January 26, 2005

Come In and Burn

Mr Neil Falloon writes from the war room...

This early in an election year, there are always more questions than answers.

Why is it so hard to catch a rogue monkey, but so easy to catch the simian-herpes B virus? Why does a fly have to fight the whole universe? What will Dr Brash’s Singaporean Wife™ wear to Orewa II? And how can the media cover it, deprived of ‘Hurricane Brash’ and similar natural disaster epithets by recent events in Asia?

I ponder these questions as I sit wearing my pyjamas in the war room of the conservative media underground. Garth George’s body, suspended in fluid, pulses ever so slightly, twitching violently when the room’s televisions display advertisements that show people's bare midriffs.

Rotarians, the media, the nation… all are ready for the National party leader's Words from the Mount.

Brash's church upbringing shows – on the pulpit he channels the spirit of Murray McCully (may he rest in peace). The banker starts speaking in tongues; gibberish about "fiscal penalties" for sole mothers who do not give up the names of their babies' fathers.

I sigh and my pyjamas crinkle. This is not the first time National has failed to articulate a clear message to the electorate. Brash keeps repeating “I ask myself the question” but what New Zealand needs is an answer. The answer they need is the reassurance that it is Dr Donald Brash who is Their Daddy.

Then Brash mentions the unemployed, and I perk up. He could be on to a winner. Traditional notions of employment and unemployment are losing their meaning – many scratch out a living from alternative income sources like
trademe.co.nz and a few of us, like Olivia Kember, even reap unheard-of fortunes as superstar authors for DogBitingMen. Many, though, are unemployed bums.

To be fair, not all the jobless are bludgers. Deposed Hobson community board member Aaron Bhatnagar turned up to his local Post Office at dawn to be assigned work the very day after he lost his local government job.

Never mind that it was a Sunday, or that work-for-the-dole had been abolished in 1999. These things don’t matter to a proud struggler like Bhatnagar, and in days gone by they didn’t matter to New Zealand.

But for every Aaron, for every Battler, there is a Matt Nippert. A long-haired layabout (
photograph here, next to telling headline about "street walkers") who signed up for multiple benefit payments under the false names “Tom Goulter”, “MediaCow” and – to add insult to injury – “Lyndon Hood”, a still-born distant relative of the hard working Bhatnagar.

Bhatnagar may be as strong as an ox, but even his broad, powerful, manly, rippling shoulders will strain under the crippling yoke of supporting three fictitious beneficiaries through his taxes.

But tonight the National leader chooses not to talk about fraudsters. His main target is the Dependent Person’s Benefit, or Dee Pee Bee. Originally devised as a back-stop for solo mothers, the benefit has spiralled out of control like a royal dress-up party.

Brash’s plans are bold. Beneficiaries who choose to have more children will be refused benefit increases; solo parents will be made to work. Sole mothers may be encouraged to put their children up for adoption as a way of reducing the numbers on Work and Income’s rolls.

It is unclear whether the Post Office will become a one-stop shop. Will unemployed mothers be able to leave behind their unwanted babies for adoption as they jump on the bus to go to community work? If so, we can once again thank the reforms of the 1980s. Pre-deregulation, the bureaucratic NZ Post was completely unsuitable for handling delicate packages, and did not even bubble-wrap infant children mailed in their boxes. [Source: the polemical masterpiece I’ve Been Thinking by Richard Prebble and possibly a self-effacing

It surprises me that Brash has not come to the natural solution to the conjoined-triplet-tasks of
All could obviously be achieved by simply deregulating the market in baby sales.

On the other hand, Brash's three-month trial period for workers should succeed in getting more long-term unemployed into work. Many employers say difficulties in terminating employees stops them hiring. Although you can't prove a negative (or, as United Future's voluminous press release
output shows, multiply zeroes), a thought experiment should suffice:

A government-funded beneficiary – let’s call him “Dick Hubbard” – should be able to try his hand at a job for which he may initially be deemed too “risky”. Say... being Mayor of New Zealand’s largest city. If he turns out to be unsuitable, he should be allowed to be fired after three months on a no-fault basis (no personal grievance claims, no three years of dizzying continued incompetence). He can then, like other New Zealanders, fall back on the
subsistence safety net of $180,000 per annum.

Brash easily convinces the impressionable Susan Wood. His speech may not be enough to win an entire election.
Still, in the conservative underground I can survive another three years of Labour. I look over to the corner, where Ian Wishart has built himself a fort out of tins of food that he is stockpiling for the Apocalypse. His cans reach almost as high as a nearby pile of Dr Muriel Newman’s angry press releases.

“Ian,” I say, “our time has not yet come. If we were to work as close advisors for the National government after the election, we would be sell-outs every bit as bad as those corporate whores Patrick Crewdson and Damian Christie who gave up such promising careers as researchers for the Maxim Institute.

And for what? For the flimflam of
fame and glory?

“No, my friend Ian, you and I must fight from outside the system, like Russell Brown fights the crepuscular onset of old age, and like David Farrar fights the impulse to bed glamorous women.

“We must remain steadfast and true. We must ask ourselves: What Would George W Do?

“And Ian…

“Pass me some sardines.”

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