KRIS FAAFOI’S DEPARTURE from Parliament has left the Immigration, Justice and Broadcasting portfolios in need of new ministers.
In the case of Immigration the Prime Minister’s choice of Michael Wood to replace Faafoi is a sound one. The issues of employment, migration, and workplace relations are closely related, so entrusting the portfolios of Labour and Immigration to a single, highly capable, politician makes a lot of sense.
When it comes to the Justice and Broadcasting portfolios, however, matters are nowhere near so cut and dried. Between now and the General Election issues with considerable potential for creating serious political division are likely to test the skills of the new ministers to their limits.
Before examining those issues in more detail, however, it is important to establish what the Prime Minister has, and hasn’t, done.
The opportunity existed for her to make good her error in assigning Justice to Faafoi. Although acknowledged on both sides of the House as a man of great integrity and good-will, Faafoi was clearly out of his depth in the Justice portfolio. Unusually, given the requirements of the job, he was not a lawyer. Nor did he appear to have a very firm grasp of the foundational principles of this country’s legal system.
Nowhere was this more clearly manifested than in the fraught subject of “Hate Speech”. Faafoi floundered shockingly when questioned on scope and implications of the Government’s proposed legislation. The experience rendered him gun-shy for the rest of his stint as minister. At a time when the Government needed a person of demonstrable intellectual subtlety to explore with the public the full ramifications of controlling Hate Speech, it was saddled with a Justice Minister who, in spite of his background in broadcasting, seemed inordinately wary of the news media.
To be fair to Faafoi, he did not seek out the portfolio assigned to him by the Prime Minister. Indeed, he had told her back in 2020 that he wished to step down from Parliament altogether. Ardern would have been kinder, both to Faafoi, and her Government, if she had granted his wish.
The Prime Minister’s choice of the qualified lawyer, Kiritapu Allan, may, however, make matters worse. Faafoi’s bumbling, by pushing the Hate Speech issue onto the back burner, was almost certainly a godsend politically. Should Allan take up the cause with her characteristic élan, the chances are good that she will ignite a full-scale culture war between the Government and the defenders of Free Speech.
Ardern could have opted to further settle the feathers of the free speakers by appointing a Justice Minister singularly deficient in “woke” credentials – the Attorney-General, David Parker, perhaps? That she has, instead, opted to advance a feisty member of Labour’s Māori caucus: a woman lionised by Labour’s “progressives”; has sent the New Zealand electorate a message of admirable (if not entirely sagacious) clarity.
By allocating the Broadcasting portfolio to the irrepressible, occasionally truculent, leader of Labour’s Māori caucus, Willie Jackson, the Prime Minister has, at the very least, confirmed that her appointment of Allan was no one-off. There are many words that could be used to describe Ardern’s placement of two tough political fighters in Justice and Broadcasting, but “conciliatory” isn’t one of them.
If Allan presses forward with Hate Speech legislation, and Willie Jackson delivers to the people of New Zealand a state broadcaster that is te Tiriti-driven, committed to advancing the cause of “partnership”, and completely unabashed in its promotion of “co-governance”, the result will be a synergy of political enablement practically guaranteed to raise the hackles of at least half the nation’s voters.
An exaggeration? Not at all. The material made available to those seeking financial support from the Public Interest Journalism Fund (overseen by New Zealand on Air) makes it crystal clear that no state funding will be made available to journalists who do not adhere to te Tiriti, the doctrine of partnership, and co-governance. The advisory documents spelling out what that means in practice are of an historical and ideological inflexibility that would make even the most zealous of Stalin’s commissars blanche.
That the new state broadcasting entity will adhere to these revolutionary stipulations in every respect may be taken as a given. Likewise the temptation for both the Justice and Broadcasting ministers to characterise the inevitable chorus of opposition as Hate Speech.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 17 June 2022.