The conclusion of the second series of the TV crime show Goliath features an unforgettable scene. One of the protagonists has been kidnapped and awakes from an anaesthetic to discover that his arms and legs have been amputated as payback for a deal gone wrong. His first reaction is to ask the person responsible whether his genitals have also been amputated.
"Of course not," replies the perpetrator, "I'm not a monster."
I was reminded of this scene when National leader Simon Bridges told The AM Show, in discussing his party's thinking-out-loud Social Services Discussion Document, that he is not a "heartless bastard".
Only someone with a superhuman tolerance for bad prose would be able to get through the 56-pages of polite propaganda that constitute the document, but for those who do there is much to ponder.
Starting on the homepage of national.org.nz, where the first thing you are likely to see, standing out in bright red, is a box in the top right-hand corner containing the word "Donate" and linking to a user-friendly set of payment options. You might think it odd that a party which maintains it is intent on giving people a hand up is so eager to ask for a hand out.
The document is more a dip-into kind of read, with nuggets of fascination to be found here and there. Such as the suggestion that benefits be withheld from that minority of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children, because if there's one thing that improves life for an unvaccinated child it's going cold and hungry as well.
"For sole parents, should it be a requirement that their child is fully immunised?" wonders the document. It's hard to avoid the feeling that there may have been a draft that read: "For sole parents, should it be a requirement that their child is fully sterilised."
(I'm presuming this will be coupled with measures to force parents who aren't on benefits – which is most of them – to vaccinate their children as well.)
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The document has a fascinating tone of voice – it's like being badgered by someone who's trying super hard to sound reasonable when all they want to do is grab you by the collar and scream in your face.
The document is full of populist rhetoric, laced with buzzwords guaranteed to jerk the knees of the bitter demographic who are its real target – because at heart this is a document about politics not policy: "Kiwis are fair minded and know that if you play by the rules, you have a go and you pay your taxes then you should reap the rewards." That's you, reader – you're a true-blue Kiwi, fair-minded, you play by the rules, you have a go and you pay your taxes.
"So if you don't want to vaccinate your child, here's the thing: don't take taxpayers' money," said Bridges earlier in the week. That's them – grasping bludgers, "taking" your money.
In the lead-up to the document's release, much discussion centred on withholding benefits from gang members who couldn't prove they don't have illegal income or assets. Leaving aside the question of how you can prove a negative, it's to be hoped that if it were ever introduced, the same requirement would be made of all those wealthy New Zealanders who also fail to disclose assets and income by registering their shell companies in the Cook Islands and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, back at that heart of Simon Bridges. The discussion document also promises that for the deserving poor there will always be a safety net. The worry is that the net will be set so low that those who fall into it will feel a nasty bump anyway.