Friday, 9 December 2016

The No. 8 Wire Prime Minister.

Principles? Seriously?  New Zealanders, as a people, are not much given to following theories of any kind. If we subscribe to any philosophy at all it is the philosophy of pragmatism. If a problem can be fixed by using the political equivalent of No. 8 Wire, then “no worries, mate”.
 
JUST HOURS BEFORE HE RESIGNED, the Prime Minister told RNZ’s Kim Hill that “you can’t right the wrongs of the past”. He was responding to questions about the acknowledged ill-treatment of children in state care during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and whether his government was prepared to sanction an independent inquiry into multiple allegations of systemic child abuse.
 
It struck me as an extremely odd thing to say. Not least because righting the wrongs of the past is a cause into which this National Government has poured (and continues to pour) hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.
 
True, the wrongs being righted with government money are not those inflicted upon acutely vulnerable children in the care of state institutions – like the Epuni Boys Home. No. The Crown’s cash is being doled out to compensate Maori iwi and hapu for wrongs inflicted by its representatives as far back as the 1850s, 60s and 70s.
 
What’s more, for the wrongs inflicted upon nineteenth century Maori by the colonial authorities, the present government of New Zealand (usually in the person of the Minister for Treaty Settlements, Chris Finlayson QC) has issued multiple apologies. But, issuing a public apology to the hundreds of young people (a great many of them Maori) who were, according to the testimony of their victims, beaten, tortured and raped by public servants acting in loco parentis: that, apparently, is impossible.
 
That John Key failed to recognise the extraordinary inconsistency embedded in his response to Kim Hill’s questions speaks volumes about the way he and his government have played the game of politics.
 
Mr Key and his ministers do not come at the nation’s problems with solutions informed by a common philosophical understanding of the world. If they did, then the need to inquire into the alleged injustices suffered by state wards would be as pressing as the need to inquire into the alleged injustices suffered by Maori iwi and hapu. And if those injustices were proved, then the need for proper compensation, and a public expression of culpability and regret, would be just as apparent.
 
Lacking a common philosophy, National’s ministers are forced to respond to economic and social problems in an ad hoc, piecemeal fashion. They do not appear to recognise that much of the advice they receive is underpinned by philosophical and ideological assumptions with which their party has little affinity. Assumptions flatly contradicted by the arguments ministers use to convince and/or placate the public.
 
Public Choice Theory, for example, seeks to limit the power of state providers to “capture” the processes by which services are delivered to the public. Those who subscribe to the theory are, consequently, searching constantly for ways to disrupt and “downsize” bureaucratic systems. Government ministers, on the other hand, have often attempted to “sell” such measures as the only way of shifting scarce resources to the people on “the front lines” of service delivery.
 
It would be wrong, however, to suggest that philosophical inconsistency is a failing which constantly occupies the mind of the ordinary Kiwi voter. New Zealanders, as a people, are not much given to following theories of any kind. If we subscribe to any philosophy at all it is the philosophy of pragmatism. If a problem can be fixed by using the political equivalent of No. 8 Wire, then “no worries, mate”.
 
The problem with this “pragmatic” approach to politics is that, eventually, one’s society finds itself held together by nothing but No. 8 Wire temporary fixes. When every remedy is ad hoc, and every argument is cobbled together to meet the needs of the moment, then the inconsistencies of approach and internal policy contradictions reach a level that even the most “practical” of voters is no longer able to overlook.
 
If it is simply not possible to right the wrongs of the past, as the outgoing Prime Minister insists, then why is the long-suffering taxpayer called upon continually to address the wrongs inflicted upon Maori in the nineteenth century? If it is unreasonable to become too agitated about the way children in state care were treated in the 1960s, then why apologise for the colonial confiscations of the 1860s?

It is to be hoped that Bill English brings to the office of prime minister a more consistent and coherent political philosophy than his predecessor. No. 8 Wire cannot fix everything.
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 9 December 2016.

20 comments:

Prang said...

If anything, Key sold the nonsense that a 'successful man' & someone who had amassed a millionaires fortune was somehow going to be good at solving complex social problems.

He didn't.

Key is a dullard who achieved next to nothing.

iwi watcher said...

Those select-few-elite Ngai Tahu who are on the 6-figure pay packets 'working' for the iwi and drive around in the 60k iwi cars will tell you the settlement process was about justice.

Most of the nearly 5o,ooo registered Ngai Tahu iwi members havn't seen a cent since 'settlement'.

Polly said...

Compared to elitism, intellectual theorising and experiment by leaders of the political beltway.
I prefer the # 8 wire approach.
So did about 50% of the voting public.

John Key had only worked in the private sector before politics, perhaps that's the answer for pragmatic government?.

Monique Watson said...

Isn't it about time for Anne Tolley to slink out while the doors open for John's departure?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Most of the nearly 5o,ooo registered Ngai Tahu iwi members havn't seen a cent since 'settlement'."

Easy enough to say, not that easy to prove. Particularly as there are thousands of Ngai Tahu signed up to a scheme that is very similar to Kiwi saver. And considering if they just distributed the money it would have been some hundreds of dollars per person. There are also scholarships and apprenticeships. They spend money on the environment, which benefits everyone. They even publish an annual report which you could read if you bothered. So I'm calling Bullshit on this. Anyway, what would you have done with the settlement money, which was something like about 1% of the value of what was taken from them I might add?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

“you can’t right the wrongs of the past”.

More evidence of lack of empathy? :) As if any more was needed.

Jack Scrivano said...

I suggest that Polly has a point.

I'm old enough to remember when people went into politics after they had done something in 'the real world'. The Grant Robertsons of this world make me very nervous.

John said...

"wrongs of the past" cannot all be put in the same basket.

One is a deliberate action of government.

The other is the criminal acts of individual pedophiles.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris

Much safer to apologise on behalf of people long since dead , and compensate accordingly, than, on behalf of people still very much alive and in some cases doubtless ,pillars of the community. A nightmare of accusations would need to be followed up on, providing excruciating embarrassment in some cases for certain. Only a few people are accusing Mr Key of utter stupidity.

I expect that all those institutions got closed down as authorities came to realise they were a Mecca for predatory psychopathic control freaks and paedophiles ,seeking access to children in extreme vulnerability. And almost impossible to screen for. Not just for cost saving. But it is questionable whether integrating the "care" more diversely into the community has improved the situation for the clients ( victims ) , or whether it has just moved responsibility further away from the authorities.

Cheers David J S

Guerilla Surgeon said...


"One is a deliberate action of government.

The other is the criminal acts of individual pedophiles."

I once had quite a bit to do with young people who were sent to these places. Some of them were evil bastards to be blunt, some were just kids – or maybe lost their parents or went a bit off the rails, or both. I also had a friend who try to teach in one of these places, he wasn't allowed much in the way of equipment – not because they might use it to pick the locks and escape – but because they used it for self-harm. He thought the guards were good-humoured and long-suffering, but then maybe the ones he saw were.
But all said and done, they were basically kids. And they didn't deserve to be abused by people in the pay of the government, which should have had procedures in place to prevent it. Now obviously it was a long time ago and people rarely thought about this sort of thing, but these so-called individual paedophiles were employed by our governments, and committed their crimes on the government dime – not on their own time usually.
The money and effort needed to grant these people some form of compensation is infinitesimal compared with many things, probably including MPs' liquor bills. And many of them I suspect would be satisfied with a simple apology. This essentially costs nothing but a bit of ministerial embarrassment, and in fact it could be done with dignity. The importance of the formal apology should not be underestimated. It was part of a number of Waitangi settlements and quite rightly so. Some people for some strange reason seem to get really upset that the government apologises to people whom it has wronged. Almost as upset as when they are given money. Bizarre.

Jigsaw said...

Your column just serves to once more demonstrate the stupidity of seeking to compensate long dead people for supposed past wrongs by enriching a small group of present day elite. When will the left grasp the fact that the public and its voting base especially are over identity politics and see clearly the inequality in what they are doing?

greywarbler said...

GS at 10/12 7.10
I have listened to what has been said this week on Radionz and one thing that has been referred to about the awful conditions that many of these children faced, is that they don't want it to happen again. And apologising and paying out money that could help them in the present, though not compensate for their past, does not ensure there is a different approach to the needs of children who have come from homes in turmoil.

It is easier to compensate for past wrongs and sweep them under the carpet than to face up to the problems caused by a government that doesn't really care to assist its people in facing their problems often caused by the government's actions.

The other thing that bugs me is the term commonly used - 'they didn't deserve to be... abused' or whatever. That sets up a line of thought that perhaps some did deserve to be abused, which does not express the meaning intended in using that term. More clearly, it should be said 'they deserved better treatment'.

Joshua Pudney said...

Not able to right the wrongs of the past? May as well say that you can't right wrongs, period. But that would be bad optics so Key tacks a little semantic clause on.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Your column just serves to once more demonstrate the stupidity of seeking to compensate long dead people for supposed past wrongs by enriching a small group of present day elite. "

So someone steals your house, and you die. But you wouldn't expect your grandchildren to be compensated for this? I thought Conservatives were all about property rights? I'll leave the bullshit about enriching a small group of present day elite to my other comment. But to be honest, I thought enriching small groups of elites was what conservatives were about too. :) Only when it is Maori do they complain.

David Stone said...

What is justice but righting the wrongs of the past?

Good point Greywarbler

Anonymous said...

Politics is all very well..as a wise man once said we live in an imperfect world.
What is worth talking about however is the new Mandolin Orange album Blindfaller https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLIBdS0rM5yqDM7kpHA26a-xz-NtTjf1yB

TruthTeller said...

Talk to some working class Ngai Tahu and they will tell you they havn't a clue about the settlement or what it was about.

Only that it lined the pockets of the Ngai Tahu elites and their hangers-on.

Neo Liberalism in action.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

'they didn't deserve to be... abused'
As far as I'm concerned the implication is that no one deserves to be abused. But it's worse because it was done by government servants essentially. Because the government is there to – in theory – protect us.

Joe-90 said...

I was fortunate to have a sublime childhood, that to this day is the foundation of my adult self and success. That hasn't prevented me conceiving of a tiny part of the horror that were the childhoods, and lives of these most unfortunate New Zealanders. To think that you were born unloved, ill treated, or unlucky enough to lose both your parents, as if that wasn't enough, then to be institutionalised, itself a horror, then, the stuff of nightmares, you are abused. What basis did they have to become successful adults, and how many of them could? And then, as adults, past their prime, what course their lives could take, already settled, not to be lived again, they get a glimmer of light. Do not under estimate that. A formal apology that publically legitimised all their suffering, allowed them to come out into the light. Allowed people to understand them, to give them some acknowledged place in society and the scheme of things. To give what they had undergone some meaning. Then this hope, sold out. No apology. No substantive compensation that says we believe you, we heard you, this costs us, this gives you a way to at least have a bit of joy in your twilight years, in your painful life journey. And no independent inquiry. None of which gives confidence that the system wants anything in reality but for them to disappear again. As I say, this, after all they have been through. Which group is more unfortunate in our country?

I understand why they might not let this go. Let Tolley and others step forward and minimise child rape, let the apologists align themselves with the horrors. If that is where they want to stand in our history.

Victor said...

David Stone

"What is justice but righting the wrongs of the past?"

Precisely.