Random Play by Graham Reid

Ask Ms Manners

A bill in the government’s programme of proposed legislation has already won widespread public support despite drawing fire from civil liberties groups.

The Urban Protocols (And Safety Standards) Bill is intended to make for better living environments and a more polite populace say Labour MPs.

The bill’s principal sponsor Phil Ryan (List, Westharbour) says the bill will “make for the smooth running of unregulated urban areas like shopping malls or main thoroughfares where large masses of people are in transit".

“You need only go to Cuba Mall or Queen St to see people walking three-abreast across the footpath blocking the movement of others, mothers dawdling down the middle of the footpath pushing those oversized prams, or groups of teenagers on cellphones conducting their conversations in the centre of a busy thoroughfare.

“These people have no regard for those who wish to move swiftly and efficiently through streets paid for by the long-suffering tax-payer.

“The problems are exacerbated in enclosed areas such as shopping malls. Over the Christmas period I received numerous calls from disgruntled citizens whose shopping experience at St Lukes and some other place I'd never heard of had been diminished by the inconsiderate actions of others.”

Ryan cited increased incidents of “mall rage” -- up 35 percent according to statistics loosely interpreted from hidden camera footage -- as evidence of the frustration many feel while shopping.

“We have widespread support within the party and already I am hearing from members of Act and National sympathetic to the intent of the legislation.”

Labour MPs, encouraged by last year’s anti-smoking legislation and recent police crackdowns on drinkers who may be doing their best to get intoxicated, are enthusiastic about the bill which they see as regulating public behaviour for the greater good of all.

“One thinks of yesteryear,” says Geraldine Dwight (List, Kakamoana), “and how polite people were."

"We have certainly lost something when it comes to consideration of -- or is that 'for'? -- others. The time has come to legislate in matters of public behaviour.”

Dwight intends introducing an amendment allowing for instant fines “for dawdlers, guttersnipes, lollygaggers, the tardy, and the wilfully inconsiderate.”

If the bill is passed then other legislation -- fines for women who wait until they get on the bus before taking their purses out, students and especially Asians wearing backpacks on crowded public transport -- is being considered.

“If you are not rude and boorish,” says Dwight, “then you have nothing to fear.”

Political observers say Labour is riding a wave of middle-New Zealand sentiment driven by baby-boomers reacting against immigrants and younger people, and that the party is playing on fears of declining standards as well as an appeal to people’s well-being.

But Howard Hanson of the Civil Liberals Association says recent policing in bars could indicate more repressive legislation to come.

“This was met with extraordinary support, or utter indifference which is much the same thing to a populist politician.

"This crackdown was based on the possibility someone might cause trouble. That should have set alarm bells ringing. But it happened in summer when no one gives a shit, basically.”

A leaked memo from within the police seems to confirm Hanson’s fears.

It reads in part: “Many members of the public will be, quite rightly, alarmed by these initiatives. Some will argue you cannot intervene just because you think someone may be getting drunk and may have it in mind to possibly commit a crime.

"We need to reiterate -- until they, and we, believe -- that someone who is drunk could well be a victim of a crime, so we are actually saving people from those who might take advantage of them.

"They’ll buy that shit.”

While there is some unease at the increasing amount of so-called “social legislation” being brought before Parliament -- critics cite the empowering of cinema ushers to arrest patrons who leave wrappers and empty drink containers behind them after a movie -- a recent Colgate-Brunter poll showed 74 percent of the 26.4 people surveyed approved of laws which would get big prams, teenagers with cellphones, and dawdling family groups out of shopping malls and off busy footpaths.

“They’re a bloody nuisance and piss me right off,” says 54-year old Dave Hummer, a Tauranga developer and Labour supporter. “And if we can also make hip-huggers illegal and bring back School Cert this could be a great country again.“

The prime minister, currently overseas, is unavailable for comment.