Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Distance and disconnection

There's a point at which, having left a place you either have new insights or you progressively cease to understand it. I left NZ only 3 and a half years ago and remain pretty interested and informed (I think).

Since leaving, my perspective has changed slightly though I won't claim any major insights except one: NZ is a remarkably fair place (ok, this isn't really an insight given that Transparency International rated NZ 2nd= with Finland, only Iceland did better and I don't know that there's anyone left since Bjork left, in it's 2005 report on perceptions of corruption).

I've often wondered if this is partly a function of size. You can't rip too many people off if you expect to end up living with, dining with, socialising with, or working with their mother, aunty, cousin, brother or neighbour. Having only four million people, pretty much all of whom live in one of four cities, means you'll almost always know someone who know's someone etc. In Sydney this is less true and even in my employment, I can't possibly know a tenth of the staff, because they're dispersed across the entire State in some 150 offices. This can and has led to instances of blantant unfairness which have gone without remedy.

But it's not just size, its also attitude; Sydney residents are not just competitive, sometimes they're damn-near mercenary. John Birmingham wrote a fantastic book, Leviathan, in which he traces the current divisions of power back to the rum rebellion in 1808. Birmingham's book is pretty didactic, something he's unfront about, however it made a lot of sense to me in trying to understand the dynamic between local politics, State politics, and the big business (and organised crime). The protracted debate about the redevelopment of Redfern is a good example of how these tensions are playing out today and how, IMHO, the most vulnerable citizens are likely to miss out (despite many genuinely good intentions) to the more powerful development lobby.

There'll be people who disagree of course, this guy is one of the most amusing commentators on the evil that is apparently personified by NZ Labour, but he's so evangelical he's kinda easy to ignore.

Then again, perhaps I no longer gettit?

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