Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Paying For Our Pakeha "Guilt" And "Privilege".

Shouldn't That Be: "Wrong White Crowd"? Rather than apportion guilt, would it not have been wiser for the makers of Land Of The Long White Cloud to accept that the Pakeha of 2019 are not – and never will be – “Europeans”? Just as contemporary Maori are not – and can never be again – the Maori who inhabited these islands before Cook’s arrival. Is it not the case that both peoples are victims of historical forces too vast for blame, too permanent for guilt?

PERHAPS THE BEST WAY to assess the quality of the NZ Herald’s “Land of the Long White Cloud” is by studying Tom Clarke’s characterisation of James Cook. Clarke begins by making Cook a member of the British aristocracy. He gives him the accent of Hugh Laurie’s Bertie Wooster, along with most of his mannerisms. Clarke then proceeds to deliver a false description of Cook’s mission – complete with jokes about planting flags and claiming countries. All done with a smile, of course, in the interests of lightening what the series’ creators clearly believe to be a very serious matter. Even so, if you’re trying to dispel some of the myths surrounding New Zealand’s origins, then falsifying the historical record would seem to be a very peculiar way of going about it.

Because James Cook was not a member of the British aristocracy, he was a plain-speaking Yorkshireman of humble origin. Tom Clarke should, therefore, have based his accent more on the characters of Heartbeat and Last of the Summer Wine than on Jeeves & Wooster. Indeed, had Clarke bothered to read anything written by a reputable historian concerning Cook’s voyage of 1769 (Anne Salmond’s springs to mind) he would have encountered a clever, considered and compassionate man of (for his time) unusually enlightened opinions. Trouble is, satirising that sort of Englishmen would have required more of the actor than he was either able, or permitted, to give.

Clarke’s representation of Cook does, however, speak directly to the profound intellectual weakness at the heart of this so-called documentary about “white guilt”. The expression “begging the question” is often used erroneously to indicate a failure to raise the obvious and most important question/s about an issue. While LOTLWC certainly fits this description, it also conforms to the expression’s classical meaning. LOTLWC begs the question because the conclusion arrived at by the series’ makers – that “whites” are guilty – is derived entirely from their original premise – that “white guilt” exists.

It certainly explains why the makers selected the eight individuals whose opinions constitute the series’ content. Originally pitched to NZ On Air (the series’ principal funder) under the working title “After White Guilt”, the first of the six recorded episodes contains not the slightest hint that attaching the word “guilt” to New Zealanders of European origin might be in any way problematic.

LOTLWC simply assumes that the Pakeha settlement of New Zealand was a crime. (Why else use the word “guilt”?) Accordingly, New Zealand’s colonial history is presented as the work of murderers and plunderers. The descendants of these criminals – the Pakeha New Zealanders of 2019 – find themselves cast in the role of people living off the proceeds of crime: receivers of stolen goods. The suggestion, so far unspoken, but lurking just beneath the surface of the participants’ remarks, is that these crimes must be acknowledged and atoned for, and the stolen property returned to its rightful owners.

One must assume that the participants in and the creators of LOTLWC really are as naïve and innocent of political reality as they appear. To assume otherwise casts them in the role of conscious and deliberate inciters of hatred and division between Pakeha and Maori – to the point of risking full-scale civil war. Nothing in the history of the human species suggests that people can be persuaded to part with their property, or their autonomy, without a fight. Nor does the historical record attest that such wholesale dispossession can be accomplished except in the aftermath of their complete and unalterable defeat.

“But that is exactly what we are saying!”, one can imagine LOTLWC participants expostulating. “That is what our ancestors are guilty of – and we are the beneficiaries of their crimes!”

Except, when viewed in its entirety, the history of human occupation in these islands suggests that what happened between Maori and Pakeha in the middle of the nineteenth century was far from exceptional. For the best part of 500 years, the killing of human-beings and the appropriation of the survivors’ property and autonomy, had been the norm. All the Europeans brought to the game were more effective weapons and superior tools – both of which the Maori acquired and mastered in a very short space of time.

Indeed, what distinguished the 70 years between the arrival of Cook in 1769 and the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, was an astonishing escalation in warfare, killing, dispossession and dislocation – not at the hands of the Europeans, but by the indigenous people. When Cook arrived, New Zealand boasted approximately 100,000 inhabitants. By the end of the Musket Wars, in the mid-1830s, between 20,000 to 30,000 Maori had disappeared. The Europeans were impressed, but not surprised, they’d been doing the same things to one another for the best part of 3,000 years!

When the Pakeha settlers finally launched their own war of conquest in the Waikato in 1863, not only could they rely upon the 12,000 soldiers sent from Britain to support the colonial government, but also on the military support of Maori tribes unwilling to turn the clock back to the time before Cook’s arrival. They wagered on their people being strong enough to survive te riri Pakeha, the white man’s anger, and his greed, and they were right. Two-hundred-and-fifty years after Cook’s arrival, the Maori population of New Zealand is five times what it was in 1769. That is not a claim which many of the planet’s indigenous peoples can make – especially those inhabiting its temperate zones.

The brute facts of New Zealand history suggest that if it’s blame Maori and Pakeha are looking for, then there’s plenty to go around. Rather than apportion guilt, would it not be wiser to accept that the Pakeha of 2019 are not – and never will be – “Europeans”? Just as contemporary Maori are not – and can never be again – the Maori who inhabited these islands before Cook’s arrival. Would it not, therefore, be wiser to accept, finally, that both peoples are victims of historical forces too vast for blame, too permanent for guilt?

Which immediately raises another interesting question: Why NZ On Air felt moved to promise the makers of LOTLWC (aka “After White Guilt”) close to $140,000 of public funding? As already noted, the series is not an exploration of the way in which Pakeha have responded to a dramatic expansion in the range and depth of historical understanding in New Zealand – that would have been a very useful exercise to have supported. It is, instead, the result of taxpayers coughing-up a lot of cash for eight individuals, all subscribing to an extreme and highly tendentious interpretation of New Zealand history, to lecture them on what awful people their ancestors were, and what they should be doing to assuage their “guilt” and off-load their “privilege”.

That $140,000 question deserves an answer, especially given the fact that LOTLWC’s sponsoring institution, the New Zealand Herald, was founded in December 1863, five months after after the invasion of the Waikato, for the express purpose of ensuring that the colonial government (also based in Auckland) did everything possible to extinguish the “native rebellion” and seize the “rebels’” lands. In the light of that little snippet of New Zealand history, would it not have been more appropriate for NZME to assuage its “Pakeha Guilt” out of its own pocket?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 22 October 2019.

A Bodyguard of Truths.

One, Two, Many Truths: With the collapse of “actually existing socialism” in 1991, the universities of the West found themselves saddled with a new mission. With their ideological competitors now soundly defeated they were no longer required to demonstrate the superiority of capitalist values. Their job now was to cement in place the crushing victory of free-market capitalism. Intellectual pluralism was out and unchallengeable dogma was in. As far as the academic community was concerned, it was a case of: “We are all commissars now!”

WHAT’S HAPPENED to our universities? That is the question which New Zealanders educated in the universities of the 1970s and early 1980s are asking themselves. Their search for answers has been prompted by the failure of at least two of New Zealand’s academic institutions to defend the principle of free speech on their campuses. Such a dramatic departure from the academic values of the second half of the twentieth century, while disturbing, is surely inseparable from the many other changes that have transformed our universities over the course of the past 35 years. What’s happening on today’s campuses has been brewing for a long time.

What sort of world was it that required our universities to be centres of intellectual pluralism: places where different ideologies contended with one another openly and without undue rancour? First and foremost it was a world in which the struggle between market-driven and market-suppressing ideologies was ongoing. In the 1970s and well into the 1980s the outcome of the Cold War was still in doubt. Vast swathes of the planet and hundred-of-millions of workers remained off-limits to capitalism. No matter how truncated and unfree, there was still an alternative to the free market – and, as any good capitalist will tell you, competition enhances performance.

Universities, like all the other important institutions of capitalist society, had to demonstrate the superiority of capitalist values over communist ideology. If Soviet universities were hidebound bastions of unchallengeable dogma where intellectual unorthodoxy wasn’t simply unwise but punishable by dismissal, imprisonment, or worse, then the West’s universities had to be showcases of intellectual ferment and free debate.

Censorship and the suppression of free speech might be attempted by misguided university authorities (as they were in the early 1960s on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley) but all such attempts were stoutly resisted by staff and students. The Berkeley “Free Speech Movement” marked the beginning of the campus upheavals that made students a by-word for radical dissent throughout the 1960s and 70s.

With the collapse of “actually existing socialism” in 1991, the universities of the West found themselves saddled with a new mission. With their ideological competitors now soundly defeated they were no longer required to demonstrate the superiority of capitalist values. Their job now was to cement in place the crushing victory of free-market capitalism. Intellectual pluralism was out and unchallengeable dogma was in. As far as the academic community was concerned, it was a case of: “We are all commissars now!”

For students, the new regime was even more rigorous. The intellectual leaders of free-market capitalism had noted the effects of heavily state-subsidised or even “free” tertiary education on students. From the perspective of the free-market capitalist, giving young people the space and time to think about the world they were about to enter had proved a near fatal mistake. High fees and crippling student loans were their answer to the radical dissent of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Serendipitously, the policy of “User-Pays” turned out to be a genuine “twofer”. Not only did it transform students from scholars into paying customers; but also, by requiring university staff to give these “customers” what they were paying for, it undermined academic freedom. Students won’t pay for exams that are “too hard”, or enrol in courses that are of “no use”.

That only left the pesky problem of “Truth”. Traditionally, this was the whole point of attending university: learning how to approach, ever more closely, the true nature of things. For the free-market capitalist, however, the only truth worth pursuing was the truth of free-market capitalism. But, how to establish that truth without encouraging the growth of a counter-truth? That was the problem.

The survival strategy free-market capitalism came up with was nothing less than brilliant – and astonishingly successful. To protect the brutal realities of capitalism it was necessary to conceal them behind one, two, many realities. Turn the whole idea of a single truth into a monstrous and authoritarian notion – like the communist ideology of the now defunct Soviet Union. What this meant in practical terms was that while in the STEM disciplines 2+2 had to remain 4; in the humanities 2+2 could equal whatever the hell you liked!

Henceforth, and in perfect conformity with the individualistic ethos of free-market capitalism, each human-being would be given the right to determine their own truths. Naturally, these would be derived from their own insight and experience. The sum total of these insights and experiences constituted an individual’s “identity”. Protecting one’s personal truths and protecting one’s identity were thus made one and the same. Anyone attempting to impose an unwanted and/or false identity upon the individual: one that did not accord with the truths they had derived from their own insight and experience; was to be resisted as an “oppressor”.

Since free-market capitalism can only be overthrown when people are willing to subsume their own individual identities in a collective identity arising out of such all-embracing categories as “human-being”, “citizen”, or “worker”, the irretrievably divisive politics of identity have emerged as free-market capitalism’s surest defence. The only injustice capable of uniting these diverse identities is the wicked lie that there are causes around which it is possible for diverse identities to unite.

This is what the liberal arts faculties of our universities have become: institutions dedicated to the investigation, celebration and protection of personal, sexual, ethnic and gender identity. While the STEM faculties crank out the technologists needed to keep the free-market capitalist machine running, its commissars in the humanities make sure that the monstrous, planet-destroying reality of its existence remains hidden behind a bodyguard of truths. Each of them ready to use the thug’s veto against anyone foolhardy enough to raise their voice in opposition.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 18 October 2019.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Is Simon’s Smile Sustainable?

A Sustainable Proposition: With as much as 18 percent of the electorate declaring itself “undecided” about who to vote for, there is obviously plenty of space for a party like former Green Party member, Vernon Tava's, about-to-be-launched "Sustainable NZ Party" to move into. The most hospitable political territory for such a party to settle in would appear to be that occupied by voters who yearn for environmental policy to once again become the preserve of “serious” and “grown up” politicians.

SIMON BRIDGES is feeling pretty chipper this week – with good reason. Pollsters Reid Research and Colmar Brunton have not only re-confirmed the solidity of National’s support, but also tracked a decline in Labour’s numbers. Not a big enough decline, it must be acknowledged, to give the National Party more than the narrowest of victories in one poll and a narrow defeat in the other. Even so, Mr Bridges is beaming. Why?

If his own cryptic encouragement to “watch this space” is any guide, the Leader of the Opposition is anticipating the imminent emergence of what is, potentially, a new coalition partner for National in the 2020 General Election. The most likely candidate for this role is Vernon Tava’s “Sustainable New Zealand Party” The requisite 500 members have, apparently, been signed up and the party’s name approved. All that remains is for Mr Tava’s new political vehicle to be rolled-out with maximum fanfare.

That should not be difficult to secure. Mr Tava is an articulate, energetically moderate and very personable individual who, it must be assumed, has spent the last few months gathering the resources necessary to set his new vehicle in motion. If Sustainable NZ’s website is any guide, Mr Tava’s behind-the-scenes efforts have not been wasted. It is professional in appearance, easily navigable and suffused throughout with ideologically appropriate blues and greens.

If Mr Bridges’ smiles are any indication, however, Mr Tava has done a lot more than produce a website. The National Party leader’s cat-who-got-the-cream expression suggests that the new party will come with a newsworthy collection of founding parents: people for whom liberal National Party supporters would be pleased to vote. Exactly who these people might be remains a closely guarded secret, but a small exercise in imaginative speculation should be enough to indicate how impactful a collection of the right people could be.

Let us imagine, then, that someone with the public profile and indisputable credibility of a Sir Peter Gluckman were to step forward into the glare of the television lights. Instantly, Sustainable NZ would become a serious proposition. The news media would respond enthusiastically, amplifying the party’s messages and giving the existing political landscape a rattling seismic shake.

With as much as 18 percent of the electorate declaring itself “undecided” about who to vote for, there is obviously plenty of space for Sustainable NZ to move into. The most hospitable political territory for the party to settle in would be that occupied by voters who yearn for environmental policy to become the preserve of “serious” and “grown up” politicians. Voters who, while conceding the reality of Climate Change, are not at all impressed by the emotional appeals of Greta Thunberg and her children’s crusade. Voters who refuse to accept the dire predictions of a climate catastrophe: who still have faith in the unbounded ingenuity of the human species to come up with what the doom-sayers scornfully dismiss as “the scientific fix”.

In other words, a party quite unlike the Greens. A party unburdened by the ideological detritus of the 1960s and 70s which the original green parties, formed in the 1980s, felt obliged to haul into the public square. A party that wouldn’t dream of Morris Dancing, or expect its conference delegates to subsist on mung beans, herbal tea and tofu. A party that would be soberly and sensibly liberal on social issues without getting side-tracked into branding its core supporters “white supremacists” or descending into TERF wars. A party which, if presented with a genetically-engineered solution to New Zealand livestock’s methane emissions, rather than cry “Heresy!”, would grab it with both hands.

Most of all, of course, Sustainable NZ would be a party of swingers. For all their origins in the swinging 60s and 70s, the Greens have been the most monogamous of political parties. Since being elected in their own right to Parliament in 1999 they have had only one political partner – Labour. Even when Labour scorned the Greens’ unconditional love; even when it dallied outrageously with Peter Dunne and Winston Peters; even when it left them bruised and battered; they never faltered – never strayed.

Sustainable NZ – if it is the reason for Mr Bridges’ knowing smile – has no intention of becoming the Right’s battered spouse. It will offer itself to National unconditionally only once – but for Simon that will be enough.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 18 October 2019.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Ever-So-Slightly Bonkers: Simon Bridges Plays To His Base.

Would You Buy A Used Propaganda Video From This Man? Bridges and the National Party’s strategists have discovered that the ideas and attitudes considered acceptable by today’s editors and journalists are no longer enforceable. The rise and rise of the Internet and the social media platforms it spawned means that the average voter is no longer dependent on newspapers, radio and television for guidance about right-thinking and wrong-thinking.

SIMON BRIDGES may be right. He’s clearly betting everything National has on the New Zealand electorate being neither outraged nor offended by his behaviour. If the polls are to be believed, it’s a wager he and his party appear to be winning. National is only a few percentage points away from winning the 2020 General Election outright. So what if he comes across on radio and television as ever-so-slightly bonkers. Venture out into the “heartland” and it will soon become apparent that he’s not alone.

Time was when the boundaries of political acceptability were pretty tightly defined – and enforced. Back in the days of newspapers and a strictly limited choice of radio stations and television channels. It was a time when editors wielded enormous power. People with complaints about fluoridation might get the occasional letter-to-the-editor published, but unless the editor himself (it was almost always a him) was anti-fluoride that was about it. The same applied across the entire range of social, economic and political issues. There were ideas that it was acceptable to hold and, hence, to read about; and ideas that most emphatically were not.

These boundaries corralled not only ordinary citizens, but their leaders as well. Step outside them and the retribution could be swift and savage. People who look back wistfully to the days when “consensus” reigned, tend to forget the level of exclusion required to give it effect. The state had no need to maintain a strict censorship regime (excepting, of course, in relation to matters sexual) when the finely honed “journalistic instincts” of newspaper proprietors, news and current affairs editors, and television network bosses made state intervention unnecessary. Which is not to say that the occasional maverick wasn’t allowed to make it through the barbed-wire – if only to demonstrate the system’s willingness to tolerate unorthodox opinions. These honourable exceptions, however, served only to prove the rule.

To step outside the agreed boundaries of political orthodoxy required special courage. In the 1950s and 60s politicians enjoyed considerable public respect, which they were careful to maintain by ensuring that their conduct measured-up to the voters’ expectations. Members of Parliament were serious people: much happier to be considered ponderous than over-excited. A performance akin to Simon Bridges’ on today’s (16/10/19) Morning Report would have been career-ending – even in the 1970s and 80s. So, why does he feel so safe in coming across as ever-so-slightly bonkers?

The answer is very simple. Bridges and the National Party’s strategists have discovered that the ideas and attitudes considered acceptable by today’s editors and journalists are no longer enforceable. The rise and rise of the Internet and the social media platforms it spawned means that the average voter is no longer dependent on newspapers, radio and television for guidance about right-thinking and wrong-thinking. Indeed, what social media has revealed to those average voters is just how vast the gulf has grown that separates their own values from those of the “elites”. What’s more, those same average voters are now free to communicate with one another directly. They no longer have to run the gauntlet of their local newspaper editor’s prejudices – or rely upon the news bulletins and documentaries broadcast over “mainstream” radio and television. Today they have their own sources of information – their own news.

This ability of readers, listeners and viewers to go around the “mainstream” has brought about an historic reversal of dependency in the consumption of information. Now it is the editors of newspapers, radio stations and television networks who must absorb the prejudices of their audiences. The advertisers that still pay the bills can no longer be told to take it or leave it when it comes to getting their messages across. When advertising revenue is dependent upon the number of people who “click” an on-line story, editors are required to go after every click they can possibly get. Media content has been democratised in ways not seen since the early years of the printing press. It is no longer a case of “improving” the Great Unwashed by feeding them the ideas of their betters. Today, it is the Great Unwashed who call the cultural shots. Not an altogether pretty picture. As the great impresario and showman, P. T. Barnum, put it: “Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public!”

Nor is it likely, judging by the behaviour of Simon Bridges and his small army of social media creatives, that any politician is ever going to lose votes by underestimating the wit of the New Zealand electorate. He – and they – know that roughly 50 percent (and probably a lot more!) of New Zealanders are not well-off, well-educated and “woke” urban sophisticates. Hell! They’re anything but! Which is why Simon keeps his messages short, simple and brutal, with endlessly repeated stock phrases. “Keys to the Kingdom” anyone?

Ever-so-slightly bonkers? You betcha! Just like his electoral base.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 17 October 2019.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

"Manifest" by Andrew Bird - A Song For The Times.


I came across this song quite by accident. If it isn't one of Greta Thunberg's favourites - it should be.

Video courtesy of YouTube.

This post is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Losing Labour's Mills-Tone.

Nothing Left To Say: Labour's pollster, Stephen Mills, remains swaddled-up in the comforting myths of the 1980s. As if the experience of Roger Douglas’s genuinely radical post-Muldoon policy agenda was literally a once-in-a-lifetime thing – as much as the party could possibly absorb for at least the next 50 years.

MEMO TO THE Prime Minister’s Office: Please tell Stephen Mills to stay off the radio. When the boss of Labour’s polling agency, UMR, comes across on RNZ’s Nine to Noon “Politics” slot (14/10/19) as considerably further to the right than both Kathryn Ryan and Matthew Hooton then, believe me, it’s time to tell your pollster, very politely, to stick to his stats.

Listening to Mills in the aftermath of Justin Lester’s shocking loss to Andy Forster in the Wellington mayoralty election provided depressing confirmation of Labour’s current malaise. The party has no use for new thinking – about anything. It remains swaddled-up in the comforting myths of the 1980s. As if the experience of Roger Douglas’s genuinely radical post-Muldoon policy agenda was literally a once-in-a-lifetime thing – as much as the party could possibly absorb for at least the next 50 years.

Mills confirmed this quite unconsciously, when Matthew Hooton noted the irony of Muldoon’s massive energy projects taking on a prescient quality in light of the massive infrastructure challenges currently facing New Zealand. All Mills could offer by way of reply was a reflexive jibe about Hooton coming out in favour of “Think Big”. The man showed no inclination to step outside the dusty orthodoxy of the past 30 years. It’s as if Mills’ watch stopped in 1984 and he’s never felt the slightest inclination to re-wind it.

These jibes are a not uncommon feature of Mills’ commentary repertoire. A little while ago he derided a critic of government policy as “one of the last seven Marxists living in New Zealand”. At least that little joke raised a smile, but only if one was willing to ignore its unpleasant, red-baiting subtext.

Because, as the sorry fate of David Cunliffe testifies, open hostility towards anything further to the left than Tony Blair’s bland Third Way has long been de rigueur in Labour’s senior ranks. It’s why you will never hear Jacinda Ardern (who worked for a time in Blair’s administration) or Grant Robertson (who remains Michael Cullen’s prize protégé) offer a word of support or praise for Jeremy Corbyn. This hostility to any hint of socialism (even the “democratic socialism” enshrined in the NZ Labour Party’s constitution) is even stronger among those of Jacinda’s political advisers who learned their trade from the Clinton/Obama Democratic Party in the United States.

The kind of politics such rigidly orthodox and pathologically risk-averse conduct produces leaves most voters cold. It’s grey practitioners accept as gospel the fundamental neoliberal proposition that the last people who should be allowed within a mile of important policy decisions are politicians. These latter, say the neolibs, are best left to senior bureaucrats – preferably those with a background in the private sector. It explains why, in ordinary people's eyes, today’s politicians appear more interested in addressing the priorities of business leaders and bureaucrats than those of the broader electorate. It also explains why the priorities of the voters are addressed so selectively.

The fate of Wellington’s Justin Lester illustrates the learned helplessness of modern political leaders to perfection. Faced with the utter failure of the Regional Council’s public transport re-vamp, Lester responded that, as Wellington’s Mayor, it was not, actually, his responsibility to fix the bus service. Ditto with the proposed, highly controversial, property development at Shelly Bay. That was a private sector initiative. All of these excuses were grounded in administrative fact. But, it is very poor politics to keep telling people that there is nothing you can do to help them – especially in an election year!

Which is why, with Lester’s fate firmly in their minds, Jacinda’s advisers in the PM’s Office should urge Mills to get off the air. As the supposed voice of the “Left” his only contribution to the progressive cause is to rubbish every idea that doesn’t come straight out of The Big Blairite Book of Conventional Wisdom. The notion that democratic politics was once, and could be again, about something more than securing the narrow interests of big business – as interpreted by its bureaucratic and media enablers – is conspicuous by its absence from Mill’s Monday morning political discourse. Astonishingly, RNZ’s listeners are more likely to hear that sort of talk from Hooton, speaking for the Right, than from the Left’s supposed spokesperson.

Quite why RNZ continues to offer-up the likes of Mills (and his stand-in, the former Labour Party boss, Mike Williams) as representatives of the Left is a mystery. There was a time when genuine left-wingers like Laila Harré were given the job. Back then, listeners could be assured of hearing ideas that most assuredly did not fit the description of “conventional wisdom”. Nor was it the practice of the Left’s champion to tell her audience what they couldn’t have, because what they were asking of their elected representatives were things they couldn’t do.

It is difficult to imagine an approach to political debate more likely to foster voter disengagement than the one currently in evidence on RNZ. Kathryn Ryan and her producer are certainly not doing the Left in general, nor Labour and the Greens in particular, any favours by allowing them to be represented by a person so strongly wedded to the notion that his clients will always be better served following public opinion than leading it. Or, that the art of politics consists in persuading the voters that their political leaders are making new mistakes – rather than repeating old ones. Indeed, the real question that is left hanging in the air after half-an-hour listening to Stephen Mills is not why anyone wanting real change would vote for the parties of the Left, but why they would bother voting at all.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 15 October 2019.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Sage Decisions Unwisely Over-Ruled.

Overruled: The joint decision of Finance Minister, Grant Robertson (Labour) and his Associate Minister, David Parker (Labour) arguably the two most powerful ministers in Jacinda Ardern’s government, to grant OceanaGold the consents which Land Information Minister, Eugenie Sage (Greens) had earlier denied them, offers bitter proof of how hard fighting Climate Change is going to be.

EARLIER THIS WEEK, several hundred young Wellingtonians laid siege to the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) on Stout Street in the heart of the capital. Their Extinction Rebellion protest was the first in a noisy series of similar demonstrations set to take place across the world. Had they known that two senior Labour ministers would, the very next day, over-rule the anti-mining decision of the Greens Land Information Minister, Eugenie Sage, their protest might not have been so good humoured.

The joint decision of Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, and his Associate Minister, David Parker (arguably the two most powerful ministers in Jacinda Ardern’s government) to grant OceanaGold the consents which Sage had earlier denied them, offers bitter proof of how hard fighting Climate Change is going to be.

In refusing the company its consents, Sage had argued that the mine’s proposed expansion was “inherently unsustainable, will increase emissions, and will provide only moderate employment benefits relative to winding down the operation and remediating the site”.

If Climate Change is to be fought successfully, judgements such as Sage’s will have to be issued by the thousand. Businesses large and small, in the cities as well as in the countryside, will have to be told, bluntly, that what they are proposing has become unacceptable. That the days of companies making profits, by passing on the environmental costs of those profits to future generations of taxpayers, are over. That the facts of economic life have changed.

A progressive government that was serious about its promise to make Climate Change the nuclear-free moment of its generation, would have stood behind Sage’s decision. If only to demonstrate that the painful but necessary decisions it would increasingly be required to make could not be undermined, second-guessed and generally got-around by hiring expensive lobbyists to whisper scary stories in senior ministers’ ears. Leading the charge in this respect should be the Finance Minister. No one else can speak to the business community with such authority.

But, what did the Finance Minister and his Associate Minister actually do? How did they express their solidarity? Well, in their media release of Tuesday, 8 October, they expressed it like this:

“In August 2019, Land Information New Zealand’s Overseas Investment Office (OIO) received two new applications from OceanaGold to buy the parcels of farm land totalling approximately 180 hectares near its current Waihi mines.

“In respect of the new applications the ministerial decision making roles were transferred to Ministers Robertson and Parker, who have policy responsibilities under the Overseas Investment Act, to ensure a fresh analysis of the application.

“The OIO considered the new applications under the benefit to New Zealand pathway of the Overseas Investment Act and recommended to Ministers the applications be approved.”

Ministers Robertson and Parker duly approved the OIO’s recommendation. OceanaGold’s investment, they said would: “benefit New Zealand because of the retention of about 340 full-time jobs over nine years and exports valued at $2 billion over nine years.”

It is hard to think of a more naked admission by this government that, when confronted with a choice between acting to save our environment and “business as usual”, it will unfailingly choose “business as usual”. Robertson and Parker have stripped away all the star-dusted rhetoric, and thrust forward the unadorned reality for everyone to see. Jobs and export earnings: the very same drivers that have persuaded government-after-government to put off saving the environment until tomorrow, on account of the heavy political costs associated with saving it today, clearly remain as powerful as ever.

Is this what the Greens signed-up for? To see their ministers humiliated? To have their policies ignored and their decisions over-ruled? To have the threat of corporate legal action trump any and every attempt at climate action?

In the light of this decision, the Greens must surely reassess their position vis-à-vis Labour and NZ First, Those among them (yes, we are looking at you James Shaw) who argued that ministerial portfolios would allow the party to do things that shouting from the side-lines could never achieve, stand rebuked by Robertson’s and Parker’s ruthless intervention. They have made it clear that any Green Party ministers who believe themselves free to act independently, according to the evidence, should think again.

And so should Extinction Rebellion, because, clearly, MBIE is the least of their worries.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 11 October 2019.