Porsches, palaces – promises and pain
“The court of public opinion” was an apt definition from Helen Clark – with perhaps wider applications than she intended.
The prime minister used it as she tip-toed around the “Paymentsfor-Peters?” rumpus. Still decidedly guarded – even what TV would rate as ‘tight-lipped” – in her public views on the issue, on the same day she added in politics-speak:
“Stands have been taken over a period of time which could be read as being in contradiction to what is emerging in the public arena.”
In different, nonMMP circumstances, she might have trotted out that well-worn advice about people whose advice is “do what I say, not what I do.”
Only time will tell whether the Teflon “nothing sticks” reputation that Winston Peters has acquired during his long and tempestuous career in politics will outlast his “stands taken over a period of time” and the current litany of contradictions.
In the meantime, we have that legacy of “the court of public opinion” which fits another set of major headlines so well and so tragically.
According to credible money counters, the total of New Zealand investor funds affected by finance companies, funds and mortgage trusts that collapsed or defaulted in just over two years is around $4.5 billion. And counting.
Tens of thousands of investors had their lifetime savings, their nest eggs for old age, their special projects accounts wiped out overnight. No warnings. Big names and conveniently faceless managements stand charged in the Helen Clark court of public opinion over those shocking collapses.
As corporate name after corporate name joined the list of totally unexpected and sometimes deliberately hidden slides to ruin have been revealed, public shock and anger have grown. For good reason. Companies solicited mum and dad investment through glossy and inaccurate brochures and the TV blandishments from familiar, trusted personalities sometimes only hours before being forced to reveal their disastrous state.
They can expect no mercy from their thousands of heart-broken and impoverished victims now jurors in that “court of public opinion” Nor should they.
For their part, those victims – naive, ill-advised, even reckless, as they may have been – call for action.
They want the full weight of the formal court and inquiry systems to name and shame those whose lack of judgement, incompetence and possible criminal actions caused or abetted this series of events.
You can understand those who have had the carpet of security pulled from under them wanting the same fate for the Porsche-and-palaces people they trusted and who they believe betrayed them.
To paraphrase a politically and strategically careful Helen Clark over that other matter: “Assurances were given, promises were made and restated endlessly until what, in corporate terms, was the last minute.
“These pledges and implicit assurances were in many cases totally wrong, could even have been deliberately misleading.”
In the longer term, public confidence in the corporate structures involved has gone, if not for good then justifiably for a very long time.
Now while those at the heart of it all are presumably plotting rebuilding their portfolios, even the most sweeping fire sale of Porsches and properties would not repay those investors facing crippling debt and bleak futures.
There are few signs of genuine remorse, just shoulder-shrugging in their Armani suits from those who miscalled the shots and were silent when rules of honesty demanded that they make the facts clear to those whose future was in danger and who were entitled to know.
The principals whose principles are under so much fire rarely show obvious concern over what they have done to the lives of people whose only fault was to believe what the snake oil money men told them.
There’s almost an “if you can’t stand the heat, keep out of the kitchen” approach.
Victims took at face value those unsoundlybased promises.
In some cases, pledges might be held – even proven – to be deliberately misleading in Helen Clark’s newly sworn-in court of public opinion.
Your verdict? In the mailbag on the danger in the streets and to property, plus the problems of citizen arrest. From Mark Brown, Otahuhu service station owner, whose original letter prompted the debate:
“I don’t want to leave you or the readers with the impression that the 25 or so crimes listed in my letter occurred over my seven years here in New Zealand.
“Many readers might think that about four crimes per year is what we each should be happy to ‘pay the career criminals – after all they have to make a living too.
“No – all those crimes occurred in the last year – seven ‘driveoffs’ usually with stolen plates, two break-ins in the last year – one cost us after insurance $4000 and days of disruption – an extortion, countless shopliftings, a car stolen, two others broken into and ransacked, four thefts by fraud.
“My letter would have been much longer if I listed seven years of crimes.” From R Cague, Birkdale: “Your column once again highlights the issues surrounding the lack of victims’ rights when confronted by a potential criminal.
“If you catch someone trespassing, acting suspiciously, or blatantly committing a crime, the only thing that fellow law-abiding citizens can do is tell them off.
“Somehow I don’t think that if you tell them to ‘wait a minute while I call the cops’ they’ll be hanging around. If someone threatens my family or property, I would like to be able to defend it.
“Sure, whacking the potential criminal with a length of timber may be classed as assault with a deadly weapon, but too often we hear of home invasions where the innocent victims were given the bash.
“A victim remains a victim for life having to deal with physical and mental trauma; the criminals have no consideration for how their actions affect their victims.
“Law-abiding citizens are not only affected by the criminals’ actions, but by the laws and justice system that seem more set up to protect the rights of the criminal.
“It is the unfortunate circumstance that a majority of stores targeted by opportunist robbers are mostly run by Asians.
“As your column made clear, it’s not just the Asian community that’s fed up with being victims.”
To contact Pat Booth email: offpat@snl. co.nz. All replies are open for publication unless marked Not For Publication.