GUEST BLOG: Kate Davis – A Tale Of Two Cities



Sunday was surreal. I went for a drive and ended up in a different country. It wasn’t intentional but those days of too many literally intertextual references seldom are. There is no doubt that the Sunday drive this week had shades of both Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll. Of course it all started with that crazy episode of The Nation.

For those that missed out it began with John Key making promises about his third term. He talked about Key issues; economic prosperity; education of our kids; housing for young New Zealanders; and our outward place in the world. What is that anyway? Our outward place?

Lisa Owen got straight to it. What about poverty and the sale of state housing. Key evaded with all the skill of something that just doesn’t want to be caught. Lisa asked John, and he reiterated how his people, in his department, are onto it. They would look for fresh new ideas on how to address the issues of these few, oh so few people, who can be identified, and how, because we can identify this group, we can reallocate funding to …. Oh for FFS. I was trying to not swear but..come on.

Key waffled about how it wasn’t a money issue, just a targeting, wrap around, yada yada yada. A bit more money wouldn’t sort it out he said! Then of course he identified that the average spend on rent had gone up. No bullshit.

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Then the panel. One small problem. Sue Bradford was on the panel. As Sue pointed out, we have reports and research coming out our ears. That is when it occurred to me that Sue and John were talking about two totally different countries.

John Key was talking about student flats in Dunedin. He wasn’t talking about families living in garages, tents and port-a-coms. He wasn’t talking about the New Zealand that Sue was talking about. They were speaking different languages about two different countries.

John was talking about selling houses to social housing providers who have no infrastructure to manage a massive shift. John was talking about how his government could shift the problem out of their portfolios and into someone else’s hands as the crisis is now approaching a point where it might start to impact the reality of this other New Zealand. This Land of Key.

In regard to Auckland it was a Tale of Two Cities. In more ways than one.

I spent the afternoon with a couple of girlfriends on a pleasant drive. We headed to the country. A boutique micro brewery was where we ended up. As we sat around with our bijoux beverages and a selection of breads, freshly baked with the finest of organic ingredients, enjoying the sunshine I told my friends about The Nation. ” It was like they were talking about two different countries, ” I said. ” But there are two different countries, ” replied Nadia. As I gazed around me I realised she was right and without being aware of the danger, we had driven deep into this Land of Key.

We were somewhere near Riverhead. Just down the road from Johns electorate office. an unassuming white bungalow on the main road of Huapai . It looks a lot like a relocated ex-state house. Admittedly there probably aren’t many state houses with life size John Keys by the front door. Ironically the section next door to John’s office was empty but for a port-a-com with a sign advertising it for rent. I wonder if it’s his sideline business? It seems a good fit, as state houses go under the hammer.

Back at the brewery the beer was delicious and the place was a hive of activity. A country brewery heaving at the seems with Key party faithful and their families.There was even a playground. Children were called Oscar and Millie. Everyone looked healthy and happy. The edge of my vision may have added a softly focussed hue. It wasn’t the cider, I was driving. There was nothing wrong with this Land of Key. I was enjoying my visit. I couldn’t live there though. It was the view.

From this place you just can’t see far. You will never see the whole picture, nor would you want to. You could probably see as far as the empty section with a port-a-com for rent, but you would never be able to see as far as the New Zealand families that are living in them. The families that are packed in to a caravan, a port-a-com, a tent in someone’s yard, or a boarding house.That the little house that John Key uses as his office could home (house) a family currently living in a car is not a thought that would occur. The visions are incongruous.

Last week Duncan Garner spent a couple of days talking to people that were homeless and or living in dangerously precarious conditions. He talked, he tweeted and he even took a camera to visit families without a place to sleep. The more cases he talked about, the more situations were revealed. He highlighted the plight of a few, while frontline advocates told him about more and more. The Tales of the Second City.

On Sunday morning John Key talked about the young New Zealanders trying to get into a house. An optimist might say he just can’t see the housing crisis from where he is. The truth I think is more Alice-like in nature. It’s The Looking Glass. If the people from this idyllic day in the Land of Key changed their view so they could see further, they might be scared of who (or what) they saw in the looking glass later. If they don’t look too hard they don’t have to recognise that many of them are just a few payments from the same situation. What will it take to shatter the glass?


Kate Davis is completing her B.A English & politics. Previously she has worked for the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective & currently volunteers as an advocate for Auckland Action Against Poverty.



  1. Yes, great observations.
    Isn’t it interesting how money isn’t the answer for people, who through no fault of their own, are in poverty, and yet it is a problem for a CEO on 2 million a year, who threatens to leave the company and the country if he doesn’t get more.
    Or the money trader (that most soulless of vocations), who fails to reach his self imposed ‘targets’ enabling him to buy his beach house in the Bahamas!
    I’ve done a lot of work for many people from all walks of life over the years and from my experience, most ‘land of Key’ type people have a huge sense of entitlement. When they have work done for them, they are out to screw you down (to the point of the job being unprofitable), as much as they can, and then some.
    However when it comes to their own work ,well, they’re special and important, and deserve, (not to be questioned), huge rewards.
    I am generalising here but a lot are from privileged backgrounds, or have made their money because they have psychopathic personality traits, or they have had plain old good luck.
    Sure they might work hard, but so do many many other people who don’t end up with the rewards that they do.
    As far as Garner suddenly faining interest in poverty, when he has just been instrumental, along with the rest of the Mediaworks cartel , in getting rid of two of our best political voices regarding helping people in poverty. That being David Cunliffe and Hone Harawera. I mean to say…
    If anyone wants an example of ‘Land of Key’ type person , look no further than Garner!

    • I think it is a real concern that without Mana there is no party that is focused on poverty. Every other party avoids talking about beneficiaries and is afraid to mention the word poverty without putting ‘child’ in front of it first. Child poverty & inequality, the phrases that avoid talking about the poor & homeless. The fear of the Nats is that by making welfare liveable they will incentivise dependancy. How do they justify the minimum wage? What are they afraid that will incentivise?

  2. I think you have it all upside down, Kate. The poor aren’t necessarily “poor in spirit”, to say it clumsily. The “rich”, or the charity of people with enough money to waste on tapas and boutique beer, are not the solution. The “looking glass” or rose coloured glasses, whatever you want to call it, simultaneously don’t exist and also breaks itself easily enough – it’s one of those metaphysical things. The fear of the those who think they are “two pay packets away from homelessness” is always present, even if they are five million pay packets away from anything. Demanding those who fear what doesn’t exist to feel more fully the fear they try to drown out with boutique distractions will only increase the re-actions that increase poverty conditions.

    I only know of one possible course out of the mess, and really, who doesn’t know, or cares, about that?

  3. Oh yes life looks peachy at Coatsville market and the suburban homes plonked on rural land with huge gates and fake columns at the front door.
    If of course you buy into that kind of pony club, cashed up tradie, bonk the neighbour thing.

    Auckland is so two cities now (socio economic definition wise), the complexity of related cultural cross over can be rather more bewildering in diversity and location.

    Why won’t people see their own society and material conditions? Partly group think which leads to false consciousness and unfettered “Key Love”.
    Partly the atomisation of the working class, inclusive of mid incomes, into individual consumers and aspirational owners of the boat, bach and HSV Holden.

    The other side is the people who do know the state of the place but are too worn out by 3 part time jobs and family to become engaged. These are some of the non voters.

    There was a great sign outside a Wellington house during the election–“If you’re doing ok vote for those that aren’t”.

    • I saw that sign on FB but thought it was in Ponsonby. You don’t think there could have been 2? Nah. I’m that jaded.

  4. I also get the impression that the MSM’s sudden interest in NZ poverty is mainly about setting up a situation where John Key can be seen to be doing something about it, except that Key hasn’t realized it yet. Come on dear leader, your press mates have set up another glorious photo op for you, you wouldn’t want to miss it.!

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