New Zealand: Paradise Squandered?, by John Hawkes

New New Zealand: Paradise Squandered?, by John Hawkes (Social Policy)

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What urgent issues do New Zealanders face today? Affordable healthcare and affordable housing immediately spring to mind. This book reflects on what New Zealand and New Zealanders have lost, and on the future direction of the country and those living in it. Covering topics as wide-ranging as healthcare, finance, trade and industry, land and property, education, and sport, this book shows how various aspects of life in New Zealand are inextricably connected. To support the points made, the book includes examples of many New Zealanders who have achieved at home and overseas.

The question mark in the book’s title leaves the reader to decide whether New Zealand has indeed squandered its potential. What is clear is that this book is a clarion call that New Zealand must act quickly if the country is to keep pace with the rest of the world. But the country must also act carefully to ensure that the views of all New Zealanders are represented in any decisions made that affect their future.

A fourth-generation New Zealander, John Hawkes is a former consultant rheumatologist, athletics champion / decathlete and history buff who lives in Auckland, New Zealand. New Zealand: Paradise Squandered? is his second book. He co-authored the acclaimed 2009 book, Russian At Heart: Sonechka’s Story written principally by his wife Olga Vladimirovna Rossi.

The treasure trove of mini-biographies threaded liberally throughout this unusual and chatty book left me proud to hail from New Zealand.

New Zealand: Paradise Squandered? is peopled by bright Kiwi stars of medicine and other health disciplines, business and sport.

As its title suggests, however, this is no rose-tinted view.

Retired rheumatologist John Hawkes writes entertainingly of well-known and little-known achievers alike, but his purpose is not just to alert us to, or remind us of, our strengths. Dr Hawkes says bluntly that New Zealanders are beset with many troublesome faults that hold us back as a nation.

We are quarrelsome and individualistic, averse to reaching an enlightened consensus, and unable to work in harmony or to value equally all contributors to an enterprise (“parity of esteem”).

Most of us can’t, or won’t, commit to building businesses here and keeping them here, generating jobs and wealth long term.

Our businesses compete when they should cooperate to grow our overseas exports. Our MMP electoral system is the antithesis of a well-informed, participatory and liberal democracy. Politically, we are drifting aimlessly.

Ouch.

Dr Hawkes also puts the 1980s’ economic reforms in their international context, seeing plenty of harm arising from deregulation, privatisation and the rise of the finance industry.

Unexpectedly, there are no great lashings of polemic here. People are to the fore. Dr Hawkes, a Canterbury boy, graduated from medical school in Dunedin in 1959, but it wasn’t long before he left for Europe, eventually spending a quarter of a century as sole consultant rheumatologist at Bedford Hospital, England. He has known some fascinating people over the decades, and researched widely for this book.

We find plaudits for his wife, Russian emigrée Olga Vladimirovna Rossi; admiration for some extraordinary medical and business achievers; memories and exploits of fellow Christ’s College ex-pupils, Otago medical graduates and colleagues in the NHS; all intertwined with Dr Hawkes’ own life story. (But wait, there’s more: a potted history of early New Zealand.)

This unlikely combination ends up being a satisfying and enjoyable read. Readers may also be impressed by Dr Hawkes’ view of general practice as one of the most demanding jobs in medicine.

Virginia McMillan NEW ZEALAND DOCTOR 2 August 2017

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