Infrastructure breakdown brings out the best in our citizens but the worst in our politicians.
We experienced both in Auckland last week when an earth cable broke loose in high winds and wrapped itself around a couple of supply cables at the main electricity substation bringing power to Auckland. The massive short circuit which resulted brought a power blackout to most of the city for more than 4 hours.
People adapted well. I was driving across town when the traffic lights went out. Passing many major and busy intersections in the pouring rain with no traffic lights was a recipe for chaos but it was amazing how courtesy replaced frustration in rush hour Auckland traffic. Such was the considerate nature of drivers that the trip across town was just a bit slower if at all and possibly even safer than normal. It was almost as though an inverse relationship existed between convenience and courtesy. Courtesy increases as convenience decreases. Later when it became apparent the power would be off for some hours again people adapted in a community-minded manner. Central city worksites closed for the day and most people made their way home. The greatest crisis for some appeared to be a lack of coffee for a morning fix. Patience can be a rare commodity in a big city but it was on display everywhere.
This is in fact a common human experience. In cities where so many live isolated lives a sudden disturbance which affects everyone in fact brings people closer together. Aucklanders were people unified in adverse conditions. It brought almost a light-hearted relief from the tedium of work routines.
Parents at home had bigger worries. Would they be able to heat the baby’s bottle for the next feed? Pensioners huddled in blankets while everyone expressed anxiety about the food in the freezer should the outage continue longer. But people coped with patience, consideration and helpfulness.
By all accounts the same human spirit in difficult circumstances applied during the week of snow and storms in the South Island which brought isolation to many homes and small communities. It was summed up in a headline from our paper here “Southern spirit helps town cope without power” in a story of snowbound Geraldine. The snow was a less unexpected event than Auckland’s blackout but still the human spirit of collective endurance which unites communities facing a common problem has surfaced everywhere.
What a contrast then to the reaction of politicians – both local and national – and some of our so-called business leaders.
Before the temperature in Auckland freezers had risen by a single degree politicians and businesses were attempting to spin the outage in their favour.
Bizarrely, for what appears to be essentially a freak accident, National spokespeople blamed Labour for not investing in our electricity infrastructure. For once Labour was on strong ground and able to point out that spending on electricity infrastructure has been six times greater on average under this government than under the grim years of National rule through the 1990’s.
Opposition politicians have also taken potshots at the Resource Management Act, blaming it for the outage, while others suggested it showed we need nuclear power stations. Figure that one out if you can. All we needed was someone to claim a lack of tax cuts caused Auckland’s blackout for the comedy to be complete.
Possibly even worse in this instance were our local body politicians and businessmen. The huffing and puffing from the Mayor of Auckland was positively embarrassing. He told us he’d been given assurances blah, blah, blah and now he was angry blah, blah, blah. It was churlish of some business leaders to wail long and loud about loss of income and the silly, smug comments from Michael Barnett of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce about overseas investors losing confidence in Auckland are best forgotten. If our lives depend on the capricious behaviour of greedy foreign speculators then we are undone already.
If the waste products of bulls could be tarsealed these politicians and businessmen could finish the Auckland motorway system tomorrow.
Are these people representing our interests? Of course not. But in a world where it’s all but impossible to fit a cigarette paper between the policies of National and Labour on most issues the debate shifts from policy differences to public perceptions. Spinning a story and hoping the public buys it has replaced positive leadership and policy ideas. Politics is a drab portrait in shades of grey – as colourless as it is visionless.
On last week’s performance we would do better to invest more democratic control in the inherent strength, common sense and common humanity which exists within our local communities than in the tiresome tirades of politicians.