New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.19, 22 May 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.
There has been a lot of comment about the comment. Melissa Lee’s theory about the benefits of motorways for siphoning criminals from their homes into juicy sites for committing crimes has been well covered through thoughtful comment, humour, contempt, derision and pretty well the full gamut of emotion.
Best humorous quote came from John Pagani who suggested that “If Melissa Lee keeps digging the tunnel will be finished very shortly.” Best quizzical comment came from the NZ Police who, with a serious face, told us that “criminals are like anyone else and where they get off the motorway is over to them.” But there is no leeway for the Lee Way. Abusive comment that denigrates whole sections of the community is simply out of place in a modern community.
Some would argue that such comments are unthinking. Sadly they are not. Vygotsky summed up a critical understanding when he stated that “thoughts are not merely expressed in words but come into being through them.” The scary thing is not that she said what she said but that in doing so she revealed what she was thinking. What she said didn’t come from nowhere. Language and thought are one and indivisible.
All of this makes it harder for educators who daily work so hard at all levels in “South Auckland”. Their good work can in the minds of so many is diminished by one ill-judged comment.
Let us clear up one thing – the term “South Auckland”. As a term it belongs with Atlantis, Avalon, Camelot, El Dorado, Mag Mell and Shangri-La as a mythical place which doesn’t exist and to which all sorts of characteristics are attributed in order to pursue a fiction or to allow the leisured classes an opportunity to account for their failings by assigning them to the boundaries of that far-away place.
Once there was a South Auckland Province which started just south of Auckland and stretched to Napier and Taupo etc. But that was long ago. There is no place called “South Auckland” other than in the minds of people who live their lives outside of the Counties Manukau Region. Do those who would use the term understand that it is New Zealand’s most diverse community? That it has a regional economy that has at times performed well above the level of the national economy? That the average individual income of those who live there is higher than the national average? That unlike other Auckland areas it provides free access to its libraries, free access to its swimming pools, and is rolling out a programme of free swimming lessons to Year 3-5 students through the John Walker Find Your Field of Dreams Foundation and the only CCO running leisure facilities in the Greater Auckland Region, Manukau Leisure Services Ltd?[i]
But the policies that saw huge concentrations of low cost state housing, unprecedented in New Zealand, in to some areas within Counties Manukau has created challenges in education, health, and housing that no government, local or national, has been able to get on top of. By whatever ,measure of poversty that you care to take, the Counties Manukau area has disadvantage that is at least double that of any other area. Access to early childhood education runs at half the national levels in some parts of the region. Teachers face considerable challenges, on a far greater scale than anywhere else in New Zealand in lifting levels of literacy and numeracy and in lifting aspirations of young people so that they can build on a sound base of skills to enjoy the futures that are taken for granted by so many other New Zealanders.
Melissa Lee has a responsibility, not only as a Member of Parliament, but also as a member of a migrant community, to accept a special responsibility to see that she uses her position to help build attitudes and behaviours that increase understanding and tolerance and which seek to understand how different communities whether based on ethnicity, or belief, or wealth, can contribute to the greater good. The building of a House of Representatives that better reflects the peoples of New Zealand is something to be welcomed provided that it has an impact on behaviour and the general willingness of the community to understand difference and to work to bring the privileges and benefits of living in a rich and blessed country such as New Zealand to all its citizens.
The issue is that it is not possible for people to start to work in ways that seek inclusive outcomes unless they have first understood what it is that needs to be understood. The cultures of New Zealand cannot enter the deliberations of the Houses of Parliament unless they have first entered the consciousness of Members of Parliament, Ministers, Party Leaders and officials.
Public utterances such as the Lee statement suggest that some might have still some distance to cover before they can say with confidence that they have sought to understand.
The invitation is there for Melissa Lee and, indeed, any other MP to visit Counties Manukau – take a trip to the land of South Auckland – just as many already have done so. So let there be no misunderstanding, you are welcome to come and learn about New Zealand’s most dynamic community that gives a glimpse of the future of this country. That is why it is important to get decision-making right. The invitation is made and I will personally undertake to get you in touch with the people you wish to see.
Meantime it would be wise to refrain from using the term South Auckland and to talk with real knowledge and understanding of real communities.
And while you are at Melissa, what would you suggest for motorways that allow all of those fraudsters who ran finance companies who travel from Remuera into South Auckland in great numbers – admittedly it is usually to go to the airport to continue their glamorous lifestyle elsewhere?
[i] Stuart Middleton is a trustee of the John Walker Find Your Field of Dreams Foundation and Chairman of the Board of Director’s of Manukau Leisure Services Ltd.