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We can snap under pressure

New Zealand is generally known for its scenic beauty, friendly people, and large numbers of sheep. Not as many sheep as we used to have, but you get the picture.

New Zealand is not a place most people consider when they think about ‘active shooters’, arson attacks in residential buildings, or the Minister of Justice crashing into a parked car after having what appears to be one too many.

And yet, all these things have happened in the past week – the very week New Zealand hosted the opening of the Women’s World Cup, and a band of international media were on hand to capture and share the news live. Not a good look, you might say. The underlying problem is, of course, much worse than a temporary blemish on our image.

The two men shot by a lone gunman at a central Auckland construction site last Thursday have now been named. The gunman walked onto the building site in lower Queen St at about 7.20am and opened fire with a pump action shotgun. Eight people were also injured in the shooting, with four people still in hospital receiving care, including one police officer.

Later that evening the Football Ferns beat Norway to win the opening World Cup match, in what has been described as a historic moment for women’s sport here. More than 42,000 fans cheered the team on in a sport that banned women or, at the very least, discouraged them from playing up until the 1960’s.

Not long after the big win, the team was making the news for an altogether different reason – a suspected arson in their hotel in Auckland. Team players and staff were evacuated from Auckland’s Pullman Hotel, their base for the tournament, after a fire alarm was triggered on Saturday night.

New Zealand Football has boosted security around the team since the fire, with the organisation’s chief executive, Andrew Pragnell, praising the police and pledging to keep a protective shield around the team. He said the shooting and fire had no causal connection and described them as “uncanny coincidences.”

Then, New Zealand woke up yesterday morning to the news that Minister of Justice, Kiri Allen, had resigned after crashing into a parked car in central Wellington and being charged with a driving offence and resisting arrest.

Allen has been off work recently, dealing with mental health problems. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins was quick to say that Allen was in a distressed state on Sunday night. It is cause for reflection and an unhappy irony that the Minister of Justice resigned after breaking the law in such a public way.

That three such incidents should happen in New Zealand in one week is almost unprecedented. That they should happen while we are hosting an international tournament is definitely unfortunate.

Could it be these three separate and unlinked incidents, involving completely different people, somehow reflects the level of pressure people are under? It is well known that mental health problems worsen under pressure.

Right now, New Zealand is facing crippling inflation and the worst general economic uncertainty seen in decades. Is it any surprise that fragile people are reacting in unpredictable and sometimes destructive ways?

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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