Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On the Wellywood sign (& Education Cuts)

March 11th, 2010

As the Facebook critics of the Wellywood sign have pointed out, it is pretty hard to see the logic of promoting the creativity of the New Zealand film industry via a copy of someone else’s creativity. It is especially dumb when the item in question has been trademarked, and when copying it exactly – as, reportedly, Sir Peter Jackson has been advocating for parody purposes – would quickly amount to a copyright infringement.

In the film industry, they call this sort of thing ‘a homage.’ Yet as film critic Philip Matthews once jokingly noted long, long ago in his review of Jackson’s film The Frighteners, ordinary people tend to call a homage something else : they call it stealing. Wellywood was already a lame name : enshrining it in such a sign is just downright embarrassing. What it says, at best, is: we’re yokels, but somehow we’re creative.

Same as it ever was. On economic policy in recent years, New Zealand has been just as reliant on acts of homage. Rogernomics = Reaganomics = Thatcherism. Roger Douglas, to that extent, has never really had an original idea in his life. Bet on it. Whenever those in business or in the mainstream media call out for the government to be ‘ bold’ and ‘innovative’ they are invariably calling for repeats and re-runs of the same policies that New Zealand has tried before, using borrowed models from the neo-liberal rubbish bin of history.

Supply-side tax measures, education vouchers, privatization and PPPs : all them homages to neo-liberalism, and these days, they’re the policy equivalents of mutton dressed as lamb. Last December, the Brash 2025 Task Force report for instance, seemed like the latest installment of one of those Naked Gun/Flying High self-parody movies, with Brash doing a remarkably accurate impression of Leslie Neilsen in the leading role. Critics to Brash: “Surely, you can’t be serious.” Brash to critics: “”I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”

Hmmm. What icon might conceivably accomplish the objective of promoting the local film industry in an original way, and with the same parodic intent? What about erecting a huge statue of Peter Jackson as King Kong on that Miramar hillside, with a screaming Kerry Prendergast in his arms? That might do it.

***

Education Cuts

So less is to be more. The Education Ministry has found a way to cut $25 million from its budget over the next three years, with $10 million of that in the next financial year – and allegedly, this will mean more and better targeted support for frontline teachers. If you believe that, I have a penpal in Nigeria interested in talking to you about a joint venture.

So far, both the Education Ministry chief executive Karen Sewell and Education Minister Anne Tolley have been remarkably unforthcoming about how and where the savings will be made. Jobs at the Ministry will be lost, but again, the details on those looming job losses are scarce to non-existent On RNZ this morning, Tolley did say she had been briefed on the details, but – for some reason – couldn’t say what services would be affected, but could – somehow– offer an assurance that frontline teaching would not be adversely affected, since the cuts would be occurring as the Ministry ‘reshaped’ its role.

Labour’s education spokesperson Trevor Mallard on the other hand, was pretty sure where the effects would be felt: “These cuts will mean less funding for research, professional development for teachers and curriculum development.” Plus, as these ‘backroom’ jobs were cut in the Ministry bureaucracy, a bigger administrative burden would be likely to fall on teachers. In sum, long term quality in education will be sacrificed in the name of short term savings. Did anyone consult the teachers or their unions as to what they felt about losing the capacity that has been deemed to be expendable? No. The front line is being told what is good for it, and how less must go further. Or, in Sewell’s own words :

“I’m certain what it will do is raise the quality of education,” she said, “because the way you do that is focus on fewer things with an absolutely relentless determination – and that is what we are going to do”.

Yep, that’s the way to prepare kids for the complex world they will inherit. Focus relentlessly on a narrower range of subjects with fewer resources. Oh, and don’t ever ask the people who have to carry out the work, and don’t ever pilot or trial what you are doing. The unspecified number of job cuts in education will be in addition to these running totals collated on the Stuff website:

Health Ministry – $700 million in savings over five years, costing up to 500 jobs.
Social Development Ministry – Restructuring costing up to 200 jobs.
Tertiary Education Commission – Restructuring costing 72 jobs.
ACC – Restructuring costing 70 jobs at the Wellington head office.
Justice Ministry – Restructuring proposal to cut 88 jobs within the courts and create 51 new positions.

Which raises the question : at the last election, did National really run on a platform of massive cuts to jobs and services in health, education and welfare? Must have missed that sound bite. Again, the lack of detail about how and where the lost $25 million will impact on teaching reminds me of a couple more quotes from Flying High :

Ted Striker: My orders came through. My squadron ships out tomorrow. We’re bombing the storage depots at Daiquiri at 1800 hours. We’re coming in from the north, below their radar.
Elaine Dickinson: When will you be back?
Ted : I can’t tell you that. Its classified.

And the likely response to the $25 million in education cuts from teachers and principals ?

Rumack: Elaine, you’re a member of this crew. Can you face some unpleasant facts?
Elaine Dickinson: No.

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