't a problem. But into their third generation or so, with partners and kids now also to be considered, there's growing self-realisation that a permanent outcast role really is a dead end. As evidenced by the recent Waikato Mongrel Mob workshop, there's a growing willingness to somehow break the cycle.
As far as changing behaviour goes, experience shows the old punitive models simply don't work. What does work is when genuinely superior options are made available, with resulting self-incentivisation.
Back in innocent days pre zero-hours contracts, fitbits and Tinder, a couple of fellow reprobates found themselves characteristically idle. To while away a few hours before the customary liquid lunch, they devised a suitably infantile game called "Whoever Scores Most Jobs Before Lunch, Gets Shouted." READ MORE:
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This was the employment-rich era of a half-century ago, with basic jobs not only plentiful, but obtainable without tertiary diplomas of dubious merit entailing a 30 grand student debt.
The venue was Wellington's Thorndon Quay, flush with warehouses and workshops. The rules were to simply stroll into a workplace, ask if there was a job going, and catch the broom they immediately tossed to you – or something similar. Then, after 10 minutes of pretending to be a good keen man, the new recruit would mysteriously vanish.
From memory, the winner scored eight or nine jobs before pub adjournment assumed priority.
The problem now is that the private sector no longer provides sufficient basic level jobs that stepping-stone entry into the skilled workforce – if it ever did. A few generations back, the community benefitted from a raft of Government-funded departments – the Railways, the Post and Telegraph, the Ministry of Works – that acted as invaluable trainee seeding grounds.
When the Richard Prebbles wanted to stomp on them for their supposed "inefficiencies", what wasn't factored into the equations were all the indirect benefits that derived from training and utilising local employees.
Recent various initiatives, such as the Limited Service Volunteer (LSV) programme, try and reintegrate the young and/or disengaged back into the wider community. With LSV, selected marginalised youth are taken under the wing of the armed forces, experience regularised barrack life, get instruction in both life and specialist skills, build self-confidence and teamwork, and so forth. READ MORE:
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On Marching Out day, the course graduates smartly parade in their uniforms and demonstrate a range of newfound skills in front of proud and astounded families – amazed at the transformation in their previously wayward teenagers.
Alas, without jobs to go back to, the programme's benefits soon disappear down the gurgler once graduates return to the problematic environments from whence they'd been plucked.
Present Government initiatives such as restoring facilities at Dunedin's Hillside railway workshops are right-minded gestures. But there needs to be a bit of Think Big. An intelligently structured Ministry of Kitset Housing should be providing a myriad of entry-level jobs, and churning out the promised thousands of KiwiBuild units at sites all over the country.
Where gangs have demonstrated willingness to change, they need conduits back into the wider community. They have existing strengths as tight-knit units, with hands-on skills waiting to be properly utilised, just as the 28th Maori Battalion was forged from rough-diamond recruits.
With appropriate supervision and training, and decent pay-packets at week's end, ex-Mobsters could be helping put KiwiBuilt roofs over Kiwi heads – including their own.