Thursday, March 29, 2012

The million dollar mouse campaign and public squalor

Last night I caught the tail end of Gareth Morgan on Close Up promoting his Million Dollar Mouse campaign: an effort to raise $1 million to eradicate pests from the Antipodes Islands. Its a worthy cause, and I've already flicked them some money; eradicating these mice will make the islands completely pest-free, and significantly improve the survival chances of the rare species they host.

At the same time, I have some misgivings. The actual eradication will be carried out by the Department of Conservation, who administer the islands as a nature reserve. Pest-eradication is something they should be doing there as a matter of course. But here, the public is expected to donate to enable them to do it. A government department is being forced to rely on private charity to fund their core business.

That's not their fault - the blame lies squarely with the politicians who have systematically refused to fund this vital work (preferring to pay themselves higher salaries and then cut the taxes they would pay on them). And its not as if its an unusual situation: universities send their alumni begging letters to fund courses, and barely a week goes by without some kids banging on my door asking me to buy substandard, overpriced chocolate to make up for the government underfunding their school. But its a sign of what our public services have been reduced to by almost three decades of cuts: begging to the public for funds so they can do their jobs properly. The right's ideology of cuts, cuts, and more cuts has reduced us to a state of public squalor. What next? The Human Rights Commission forced to put out the begging bowl to fund their mediation work? Housing New Zealand funding its next state housing project on kickstarter?