I'll wait for the inquiry to decide whether the delay in entering the Pike River Coal Mine is justified. But there is already a significant warning for the Police and the Government in the widespread mistrust of their official statements. Officials are now suspected of institutional cowardice whether or not it is justified.
I felt sorry for the spokesmen I heard on radio yesterday morning. They're infected with the bloated jargon disease (people are' resources', the army robot is "defence assets" etc). After years of daily hosings with pompous head office circumlocution they must lose self awareness of how dopey it sounds and how easy it is to mistrust. Those of us outside the public service who still speak old English run our internal translation programme, but the message is overlaid with the flashing "bullshit warning, bullshit warning".
My sympathy for the spokesmen got strained when they went into directly defensive self-praise of each others' efforts. O for the New Zealand of my father's generation, where praise of yourself and your efforts was something you left strictly for others, and where stoic understatement was the only code to translate.
The NZ Herald comments page "Are you happy with the authorities' handling of the Pike Rive blast" (currently 22 pages) seethes with mistrust of Police leadership. It reflects the conversations I'm now hearing. Whether or not justified in this case, that propensity to mistrust should be of very serious concern to the government.
We'll know whether or not the present caution is justified when the presently unknown is known. But it has seeped into public consciousness that the Police do not value heroism.
Respect for heroism, an evident willingness to sacrifice oneself for others, even foolishly, may be a pre-requisite for trust in leadership. Certainly Sir Robert Peel, founder of modern policing thought so.
Time for Police Minister Judith Collins to reinstate respect for heroism into the law governing the Police. This does not mean that they must carelessly risk their lives. But every officer must know that if they volunteer to risk their lives they will be honoured, not described as mugs and disciplined.
The law must also restore the ancient liberty that allows individuals to choose to be noble for others even if it seems foolish. The Police should have no right to prevent any of us from exercising a fully informed choice to risk our own lives for another.
A society that has lost the will to prevent suicide, and allows mountain climbing and motorcycle racing and over-eating and drinking and other risky personal choices should never have given the Police the power or the duty to prohibit self sacrifice for more noble purposes.