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Liberty Belle: Private vs Public Welfare

Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle

Private vs Public Welfare

I'm just back from another trip to the Heartland. Martinborough, Masterton, Pahiatua, Woodville, Dannevirke, Waipukurau, Wallingford, Hastings, Napier and Palmerston North. A whistle-stop tour, but such a treat. One of the nicest things about being an ACT MP is the lovely people I get to meet.

In Wairarapa I met a woman who'd had polio and been in the Duncan Home, Wanganui, about the same time as my brother. What a fantastic example of private philanthropy the Duncan family demonstrated when their trust was set up from the proceeds of a farming property to treat children afflicted with polio. As with my parents, this woman's family could never have afforded to pay for the numerous ground-breaking operations, hospital care and physiotherapy she needed. Because the Duncan family covered all costs these children, now grown up, are contributing to society's prosperity and wealth.

In stark comparison with that story, I heard from a doctor in the Wairarapa who is horrified that patients are coming to him saying WINZ has told them to get a certificate so they can go from the unemployment benefit to the sickness benefit. That means they'll get more money and won't be work-tested.

Another Wairarapa farm we visited - a beautiful property where a flock of peacocks, trailing their azure cloaks and strutting like a Winston - was accessed up a winding, gravel road. Smatterings of native bush clinging to the banks of clear, chilled-to-zero water made me want to stop the car, roll up my trousers and take precarious steps upstream from boulder to boulder just for the hell of it.

Before you jump to the conclusion that these were landed gentry, this man left school aged 16 and went shearing. He became a 300-sheep a day man - awe-inspiring if you know anything about shearing - and worked his guts out to buy this farm.

I sat in the living room with these heartland folk, eating homemade cake, discussing civil society and how this government is doing its best to crush voluntary cooperation, help thy neighbour, and personal responsibility.

How so?

One example is the zealous pursuit of the closing of rural and small-town schools. Sometimes schools close for good reasons - the rolls are too small, discipline is absent, standards of education are too low (although in latter years, standards have become a subjective term at best).

However, Labour is closing schools that have good ERO reports; strong community involvement; massive parental support. We should be celebrating this, not punishing it.

I went to Flemington School - about 40 minutes away from our house by school bus. A three-classroom school back then, educating children from primer one to form two. We received a world-class standard of education. I bet you that the dumbest kid at that school in those days went on to secondary school more than able to read a bus timetable. (Not that such a timetable existed back then - our family, always running late, kept an ear on the radio to time our exits, as in: "Quick. That's the end of the news. The bus is coming!" We usually missed it.)

Today, 20 per cent of secondary school children leave school unable to read a bus timetable. But I digress.

That school was - and probably still is - the centre for the community. Parents ran the school, through the school committee and the PTA. Once we had a shoddy teacher (not only were we not learning anything, but girls - not me, no-one wanted to kiss me - were kissing boys in the sports shed). So the parents got together, fought hard, badgered the Education Department in Napier, and got him removed.

Volunteer parents took us for choir, for gardening, for sewing (yes - boys too), and of course for netball, football, and other sports.

We even had a parent take us for French lessons. Yours truly (shame on her!) once asked Mrs Innes (in all innocence, truly) what the difference was between a French kiss and an ordinary kiss. Lord knows what I'd been reading (I was 11) but this mother didn't bat an eyelid. "I suspect there's not much difference, " she said. "One day, when you grow up, you might find out."

Compare that answer with the reaction from a teacher two years ago when a male student wrote his essay on "getting a boner in class". The entire country went into a lather.

My point is that the Minister is closing schools, he says, for financial reasons. Well, I say you can't put a price on community and parental support. When I was in Cambridge I looked at some research that showed the single most important factor on students' success at school, after teacher quality, is parental support. It's more important than family income, or the level of qualifications parents have attained.

In other words, if kids have a parent who ignores fatigue, grumpiness and hunger when they struggle home from school, but first asks, "How was school today? Do you have homework? Let me help"; that makes more impact on children's success than how poor, or poorly educated those parents happen to be.

It doesn't take rocket science does it? This is pure ACT policy. Devolve the funding away from central bureaucracy. Stop the situation whereby Wellington tells teachers how to teach; dictates where parents must send their kids to school, then closes those schools.

Let's cherish the civil society exemplified in the heartland, where people look out for each other. These heartland folk can tell Labour academics, unionists and neo-socialists a thing or two about the caring society.

Then again, maybe they couldn't. Socialists say they care about humanity. What that means is they don't give a fig about individuals.

Yours in liberty,
Deborah Coddington.

Liberty Belle is a column from Deborah Coddington, Member of Parliament for ACT New Zealand.

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