Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

< Columns

Sad Tales from the Left


Have you noticed the odd way in which the media are handling the government's crackdown on surplus employees in the Public Service? Very few reporters mention the crazy way in which State Service numbers rocketed ahead by more than 16,000 during Labour's six years, with 2,582 recruits during election year and while the new government was being formed. There has been no attempt by the media to analyse why the Labour Government and the Public Service Commission carried on hiring record numbers when civil service bloat had become such a significant election issue. Nor has the media made any attempt to show in what ways public services improved at all, let alone by 30%, as a result of the ratcheting up of recruitment. All sizzle for the new recruits, precious little sausage for the taxpayer.

Indeed, the media right now seem to be intent on highlighting areas where there are still staff shortages: at hospital emergency facilities, in education, in security work, you name it. All these areas are still waiting for delivery. I suspect the allocation of the new staff within the sectors was as haphazard and profligate as the requests by the departmental heads, and the easy indulgence in funding them by Grant Robertson.

On their endless search for soft stories that require little mental effort, journalists have decided to prostitute themselves before the lobbyists who now want to retain the civil service bloat. The weak Public Service Association (PSA) and the ineffectual Combined Trade Unions (CTU) have taken to sounding off to the effect that an end to the world is nigh as Nicola Willis reins numbers in. There is an old union adage of questionable common sense that if there are to be lay-offs, then they should be on the basis of "last on, first off". According to that principle, the rush of last year's new appointees should be subjected to very close scrutiny, with only exceptional people kept on. They all need to be reminded that it was the Labour Government's recklessness that has brought about the economic hole we are in. After a 30% increase over six years, being requested to prune staff numbers by 6.5 to 7.5% scarcely warrants the adjective "outrageous" that some are using of Willis' pre-budget efforts.

Establishing a Parliamentary Select Committee to hold the heads of departments, former ministers, and the State Services Commission to account for their carelessness would be a good idea. What reasons did they have when they pulled so many on to the state's payroll? Did they ever consider what beneficial results they might achieve? The wider public deserves to be told how today's sad state of affairs came about. Exposing the absurdity of the PSA's assertion, parroted by Labour's Ayesha Verrall, that putting off the promised tax cuts so that newly-employed state servants and their feckless employers can be accommodated, might be educational. It would almost certainly be a spectator sport. But only if the media deigned to report the facts as they were revealed.

While we are talking about the sad state of the media, much of it still supported by taxpayers, what a sorry sight TV3 journalists look as they mourn their loss of jobs. Losing one's job mid-career is, of course, something of a shock. But many people experience it, none more than politicians. Some of the recent comments from journalists are pathetic. Jack Tame and Paddy Gower have arrogantly spoken of their current predicament as if they are some form of God-given gift to us proles. Michael Morrah who is one of TV3's better investigative reporters, grandly announced that journalists do their job "to try and improve society in some form", inadvertently pointing to the reason why fewer and fewer people are watching TV3, which lost record sums last year. Most journalists are actually employed to report the news; only a handful to advance their personal political opinions. But far too many TV reporters on both channels these days have been editorialising. Think John Campbell, Maiki Sherman, Te Aniwa Hurihanganui and a host of others. Listeners don't want to be told what to think; they'll make up their own minds according to the facts which they do want to hear. No wonder so many have abandoned the 6pm "news bulletins" for the dubious consolation of social media.

Any impartial observer - I don't claim to be one, but know people who are - regards television news these days as dispensible. Mike McRoberts, Samantha Hayes and Simon Dallow are professional fronts for their channels and have served viewers well. But the same cannot be said for far too many of their colleagues. Watching the spiteful "job" being done on David Seymour and Christopher Luxon by "reporters" of lesser intellect has become utterly pointless.

The Mainstream Media has been in decline since the turn of the century. This is a source of great regret to me. Possibly a majority of adult New Zealanders no longer pay it much attention. Advertisers know it and are obviously giving up on TV. Its decline has weakened our society and undermined the very idea of who we are. We have fragmented into an assortment of niche pressure groups. Sometimes I feel as though our national anthem of "God Defend New Zealand" has degenerated into "up the Wahs"! Self-indulgent and sometimes vindictive journalists cannot wholly be blamed for the decline, but too few of them have done sufficient to earn much sympathy either.