Friday 26 November 2021

Labour’s Eyes Wide Shut To “Unruly Tenants”.

Not Seeing The Problem: They say there are none so blind as those who will not see. And, right now, Kāinga Ora is studiously not looking. It is clear to everyone that the Minister responsible, Poto Williams, has (like so many of her colleagues) been entirely captured by her officials. Their moral blindness appears to be highly infectious, and Williams has caught it. This is very much a case of ministerial eyes “wide shut”.

HOW LONG before Labour’s senior ministers realise how much damage Kāinga Ora is doing to their Government? Because it is difficult to overstate just how bad the optics of the Crown entity’s “unruly tenants” have become. As story after shocking story is picked up by the news media, public disbelief and disgust is growing exponentially. What’s preventing Labour from cauterising this self-inflicted political wound?

The answer would seem to involve the peculiar moral blindness that afflicts so much of the state bureaucracy. Partly, the result of an unrelenting focus on the “challenges” faced by criminal and dysfunctional individuals – challenges that are permitted to obscure, almost entirely, the consequences of their criminality and dysfunction. Partly, the result of the impulse to offer protection to those deemed “beyond the pale” by the rest of society. And, partly, the result of an ingrained bureaucratic reluctance to have any state agency’s shortcomings exposed to public and political scrutiny. Bring all these together, and the chances of the responsible bureaucrats seeing either the bigger picture, or the even bigger problem, are slim.

From the perspective of Kāinga Ora, gang members harassing and intimidating their neighbours is seen as a symptom of a problem, rather than a problem in its own right. What it tells the caring bureaucrat is something very different from what it would tell just about everybody else – i.e. that it’s time to evict these tenants. On the contrary, such profoundly anti-social behaviour indicates clearly that these individuals are in need of more “wrap-around” assistance. Knee-jerk responses are simply inappropriate in situations of such “extreme complexity”.

Part of that complexity is likely to be the presence of children in the unruly tenants’ household. In the current bureaucratic playbook, the primary objective must be to keep children and their parents together. The object lesson of Oranga Tamariki is there for all state agencies to absorb: don’t allow the world to see Pakeha public servants ripping Māori children from the arms of their mums and dads. Just about anything is preferable to that – up to and including paying-off the unruly tenants’ aggrieved neighbours with large wads of taxpayer cash.

To the rest of the world, of course, the idea of allowing young children to remain in the custody of individuals who abuse and threaten their neighbours, is unthinkable. With that sort of parental example, they would argue, what chance do these kids have of growing into anything other than another generation of violent and uncaring thugs? “Get them out of there! Now!” Would be the immediate response of the average New Zealander. “And then evict their parents!”

In the eyes of the bureaucrats, however, this is exactly what must be avoided. Years of experience have taught them that breaking-up the family unit is only likely to make things worse. They insist that all these allegedly “common sense” solutions end up creating are more unruly citizens. Far from reducing the number of problematic individuals in state houses, you end up multiplying them. (Overlooked, or downplayed, is the fact that equally dire outcomes tend to flow from families in which unpunished violence, intimidation and harassment are part of everyday existence.)

Reflexively, the attention of the bureaucrats returns to the circumstances of the perpetrators. The complaints of the victims are not assessed on their merits, but in terms of how the incidents cited may have further contributed to the inappropriate behaviour of the offenders. Subtly and, all-to-often, not-so-subtly, it is inferred that the victims have contributed to their own misfortunes. That, somehow, the violence and intimidation experienced by the unruly tenants’ neighbours is their own fault. So fixated have the bureaucrats become with “managing” the perpetrators of what in many cases are criminal offences, that the harassed and terrified people on the receiving end of those offences are simply forgotten.

This is the moral blindness that drives the victims of such behaviour, and all who read about it, to utter distraction. They begin to feel like lab rats in some dark behavioural science experiment. Their terrible experiences are simply incidental to the pathology of the experimental subjects. The quality of the victims’ lives is not the point of the exercise. The agency’s only concern is how successful their interventions are at rendering unruly tenants less unruly.

Yes, of course they could evict these people. Indeed, the law requires their eviction. But evicting them would bring Kāinga Ora’s important social experiment to a premature close. With so much still to learn about how best to manage these criminal and dysfunctional individuals, that would be a tragedy. Hence the agency’s policy of not evicting even the most horrendous of its tenants.

They say there are none so blind as those who will not see. And, right now, Kāinga Ora is studiously not looking. The same cannot be said of the rest of New Zealand, which is looking at this unfolding scandal very hard, with rising incredulity – and fury. It is clear to everyone that the Minister responsible, Poto Williams, has (like so many of her colleagues) been entirely captured by her officials. Their moral blindness appears to be highly infectious, and Williams has caught it. This is very much a case of ministerial eyes “wide shut”.

Somebody needs to take charge of this debacle – and soon. The stories flooding into the news media feature the sort of copy editors die for. They’ll publish/broadcast everything they get for as long as they keep on getting it.

More ominously, the longer the Labour Government delays intervening decisively to end this scandal, the more credence voters are likely to give to Opposition claims that Labour’s Māori Caucus is responsible for allowing it to continue. The perception will be fed that Labour is “soft” on gangs, and perversely determined to foster one law for Pakeha and another for Māori. This racist narrative is already gaining traction in the wider electorate. Labour needs to shut it down – now.

If law-abiding citizens’ faith in the state’s willingness to protect its citizens from violence, intimidation and harassment is not rewarded with swift and decisive action, then people will look elsewhere, and to others, for protection.

Official inertia and vigilantism are not unrelated.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 25 November 2021.


David George said...

"Unruly" barely covers it. Death threats, theft and violence are criminal activities and should be viewed, and dealt with, as such. The response? A recommendation to contact a police force that seems just as incapable or unwilling to act as the housing outfit and an insulting offer of free counseling for the terrorised and terrified victims.

The apparent contradictions in the governments propensity to totalitarian/authoritarian responses elsewhere seem impossible to reconcile with their limp wristed response to actual crime and terror. Criminalising speech but tolerating terror?

There's something underlying all of this, something discussed by the brilliant May Harrington: Why anarchy has come to America
Public order has been sacrificed on the altar of empathy

"Perhaps the empathetic elites of Team Rousseau are simply secure enough in their leafy suburbs or gated compounds to ignore any unfortunate side-effects of treating order as secondary to freedom. But this raises the troubling possibility that sacrificing public order for empathy and individual freedom is, in practice, less high-minded than a dereliction of care to those that can’t defend themselves.

this isn’t really about scruples at all. It’s about a crippling lack of moral self-confidence. For you can’t set clear rules and form habits unless you have a clear idea of the good — and it’s this vision of the good that is the true missing piece."

Mark Simpson said...

Thanks Chris for discerning and encapsulating this issue. How did this country ever get to this dire circumstance? Everything seems upside down. The victims are deemed the "perpetrators" and the perpetrators are the "victims."

It seems there is an increasing reference to the bureaucrats having the power to validate and enact policy that is anathema to common sense and the politicians are subservient to them. Has it always been this way and the public weren't aware of it or is it a hallmark of our current government? Would appreciate your opinion on this please Chris.

Unknown said...

The stories flooding into the news media feature the sort of copy editors die for. They’ll publish/broadcast everything they get for as long as they keep on getting it.

Maybe. The most astonishing aspect of the coverage of the errant tenants - has been that they occurred. In the NZ herald at least,Tiill recently these stories seemed to have disappeared off the pages of even th NZ Herald.I have not seen them in Stuff. until recently media have helped the government to defend th indefensible. I wonder if we are close to media pushing back barefacedly against bureaucratic failure. H
ave media turned back to an old strategy?

Barry said...

One of challenges of trying to make sense of the current batch of government MPs is to understand just which corner they are coming from.
Some years ago (before Labour won power in 2017) Poto Williams we reported as favouring the criminalisation of speech made in ones home - this was in respect to so called "hate speech".
That sort of attitude is the basis of a government that slides into stronger and stronger regulations in the belief that the populations will have to be put under more and more controls until they do what the government wants them to. It eventually leads to the sort of thing that develops in countries like the USSR and Cambodia where those that didnt co-operate had to be 'elliminated'.
I know its hard to see a parallel with Kainga ora's approach to rat bag tenants but there is no doubt the Williams would favour some form of extreme action.
And then there is the State sector act of 1988 that set up a barrier between Ministers and ministries - so the current 'no eviction' policy may be all within Kainga Ora as you suggest - and there is little doubt that Williams being one of the bluntest knives in the drawer - would go along with it as it would not involve ever actually having to make a decision as the policy would do that instead.
The one thing Im fairly sure of is that the last thing Williams or any other minister is really concerned about is the so called welfare of troublesome tenants - or their neighbours. Socialism only has groups or classes and individuals dont come into the process. As well there would some in kainga Ora who would see the trouble being inflicted upon the neighbouring home owners as being payback for having the temerity of owning their own homes..............

Shane McDowall said...

I have two words for the harrassed neighbours.

Molotov Cocktail.

And Kainga Ora should build state houses on White Island and send their shit head tennents there.

The Barron said...

If it is criminal behaviour, that should be established by the police and courts. Kainga Ora is housing of the last resort and if that is lost by a family with children the higher bar of criminal proof, beyond reasonable doubt should be used to establish the liability. To use the civil bar of balance of probability and then claim criminality is a very uncomfortable short cut and places the vulnerable precarious without the due process such criminal accusations should be subjected.

greywarbler said...

When people in Naples and Sicily were ignored for long enough and invaded as well, they founded the Mafia. And the Mafia is right-wing they believe in personal advancement and ownership, and their option to try to get ownership of what they want.

I have been remiss with my reading and have just caught up with Carlo Levi and his book about his exiled time with the peasants of an isolated and ignored part of Italy; it is virtually a monograph on their way of life. Here is an excerpt - this could be us in all whether our educated blandness or our careless ignorance of the need to share the reins of politics if we are afraid of it taking off without us; as Geoffrey Palmer named his book 'Unbridled Power'.

These are parts of a greater excerpt from this deep thinker seeking improvement in status and autonomy of ordinary people. First a brief sketch of the people worn down by centuries of
toil in the soil with few prominent advances to gratify them.

“They live submerged in a world that rolls on independent of their will, where man is in no way separate from his sun, his beast, his malaria, where there can be neither happiness, as literary devotees of the land conceive it, nor hope, because these two are adjuncts of personality and here there is only the grim passivity of a sorrowful Nature.

But they have a lively human feeling for the common fate of mankind and its common acceptance. This is strictly a feeling rather than an act of will; they do not express it in words but they carry it with them at every moment and in every motion of their lives, through all the unbroken days that pass over these wastes.”
― Carlo Levi, Christ Stopped at Eboli: The Story of a Year

“It was sad to see the peasants' ingratitude. And their superstitions. And their stubbornness. And so on, and so on...a dust-covered and uninteresting skein of self-interest, low-grade passion, boredom, greedy impotence, and poverty.”
― Carlo Levi, Christ Stopped at Eboli: The Story of a Year

“They were all unconscious worshippers of the State. Whether the State they worshipped was the Fascist State or the incarnation of quite another dream, they thought of it as something that transcended both its citizens and their lives. Whether it was tyrannical or paternalistic, dictatorial or democratic, it remained to them monolithic, centralized, and remote.

This was why the political leaders and my peasants could never understand one another. The politicians oversimplified things, even while they clothed them in philosophical expressions. Their solutions were abstract and far removed from reality; they were schematic halfway measures, which were already out of date. Fifteen years of Fascism had erased the problem of the South from their minds and if now they thought of it again they saw it only as a part of some other difficulty, through the fictitious generalities of party and class and even race..

Could it be in NZ that the years of neolib economics will blot out the importance of treating
workers fairly, even regarding physical work building physical things, as the basis of a society's achievements, and the mental work the finessing of human life? James McNeish apent some time with Danilo Dolci who brought vitality for a time to Sicily which was worn down much as Levi recorded south-east of Naples.

Will we come to this sort of resigned understanding of our condition as 'voiced' by Carlo Levi?
“Was this classical form the reminiscence of an ancient art, descended to a popular level, or was it an original and spontaneous re-creation in a language natural to this land, where the whole of life is a tragedy without a stage?”
― Carlo Levi, Christ Stopped at Eboli: The Story of a Year

greywarbler said...

What about CST - Compulsory Social Training, and the army being paid to take them on. take them through a stringent life preparation and skills program with a lock them in the brig approach for bad behaviour.

They would be put through fitness, tikanga, bushcraft, reading, reading understanding (could be destroyed through drugs and none of them including no alcohol), a bit of cannabis allowed when they had earned it (different approach to the same-old), and get these males used to an organised life where they plan the week and finish projects. There would be a sizable number of females who would benefit from a similar regime. And at the end if they have tyried and done okay, then a new residence and even a new location to start life in a new direction, just quietly.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Swordfish

Your personal testimony is harrowing.

Rather than commenting on Bowalley Road, I would suggest you contact a journalist and repeat your story to him/her.

The Police should also be given this information in the form of a written statement.

Russ the muss said...

As one of the neighbour's said, what would the CEI of Kainga Ora do if they were her neighbour's?. That's a powerful statement as I think we all know what would happen. Another case of the rich and powerful ruling for years but not me?

swordfish said...

Thanks, Chris ... will do.

Fantastic analysis btw ... absolutely bang-on.