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.

Herald on Sunday - - NEWS -

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.

Auck­land Star

jour­nal­ist Pat Booth, right, and Arthur Al­lan Thomas cel­e­brate Thomas’ prison re­lease.

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