Bernard Darnton
Bernard Darnton

Unfinished Roger

Originally published in Otago University's Critic magazine.

My last two Saturdays have been spent cooped up in Ward 6 of Wakari hospital where I've been renting my bloodstream to a pharmaceuticals company. By the way, this is the ultimate job for the slacker generation. You just lie in bed, dozing, watching videos and get paid for it. Your only requirement is to bleed for a day. It's hardly taxing so if you're a lazy bastard, — sorry, if you are an unfortunate victim of Lazy Bastard Syndrome — I fully recommend it.

Anyway, being there cast my mind back to my first visit in 1983. My family had just come from England and our first stop in Dunedin was Wakari Hospital to see my grandmother. The place was pretty institutional, as you would expect, but the funny part was, so was the whole country. It looked as if the Ministry of Institutional Decay ran the entire place, except on weekends when nobody ran anything. We arrived carrying Lego and felt-tipped pens to distribute to cousins because import tariffs put the local prices of these things into low orbit.

When we returned to live, in 1987, the contrast was incredible. Everything was shiny and new, as in a first world country. There were touch-tone phones and barcode scanners in the shops. And those barcode scanners were happily bleeping away on Saturdays, even selling luxury items like kids' toys.

Not everywhere had been touched by this new broom. Wakari bears testament to that. It's managed to maintain the 50s look with the interesting plumbing fittings and the slowly peeling pastel paint that I thought was reserved only for schools. It truly is the land that Roger forgot.

Roger either forgot or didn't dare touch a lot of things and it's easy to spot the things that got left out. They're all the things that still don't work. The health system, the education system, ACC, welfare, etc. Since then, apart from a three-quarters-hearted attempt at labour reform, the National government's been next to useless. Recently they've been not only next to useless but in coalition with them.

What changes would someone returning here after a few years now notice? Well, basically, everything's been banned. Smokers are sinners, with the Rally of New Zealand being taken down as collateral damage although it would have had to go anyway because it looks like fun; it's illegal to fart without resource consent, requiring environmental impact reports and open wallet surgery; if you smack a burglar with a cricket bat the burglar will get ACC and you'll get charged by OSH with running a dangerous workplace.

The last decade has seen 1600 new laws and 3600 new regulations. We're more regulated now than at any time in history. The reforms in the mid-eighties were necessary but ultimately superficial. We need changes that go to the bone, or rather to the mind. We don't need any more offices, or commissioners or a Ministry of Mediocre Affairs. We need to be set free.

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