A memo to Bill English:

I see in the ruckus surrounding the revelations of bloggers et al that you are grumbling because one of them leaked info about your particular approach to the housing perk for MPs - that is, claiming a housing allowance for a place where you do not live to support your lifestyle in a house in Wellington.

I recall that, at the time, you did say you had repaid the thousands taken using this perk.

Did you become contrite before it became public knowledge or afterwards? Your recent comments on the related leaks by bloggers infers that it was only because the facts became public knowledge that you were swayed to stop claiming this taxpayer funded subsidy - perhaps because it could be construed as a misappropriation of public money - or what is called ripping off the system when people on a benefit are accused of similar things.


As a taxpayer-funded MP and Minister of Finance (technically a beneficiary), it was astounding that you even thought this was okay and amazing you were not forced to resign pending a court case.

It is important to know whether you thought nobody would ever find out how you were misusing the system or whether it was hubris powered by entitlement.

This is a relevant question right now when so many politicians, their staff and associated bloggers are having their behaviour exposed to the bright lights of media attention and highlighting the shadowy practice of personal attacks, email hacking and bullying.

When voters see their parliamentary representatives acting like they are above the moral standards that govern civil conduct, it is no wonder they react by turning off and refusing to take part in an election.

Collecting souvenirs:

I bought back a few souvenirs from our time in Sydney.

One is the memory of the welcoming and helpful people we encountered from the moment we arrived in Australia. Another is the strong impression that for Sydney people, multiculturalism is regarded as an enriching experience despite the Abbott Government's attempts to turn back history in a number of related policy areas.

The systematic application of a dehumanising strategy to the management of internment camps for asylum seekers is one example. The damaging effects of this approach, particularly on children, have been well documented by health professionals but the practice continues with little sign of change.

One of my souvenirs is a song called From Little Things Big Things Grow. It tells an Australian story of colonial power versus 60,000 years of Aboriginal life on the continent and two men - Lord Vestey, a cattle baron "owning" a huge tract of land; and Vincent Lingiari, whose Gurindji people are stockmen working for Vestey's company.

Vestey has money and power. Vincent is rich in traditional knowledge, dignity and patience. The Gurindji stockmen decide to walk off the station and go on strike to protest the low wages.

Vestey offers a few dollars more but Vincent makes it clear that it is not the money but their traditional lands that are at stake. He gradually builds support for his people and, after eight years of lobbying government, the Prime Minister returns the traditional lands to the Gurindji, ceremoniously pouring sand into Vincent's hands.

Written by Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly, the song was not a radio hit. A simple chord sequence with no grand notions it didn't sound like much but it soon got people talking, back in the cities, back in the towns.

Like Vincent Lingiari and the Gurindji, the song grew in stature as did the story it told. Gradually over many performances, the song went round teaching its story to all kinds of people in all walks of life.

Now, whenever it is performed, Australian audiences sing along. They know all the lyrics and get a glimpse of their country's history and, in doing so, carrying the story of Aboriginal rights forward in music and words. The song remains as powerful for me after many hearings as it did the first time.

Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbHR-apIHLU

The song and the story it tells are very relevant to us here in New Zealand. Change happens because it is from the little things, the ideas and actions that big things grow. We need to get out and vote in the coming election no matter what our political preferences may be. Every vote is one more line in a collective story, with the next chapter to be written by us on September 20.

Terry Sarten is a Whanganui-based writer and musician - feedback: tgs@inspire.net.nz