Paul Henry: I love this country – but Im not sure I have the heartbeats for it any more


Only handfuls of generations ago, pioneers, adventurers and dreamers came to New Zealand’s shores in search of a better life, most of them hopeful that we would thrive and continue their legacy.

They weren’t looking for a handout or, in most cases for that matter, a hand up. They just wanted to be left alone to support themselves and be allowed to profit from their endeavour. Paramount was the opportunity to hand on a better way of life to their children. And so they did.

Somewhere along the way, a reasonable chunk of the population that followed lost that adventurous spirit, and with it the work ethic.

They took “cradle to grave” literally and became an increasing burden on a plucky little country with a great young infrastructure and spirit.

Nonetheless, New Zealanders continued to excel at home and globally in disproportionately large numbers.

Ernest Rutherford, from Brightwater, Edmund Hillary, from Tuakau, Alan MacDiarmid, from Masterton, Peter Jackson, from Pukerua Bay, and Peter Beck, from Invercargill, are part of our list of champions.

So how is it we have become willing lapdogs, suffering from Stockholm Syndrome? Hovering around daily briefings in the hope our captors will throw us a bone?

Regardless of whether the news is good or bad, we feel comforted that those who know what’s best for us keep us from harm’s way. Protecting us from the violation that freedom would otherwise bring. We listen for the responses to banal questions that all but the most ignorant citizen would already be able to answer.

In short, we have for the most part surrendered our lives through fear. We accept that our own citizens should be forced into lotteries in order to come home from their adventures and that we may well be refused a seat next to a dying parent.

With a spirit reminiscent of our plucky past, our Government went “hard and fast” in the face of the Covid threat and created a window of opportunity, the envy of most of the rest of the world. Once created, the opportunity was used to gloat.

Global Covid gloating became a New Zealand sport. We were world champions. Even I, on my first Covid trip home to Palm Springs last year, found myself basking in reflected glory.

My neighbours all wished they could visit.

Maybe move permanently to New Zealand.

After all, this was the world’s Covid-free paradise. How on earth did we do so well? Everyone wanted to find out!

What the world did not know then – but has since found out – is New Zealand had moved into phase two of its unofficial Covid strategy, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

We went hard and fast on borrowing. And borrowing is fine as long as you borrow to invest. But not us.

Did we use our hard-won, Covid-free months – almost a year – to invest in health infrastructure, both hardware and staffing?


Did we vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate?


Did we invest in money-making initiatives that exploited our Covid-free status?


We wondered aloud about a cycleway over the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

We have squandered our leading edge for the lack of a plan. And having lost the lead we undoubtedly had, we are now racing to the back of the pack.

Our economic policy is akin to a reverse mortgage, as we live quite well whilst building debt. Unfortunately, in order to be sound, reverse mortgages require that you die quite soon.

Maybe that’s the third phase of our strategy.

I have just returned from my second trip home to Palm Springs. None of my neighbours suggested they might like to move here permanently this time. They were getting on with their fully vaccinated lives. They’re moving on, as we must.

At one point, instead of vaccinating their own citizens, our Government chose to stand back. After all, the threat to life was more acute in other countries, we were told. In doing so, this Government failed us and then had the audacity to praise itself when vaccination numbers ballooned during the level 4 lockdown.

I cannot listen to another person try to justify not getting vaccinated. I simply don’t have the heartbeats for it, as I don’t have the heartbeats for lockdown. Maybe I don’t have the heartbeats for New Zealand any more, even though it’s a country I love.

My father was one of those adventurers and dreamers who helped build this fantastic country and who expected no handouts.

He worked day and night to create a better life for himself and, in doing so, others. He would’ve been appalled if his only son succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome.

• Broadcaster Paul Henry spends time between New Zealand and the US.

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