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Gang Violence

Highbury, a suburb of Palmerston North has hit the headlines again. The last equivalent time that I can remember was about 20 years ago when it brought "glue sniffing" to public awareness.

There followed Ministerial visits, the appointment of social and community workers and a Whanau Support Centre. In those days the Department of Social Welfare had social workers who worked in the Community. Internal Affairs also had relevant staff and programmes.

Those days have long gone, although 'social workers' in schools in suburbs like these are starting to reappear. Another part of the infrastructure that has also gone, part of the demonised past, is the Group Employment Liaison Scheme (GELS).

The scheme was specifically developed under Muldoon to work with gangs to produce better outcomes than the present one. But after 1984, people like then Minister Phil Goff, Treasury et al decided that jobs weren't the answer, training was, so gradually GELS and the other programmes that were designed specifically to meet the needs of 'alienated people' were cut.

The 'free market' individualised, 'leave it to communities to sort out their problems' approach has produced a violent society across the board, not just in Highbury, and the scrapping of the different social infrastructures have lead to deaths across the country, following deinstitutionalisation of those who needed and still need specialist and specialised care are well known.

As an ex GELS officer said after the Waitara shooting, 'there was no need for that, it was the result of inadequate training and experience'.

That was the field GELS people worked in every day and knew how to handle - but that approach along worth many other very sound programmes with their accumulated wisdom and experience were deemed inappropriate for the brave new world of the 'laissez faire' free market society where the great and increasing gap between the haves and the have nots is supposed to nurture creativity.

The response to the current situation has yet to play its course but so far it has consisted of the usual beat up and media hype. Not an environment conducive to sensible, long term solutions.

We have yet to see meaningful government (national and local) responses to address the issues, which are of course not just evident in Highbury.

Further than that, we have yet to hear from government that dealing to such issues mean that their existence and importance are acknowledged.

To deal to them, major policy shifts will be required and the current and previous governments have not been prepared to consider these. They are still in the basket of demonised wisdom from the past. As the song goes - "how many deaths will it take till they know ........"

Ian Ritchie
Feilding R D 7 ph/fax 06 3289 618 06 354 3804


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