Had anyone told me when I began writing a weekly column that it would still be running 27 years later, continuing in retirement from the Herald, I would have said a quarter of a century of publication is more than anyone’s opinions deserve. It had to end one day. The day has arrived.
It will be hard to be without this voice. Every week there will be something I wish somebody was saying in the mainstream media. This week I think it should be said that school teachers’ industrial action is irresponsible. With absenteeism at worrying levels, secondary teachers have begun rostering classes home for one day a week to help their pay claim.
How does this help convince parents and pupils that it is important to attend school every day? Truancy has got worse since the Covid lockdowns - and no wonder. We have heard very little concern from educationists that Auckland classrooms were closed for the equivalent of two full terms of 2020-21. We’ve seen no national educational effort to make up for lost time.
Instead, we’ve seen the usual languid return from term holidays, prolonged for public holidays. Parents are still handling teacher-only days, sick days and now strike days. Meanwhile, NCEA standards were dropped for those who had lost tuition. But I need to let go.
A final column invites reflection and an overwhelming sense of gratitude to regular readers for your time on a Saturday morning, especially if you seldom agreed with me. I enjoy the challenge of contrary opinion too, so long as it is honest, not just provocative.
The column began, along with others, in 1996, a year of big change at the Herald. The paper was adopting computerised production and preparing to make the most of the internet, then in its infancy. International consultants had ripped into us and recommended, among many other content and design ideas, more opinion on our pages.
Journalists’ opinions had been largely confined to editorials written anonymously in the paper’s name. I was one of the writers. A new editor, Gavin Ellis, who led the Herald into the digital era, suggested I write a column as well and I jumped at the chance. It meant I could tell some personal stories to illustrate public issues.
After a year or two I had told those stories, more than once, I fear, and stopped the column. But when Ellis moved up the tree, the next editor, Stephen Davis, refused to believe I had nothing more to say and insisted I resume. That was 25 years ago.
Journalists don’t claim to be experts in anything, just observers, but the job can put us close to events and the people involved. I’d had been in the parliamentary press gallery at the bitter end of Fortress NZ and the birth of the heady, scary, market economy.
On a rare quiet afternoon in the Herald’s gallery office, I’d read the Treasury volumes we were loosely reporting as “the opening of the books”. I learned what an economy really is – the consequence of all the investment decisions made within it. Governments were making too many. Better decisions would be made by investors who bear a risk if the decision is wrong.
That is simple economics but difficult politics. I wish somebody would write the book or make the movie those years deserve. It should finally recognise the courage of George Gair, Derek Quigley, Roger Douglas, David Caygill, Richard Prebble, Rod Deane, Roger Kerr, Don Brash, Doug Myers, Graham Scott, Ruth Richardson, Jenny Shipley and others.
In the stronger economy and stable politics of the 21st century, many in politics think reform could have been done more gradually and gently. Maybe they’ve forgotten how comfortable the protected economy was for those who had a licence to do business in it. I had seen industries make liberalisation plans glacial. We had to crash through.
By the millennium, we had come through to find we had a robust, open, competitive economy with low inflation, budget surpluses, a strong dollar and declining debt. For the next 20 years, under governments of Labour and National, we had a golden age attracting immigration. Then a pan(dem)ic destabilised us. There was work to do again, I was going to do my bit.
I wanted to argue for rebuilding an even better golden age with inflation stabilised at higher interest rates to contain house prices, and support policies that discourage over-investment in rental property and help poorer families own a home. I wanted to support Māori self-governance as promised in the Treaty and oppose co-governance of public utilities.
But I’ve space left just to say farewell and thank you again for reading.