Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Little Napoleons of Auckland

When central government gave local government the powers of "general competence" with the Local Government Act 2002, a strange control freak genie popped out of the bottle. If there's any reason why central government has never given the power of arrest to local government, this is one of them. Licensing. Buskers.

Give a local council the ability to micro-manage with clout and they'll go to it with obsessive-compulsive zeal. I had first hand experience with this under John Banks' first reign of error, when the obscene Brothels and Commercial Sex Premises Bylaw was launched. I found the Auckland City Council to be almost completely composed of sour-faced moralisers whose ancestors probably led major sorties on behalf of the Spanish Inquisition.

Paul Goldsmith is no doubt a distant relation of Ghengis Khan. Mad Mongols galloping over the Russian Steppes must have been echoing in his head when he came up with his final solution to the homelesses problem in central Auckland. To paraphrase Edward Pearce, if you were hanging from a ledge by your fingers, Paul Goldsmith would stamp on them.

As someone who has slept rough, as well as lived and worked in halfway houses and temporary accommodation ghettoes, I can speak with some understanding for the plight of vagrants. There's a certain safety to be had sleeping in the Queen St company of strangers. Goldsmith may wish the unsightly beggars to bugger off to somewhere off K Rd, where there's fewer suits to offend, at least until late one night when they can get discreetly murdered.

Punitive measures don't work on people with nothing of pecuniary value to lose. So go ahead and fine Bagman X up to $20,000 and see how far you get. Some street people cannot deal with a roof over their heads. They don't trust 'em. Forcing them inside isn't going to do any good. The best you can do is leave a door open for them and hope they come in.

I hope someone can find the money to donate Paul Goldsmith a weekend to Wellington at the Museum Hotel, where he can read the story of Robert Jones, the Man with the Bucket. Maybe get him to sit down with Blanket Man and a peace pipe. Or better yet, can someone kick this guy out at the next local body election?

Buskers, as opposed to the homeless, do not live on the street. They work there. If they haven't talent, they'll eventually see the cost benefit analysis of not returning until they do. Or, if they're desperate or crazy enough to be bad and performing, there's always the same option available as the homeless. Local businesses or passers-by could over-ride their Someone Else's Problem field and pay them to bugger off if the price is right. The everlasting lightning storm of the credit crunch will be with us for a while yet. It behooves us all to remember that there but for Fortuna, it could be you.