COMMENT:

No-one can say our present government isn't hard-working.

It's already set new hard-work records in the formation of Working Groups, which work hard working out ways for Government to give the illusion of working hard.

In reality, Government's hoping the Working Groups can work out how to make its optimistic election promises miraculously work, should the Working Groups' eventual recommendations ever be implemented.

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Even when Government appears to immediately get down to work, things don't work out too well. Capital Gains sank without trace. With KiwiBuild, Minister Twyford seemed determined to replicate the project's threatened and flightless namesake, and fast-track its own extinction.

It wouldn't surprise me if we didn't soon also have a Ministry of Working Groups – if in fact we don't already. Plus also a Ministry of Displaced Ministers, the Minister of which would naturally be outside Cabinet.

Then, too, over the years there's been a trend to have single-issue ministries – as in Minister for the America's Cup, and Minister for Auckland Issues. This government is also all for it, so we've now got the Minister for Pike River Re-Entry, and so forth.

These mini-ministries are all well and good. But while we're at it, why not introduce a single-issue ministry that will actually achieve something fundamental to the nation's economic and social wellbeing? Like a Ministry of Comics! Shock, horror, but I kid you not.

We're all familiar with the tsunami of social dysfunction sweeping our supposed Godzone: domestic violence and child abuse, chronic addictions, sky-high incarceration and recidivism, entrenched poverty and homelessness, world-beating suicide rates... the full list is truly mind-numbing for a nation of our natural advantages and resources.

Analysis concludes the common denominator is often low literacy levels that stymie engagement with wider society at a most basic level. Disengagement leads to disillusion, to disenfranchisement, and ultimately chronic dysfunction.

Recent surveys showed 40 per cent of adults now cannot read at an everyday functional level. And never mind writing - a step up again from reading. Literacy in primary schoolers had also decreased significantly.

Why the long, steady slide? Previously there were these magical literacy aids called ... comics! The Duck family – Don, Daisy, Uncle Scrooge, nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie. There was the Mouses – Mickey and Minnie, Little Lotta, Popeye and Olive Oyl, Archie and Jughead, Richie Rich, and Sad Sack, Beano and Biffo.

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There was a comic for every form of military combat going, not to mention the whole Western pantheon – the Lone Ranger, the Cisco Kid, shootin', tootin' Buck Jones, and Buck Rogers for the sci-fi fans.

They were cheap, and they were everywhere. Every corner dairy had racks of them. And – especially for the slower readers – their visual elements all worked hard teaching kids in a fun way the vital links between squiggly things called letters, and what they meant.

In the crucial formative years, they inconspicuously instilled what squadrons of remedial reading teachers cold later only hope to achieve in their wildest dreams, even if they were available.

The advent of TV and the digital age put paid to their popularity at a time when supposedly advanced pedagogic flim-flam flooded primary school classrooms, black-balling basic literacy techniques that had worked for generations. Our prisons are chock-full of the consequences.

While now there are these fancy new-age versions called graphic novels, they are expensive and thin on the ground.

Harry Potter spectacularly showed how literate kids will avidly read if there's material that engages them. But something's needed for the struggling young readers.

The electronic gaming industry is now worth billions of dollars. A revived comic industry, subsidised by the Ministry Of Comics, could be, too – not to mention a downstream El Dorado of remedial reading benefits.

The Minister? Were he alive today, undoubtedly Matiu Rata, former Minister of Lands and Minister of Maori Affairs.

He was once famously accused of reading comics. Good man. He knew their value!