A Tale of Two Cities

Sunday was surreal. I went for a drive and ended up in a different country. It wasn’t intentional but those days of too many literally intertextual references seldom are. There is no doubt that the Sunday drive this week had shades of both Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll. Of course it all started with that crazy episode of The Nation.

For those that missed out it began with John Key making promises about his third term. He talked about Key issues; economic prosperity; education of our kids; housing for young New Zealanders; and our outward place in the world. What is that anyway? Our outward place?
Lisa Owen got straight to it. What about poverty and the sale of state housing. Key evaded with all the skill of something that just doesn’t want to be caught. Lisa asked John, and he reiterated how his people, in his department, are onto it. They would look for fresh new ideas on how to address the issues of these few, oh so few people, who can be identified, and how, because we can identify this group, we can reallocate funding to …. Oh for FFS.
I was trying to not swear but..come on.

Key waffled about how it wasn’t a money issue, just a targeting, wrap around, yada yada yada. A bit more money wouldn’t sort it out he said! Then of course he identified that the average spend on rent had gone up. No bullshit.

Then the panel. One small problem. Sue Bradford was on the panel. As Sue pointed out, we have reports and research coming out our ears. That is when it occurred to me that Sue and John were talking about two totally different countries.

John Key was talking about student flats in Dunedin. He wasn’t talking about families living in garages, tents and port-a-coms. He wasn’t talking about the New Zealand that Sue was talking about. They were speaking different languages about two different countries. John was talking about selling houses to social housing providers who have no infrastructure to manage a massive shift. John was talking about how his government could shift the problem out of their portfolios and into someone else’s hands as the crisis is now approaching a point where it might start to impact the reality of this other New Zealand. This Land of Key.

In regard to Auckland it was a Tale of Two Cities. In more ways than one.

I spent the afternoon with a couple of girlfriends on a pleasant drive. We headed to the country. A boutique micro brewery was where we ended up. As we sat around with our bijoux beverages and a selection of breads, freshly baked with the finest of organic ingredients, enjoying the sunshine I told my friends about The Nation.
"It was like they were talking about two different countries," I said.
 "But there are two different countries," replied Nadia.

As I gazed around me I realised she was right and without being aware of the danger, we had driven deep into this Land of Key.We were somewhere near Riverhead. Just down the road from Johns electorate office. an unassuming white bungalow on the main road of Huapai . It looks a lot like a relocated ex-state house. Admittedly there probably aren’t many state houses with life size John Keys by the front door. Ironically the section next door to John’s office was empty but for a port-a-com with a sign advertising it for rent. I wonder if it’s his sideline business? It seems a good fit, as state houses go under the hammer.

Back at the brewery the beer was delicious and the place was a hive of activity. A country brewery heaving at the seems with Key party faithful and their families.There was even a playground. Children were called Oscar and Millie. Everyone looked healthy and happy. The edge of my vision may have added a softly focussed hue. It wasn’t the cider, I was driving. There was nothing wrong with this Land of Key. I was enjoying my visit. I couldn’t live there though. It was the view.

From this place you just can’t see far. You will never see the whole picture, nor would you want to. You could probably see as far as the empty section with a port-a-com for rent, but you would never be able to see as far as the New Zealand families that are living in them. The families that are packed in to a caravan, a port-a-com, a tent in someone’s yard, or a boarding house.That the little house that John Key uses as his office could home (house) a family currently living in a car is not a thought that would occur. The visions are incongruous.

Last week Duncan Garner spent a couple of days talking to people that were homeless and or living in dangerously precarious conditions. He talked, he tweeted and he even took a camera to visit families without a place to sleep. The more cases he talked about, the more situations were revealed. He highlighted the plight of a few, while frontline advocates told him about more and more. The Tales of the Second City.

On Sunday morning John Key talked about the young New Zealanders trying to get into a house. An optimist might say he just can’t see the housing crisis from where he is. The truth I think is more Alice-like in nature. It’s The Looking Glass. If the people from this idyllic day in the Land of Key changed their view so they could see further, they might be scared of who (or what) they saw in the looking glass later. If they don’t look too hard they don’t have to recognise that many of them are just a few payments from the same situation. What will it take to shatter the glass?

Kate Davis is completing her B.A English & politics. Previously she has worked for the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective & currently volunteers as an advocate for Auckland Action Against Poverty.

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