A while back I found myself in conversation with an Italian guy at a party. We had been isolated from the larger group so started sparring back and forward with the normal rubbish between two people who don’t really know each other and are killing time before their friends come back to save them:
“How do you know x,y or z?”
“Is your hair naturally like that?”
“How long have you been in Amsterdam for?”
“Don’t you miss home?”
He said he loved Italy, he missed the food, the weather, his friends and his family every single day.
Gesturing toward the window, and more specifically the rain coming down outside, I asked why he hadn’t returned – half expecting the answer to be something to do with the economy.
“Berlusconi” he replied.
This was in the aftermath of Berlusconi’s infamous bunga bunga parties and numerous corruption trials so he made an easy target.
“Yeah, he’s pretty bad isn’t he?” was all I could offer.
“It’s not him who’s the problem. He is a corrupt and sexist pig, but that’s been known for years. What stops me from moving back is that he is still the most popular politician in the country (insert impassioned gesticulation)! They love him there – still! How can I live in a place where the people condone this shit? What does it say about them?”
I trotted away from the conversation on my high-horse, smug in the knowledge that there were no bunga bunga parties in New Zealand anywhere north of Balclutha, and that the only dirt on our politicians was on their gumboots after photo-ops with Shrek the Sheep.
Of course that all changed last month when New Zealand was treated to its biggest political scandal since a drunk Robert Muldoon called a snap election in 1984. People from both sides of the political spectrum had a decent crack at telling us what it all really meant. Those on the right came out of their corner punching, stating that it was nothing that we didn’t already know, all politicians did it, it’s a left wing smear campaign etc… while those on the left decried in breathless terms that the corruption was “beyond the pale,” was the work of reptilian shape-shifters and that the sun may in fact not rise tomorrow.
But the sun did rise, and with it more pre-election polls showing what the Prime Minister knew all along – we New Zealanders really don’t give a shit about systemic corruption and skulduggery behind closed doors. Rather, we would prefer to move on from this dirty stain on our history and onto the “real issues” plaguing our fair land. That isn’t the peripheral emotive issues like child poverty, polluted waterways, skyrocketing house prices, illegal mass surveillance or mounting national debt – it’s more like when will we get our $10 per week tax cut, who will protect us from The Economy, why does the Labour leader’s laugh sound so creepy and isn’t there an All Blacks game on the other channel?
As an expat New Zealander I’ve watched the coverage of this year’s election with interest. Living abroad I share the same nagging thought that my parents had when they went on holiday and left one of their teenage children in charge of the family home: will the place still be standing when I get back?
I’ve read a few articles recently about “The Brain Drain” (the KPI on whether the house is in fact still standing) and how less young New Zealanders have been leaving due to the good favour that The Economy has bestowed upon our country. Whether this is because our parents’ generation sacrificed their children to appease Him, or because the arse merely fell out of the Australian mineral boom it’s hard to say – but it’s an overly reductive explanation of why we leave the country, and more importantly, why many will not return.
When I left New Zealand my decision was not motivated by job prospects, much like any decision to return wouldn’t be. It is more likely to be motivated by the great intangible – how does the future look?
Like the Italian guy I was speaking to at the party, I miss home every day. I miss my friends, my family, the cricket, banter, fish ‘n’ chips, empty beaches … hell I even kinda miss getting sunburned after being in direct sunlight for eight minutes. But the overall picture being painted in recent months of New Zealand is of a country where the populous really doesn’t care about anything other than “not rocking the boat”. Most political discourse is dominated by partisan rhetoric, short-sighted policy and the overwhelming fear that individuals have of crashing into financial oblivion. In a country where the social safety net has slowly been chipped away over the last 25 years the latter is understandable, however this does not mean that we should give up on making difficult decisions today with an eye to the future.
I won’t go to the lengths that my Italian friend went to in renouncing his country of birth, but it is difficult to watch the country you love slowly slipping into the mire. If the politicians we elect are a reflection on us, what do the results of this year’s election say about New Zealanders and what we want for the future?
– This is a guest post, written by Stephen Dean, and originally published on his blog, Rear Window Travels (http://rearwindowtravels.tumblr.com/post/98298918735/high-horse-preachy-politics).