The bogeyman for the 2008 general election seems to have been decided – “wayward” youth. Those who have dared to have the gall to have not grown past age 18 yet can expect to be the recipient of constant attacks from politicians and the media for the rest of the year. Like immigrants and solo mothers before them, youth (some of whom no doubt fit into the other two categories as well) are a seemingly easy target for the rich, white and powerful, as they seek to increase their power and influence across New Zealand society.
In the last two days, first opposition leader John Key, and later Prime Minister Helen Clark have both laid out their own attacks on youth. Key went first, with plans including lowering the minimum age for offenders to appear before the Youth Court, compulsory army (and possibly private contractor) run boot camps for under 16 year olds convicted in the Youth Court, and electronic movement monitoring ankle bracelets for youth “offenders”. It is the boot camps that have attracted the most attention. Dubbed Fresh Start, they would last for a year and include 3 months of residential detention. It is, in effect, a return to compulsory military training for some youth, and could, once established, conceivably lead to a return to compulsory military training for all New Zealand youth, a policy which has been mentioned several times in different quarters over the past few years (most notably from the NZ First Party). Along with the attacks on youth, Key’s plans also include attacks on parents, with the Youth Court able to force parents of youth who go through the court system to attend parenting classes. Lastly, Key announced that under a National Government, youth who left school at 16 or 17 and did not enter another registered education provider or find work would be unable to receive any form of benefit.
Prime Minister Helen Clark’s plans, less heavy on detail thus far, include raising the minimum school leaving age to 18. John Key’s speech seemed to rest on making the streets safe for “people like you and me”. Given that Key is New Zealand’s richest MP, somehow I don’t think the “you” referred to anyone I know. Press commentator Colin Espiner also noticed this, pointing out:
Key also blew some not-so-subtle dog whistles to the mostly over-50, white, middle-class New Zealanders sitting in the audience, worried about their personal safety, with his reference to people being randomly beaten to a pulp as they walked home.
Those in the audience did not actually look like they walked anywhere…
Meanwhile, the complaints about street art in general, and tagging in particular, reached a new level in recent days with the stabbing murder of 15 year old Pihema Cameron in Manurewa by 50 year old businessman Bruce Emery. Cameron was apparently about to tag on Emery’s fence, when Emery burst out, chased him with a knife and stabbed him to death. Since the murder, discussion in the media and talkback radio has revolved around the supposed evilness of tagging and understanding (and even some support!) for Emery’s actions. Christchurch City Councillor, Barry Corbett, was quoted in today’s Press as saying “If I was on the jury, I would let him get away with it”. Jo critiques the liberal response to the murder on National Radio on her blog Stanselen, which is well worth a read.
It could be a very tough year for under 18s, and, regardless of who ends up winning the election, it looks like some serious new anti-youth policies will be enacted. Lastly, one simple lesson to remember: