Tilting at windmills must be the thing

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
It's with trepidation that the new Civis takes up the torch for the Passing Notes column, published in this newspaper since 1871, and under the byline Civis from 1878. That a feature has run so far for 153 years is so extraordinary it’s hard to fathom.

Civis doubts that matching the predecessor’s sterling 13-year stint will be possible. Civis salutes the predecessor and, given the previous penchant for occasional Latin phrases, says bene factum. (Thanks, Google.)

While Civis lacks a classics education, Civis is interested in words and our changing language. As tones and topics are mixed, Civis will sometimes insert linguistic thoughts — and some reactions from readers.

The verb "to google" has fast gone the way of other dominant trade names — Gladwrap, Disprin, Sellotape, flip phone (a Motorola tradename originally), hovercraft, hoover, trampoline and — surprisingly — heroin. The drug was originally trademarked in 1898.

Civis only uses Google’s search engine when stuck. Civis prefers to eschew the massive multinationals where possible in a forlorn attempt to minimise their power and profits. Civis would also rather not be tracked or barraged with advertising. DuckDuckGo is the search engine of choice.

Tilting at windmills must be Civis’ thing. When on Air New Zealand flights and offered a "cookie", Civis replies, yes a "biscuit" please. Civis knows the biscuits come from the Christchurch-based Cookie Time but is flying the flag — no doubt in vain — against the march of American words and phrases into New Zealand English.

 * * * 

Civis, like so many others in New Zealand, is incredulous about the British Post Office outrage. Mr Bates vs The Post Office is a compelling television docudrama.

How could such flabbergasting injustices occur in a nation supposedly steeped in democracy, the rule of law and freedom of speech? How could a public institution and its staff persecute, bully, lie and obstruct justice so blatantly? How could the media and police also fail for so long?

The little people, innocent and persecuted sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses were the heroes, especially Alan Bates.

In the end, freedom of speech, free media, a free parliament and independent courts were essential — even if too late for many. Our democratic rights must never be degraded.

There is more to be exposed, and the inquiry now under way will be followed with interest.

 * * *

Before we risk superiority or complacency we should reflect on a court case outcome last week.

It’s the story of parents of foster children being bullied and put through the wringer after a "reverse uplift"; of Crown Law backing Oranga Tamariki (OT) to suppress the video of the injustice; of attempts to exploit the over-rigorous Family Court suppression rules; and of Newsroom fighting for three years for the freedom to publish. It’s also a story of ideology overriding what is best for children, although some will still not see it that way.

Late last week the Court of Appeal said Newsroom could re-publish the video investigation into OT uplifting the children. The High Court earlier ruled the video had to be removed. The Court of Appeal disagreed and found Newsroom did not identify vulnerable children in breach of the Family Court Act. It also ruled the content was of significant public interest.

It sure was. The relevant minister, Kelvin Davis, immediately stopped the "reverse uplift" practice.

Meanwhile, astonishingly, Newsroom has been facing criminal prosecution because Crown Law referred the video to police. This has awaited the result of the appeal.

As Newsroom’s Tim Murphy said, OT social workers falsely told the foster couple that a court found them to be culturally inappropriate. The court had made no such finding. The Ombudsman later castigated the social workers for their behaviour.

Official bullying and lies put the foster couple through emotional and financial hell. It might be on a tiny scale compared with the British Post Office disgrace, but it is appalling.

Mr Murphy said the court also found the foster parents, not just Newsroom or the media, had a right under the Bill of Rights Act to have their complaints aired to the public.