The Good Wits fly

Just as the seasons begin to slide into the slow embrace of autumn, when the all-too-short southern summer appears to have forsaken its perennial prayer for an extension of time, some of the retailing sectors of Dunedin are so desperate for company even a tumbleweed rolling down George St would generate a hearty welcome, and the larders of the local hospitality industry are bulging with victuals and their cellars afloat in beverage, hark the sights and sounds of mid-February.

Descending on the city in full array of fanciful, coloured plumage, excited shrieks, laughter and general bonhomie piercing the Dunedin air, alighting in shops and pubs and cafes, at the trailer-hire depots and in every second-hand nook or cranny, comes the annual migration - with apologies to author Robin Hyde - of what may be called the Good Wits.

South they arrive for yet another season of learning, some still in adult protective company, here to make sure their young find an adequate nest in their new Dunedin habitat.

And when, having imparted the indelible imprint of their credit card upon the cash registers of Farmers and Arthur Barnett and Etrusco and Nova, they depart, they leave their offspring to the care of the city.

For much of the year the Good Wits will cluster in a tight quartile of streets and residences surrounding the University of Otago, there to find their own feet, to study the ways of the world - and sometimes the universe - and at others simply to experience it.

But for much of it, too, they will make their presence found in greater Dunedin.

With a population estimated to be in the region of 20,000, many at that delicate, often precarious stage anticipating adulthood but not quite achieving it, there will be casualties: those who, testing the boundaries of their new-found freedoms, will go where the more seasoned might fear to tread - and fall spectacularly from grace; there will be unwelcome examples of unsociable activities; there will be overindulgence of all kinds and quite probably, where late adolescence, liquor and the high spirits of the flock combine, instances of playing with fire.

On such occasions the Good Wits will rightly attract opprobrium, but taking heed of the old saying, "one swallow does not a summer make", call-outs of the fire brigade to deal with the actions of the wayward few should not be used to tarnish the reputations of the majority.

The Good Wits come to study and learn. They enhance the city in numerous ways: they enliven its streets and succour its businesses; they make it a more vibrant, prosperous and interesting place to be. Of course they need to learn and observe boundaries - that goes almost without saying - but we welcome them, and their engaging clamour, back.

Watching the watchdog

A disconcerting report on the Ombudsman's office emerged quietly last week.

For those unfamiliar with its tasks and responsibilities, this is the office to which people can turn when they feel they have been wronged or disadvantaged by a government department or any other office or organisation of state.

It is regarded as essential for the people to have confidence in the Government that there is some recourse to an agency that stands apart from the powers-that-be, which is independent and which can be trusted to investigate fully, fairly and within a reasonable time frame.

Appearing before the Parliament's government administration committee, the Chief Ombudsman, Beverley Wakem, said the Office of the Ombudsmen was in "crisis" and was "sinking under the weight of its complaint burden".

The main repercussion for the public would be delays in handling complaints and this was not acceptable. "Justice delayed is justice denied," Ms Waken said. The Ombudsmen's office is an integral part of our system of democracy.

Already politicians are - often wrongly - pilloried for their actions and, sometimes, inactions. Equally, in an age of the increasing contestability of information, particularly that relating to the performance of government, and in which "spin doctors" and public relations personnel proliferate, it is critical that its actions are transparent and that there is an effective agency to adjudicate when there are accusations of poor or partial performance.

The Government should take heed of Ms Wakem's warnings and act appropriately.


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