Fixated on price, blind to value

Is anyone else out there getting a little weary of the cynical, destructive know-the-price-of-everything-and-the-value-of-nothing approach to life promulgated by some of our politicians?

Don't get me started on the disgrace that is Hillside: the narrow, unyielding stance quite able to add up figures in a competitive tender balance sheet, but which remains willfully blind to the costs - to the 40-odd families of the redundant workers (eventually there will be a lot more), to the city of Dunedin, to the national economy - of tossing a valuable engineering industry on to the funeral pyre of history.

Yes, dairy is king for now, but is it not conceivable this country might in future need, and therefore should retain, some light engineering capacity, and the skills to maintain it?

That the difference - a confidential figure potentially prone to spin and manipulation - between the fabled Chinese tender for flatbed wagons and that provided by Hillside might be made up by the downstream costs in social welfare, the emigration of skilled workers, and knock-on impact on associated local industries?

The Government needs to do its maths again - and include considered social costings. It protests its non-involvement in the affair - citing the arm's-length relationship between it and state-owned companies - but drill down and it surely has its paw prints all over it.

And while it is having a squiz at Hillside, the Government might like to revisit its support for Act New Zealand's lofty-sounding but essentially pettifogging Voluntary Student Membership Bill.

This is the Bill led by the retiring Heather Roy promoting voluntary student association membership which, if it becomes law, will likely eviscerate student culture in this country, and any vestiges of its associated altruism.

To be sure there is much to criticise in current student culture - including the widespread apparent apathy and farcical, barely coherent nature of "student body politics".

But those issues can be addressed without gutting student associations of the funds to support the range of services they have traditionally provided and managed.

Those services - from independent advocacy, welfare and health support, social functions, publications and broadcasting, sporting and cultural clubs and activities - also provide an essential infrastructure for the student body, staffed and maintained by students themselves, often in a voluntary capacity.

Many gain critical organisational and socially useful experience, of both civic and commercial import, through such opportunities. Many go on to become future leaders. Irony of ironies, Minister of Transport and of Tertiary Education Steven Joyce, who made his fortune in broadcasting, got his start in student radio, for instance.

And that brings us to the first of many potential consequences of the mooted legislation. Radio One, the 27-year-old University of Otago student radio station, is facing the threat of disestablishment.

A report by Deloittes commissioned by the OUSA in preparation for the possibility of voluntary student membership saw little commercial value in the station. Funny, that, especially as Radio One has a non-profit licence. Presumably, it is not supposed to have an overt commercial value. That's precisely what I mean by the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Radio One has made an invaluable contribution to both Dunedin and national culture: in the local music it has supported and played, in the training it has provided to employees who have gone on to positions of national prominence, in giving opportunities for its 70-odd volunteer supporter/employees to get involved, and to those others in whom it has imbued the confidence to take on wider social roles. Not to mention its primary function in providing a student radio station for a population of 20,000 or so.

Ask TV3 reporter and newsreader Samantha Hayes, who got her start at Radio One; or Radio New Zealand Music 101 producer Emma Smith; or Back Benches' Wallace Chapman, who both likewise started there.

Ask "Dunedin Sound" legend Graeme Downes of the Verlaines, or Martin Phillipps of the Chills, or James Milne aka Lawrence Arabia about the role of the station in championing local music, art and culture and they - along with a great many others - will say it has been, and is, a vital incubator.

But ask many a callow, enrolling 18-year-old "scarfie" - who knows nothing of Radio One, nor of Critic magazine, nor of the range of student services their student association fee supports - whether they'd like to belong to it, or whether would they prefer to spend their dosh on several dozen packs of beer or a backpack full of RTDs ... and you know what the answer likely will be.

They at least can plead youth and ignorance. Not so Ms Roy and her political helpmates.

 - Simon Cunliffe is deputy editor (news) at the Otago Daily Times.


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