Tuesday, 5 December 2017

"Closing The Gaps" 2.0

Dangerous Politics: Both Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson were up-close witnesses of the racist backlash that scuttled the Helen Clark-led Government’s attempt to “Close the Gaps” between Rich and Poor/Maori and Pakeha in the early 2000s. The National Party does not have a monopoly on redneckism. Many Labour voters also have plenty of unpleasant things to say on the subject of “the Maarees”.

THE WORST SIDE-EFFECT of New Zealand’s thirty-year “free-market” experiment is the way the words “Maori” and “dysfunctional” have become interchangeable. That the poor in New Zealand are disproportionately brown has made it much easier for the Pakeha majority to submerge their racial animosity in the less inflammatory vocabulary of socio-economic prejudice. Just like their White American counterparts, Pakeha racists have found a way to communicate their hatred and intolerance of ethnic minorities by couching their attacks in the language of economics and sociology.

As newspaper columnist Dave Witherow, and the former National Party leader, Dr Don Brash have both discovered over the past fortnight: to rant and rave publicly against Te Ao Maori is to invite instant, extensive and very loud condemnation. Condemning the poor for their ignorance, improvidence, laziness and criminality, however, provokes no such backlash. Liberal and progressive New Zealand is content to keep ethnicity and social deprivation in separate conceptual boxes. In the racist imagination, however, being poor, and being Maori, remain kindred categories.

This ethnically-coded discourse about poverty and the poor explains the otherwise puzzling phenomenon of the former National Government’s ability to embrace much of the programme of the Maori Party without provoking the mass desertion of the sort of National voter who had responded so dramatically to Dr Brash’s in/famous “Orewa Speech” of 2004. John Key may have basked in the praise of liberal New Zealand for throwing his arms around Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples, but National’s less “politically correct” supporters had only to observe his government’s hard-line approach to beneficiaries to be reassured that their party’s intolerance of all manifestations of “Maori/Dysfunction” remained as fierce as ever.

As political subterfuge goes, it was a pretty sophisticated double-act. On the one hand stood Chris Finlayson: working his way through the backlog of Treaty claims with admirable dispatch. On the other, Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley: wielding their punishing sticks against the undeserving poor – a disproportionate number of whom just happened to be brown. The urban liberals were moved, but so, too, were National’s provincial conservatives. A win-win strategy for everyone – except the Maori poor.

And on 23 September 2017, the Maori poor had their revenge. Unwilling to give the Maori Party the benefit of the doubt a fifth time, Maori voters drove its two remaining representatives out of Parliament altogether – thereby securing Labour a clean sweep of the seven Maori electorates. Between them, the Labour, NZ First and Green parties making up the current government contain an unprecedented 19 Maori MPs.

For these Maori politicians, the linkage between ethnicity and poverty is as important to the overall conduct of Jacinda Ardern’s government as it was to John Key’s – but for diametrically opposite reasons! Maori, both inside and outside the House of Representatives, will not tolerate an economic and social strategy that is not committed unequivocally to freeing their communities from the consequences of thirty years of racist neglect: those crippling social dysfunctions which so many Pakeha cite as justification for their prejudice.

This is dangerous politics. Both Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson were up-close witnesses of the racist backlash that scuttled the Helen Clark-led Government’s attempt to “Close the Gaps” between Rich and Poor/Maori and Pakeha in the early 2000s. The National Party does not have a monopoly on redneckism. Many Labour voters also have plenty of unpleasant things to say on the subject of “the Maarees”.

Enter NZ First’s Regional Economic Development Minister, Shane Jones. His mission, to unite conservative provincial New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha, around an economic nationalist programme committed to uplifting both communities. Anyone who watched Jones’s bravura performance on TVNZ’s “Q+A” current-affairs programme of Sunday, 3 December – during which he openly talked about forcing his feckless Northland “nephews” “off the couch” and into paid work – can only have felt for Finance Minister Grant Robertson. Jones, undoubtedly speaking on behalf of his boss, Winston Peters, made it very clear that Robertson’s business-oriented commitment to “fiscal and economic responsibility” cut little ice with him – nor, one suspects, with the Coalition Government’s other Maori MPs.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the Coalition Agreement”, quipped Jones, paraphrasing Psalm 20:7, and making it very clear to his political cohabiters that the Maori members of the Government will not be truncating their Maori-centred agenda to satisfy either Robertson’s “Budget Responsibility Rules” – or the prejudices of Pakeha.

What Jones and his comrades have come to understand, finally, is that the “market-failures” which they are determined to correct were also, perversely, politica successes. The free-market policies of the 1980s and 90s contributed to the disintegration of many Maori communities. The resulting “Maori underclass” spawned a host of seriously dysfunctional behaviours – creating fears which were exploited politically to “weaponise” Pakeha racism.

Fix the first problem, and the second falls apart.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 5 December 2017.


peteswriteplace said...

Robertson may have to amend his document if the party wishes to be reelected? Use your time and energy to attack Neoliberalism Chris.

greywarbler said...

The savings of less ambulance at the cliff responses, less in prison, and less violence plus more happy, interactive, working communities is how it can be conveyed to Pakeha. The positive economic consequences will be
the message to spread. And getting 'them' working and achieving something with their lives, and being role models for their children.

Convey this as being the way that modern kiwis think - Don Brash rising to sink his teeth into our necks, and this Witherow (such an unfortunate name for someone who sounds as if he is grass-fed), well they can have a place besides Garth McVicar and others with a record of being broken records.
We have moved away from them, we can do better and intend to ensure that we do. The naysayers just want to blame Maori because they have become popular scapegoats, or better beneficiaries.

It is only the losers who have to dump on everyone else, their mummies and daddies always told them how much better they were than those other children, especially if they were top of the class, and feeling an also-ran or to increase their own mana, they belittle others. Time to grow up and do our own audit and assessment, each one of us, and that means asking ourselves what really matters in life to us personally and the society that we live in as the standard against which we measure ourselves.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I heard Don Brash being interviewed by Kim Hill while I was out running the other day. She might have guessed they'd end up going round and round in circles, because the man – supposedly with an incisive brain – is actually really inflexible and incapable of rational argument. His soul reasoning being seemingly it is an insult to people who can't understand Maori or at least white people who can't understand Maori, which is all he said for at least the time I was listening. He couldn't seem to express in any way shape or form what actual harm it does.
All the fuss about a couple of sentences in Maori that he couldn't understand, that he could have got the translation for on the radio New Zealand website, and he gets about half an hour of my life – well about ten minutes because I changed the station eventually – for his idiotic ideas. If I'd been at home I would have emailed Kim Hill to say something like "Some of us feel that if a couple of sentences in Maori offends sad, dry, old white men – we might see it as a plus.
People tell me that Espiner's accent is pretty piss poor mind you. :)

Chris Trotter said...

To: Peter Petterson.

If you can't spot the neoliberal core in Grant Robertson's "Budget Responsibility Rules", Peter, then I question seriously your understanding of the term.

While Labour remains bound to neoliberal definitions of "fiscal and economic responsibility" the rest of the Labour-NZ First Coalition Agreement will languish in the "nice-to-have-but-can't-afford-right-now basket, and this government will be lucky to see out its term.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

conservatives seem to have arrived at the idea that there are people in society getting stuff for free, and they don't. And this seems to annoy the crap out of them, because the stereotype is that these people who are getting free stuff like sitting around on their arses all day. And they really, really resent this – viscerally. Is more evident in America because I think it's what elected Trump, and I think it was what got Brash support he managed, and it obviously resonates with New Zealand First supporters. Apparently they all "work hard", and don't get any free stuff, except of course that's bullshit. All I can say is, in the words of some comedian who I can't be bothered looking up – "if you think being poor is so great then why don't you try it?"

Iwik said...

It's very clear that Robertson espouses the same old economic paradigm that rests upon a set of faulty assumptions that come out of the 70's. Mainstream economists are more progressive than our labour finance minister. Global interest rates are low, we need productive investment, and we're held hostage by a set of idiotic rules adopted by a know-nothing like Robertson.

Mark Hubbard said...

Quote: 'The free-market policies of the 1980s and 90s contributed to the disintegration of many Maori communities.'

I've always loved this quotation from David Schmidtz:

' If communitarians are right to say Western society has been atomized, then surely one of the causes has been the state’s penchant for making itself (rather than the community) the primary focus of public life….

What explains market society’s unparalleled success in helping people to prosper? The key, I have argued, lies in background institutions, especially property institutions, that lead people to take responsibility for their own welfare….

The welfare state would have made people better off if it had led neighbors to rely on each other and on themselves, but it seems to have done the opposite.'

Where does welfare dependency fit into your narrative Chris?

Kat said...

Chris, in an earlier post you did a piece on the MOW, which I don't mind admitting is a hobby horse topic for me. I wonder if Shane Jones put his weighty voice behind singing the benefits of reinstating a modern version of the MOW and replacing lyrics such as "work for the dole" with "honest days work" and the PM and finance minister harmonising "with an honest days pay" we may even see the wider audience singing along.

There is just no good reason for anyone to be hungry, homeless or out of work in New Zealand.

g said...

Mark Hubbard
Theory, opinion and shoulds (in short TOS...), then the half-baked comestible get offered to Chris for his comment.

The welfare state would have made people better off if it had led neighbors to rely on each other and on themselves, but it seems to have done the opposite.'

I once read a study on a Naples community that had been strugglers in that place for centuries. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/belm13370

They were a closed society, very suspicious of outsiders so the anthropologist Thomas Belmonte, The Broken Fountain, was fortunate to be accepted. They worked when they could at the skills they possessed, the boys effected rapid car boot thefts from vehicles at the lights, they stole from each other when necessary, relied on charity from the Catholic church, hated policemen, were to some extent caring but at the same time pragmatic, even brutal society, very sexist to young women though mothers were revered. They could never consider moving out of their realm, say to study music if gifted. He nearly got knifed once over some cultural misdemeanour. They found strength in shutting out others but at the same time were unable to widen or improve their life. Their neighbourhood, already old, was damaged badly in an earthquake about 1980, and they had to live squashed together in hotel rooms while the government dithered about finding somewhere permanent.

I think if people helping each other could get on well, these people would have managed it. They were still dependent on the wider society which didn't offer them any better options. Do not sneer at the welfare state as reading about London society before reformers spread the word and ideas for a better society indicates that people just get ground down as difficulties reign down on them and opportunities are denied them.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"What explains market society’s unparalleled success in helping people to prosper?"

Before you ask what, perhaps you should ask if. And perhaps you could try to define it. Because in essence there isn't one, there has never been one, and they're almost certainly never will be one.

"Overcoming the myth that there is such a thing as an objectively defined ‘free market’ is the first step towards understanding capitalism." Ha-joon Chang

And of course there is a dearth of examples of prosperity being brought about by free markets anyway. The Asian Tigers brought about prosperity by heavy protectionism. As did the Americans and the British in the nineteenth century. And all those states in the US which have adopted extreme free-market measures have crashed and burned.

greywarbler said...

A satirical comment on togetherness in adversity from Mike Royko USA columnist.

So, for a variety of reasons, ranging from convenience to fear to economics, people stayed in their own neighborhood, loving it, enjoying the closeness, the friendliness, the familiarity, and trying to save enough money to move out.”
― Mike Royko, Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago


Bushbaptist said...

Junk Economics...



David Stone said...

Mark H

"The welfare state would have made people better off if it had led neighbors to rely on each other and on themselves, but it seems to have done the opposite.'
I think you have a point here. Communities did look after themselves more in the past than they do now. They built local hospitals and local schools, and took an interest in all members of the community. They were probably at least as judgmental about how each other behaved as now though.
As the welfare state developed over the years the state took over responsibility for most of what communities once provided, some well some poorly. And this was not opposed as the state could bring so much more resources and influence to bare , and all communities could benefit equally, it was a sensible development.
But having thus allowed the community based systems to dismantle in favour of the state's alternative, the state under Douglas then withdrew much of what it had been providing, selling off assets that were once the communities' assets and leaving a vacuum where there was once a functioning community. People have to be in touch with each other to be a community.
I don't really think the pink-o-greys that blame the brown unemployed for the lack of job opportunity and begrudge them their miserable dole is a very significant proportion of our society. A part of our community has been rejected and left to rot by the part of neoliberal theory that decided that the work force would be better motivated if some of it couldn't get a job. 5-6% unemployment has been a target to that end. The inevitable development is a section of the community that has adjusted to the situation that it is unlikely they will ever have the opportunity to work for a living. Shane Jones inicitive to create some meaningful ones and presumably some training is exactly what needs to be done.

I like your last quote greywarbler .

Cheers D J S

jh said...

"Racism" against Maori is largely a result of academic identity politics, post colonial studies "Unsettling the Settler".

The left are fawning over the new demographics that make Maori the third minority. They made it happen. Let's ramp up Te Reo on RNZ and make programs about the Maori wars (not the invasion of the Chathams) Look Squirrel!

countryboy said...

This, all of this, is horribly wrong. And I know this because so far, I’m historically horribly right.

Brash is a red herring. A fucking ugly one, I’ll grant you that but his use of common plights, that is of brown/white , poor/ rich says to me he’s been told to deflect attention away from what I see coming. Financial Armageddon, hunger and invasion. Yay. Whoop. Pull up a chair, crack a tinny. It’s going to be quite the show.
Labour is quite literally National Lite. Or perhaps National Devious. Fundamentally they’re indistinguishable. Labour is promising thicker icing on a shit cake we’re force fed through a foreign banker tube.
Our kids are expected to work, for works sake and fuck that! That talk’s just impolite government sponsorship of the Corporates who now own what was once OUR resources and amenities. Toiling in what were once OUR forests for example. The criminals back in the day sorted that out and now OUR tress are Korean, Japanese etc trees. We can’t afford to house people and our laws prohibit people from building their own instead Trumped off by a wall of local body threats and court hobble de gobbleing’s while the homeless watch our beautiful timbers roar past on trucks driven by P’d up sacks of testosterone quadruple de-clutching their mighty, growling penis extensions, and God only knows, you need it.
You bought a length of timber recently? It’d be cheaper to build a house out of butter and fish.
If one were to stoop low enough and peer into the minute` of the thing that is our country, you will see a horrendously complex thing. Atoms, then dust then sand then pebbles then rocks then boulders then cliffs then mountains then plains, then us, all of us, hanging on for dear life as life itself is warped and buckled and clouded so as to be less clearly seen through and in there, in that human effluvium there are people like brash and peters and many usually narcissistic others keen to flourish on our time given us to spend on this wondrous planet.
They are the enemy. Remember that.
And we have two sets of the bastards comprising sundry lesser similar bastards.
The reason I bang on about our agriculture is that properly managed, farming in NZ would be the most powerful lobby group in the country and any political party that doesn’t acknowledge that, are, by their own admission, the enemy.
There desperately needs a Kiwi Jeremy Corban to rise up out of Winton and gather about him our farmers to put a stop this psychological head fuckery and banish the parasites back to fiddling the books down at the bingo hall where they had their beginnings.
( Too, many comma’s ? I, can never quite work, that, out. I’m grammerslexic, I think. )

Oh? By the way. Anyone yet know what winston bleaters and don rash were tittle tattling about in this photograph?
It’s weird right? It’s a bit like 9/11. It was terrorists ! It was them Arabs! It was that Osama Bin There Done That ! Ohhh the humanity ! ? But what about that other building? The old World Trade Building? Fell down all by itself? WTF?
What, about seeing winston peters chit chatting with scum bag brash alarms me equally? Brash? ACT was his domain, the creation of roger douglas and derek quigley. Peters ! Loathing and scathing of neoliberalism. Two devout enemies sipping of the lattes like mates when really? I’d have expected them to be trading blows.
You think those fuckers fear a rebel leader bringing farmers, as potentially the most powerful lobby group in NZ into the Light? You bet your sweet little trouser nuggets they do.
A bit off-topic but honestly, read this. It’s hilarious.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Racism against Maori is the preserve of miserable old white men. Unfortunately they seem to pass their attitudes on – either genetically or through "nurture" to their descendants. It's epitomised by People like Don Brash and elite conservatives like him, but it's reasonably common in ordinary people as well. And anyone who is of the opinion that it simply a result of academics and identity politics (whatever the fuck that is dog whistle for), obviously hasn't listened to white people talking in the pub when there are no brown people around.

greywarbler said...

Plenty of lively comment there and I don't diss it. We are all scurrying around worrying about today, tomorrow and who knows. But life is a many-layered thing and some never get past standing on the first layer and the top layer wouldn't be just ephemeral spiritual musings either. But some philosophical thinking would advance the land of Fix-It with No.8.

In my 1952 paperback just read there is an advertisement for Teach Yourself 'For Pleasure and Profit'. It has practical stuff and offers Psychology but out of a total 23 subjects there is no philosophy. In our advanced stage, and with computers storing every known and unknown fact/oid, more than ever we need to think about what we are and how we want to be.

And it is amazing to me how our situation can be told in analogy by fairy tales, folk tales and clever children's stories. 'The Emperor's New Clothes', 'The Alice books'etc. It's just that too many of us are too witless to see the parallels. But they can tell us how we are if our minds are still open to reflection.

I like your pungent example of neglected citizens' daily frustration, and the side of those who have plugged into the mighty corporates employment offers open to 'real men' and women who can handle it. I can almost smell the sweat on the black-singleted Fred Dagg or Hone driving past.
We can’t afford to house people and our laws prohibit people from building their own instead Trumped off by a wall of local body threats and court hobble de gobbleing’s while the homeless watch our beautiful timbers roar past on trucks driven by P’d up sacks of testosterone quadruple de-clutching their mighty, growling penis extensions, and God only knows, you need it.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I love this.

jh said...

Kim Hill roasting of Don Brash
Claiming it is in the charter etc is appeal to authority as it doesn't deal with how/what etc.

Espiner "admits he enjoys winding those sort up": "If you want to gather honey you don't kick over the beehive" - Dale Carnegie.

"there are umpteen Maori stations speaking Te Reo". But you are against separatism, Don!?". "I support separate toilet cubicles, Kim!?"

If RNZ is so concerned about Moari [formerly our largest minority] why do we have to go to an obscure publication to learn about how the politicians shafted Moari over immigration (multiculturalism)?

How did the left-wing Spinoff get public funding

jh said...

Blogger Guerilla Surgeon said...

Racism against Maori is the preserve of miserable old white men.
Add to that an Indian taxi driver speaking from the heart.

Scouser said...

Off tack but related to the post but it's perfectly possible to have countries with multiple languages though not necessarily in a good way. It's very difficult to have two languages on an equal footing without it being a divider of a nation. One tends to be the dominant if we wish to avoid such division and any language up against English will find it difficult.

Probably, the best example that compares with Maori is Welsh. 100 years ago something like 40% of the Welsh spoke Welsh and despite it being made an official language on equal footing with English in law pre 2nd world war, official policies supporting Welsh, Welsh TV and Radio, Welsh signs and laws etc the use of Welsh continued to drop to the point less than 1 in 5 in Wales spoke it by the end of the 20th Century. This was down predominantly to its competition with English. It was only when the Welsh embraced more and became prouder of their Welshness did the take up of the language partially recover but even then it's around 1 in 5 and stalled.

One cannot force a language. It needs to be embraced and valued to survive for non utilitarian reasons when it's up against English. Even then it's only likely to be partially successful. There are similar issues with the use of Maori - it really needs a lot of people to want to do speak it. On that point I agree with Don Brash. The various moves to enforce learning Te Reo will fail without a widespread desire to want to speak it and it being seen as a valuable cultural item. Otherwise it will end up like the Latin and Greek I was forced to learn as a child. An exam qualification and subjects I resented.

On the use of Te Reo on RNZ I disagree with Don Brash. One of the properties of a public broadcaster is they don't just do mainstream as they're less driven by ear or eyeball numbers and can avoid the lowest common denominator. They wander off the beaten path. Te Reo is one such path.

Coming back to multiple languages in a country this mostly continues for historical reasons and tends to divide countries. Examples abound. In Belgium the Waloons (French speaking) and the Flemish see themselves as quite distinct and don't particularly like each other. In Switzerland, with four languages even, we have a very federated approach with high autonomy of the Cantons with the predominantly French speaking and German speakers with very distinct cultures and approaches who are often on opposite sides of a position. Many Canadians see the Quebecers as bonkers and the Quebecers have to enforce French under law to retain its use and they're slowly losing the battle to English.

If the language issue is treated ideologically rather than as a cultural/populist matter it will fail. Right now much of the the message is coming across as ideological. 'Maori are the original natives of NZ, there's a treaty, therefore one must learn Te Reo and you're a bad racist person if you're against it'. I exaggerate for effect but that still encapsulates the perception of many. The 'cool to korero' approach where embracing a culture as popular is an example of the real path to success.

Pinger said...

As a early 2000's bureaucrat delivering a funded aspect of the 'Closing the Gaps' policy, I did experience from a range of Pakeha strongly worded views.

They thought that somehow they were being neglected or being deprived of the public purse.

And the 'Maarees' were getting more than their fair share. Which should be essentually next to nothing.

jh said...


Thanks for that thoughtful post.
Officially Te Reo is a taonga. If So that is because it is part of an identity and that identity is being swamped by a policy of ethnic diversity via immigration. What the government do to compensate is just tokenism.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

You see JH, in all that word salad there is not one relevant point. If just one of these racists could point out the actual harm of a couple of sentences of Maori at the beginning of the news it would be really, really good. But if the only problem is "It annoys me", why the hell should anyone take any notice of them and why shouldn't some of us chuckle with glee? Mind you, if Don Brash can't articulate it FFS..... he's supposed to be clever. As far as I'm concerned it was a tasteless and useless exercise to interview the man in the first place. He seems to be someone who can't get used to being irrelevant.

greywarbler said...

Good points Scouser. Te Reo is a taonga and should be retained along with the culture and history. But long drawn out speeches that mean little to the English speakers, and are only partly understood by the basic Te Reo speakers, Maori or Pakeha, is ideological. As a formal matter yes, but as a business matter as in policy discussions it would be best if we didn't start up new misunderstandings as to which version of the proceedings is to be the accepted one, and have to repeat everything in the different language with perhaps disagreements as to translation.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"But long drawn out speeches that mean little to the English speakers, and are only partly understood by the basic Te Reo speakers, Maori or Pakeha, is ideological. "

I have sat through hundreds of long drawn out speeches Greywarbler, and believe me it is much, much better to have them in Maori than in English. Most of the time I'd rather not understand them anyway, and Maori is rather a mellifluous language, so I can listen without being bored by the grey verbiage word salad that most speeches consist of.

Charles E said...

To the above. When speaking or writing English it is linguistically incorrect to slot in foreign words, unless they add something extra, and will be understood by your audience.
So for example it is wrong to call the Maori language te reo. In English it is Maori. In Maori it is Te Reo.
Whanau is wrong too, as is kai. It is family & food. And it is especially rude to use whanau as a way of signalling that you are talking about a Maori family. Crass indeed.
And treasure is the correct word in English, not toanga. Pakeha have treasures too, like their language.
Finally, poor brave and absolutely correct Brash actually seems to have missed an even better argument for why RNZ etc are way out of line and heading for oblivion. The better point is that NZ English is indeed our treasure, valued by the vast majority who it belongs to. It is culturally disrespectful and very offensive for public servants like RNZ to mess with it. It is our only uniting language of our common culture which is largely Pakeha. Yes we too have a culture and a language we love and treasure so do not mess with us. Maori too have a culture and a tongue they call Te Reo which is their treasure. The two of us do blend at times but voluntarily and naturally, organically. Not by dictate from smart arse little bullies like E-spinner.