'Crisis is an opportunity on a fast horse," was a quote I saw written on the wall of a government agency trying to transform itself this week. It struck me as pertinent to the changes we are wanting to make in the justice system.

But with about 150 inquiries and advisory boards up and running at the moment, there is an acceptance that change is needed across many sectors, and the need for change is because, in some respects, there is a crisis.

I gave a lift to a woman in need so she could attend the funeral of an aunt.

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We had a loose connection in that she had gone to school with one of my kids, but she found herself at the airport with nobody to collect her. A cab would cost $300 to South Taranaki which she didn't have ... I was going her way, and we are friends on Facebook.

Conversation led from one mutual connection to another ... she was from the town where I had been policing in the 1980s.

Her story was one of growing up in a home where domestic violence fuelled by alcohol was a daily occurrence. Parents frequently missing, "on the piss", when she needed them most as a young kid looking to care for her siblings.

Her story followed a familiar narrative common in households with gang membership. But that was 30 years ago.

What was becoming a festering social problem with its genesis in rationalisation of industries and the corporatisation of the New Zealand economy, resulting in widespread unemployment, has led to the crises we now have to deal with.

The culmination of taking the solace people took in alcohol and drugs, bad associations and a ragged lifestyle was bound to have an ugly ending.

That ugly ending has come after decades of working to mitigate the woeful so-called strategy we know as Rogernomics. In reality, it had more in common with the rapid removal of well-adhered sticking plaster, as there was a hell of a lot of pain and still a bloody, suppurating flesh wound to deal with that was always going to leave a scar.

Those riding out the changes while lamenting the past are those who have the protective features of strong supportive families, personal savings, health and property insurances, consistent incomes, managed lifestyles, and a future they are looking forward to and do not dread.

Yesterday I visited a 17-year-old who has been in care since he was seven.
He has lived in 63 placements, none of which I think he considered a home. He is now in a youth residence – youth prison.


While none of his charges relate to violence, the outlook is bleak.

He was placed in care for his own good, apparently. But the crack he slipped though is a gaping hole for some people in our country.

In the past week I have been in the company of murderers and the family of murder victims; rapists and men and women who have been raped; the battered and bruised; the lonely; and those who have lost.

Chester Borrows
Chester Borrows

They are all playing poker with the cards they were dealt. Those choices they have made for themselves have been telegraphed by often negligent choices made on their behalf by others charged with their care.

They are not self-selected participants and a social experiment, they are in a pipeline with no way out until they are disgorged.

The situation did not arise with this government or the one before that or the one before that. It wasn't even in this century.

Roger Douglas' fast horse of rising debt, devaluing dollar, rampant inflation, galloping unemployment, trade barriers, protected markets and a subsidised false economy is not the crisis we are dealing with today. But it is progeny of the same bloodline.

We have a crisis across several social sectors and they all interconnect. They include justice and mental health, income deprivation and under-education.

Although they don't affect us all equally, in a modern civilised society we should all be concerned that this "opportunity on a fast horse" doesn't throw a shoe, lose the jockey, jump the fence, break a leg and then have to be put down.

Chester Borrows served as Whanganui MP for 12 years and as a minister in the National Government.