The Times August 07, 2006

This is New Zealand's dark secret
Jamie Whyte

Now that its record of violence is revealed, there is another painful truth to confront

NEW ZEALAND is a little, South Pacific version of 1950s England. People are friendly, trustworthy and hard-working. You can leave your front door unlocked when you go out. Women can safely walk alone at night and, if you drop your wallet, someone will deliver it to your door the next day.

If you share this common view, then you are probably wrong about 1950s England and you are certainly wrong about contemporary New Zealand. On Thursday my home country made a rare appearance on the NON-sports pages of The Times. In her farewell speech, the departing Governor-General of New Zealand, Dame Silvia Cartwright, lamented the country’s “dark secret”: we have an appalling amount of domestic violence.

New Zealand’s child murder rate is 0.9 per 100,000 children, compared with 0.4 in Britain and 0.1 in Spain. This makes it third worst in the OECD. Reliable wife-beating statistics are hard to come by, but there can be no doubt that it is also unusually popular in New Zealand. There are never vacancies at the women’s refuge.

Nor is violence only a family pastime. The overall murder rate is 2.5 per 100,000 people, compared with 1.5 in Britain (and Britain has a population around 20 times bigger). We have just as many assaults per person as Britain and 50 per cent more rapes.

New Zealand is not only violent, it is (relatively) poor too. Per capita GDP is only $26,000 (£14,500), compared with $35,000 in Australia and $37,000 in Britain. This is not because New Zealanders do not work. We have one of the highest employment rates in the world. It is just that what gets produced by all this work is not worth very much. New Zealand has a low-productivity, low-wage economy.

Of course, not all New Zealanders are violent and poor. In some towns — the kind that tourists visit — life is very nice indeed: rich, clean and friendly. The unpleasantness is concentrated. Its grim statistics arise from its large population of hoons.

Hoons are the underclass of New Zealand. They are inarticulate and unkempt to a degree that would appal even a chav. (No Burberry caps for hoons; simply wearing shoes often takes too much sartorial effort.) But, in other respects, hoons are just like the underclass of any other modern Western country.

They often grow up without their fathers. The succession of “uncles” who come through their home may beat or rape them. They attend school only because it is compulsory until sixteen, and leave having acquired neither an education nor any qualifications. They work in unskilled jobs, if they work at all. They have no interests and no ambitions, unless you count sex and intoxication (especially from marijuana, which grows like a weed in New Zealand). The sex leads to children, but rarely to marriage. They smoke, eat junk and die younger than the rest of us. And then their children do it all over again.

It is in this subculture of listless depravity that women and children are so frequently murdered and abused. And it is because New Zealand has such a large underclass that its social statistics are so bad.

Why are there so many hoons in New Zealand? You might expect this to be a matter of fierce national debate. Yet, until recently, there has been little serious discussion of the problem, and certainly no serious action to remedy it.

One reason for this diffidence is that many New Zealanders subscribe to the modern ethos of non-judgmentalism. For those whose motto is “I don't like to judge”, it is almost impossible even to identify, let alone to remedy, the problem of an underclass.

But, more importantly, discussing these problems makes New Zealanders feel queasy because it inevitably draws you into race issues. Not all hoons are Maori, and not all Maori are hoons. Far from it. But there is a correlation. Consider just these facts.

Maori are 15 per cent of the population, but 50 per cent of the prison population. Forty per cent of Maori children grow up in fatherless homes, compared with 17 per cent of whites. A third of Maori boys leave school with no qualification, compared with 13 per cent of white boys. The child murder rate is 1.5 per 100,000 among Maori, compared with 0.7 among whites. Maori life expectancy is seven years less than that of whites.

What is to be done? Not simply more of the same. More generous welfare payments will simply make the dependency slightly more comfortable. And more “inclusive” — that is, less rigorous — state education will increase the advantages of privately educated children. New Zealand’s examination system is now so debased that good schools offer foreign qualifications. (Sound familiar?)

Some hope comes from an unexpected source. The Maori Party was created in 2004 when its co-leader, Tariana Turia, quit the Parliamentary Labour Party in outrage over legislation that eliminated certain Maori land rights. In the 2005 general election the Maori Party stole many thousands of votes from the Labour Party and now has four members in our 120-seat parliament.

It is strange to be anything but appalled by a race-based political party. But the Maori Party is not squeamish about facing New Zealand’s social problems, and it is free of the flabby political correctness that corrupts the discussion of social policy. Among other things, it seeks welfare reforms that will end dependency and strengthen the extended family.

Good luck to it. And to the other New Zealanders such as Dame Silvia Cartwright who are finally taking the country’s social problems seriously.

Britain - 244,820 sq km
New Zealand - 268,680 sq km

Britain - 60 million
New Zealand - 3 million

GDP per capita
Britain - $37,000
New Zealand - $26,000

Murder rate
Britain - 1.5 per 100,000
New Zealand - 2.5 per 100,000

Child murder rate
Britain - 0.4
New Zealand - 0.9