A cage rattler, tireless battler
Crusading journalist Pat Booth died on Wednesday, aged 88. Tributes rightly recognised his investigations in the Arthur Allan Thomas and Mr Asia cases — but he was just as proud of other stories, as this speech he gave in 2007 reveals.
When it comes time for someone to write a few obituary paragraphs on me, that Thomas case and the Mr Asia investigation will probably be the main talking points.
But there were other times, other issues that certainly did not endear me to the Beehive. I was a necessary pain in the official butt and I am proud of them.
At a stage when the Muldoon Government was priding itself on a source of cheap labour it was tapping in the Pacific, I led an investigation into the plight of those migrants when they arrived to clean our hospitals and unclog our drains, do the dirty work in offal plants and the rest.
Out of it came shocking facts about the terrible and totally unnecessary injuries to young Pacific Islanders. One young man only 10 days out of his Pacific village worked on three different machines in the first three days of his job without having any idea of how dangerous they were.
Put on to a heavy moulding press after one lunch break, all he knew was that he put sheets of metal into its jaws. When it jammed he put his hands in to clear it and lost seven fingers in the process.
A Tongan boy working a heavy bench pressing machine walked across it taking a shortcut to the switch at the back and lost his toes. A Samoan girl had her hand crushed when another Samoan girl working beside her stood on the wrong pedal.
Doctors in the Hutt Valley at that time told me 40 per cent of hand injuries were to recent Pacific Island immigrants and were so severe they took up 70 per cent of the operating time. They called it carnage.
The Auckland Star called it a scandal. The articles sparked the usual run of denials and half-truths, but we got results. Factory practices and training were cleaned up and injuries had dropped away when we next checked our sources.
In South Auckland, Pacific Island wives and mothers hung out white sheets as flags at their gates when they needed urgent medical care.
That’s what happened in their homes and villages, and passing doctors in four-wheel-drives stopped when passing. In Otara they didn’t, and children battled serious illness without treatment.
They had come here without language training or preparation and they could not cope.
A judge spoke of the new migrants “having their manhood and their previously unblemished character debauched by evils they are exposed to. The blame lies primarily not with these young migrants but with the evils of our so-called industrialised society.”
Then there were the infamous overstayer raids and random police stopping of anyone who was not white. When the Star told of all this, an angry Prime Minister [Rob] Muldoon denied it was happening, and that people like us should produce evidence. That was 1pm.
By 6pm I had six signed affidavits on my desk. He was forced to call for an investigation, which confirmed 201 of the incidents he had denied had happened.
Muldoon again. When he released a list of 31 civil servants and others he said were members of the communist Socialist Unity Party, I was editing the paper and refused to publish them.
I said we weren’t into lists, whether they were Catholics, in the health department or Freemasons in education. The Auckland Star was the only media in the country to say “no” to him.
Oh yes, some cages were rattled.
Edited extract reprinted with permission from Booth’s stepdaughter, Victoria Carter. Booth will be farewelled tomorrow.
journalist Pat Booth, right, and Arthur Allan Thomas celebrate Thomas’ prison release.