Monday 30 November 2009

The Liberal Left: Who Are They?

1981 and all that - left-wing and liberal New Zealand's finest hour: It was only after the Springboks had departed that the full force of the Maori nationalist ideology was unleashed upon an exhausted and morally disoriented progressive movement. The resulting fissures dangerously weakened the New Zealand Left - just as the neoliberal Right was about to launch its own ideological assault on the country.

IT BEGAN in the early-80s. Left-wing and liberal New Zealand had just lived through their finest hour – the massive protests against the 1981 Springbok Tour.

But the Left’s feelings of exaltation at having stood and borne witness against the most evil expression of racist ideology since the Third Reich were mixed with an overwhelming sense of exhaustion – and not a little anguish.

Because Muldoon had ended up having the last laugh. By allowing the Springboks to tour, he had bought his National Government an extension of life it did not deserve. Progressive, urban New Zealand’s alienation from the values of rural and provincial New Zealand was palpable.

There was a nagging feeling, too, among some middle-class members of the progressive movement, that the Marxist’s "proletarians" had let them down. Geoff Chapple in his book The Tour captures the contradiction nicely: "‘What is this? A rising of the workers?’ yelled a passer-by on his way to the game. ‘You’d better hope not fella, [Tim] Shadbolt yelled back. ‘Because most of the workers are down at the park!’"

And then there were the Maori. On one side stood the conservative elements of Maoridom who had welcomed the Springboks onto their marae. On the other, stood the fledgling Maori nationalist movement.

The nationalists had played an important role in the anti-tour protests (especially in Auckland) but now the Tour was over they were determined to force the "White Left" to confront the racist character of their own country’s colonial past.

The tragedy of those divisive years was that Maori had a huge potential constituency among liberal and left-wing New Zealanders. The deep-seated racism and sexism of post-war New Zealand society, which the Tour exposed, had shocked the anti-racist movement and it was eager to join with Maori in challenging and changing the status quo.

Indeed, with the benefit of hindsight, it is very clear that the young people who marched against the Tour did just that. By getting active in their unions and the Labour Party they helped to transform New Zealand.

But the change they wrought was largely in spite of the contribution made by Maori Nationalism – not because of it.

As anyone who read Donna Awatere’s book Maori Sovereignty soon discovered, neither the "White Left", nor any other Pakeha, were deemed fit to be entrusted with the task of rolling back the racist colonial state. Their only role was to provide Maori with the physical and political resources they required to reclaim the lands, forests and fisheries guaranteed to them by the Treaty of Waitangi.

Ruthlessly exploiting the feelings of moral disorientation and guilt they’d become so adept at arousing in well-meaning Pakeha, the nationalists aggressively confronted the liberal Christian churches, progressive unionists, feminists, pacifists and NGOs committed to social change – especially the hapless Corso. The tino rangatiratanga trope proved extraordinarily successful at disrupting, dividing and seriously weakening the "White Left" which, as the dominant ideological force for change in New Zealand society, was the nationalists’ chief competitor and rival. Anyone brave enough to oppose the nationalists’ agenda risked ostracism, isolation, abuse and, on more than one occasion – physical violence. (And in far too many cases the surname of the Maori nationalist enforcers was Harawira.)

These tactics swiftly precipitated a painful ideological split that rent the entire progressive movement.

The alternatives were bleak.

You either surrendered the ideological initiative to the undemocratic, racially exclusive and (apparently) supernaturally-ordained Maori nationalist movement, and began preaching the gospel of tino rangatiratanga to every Pakeha institution willing to offer you a pulpit.

Or, you remained faithful to the Enlightenment values of Western culture. You continued to aver that the civil, political and cultural rights owed to Maori were in no way different from those owed to any other human-being. You continued to insist that we are all descendants of a single African Eve; that our blood flows red whoever cuts us; and that we are all the playthings of historical forces too vast for blame, too permanent for guilt.

But, most of all, the traditional Left continued to argue that, as human individuals, we are defined not by those things over which we have no control, like our gender or our ethnicity, but by the purposes to which we put the things we do control: our intellects, our creativity, and our innate capacity for empathy, self-sacrifice and solidarity.

Fortunately, that’s most of us on the Left – white or otherwise. Nevertheless, the influence of the Pakeha promoters of tino rangatiratanga should not be underestimated. Many of them undertook the "long march through the institutions" and made their way into positions of authority in schools, universities, government departments, unions and political parties.

Teachers, tutors and lecturers supportive of Maori nationalism could award their students poor grades for articulating the "wrong" opinions on the Treaty. In the civil service, unions, NGOs and the voluntary sector, nationalist fellow-travellers had the ability to promote ideological allies and hold back foes. In political parties they insisted on policies and forged alliances which the electorate neither supported nor understood.

But their influence came at a cost. It fostered the same sort of political dissimulation that plagued the Soviet satellite nations. People in those countries learned very early which answers satisfied their party overlords – and dutifully supplied them. In private, however, among trusted friends, their responses were very different.

The "Liberal Left" – as I have called our own, home-grown tino rangatiratanga commissars – undoubtedly believed that the Maori nationalist ideology, along with the other identity-based faiths that tended to run in harness with it, were widely accepted by the population. But, as last night’s One News/Colmar-Brunton survey indicated, it ain’t necessarily so. Barely 10 percent of Pakeha questioned in that poll were willing to say that Hone Harawira’s remarks weren’t racist.

A large part of the explanation for the unprecedented popularity of John Key’s government lies in the sense of liberation New Zealanders felt at the political defeat of a government which many believed to be guilty of ideological bullying. People feel freer to express their true opinions in 2009 than they did in 2008, and the numerically small band (5,000 is probably a gross over-estimate) of race/gender/sexuality commissars have been reduced to denouncing their fellow citizens’ ideological backsliding from the margins of political power.

Unfortunately for Phil Goff, the number of people openly challenging this chorus of complaint is insufficiently large to convince alienated Labour supporters that in ideological terms anything very much has really changed. Unless and until Labour is able to demonstrate that, as a political party, it is no longer in thrall to the Liberal Left, its progress in rebuilding trust and support among its traditional progressive constituency will remain painfully slow.

Saturday 28 November 2009

The Liberal Left: Who Needs You?

Shrugging-off the Liberal Left: Phil Goff's 'Nationhood' speech acknowledges Labour's need to realign itself with the vast majority of New Zealanders who don't despise their own history and culture.

PHIL GOFF’S 'Nationhood' speech has achieved its purpose admirably.

The primary audience was, of course, the 150,000 to 200,000 former Labour voters who defected to John Key’s National Party in 2008.

To these New Zealanders he was saying: "It’s okay, you and I think alike on this. I’m not going to brand you a racist because, like me, you were offended by Hone Harawira’s obscenities; or because you were repelled by the dirty dealing between National and the Maori Party over the ETS legislation."

And that’s just fine. Electoral politics is a zero-sum game. Those faint-hearted liberals who can’t stand the heat should get out of the kitchen.

Goff’s secondary audience was Maoridom itself. As a good social-democrat he was simply challenging Maori voters to recognise the reality of class.

This is not a big ask. Most Maori know full well that their culture is riven with inequalities. Those on the receiving end of the Maori version of primogeniture – the second sons (not to mention daughters) denied equal political rights on the marae – have little incentive to cling to their cultural "heritage". Just as those families who continue to be denigrated because their forebears were enslaved by an enemy tribe have no reason to revere the patriarchal aristocratic traditions of pre-European Maori society.

And, for those Maori not fortunate enough to belong to the privileged little communities of social and commercial privilege that have grown up around the multi-million dollar Treaty of Waitangi settlements of the last decade, the sordid deal struck between the National and Maori parties to secure the passage of the ETS legislation is already a source of ethical and political embarrassment.

By driving the wedge of class analysis into the Maori Party’s nationalist ideology, Goff has shrewdly exacerbated the tensions and divisions created by the ETS sell-out.

Labour needs a Maori Party divested of its disreputable links with National Party politicians and Business Roundtable ideologues. Goff’s mission is to help the Maori Party eliminate its right-wing leadership. Why? Because what the Labour Party and the pragmatic Left both need is a Maori Party which, like Ratana before it, recognises the essential kinship between the dispossessed of the Pakeha and Maori worlds.

Sadly, the response of liberal leftists to Goff’s speech has been as predictable as it has been disappointing. Their reflexive condemnation of anyone who dares to hold Maori politicians to the same standards as Pakeha betrays an arrogant unwillingness to accept the ethical norms of their own society. These people have become the fervent champions of an indigenous culture they can never truly join because, fundamentally, they despise their own.

Should anyone care? Not really. This segment of the New Zealand Left is risibly small – probably numbering fewer than 5,000 individuals. Very few of them occupy positions of genuine power or influence, and fewer still possess the political skills to advance their cause much beyond the blogosphere, or the letters page of the daily newspapers.

They have no understanding of, nor empathy for, the hopes and fears of ordinary people. Nor do they understand the brutal and unforgiving realities of electoral politics. The truth of the matter is, liberal leftists have been preaching to themselves for so long they no longer appreciate how few people give a tinker’s cuss what they say.

In the face of the Liberal Left’s entirely predictable criticism, Phil Goff should just keep his head down and press-on regardless. He mustn’t forget that in November 2008 New Zealanders decisively rejected the Liberal Left's vision of New Zealand's future. The great virtue of his 'Nationhood' speech is its recognition of that rejection. By abandoning the failed, identity-driven politics of the past 30 years, and returning his party to its egalitarian and socialist roots, Phil Goff has taken the first, and absolutely necessary steps towards Labour’s rehabilitation – and re-election.

Friday 27 November 2009

What's wrong with the Maori Party?

Sovereignty? Flag it away! The Maori Party has irretrievably compromised its position vis-a-vis the Maori working-class.

FORGET ABOUT the 35,000 hectares of public land handed over to private Maori corporations. Forget about the $25-50 million taxpayer dollars pledged to these same corporations to secure the passage of the Government’s revised Emissions Trading Scheme. Forget about the dramatic shifts and reversals of the Maori Party MPs as they manoeuvred behind the scenes to secure these concessions.

The concessions are not the point.

Why? Because they constitute but a small fraction of the political failures for which history will indict the Maori Party.

The most damaging charge the Maori caucus will face is that, like Saul in the Bible, they stood to one side, holding the National Government’s cloaks, while their people got bloodied by the stones of economic privation. For this sin, not even 8,000 insulated working-class homes will win them absolution.

Better than any other party in Parliament, the Maori Party knows the hopelessness and squalor of the nation’s poorest neighbourhoods. More than any other MPs, the Maori Party MPs know the terrible things that can happen to broken and demoralised families trapped at the bottom of the socio-economic heap. If any voices should have been raised in protest; if any stands should have been made on principle; it was the Maori Party which should have cried out – and stood firm.

Let’s take a look at what’s happening to New Zealand’s poorest families.

Nearly all of these are looked after by just one parent – usually a young Maori woman.

For the sake of illustration, let’s suppose that during the boom years this solo mum managed to get herself off the DPB and into the paid workforce. By working long hours at two cleaning jobs, and with a hand-up from the State in the form of an In Work Tax Credit she was (just) able to keep her head above water.

Then – bang! Along comes the recession. The company where she does most of her cleaning shuts down. She’s laid off. Bad enough, you might say, but it gets worse. She is now working too few hours to retain her In Work Tax Credit. So, not only has she lost the income from her primary cleaning job, but she’s lost her State support as well.

Disaster? Yes, of course, but our solo mum’s troubles don’t end here. Because she can’t live off her other part-time cleaning job she decides to go back on the DPB. Unfortunately, the abatement rules for income received over and above her benefit mean that she is now paying an effective tax rate of well over 50 percent. On just two-thirds of her former income (which was, you’ll recall, only barely enough to survive on) she still has to make her rent, nurture her family and pay all her utility bills.

Her children, through no fault of their mother’s, are now being raised in severe hardship. The 2004 NZ Living Standards Survey found that living in severe hardship is associated with children not having shoes or raincoats; with postponing doctors and dentists visits because of the cost.

Social researchers further report that children raised in poverty experience poorer health, leave school earlier, have fewer qualifications, and stand a much greater chance of being unemployed in later life. These disadvantages are concentrated most acutely around Maori and Pasifika families.

But, to condemn whole ethnicities to lives of poverty and hardship is to sow New Zealand’s future with dragon’s teeth.

Nevertheless, in the months to come, and in the tradition of every flinty-faced, fiscally conservative government which came before it, this National-led Government will intensify the suffering of New Zealand’s poorest families. It will do this because the alternative, increasing the taxes of New Zealand’s wealthiest families, would invite political ruin.

Already suffering Maori and Pasifika families – their children especially – will be made to suffer even more.

We are all familiar with the social pathologies such government spending cuts engender: drug addiction, domestic violence, child abuse, murder, suicide. And when it happens we’ll shake our heads and ask: "What’s wrong with the Maori people?" And, no doubt, Michael Laws will supply us with a list.

A better question, however, might be: "What is wrong with the Maori Party?"

It was elected to defend the Morehu: the remnants of the tribes; the battered, scarred and scattered children of the four winds.

Instead, it enables their abuse.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 27 November 2009.

The Devil's Own Job

The luck of the Devil: For a year now, John Key has enjoyed a charmed political life. It's enough to make you wonder if he's had a little supernatural assistance.

ELECTION DAY 2008. John Key is in his Helensville electorate pressing the flesh and generally showing National’s flag before heading back to Parnell and, hopefully, a night to remember. Pausing on the steps of his electorate office to soak up a bit of the bright November sunshine, he wonders what he’ll be doing in a year’s time.

"Believe me, sonny, you don’t want to know."

Key looks around, startled. He’d thought he was alone, but somehow an old man has managed to creep up behind him without making a sound.


"You were wondering what you’ll be doing a year from now. Believe me, you don’t want to know."

"How …"

"I read your mind, son. It’s just one of my many … talents."

Key squints at the old man’s face, but the wide-brimmed sun-hat he’s wearing casts a dark shadow over his features.

"Look, I’m sorry, but I’m due back in town. I really don’t have time to talk."

"Don’t worry, sonny, what I’ve come to say won’t take very long. The … ‘person’ … I represent has asked me to congratulate you on the stunning victory you and your party are about to win, and to pass on a little gift."

Key blanches, remembering the rather unusual contract he’d signed all those years ago. It had required him to surrender some very precious things, but the rewards he’d received in return were – well – spectacular.

"Careful," he smiles, "we don’t want to tempt fate."

The old man chuckles.

"Fate, you reckon? No, sonny, you’ve been tempted by something a great deal scarier than Fate. But don’t worry, your victory has already been signed-for. It has been sealed. And, make no mistake, the … ‘person’ … I represent always delivers. Just as he always collects."

"Hmmm." Key attempts one of his trade-mark ‘What, me worry?’ grins, but it doesn’t quite come off.

"You said something about a gift."

"I did indeed", replies his unnerving companion.

"For a year-and-a-day, John Key, everything you do will rebound to your advantage. You and your party will enjoy unprecedented levels of public support. New Zealand will fall truly, madly, deeply in love with its new prime minister. Your opponents will grind their teeth to dust in frustration – and so will your friends. For them, it’s going to be the Honeymoon from Hell."

The old man makes a cackling sound which, in spite of the bright sunshine, sends a shiver down Key’s spine.

"And after the first year? What happens then?"

"Who are you talking to?" Bronagh Key casts a worried eye over her husband, as a big BMW pulls up in front of the office.

Key blinks, shakes his head, and takes his wife’s hand. "Nobody, honey. Just thinking aloud. Come on, let’s go home."

As they pull away, Key casts a worried glance over his shoulder. The old man has disappeared, but his voice echoes eerily in the Prime Minister-to-be’s head.

"After a year, sonny, you’re on your own."

* * * * *

WHETHER JOHN KEY owes his success to diabolical influence, or his own (seriously underestimated) political talents, there’s no disputing the fact that his first year in office has been a charmed one.

So, it really is uncanny how events have turned so suddenly against the Prime Minister – if not exactly a year-and-a-day after his 2008 triumph, then spookily close to it.

Right on cue, Hone Harawira has catalysed the one reaction that Key most needed to avoid: a reversal of political polarities.

National beat Labour not only by harnessing the anger and frustration of conservative New Zealanders, but also by reassuring their more liberal compatriots that they could bring about a change of government without jeopardising the major gains of nine years of Labour rule.

This enabled Key, and his Rich List backers, to run under a populist false-flag. So tired had the plebes become of "Aunty Helen" that they were willing to bestow upon a man with $50 million in the bank, and a mansion in Parnell, the counter-intuitive title of "Friend of the People".

But keeping his promises to the electorate has been an extremely costly exercise for Key’s Government. New Zealand’s fiscal position is now dire, and some very difficult decisions lie ahead. Finance Minister, Bill English, must either dramatically expand the State’s income (raise taxes) or sharply reduce its expenditure (cut spending).

Neither option will be popular.

The 6,000 bikers who rolled up to Parliament last week were merely the advance-guard of the potentially huge army of aggrieved citizens which is likely to make the same journey over the next twelve months.

As Key and English are forced to do what is necessary – rather than what is popular – a restoration of traditional political identifications: National for the rich, Labour for the poor; is bound to gather pace.

To offset the unpopular consequences of its economic policies, Key and his ministers will almost certainly overcompensate in other areas. Justice Minister, Simon Power, is already promising to strip "celebrities" of their right to name suppression. The tossing of such populist red-meat to the mob is unlikely to endear him to the legal fraternity – or their high status clients.

It is not, however, economic austerity, nor outrages to legal probity, that will seal Key’s fate. National and its allies were elected to assuage – not excite – conservative New Zealand’s deep sense of grievance. What the whole Hone Harawira/Maori Party saga has exposed is the inconsistency between National’s declared conservative objectives, and its ongoing facilitation of social-liberal policy.

A world where "Maarees" can get "special treatment"; girls can "do anything"; men can marry other men – but parents can’t smack their kids – is a world turned upside-down. For nine years, conservatives from all social classes have clung faithfully to the belief that a National-led government would turn things rightside-up again, and restore the "natural" order.

Last Saturday’s "March for Democracy" showed how little that sense of grievance has been assuaged, and how deeply conservative New Zealand feels betrayed.

Hugely assisted by his forthright condemnation of Harawira’s "racism" and the Government’s secret deals with the big Maori corporates, Labour leader, Phil Goff, is reaching out his hand to these alienated conservative voters.

Convincing a majority of New Zealanders to stick with Key for another year is going to be the Devil’s own job.

This essay was originally published in The Independent of Thursday, 26 November 2009.

Monday 23 November 2009

Palestine: The Kiwi Connection

Kiwi Crusaders: Images of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles campaign in Palestine, 1917-19. (Photomontage by the NZMR Association)

Following TVNZ's account of the so-called "Surafend Massacre", which was broadcast on the Sunday programme of 22 November, I've been moved to post this "docu-drama" style account of the event written by myself back in January, shortly after the Israeli incursion into Gaza.

THE WAR WAS OVER. On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, 1918, the fighting ceased. For the men of the New Zealand Machine Gun Squadron, and all the other troopers of the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade encamped among the barren sandhills of central Palestine, that single fact was all that mattered.

But, as the weeks passed, the war’s end, while obviously a source of immense relief, had also become the cause of intense frustration. Now that their job was done; now that the killing had stopped; now that they had survived; all these men wanted to do was go home.

WHEN TROOPER Leslie Lowry pulled his kit-bag under his head on the night of 9 December 1918 it was to home that his thoughts inevitably wandered. Wrapped in his blanket to ward off the late autumn chill, he lay motionless beneath the low canvass ceiling of his tent thinking of New Zealand until, lulled by the companionable snorting of the tethered horses, he drifted off to sleep.

An hour later he awoke with a start to feel his kit-bag/pillow being unceremoniously yanked from under his head. He scrambled out of the tent, stumbling in the sand as he pulled on his trousers, and shouting at the top of his voice to the men on sentry duty:

"Stop him! Stop that little bastard – he’s stolen my kit-bag!"

The thief was clearly visible in the moonlight, weaving in and out of the thorn bushes that dotted the sandhills.

Trooper Lowry had always been a good runner and he proved it now by sprinting after his quarry like a huntaway. Within seconds he’d caught up with the man who’d stolen his property.

"You give that back – you thieving little swine!"

For a moment the New Zealander and the Palestinian faced each other, breathing heavily. In the distance both of them could hear the shouts of the alerted sentries and the alarmed whinnying of the horses.

"Come on mate," said Lowry, speaking in what he hoped was a more reasonable tone, "you’re not going anywhere. Hand it over."

The Palestinian said nothing. Instead, he reached into the folds of his caftan and pulled out a heavy Webly revolver, retrieved six months earlier from the corpse of a British officer. Pointing it at the New Zealander’s chest – he fired.

Lowry sank slowly to his knees, hands fluttering uselessly as blood spouted from the neat little hole in his chest, pouring out through his fingers and down over his bare stomach. Without a word he toppled over onto his side, an awkward, quivering bundle in the cold sand.

The Palestinian turned and ran off into the darkness.

THE NEWS of trooper Lowry’s death spread rapidly – and its effect was devastating. For a man to have come through everything the NZ Mounted Rifles had endured, only to be murdered by an Arab thief just weeks before sailing for home, was almost too much for his comrades to bear.

"He was unarmed for Christ’s sake! The thief must have seen that. What kind of man calmly shoots an unarmed kid, at point-blank range, for the sake of a bloody kit-bag?"

"We’re not going to take this lying down – I don’t care what the Heads say. This is too bloody much. Come on you blokes, it should be easy enough to track the bastard through all this sand. Look! – there are his footprints!

"You three, go back and round up the rest of the Squadron – and see if you can get some of the Aussies from the Light Horse to join us. We’re going to track this murdering bastard back to the hole he came from and cork it up tight. Make sure he’s still there in the morning when the Red-Caps arrive."

The thief’s footprints led the New Zealanders and their Australian allies across the sand to the nearby Palestinian village of Surafend. Within the hour they had set up a tight military cordon around the cluster of stone houses: no one was permitted to enter or leave.

"I’ve heard about this damned place", muttered one of the troopers, "those Jews from down the road at Rishon LeZion are certain that most of the attacks on their settlements come from this village. I reckon these Palestinian Arabs hate Johnny Jew more than they do Johnny Turk."

"Yeah, well it’s no secret that Lawrence and his Arab friends were none too fussy about abiding by the ‘Rules of War’. From what I hear they travelled pretty light – if you know what I mean."

"No prisoners?"


"Rules of bloody war – that’s a good one. Killing’s a dirty business, and the only rule I know of that rings true is: get the other fellow before he gets you."

"And look after your mates."

"Yeah, that’s right – and look after your mates."

"Ah, but we’re supposed to be following in the footsteps of the Crusaders. Remember what that little chap from Rishon LeZion said to old Meldrum at the anniversary of the Battle of Ayun Kara?"

The address of the Mayor of the little Jewish settlement was intended to be memorable. Indeed, the entire population of Rishon LeZion ("The First of Zion") had been marched out to the nearby battlefield to hear it. Standing in front of the little obelisk his people had erected to mark where the fallen of the NZ Mounted Rifle Brigade lay buried, the Jewish leader offered verbal tribute to Brigadier-General William Meldrum and his men.

These dead have not only fought for their country, they have planted the flag of justice and lit the torch of liberty. Its light will never be extinguished. You have placed marking stones along the route to the future. These markers, formed by your tombs, will cause those who come after to meditate: ‘It is just about a thousand years’ they will say, ‘since, on this very soil, Western lords came with the sacred flame of religion and in the name of the Cross to liberate the Holy Land from the infidel. And now, after long delay, these same children of the West have come again in their thousands, glowing with ardour, animated by the thirst for liberty, justice, and fraternity, to liberate the same country from the yoke it has borne for nearly five centuries.’
THE MORNING LIGHT came slanting down into the village of Surafend and illuminated the faces of the New Zealand and Australian troopers encircling it. But the rising sun brought no Military Police. Indeed, having being informed of the murder of Trooper Lowry and the situation at Surafend by the Australian and New Zealand Divisional Commander, Major-General Edward Chaytor, General Headquarters had peremptorily ordered the cordon lifted. There would be no official investigation, no Red Caps, no arrests. By the afternoon of 10 December all the troopers who had surrounded Surafend were back behind their tent-lines, allowing a steady stream of Palestinian men to make their way out of the village without hindrance.

Trooper Lowry’s comrades were furious.

"I don’t believe this – I simply don’t believe this! How can the bloody British just sit there, knowing that a soldier of the Empire has been murdered, and do nothing about it?"

"You know the Heads. There’ll be some behind-the-scenes skulduggery between the British and that Arab king Lawrence has been squiring around. The last thing they want is any ‘unpleasantness’ – nothing to upset the ‘delicate diplomacy’ between His Majesty’s Government and the leaders of the Arab tribes. What’s one Kiwi digger’s life compared to ‘the future of the Middle East?’"

"It’s just like that bloody fiasco at Ain Es Sir – remember? When our lot were sent back to help the Circassians and the ungrateful little bastards ambushed us. Nobody did anything about the men they killed there either."

"Well that’s not going to happen this time. I’ve been talking to the men. They’re ready to do something on their own. And there’s a swag of blokes in the Light Horse who’ll join us. The Aussies are as sick of this turning a blind eye to theft and murder as we are. I hear there’s even a few Brits willing to their bit."

"Do what?"

"We’re going to pay the village of Surafend a little visit. And if they refuse to hand over the bastard who shot Les, we’ll administer some justice of our own – ANZAC-style."

THERE WAS FEAR in the eyes of the women, children and old men of Surafend as they were assembled in front of the village well. These strange men from distant lands said little, but their gestures were clear enough. Holding the pick-axe handles they were carrying with both hands, they pushed and prodded the little huddle in the direction they wanted them to travel – out of the village and up into the sandhills. One of the old men pleaded with his grim shepherds.

"We are friends," he cried in heavily accented English, "friends of the British."

"You may be friends of the bloody British," hissed one of the troopers, pushing the old man back into the huddle, "but you’re no bloody friends of ours."

"Keep them well back!" Someone shouted. "Well back."

From the crest of the big sandhill overlooking Surafend, the little huddle watched as around 200 troopers closed in on their homes. In addition to pick-axe handles, the New Zealanders and Australians were armed with the heavy, canvass-sheathed chains used to haul supply wagons and field guns. They were eerily silent, and the expressions their faces wore were hard – very hard.

"We want the man who shot Trooper Leslie Lowry." The leader of the troopers was speaking slowly and very clearly to the village headman. "We tracked him to this village. If he’s not here, we want to know where we can find him. Lead us to him, now, and nothing will happen to you and your people. Refuse, and …." The trooper cast a meaningful glance at the mute formation drawn up behind him.

The Palestinian looked into the eyes of the New Zealander standing before him. Neither man moved a muscle. Then, drawing himself up to his full height, the headman leaned forward to within a few inches of the New Zealander’s face, and speaking in a clear voice so all the men of his village could hear, he said:

"Get your infidel dogs out of my village!"

And spat in the trooper’s face.

A roar, deep and guttural, leapt from the throats of all the men present, and both sides lunged towards the other. The troopers swung their pick-axe handles high and brought them down with deadly force. The heavy chains hissed and whistled. The air was filled with the sickening sound of wood and metal connecting with human bone and tissue. Men screamed, fell, and lay still, but still the Palestinians continued to hurl themselves upon the troopers.

"Allahu Akbar! They cried. "God is Great!"

"Get them! Get the bastards!" Shouted the troopers.

From a distance it was all-too-clear how the fight would end. The villagers were outnumbered and the troopers superior training and discipline easily overcame their furious resistance. Slowly, methodically, the New Zealanders and the Australians beat and beat and beat. The pick-axe handles rising and falling like some vast threshing machine.

Soon the village was ablaze. The contents of the stone-walled houses burned fiercely, bathing the whole scene in a lurid glow. As their men fell, the women up on the sandhill began a high keening. The children, seeing the fathers and brothers being beaten to death, sobbed uncontrollably.

By the time the troopers tired of their grim sport, forty Palestinian men lay dead or wounded on the bloody sand. As the rising wind swirled the smoke and cinders into the night sky, the New Zealanders and Australians formed up in ranks and, without a backward glance, marched out into the darkness of the sandhills.

The village of Surafend had ceased to exist.

NO NEW ZEALAND or Australian soldier was ever charged as a result of the so-called "Surafend Massacre". The British High Command was furious at what could only be considered a diplomatic disaster in terms of the British Empire’s relations with the Arab peoples.

The borders of the Middle East were in the process of being redrawn, and the gentlemen at the Foreign and Colonial Office in London were determined that this process should not rebound to the Empire’s disadvantage.

There can be little doubt that the military authorities would very much have liked to punish the ringleaders, but the troopers and the junior officers of the NZ Mounted Rifles and the Australian Light Horse closed ranks against all investigation.

In the end it was left to the British Commander-in-Chief, Major-General Edmund Allenby, to state the views of His Majesty’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force. Forming the ANZAC’s into a hollow square he unleashed a tongue-lashing the like of which no British or Empire troops had heard for many, many years:

"I was proud of you as brave soldiers but now I am ashamed of you as cold-blooded murderers."

This outburst aroused such mutinous resentment among the New Zealand and Australian troops that Allenby was soon forced to retract his words.

It was a necessary concession because with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the US President, Woodrow Wilson’s, promise of "self-determination" for the world’s subject peoples, the British soon had their hands full keeping the Arab population of the region from breaking out into full scale rebellion. In this task the brutal reputation of the Australian and New Zealand troopers rode before them, striking fear into the hearts of the Arab population wherever they appeared.

BUT THE JEWISH SETTLERS of Rishon LeZion had no reason to fear the ANZAC’s. On the contrary they warmed to their example. It is easy to imagine the scene as the NZ Mounted Rifle Brigade saddled up and rode away south: the thoughtful expressions on the faces of the young Jewish settlers as the long column of horsemen passed through their little town.

"God-speed to your little country at the end of the world!", they cried, "and thank you for teaching us about the rules of war!"

"Oh yes," a veteran trooper shouted back, grinning at the young men over his shoulder, "and what might they be?"

"Get the other fellow before he gets you, and always look after your mates."

The trooper’s wry laughter was quickly lost in the swirling clouds of dust kicked up by the column’s multitude of hooves.
Sunday, 11 January 2009.

Ten Years Ago This Week: Sic Transit Gloria Shipley

The Spirit of '99: "I'm appropriating this wine in the name of the people!"

HEH, HEH, HEH! Our side won. Their side lost. Isn’t life grand!

The worst thing about being stuck in a television studio on the night of an historic left-wing victory is that you have to be so damned well behaved. (Okay, okay, singing The Red Flag was a little bit over the top, but - hey – it had been a long evening!)

Other people, I am told, celebrated the Labour/Alliance win with much more gusto. One young fellow, sporting a Maritime Union of Australia T-shirt, and a PLO head-scarf, gate-crashed Rodney Hide’s election-night party in Epsom, and proceeded to terrorise the unfortunate ACT candidate with what he later claimed to be a Muhammad Ali impersonation. "We’re gonna get it on, cos we can’t get along!" he shouted at the bewildered Hide. "You can’t win cos you’re too ugly!"

At about this point the gathering, already seriously depleted, and obviously a little downcast at the results, began rapidly to shrink.

Sensing he was losing his audience, our left-wing rogue deserted the unfortunate Mr Hide for the stage, upon which he proceeded to perform a fierce haka.

The sight of a drunken (and quite possibly dangerous) Lefty chanting out warlike challenges in Maori, was clearly not something the good people of Epsom were all that familiar with, which probably explains why, by the time the haka had reached its ferocious conclusion, the hall was virtually empty.

But wait, there’s more. As he thumped out his challenge from the stage, our hero had espied a veritable cellar-load of unopened wine carefully stacked beneath a nearby table. (Clearly Mr Hide had been anticipating a much more satisfactory outcome to the day’s proceedings.) Leaping down from the stage, and seizing four of five of the unopened bottles, our beturbaned urban guerrilla bellowed: "I’m appropriating this wine in the name of the people!"

No one dared to stop him. Calling down imprecations upon the heads of all ACT and National Party supporters within earshot, and surrounded by a bevy of admiring young supporters, our hero passed out of the hall and into the excessively pluvial Auckland night.

Sic transit gloria Shipley.

But if you’ll forgive me for being serious for just a few paragraphs, I would like to offer a few pithy observations about last Saturday’s result.

First, it was a lot closer than it needed to be. Labour’s tactics in the final week cost the Greens (and the entire Centre-Left) six or seven seats in Parliament. This was brought home to me only a few hours ago when I dropped my daughter off at school. One of the mums, in discussing the election result, admitted that she had been going to vote Green, but decided in the end she couldn’t risk Labour not getting in. She was furious, to learn that the Nats would have been defeated regardless of which of the three main centre-left parties people voted for. She’ll not make the same mistake in 2002!

Second, the Alliance surrendered a fifth of its 1996 support (which was, in turn, only three-fifths of its 1993 vote) to Labour because Jim Anderton made a conscious decision not to fight for it. For securing her left flank so generously, Helen Clark owes Jim at least two extra seats around the Cabinet Table.

And finally, those two extra seats must be filled by Laila HarrĂ© and Phillida Bunkle. If the Alliance insults its supporters by appointing Democrats (who’d stand about as much chance of getting elected in their own Wright as the McGillicuddy Serious Party!) they should stand by to repel boarders.

I know just the guy to lead the charge.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion of 3 December 1999.

Something Rotten in the State?

Dirty Dealing: Hitler's appointment as Reich Chancellor on 30 January 1933 was the culmination of weeks of backroom dealing designed to protect the reputation and property of the Head of State, President Paul von Hindenburg. When the wealth and prestige of the State are reduced to mere pieces on the political chessboard, citizens should be on their guard.

THE RECKLESS haste with which this Government is rushing to legitimise its own bastardised Emissions Trading Scheme is deeply perplexing. Why the rush? What is so important that it can’t be put off until July 2010?

No one seems to believe that the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is going to deliver anything remotely resembling a binding agreement. The Aussies look less and less capable to passing their own ETS. And Act has just pledged its support for procedural legislation delaying the start date of Labour’s scheme from 1 January to 1 July 2010.

So, I ask again: "Why the rush?"

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that we’re all missing something here.

Why is National so willing to court a massive backlash from its own conservative supporters? With the talkback phone-lines running hot with callers denouncing the terms of the proposed "deal" with the Maori Party and their corporate mates, you’d think the Government would be wanting to slow things down – not speed them up. But Nick Smith is driving this thing like a man possessed – and John Key is letting him.

It just doesn’t add up.

For reasons none of the official organs of State (the Treasury, State Services, the Parliamentary Select Committee on Climate Change) seem to know anything about, this law simply has to be passed in the next few days.

Historically speaking, such wheeling and dealing only occurs when the clock is ticking on something someone somewhere desperately wants to happen – or prevent happening.

The classic example is the appointment of Adolf Hitler as German Chancellor in January 1933. Germans at the time couldn’t understand it. The Nazis were losing public support. They were nearly bankrupt. And the incumbent, Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher, was about to release a comprehensive economic plan for beating the Depression.

Also pending, however, was the report of an official inquiry into dodgy land deals in East Prussia – deals in which the Reich President, Paul Von Hindenburg, was donkey-deep. This was the ticking clock that allowed former Chancellor, Franz von Papen, to persuade Hindenburg to dismiss Schleicher and appoint Hitler. With Hitler as Chancellor, the report on the East Prussian land deals could be spiked. Papen and his right-wing aristocratic cronies were convinced they could control Hitler. They were wrong.

Is there something akin to this at work in our own State? Some deal that cannot afford to be delayed – or exposed? Some arrangement based on the proposed ETS that will fall apart if the legislation fails to go ahead by 7 December?

Nothing else adequately explains the political irrationality of the Government’s current behaviour.

Clearly, someone is willing to make the same sort of high-stakes gamble as Papen; someone is convinced that in the long-run the situation can be retrieved; someone’s ready to endure short-term outrage because they’re convinced that the political and/or personal long-term advantages that will follow are worth it.

But there’s something foul and rotten at the heart of the State when such ruthless and reckless grasping for narrow partisan – or, worse still, personal – advantage takes priority over policy-making for the common good.

When the wealth and prestige of the State are reduced to mere pieces on the political chessboard, it is time for all citizens to be on their guard.

The country is in danger.

Friday 20 November 2009

One Damn Thing - Or Many?

Follow the money: The work of journalists and spies is often indistinguishable. In both professions, the aim is to expose what is hidden. Where they differ is in the ultimate repository of the facts they uncover. A spy delivers his information to a privileged individual or group; the journalist offers the truth to everyone.

SPIES AND JOURNALISTS have a lot in common. To be good at either profession one cannot afford to interpret events as simply "one damn thing after another" – a random sequence of unrelated phenomena. No, one must see them as elements in a complex, constantly evolving historical picture.

Journalists and spies owe their masters not simply the "first rough draft" of history; they must also provide them with the first rough sketch.

Take the ongoing brouhaha surrounding Hone Harawira and the Maori Party for example. What are we really looking at? Is it "just" a controversy about an MP who went AWOL for a day in Paris, and then had an intemperate online stoush with someone who made a cheap-shot involving his partner? And if so, how have these events led to Mr Harawira facing expulsion from his party?

At first glance the scandal appears to hinge upon a racially-loaded epithet used by Mr Harawira in his e-mail jousting with Mr Buddy Mikaere.

Pakeha New Zealanders have taken understandable offence at being labelled puritanical "White Motherf***ers". Talkback radio amplified this Pakeha outrage, newspaper columnists gave it political shape, and a consensus swiftly congealed around the proposition that the Maori Party must throw Mr Harawira out of its waka.

Such, at least, is the "one damn thing after another" version of the Harawira story. Good enough for a junior political reporter perhaps, but definitely not good enough for a professional spy.

An intelligence agent reporting back to his boss in some distant European capital would have to provide much more in the way of explanatory detail.

Mr Mikaere’s actions, for a start, would require much closer scrutiny.

Who is this man? What does he do? Who does he rub noses with? Did he have anything to gain by becoming involved in the Harawira controversy? Who, if anyone, did he talk to before releasing the offending e-mails?

Asking around, our spy discovers that Mr Mikaere’s professional expertise is currently for hire in the complex (and often controversial) area of resource consent applications. This immediately prompts a flurry of additional questions.

Who are his clients? Is he currently working for any of the major iwi corporations? Is there some sort of environmental deal going down with the major Maori players – a deal that could possibly involve Resource Management Act issues?

Our spy telephones a contact in the Wellington bureaucracy.

"Hell yes!" his contact shoots back. "The five big iwi corporates are just about to be given the sweetest of sweet deals by the Minister Responsible for Climate Change, Nick Smith, in return for the Maori Party’s votes for his revised ETS legislation. Something to do with tree-planting and DoC-owned marginal land."

"How would Hone Harawira view that sort of deal?" asks our spy.

"I’m not sure", replies his contact, "but Hone’s known to be pretty pissed-off about his party’s wheeling and dealing with the Maori elite. He’s simply not convinced that the huge sums of money involved (and we’re talking millions here) will ever trickle down to the sort of people he represents in Te Tai Tokerau."

"Any resource consents required for this sort of thing?", asks the spy.

"There usually are – but who knows in this case? If we’re talking DoC land – and special legislation – the RMA might not even apply."

In an interim report to his superiors, our spy makes the following observations:

"It would clearly be in the interests of the Maori Party leadership (and the Maori corporations which stand to benefit from their agreement with Minister Smith) to eliminate Mr Harawira as an oppositional force within the Maori Party caucus. It would also suit the National-led Government very well – especially given its urgent need to have the ETS legislation passed before the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change. A straightforward quid pro quo: "You give us the ETS, and we’ll give you the repeal of the Foreshore & Seabed Act" would certainly meet the political needs of both parties."

Perhaps some non-fictional journalists should start asking the same questions as my fictional spy.

Is Mr Harawira really being driven from his party because of a regrettable sequence of "one damn thing after another": that unauthorised jaunt to Paris, and the mouthful of ill-chosen expletives provoked by Mr Mikaere?

Or, are we looking at a whole lot of damnable things happening together?

This essay was originally published in The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 20 November 2009.

Asset or Liability?

Up against the wall Motherf**ker! There comes a moment in the history of every revolutionary nationalist movement when street level activism ceases to be an asset and becomes a liability. The most infamous example of revolutionary liabilities being liquidated is the "Night of the Long Knives" of July 1934, when Hitler eliminated the leadership of the brown-shirted SA (stormtroopers). The latter had foolishly taken the socialist half of "National Socialism" seriously. If Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples decide the Maori Party has reached a similar moment of decision, then Hone Harawira’s career as a Maori Party MP will be over.

THE PRIME MINISTER called it an "apology of sorts". He would leave it to New Zealanders to decide on its merits.

And therein lies the problem. New Zealanders – that is to say all those New Zealand citizens whose names appear on the General Electoral Roll – will NOT get to decide the merits, or otherwise, of Te Tai Tokerau MP, Hone Harawira’s, "apology".

The only New Zealanders Harawira has to convince are the New Zealanders whose names appear on the Maori Roll for the parliamentary seat of Te Tai Tokerau. Theirs are the only opinions that matter in this situation, and all the evidence so far presented concerning the electors of Te Tai Tokerau suggests that they regard Harawira as a man who understands their situation, and speaks their language.

The Prime Minister can’t even hope that electors registered in other seats won by the Maori Party will feel moved to pass judgement on this "edgy firebrand" from the North. To do that they’d have to vote the Maori Party out of Parliament. But Maori electors are unlikely to punish Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples for the sins of their foul-mouthed colleague? They weren’t the ones who referred to Pakeha New Zealanders as "White Motherf**kers".

IF EVER the National Party had occasion to reflect upon the wisdom of retaining the Maori Seats – this is it.

Since 1867 the Maori Seats have provided not only a safety valve for Maori frustrations, and a forum in which to present Maori grievances, but also a means of including Maori politicians in the broader political leadership of the whole country. On balance, therefore, New Zealand’s 142-year-old experiment in special Maori representation should be (and for the most part has been) acclaimed rather than condemned.

No longer.

The people currently occupying the ever-expanding number of Maori seats (in 1989 there were four, today there are seven) are very different from early 20th Century Maori leaders like James Carroll and Apirana Ngata. Nor are they the representatives of Maoridom’s "lost ones" – the people Wiremu Ratana shepherded into the broader Labour movement during the 1930s.

No, the Maori Party MPs who currently occupy five of the seven Maori seats are unreconstructed Maori nationalists: proponents of tino rangatiratanga – which they construe to mean the full restoration of Maori sovereignty over Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Their credo is that of the Maori intellectual who literally wrote the book on Maori sovereignty, Donna Awatere. Back in the 1980s (before she transformed herself into an Act MP) Awatere wrote: "This country is Aotearoa. It is ours. White people of any generation have no business being in this country." In an interview with the Auckland journalist, Brian Rudman, she rejected out of hand the liberal Pakeha ideology of biculturalism: "[W]e can never have biculturalism", she declared, "because the Pakeha, with their in-built hatred towards other cultures, will never allow it."

The argument which has broken out between Harawira and rest of the Maori Party caucus is over tactical, not strategic, questions. It’s the style of his political rhetoric which has upset Turia and Sharples – not the substance. In their common desire to bring about a constitutional, political, economic and cultural revolution in this country, all five Maori Party MPs are as one.

So, what are these tactical disagreements? Primarily, it’s a question of where to insert the levers of change. Under the large tribal corporations, with all their resources and their growing links with the wealthiest and most influential Pakeha? Or under the materially impoverished, politically marginalised and increasingly restive Maori masses?

Harawira has aligned himself unequivocally with the latter. He still calls himself an "activist" and maintains close links with the revolutionary wing of the tino rangatiratanga movement. As the field commander of the tens of thousands of Maori who joined the hikoi of protest against the Foreshore & Seabed Act in 2004, Harawira’s radical credentials are unimpeachable. Without that mobilisation the Maori Party would have lacked the mass base of support required to achieve parliamentary representation.

He has a strong case.

Turia’s and Sharples’ argument is more subtle. Mobilising the Maori masses is all very well, they say, if all you want to do is frighten Pakeha. If, however, you want them to repeal legislation, devolve resources, and institute a broad-ranging review of New Zealand’s constitutional architecture – then a relationship of trust and mutual respect is required. This is not a time for scary hikoi, it’s a time for persuading the economic and political leaders of Pakeha New Zealand to manufacture, supply and pay for the rope that will ultimately hang them.

IT’S A DILEMMA common to all revolutionary nationalist leaders. How to demobilise the mass support which propelled your movement into office? Once you’ve been admitted to the inner-sanctums of economic and political power – how to persuade your "activists" to abandon their revolutionary dreams?

It was the problem Adolf Hitler faced in 1934 – eighteen months after he had been appointed Chancellor, and his revolutionary nationalist Nazi Party had joined the Reich government. Out on the streets, the Sturmabteilung (SA or "Stormtroopers") commanded by Ernst Rohm were demanding full implementation of the revolutionary economic and social reforms Hitler had promised during the national-socialists’ rise to power. Numbering close to 3 million, the SA, and Rohm, openly threatened the dominant position of the Army in German society, and Hitler’s conservative backers were becoming increasingly apprehensive.

Hitler’s response was the infamous "Night of the Long Knives", during which he effectively decapitated the SA. Over the course of seventy-two hours, beginning on the evening of 30 June 1934, Rohm, along with scores of other "enemies of the Reich", was arrested and executed on the Fuhrer’s orders.

What Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples must decide is whether the Maori Party is now so deeply embedded in the Pakeha power-structure that it no longer needs its street-level activists – or their leader.

Are the financial resources of the big tribal corporations sufficient to maintain the Maori Party as a viable electoral force, or should Harawira’s unmatched skill at mobilising the Maori masses (and frightening Pakeha) be retained – for the time being?

If the decision is made that Harawira and his radical supporters – like Rohm and the SA – have become a political liability, then it won’t be Phil Goff who finds himself being lined up against a wall and shot.

This essay was originally published in The Independent of Thursday, 19 November 2009.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Labour's Opportunity, Harawira's Choice

Standing on solid ground? The Dunedin South MP, Clare Curran's, assessment of the way the Hone Harawira controversy is playing out among Labour supporters is almost certainly more accurate than those of her critics on the Red Alert blog. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Phil Goff and the Labour Party have made considerable gains on the back of Hone's "White Mother****ers".

CLARE CURRAN at Red Alert has accused Matt McCarten of turning his Herald on Sunday column into an apology for Hone Harawira’s behaviour. Then, apparently not content with poking a stick at one of the most formidable beasts on the political block, she wagged an equally disapproving finger at Harawira’s mates, Willie Jackson and John Tamihere. (All three men have offered their support and counsel to Harawira over the past week.)

Interestingly, the initial reaction from Red Alert’s readers to Clare’s posting was negative. The first batch of comments found little to fault in McCarten’s analysis, and sharply criticised the Dunedin South MP for echoing Phil Goff’s "Brashesque" attacks on Harawira.

I am, however, very doubtful whether these comments fairly reflect most Labour voters’ response to Phil Goff’s comments. Indeed, I suspect the overwhelming majority of Labour’s constituency has joined the rest of Pakeha New Zealand in hailing Goff as the only parliamentary leader willing to condemn Harawira’s behaviour unequivocally.

Clare’s call on this issue is almost certainly more in tune with public opinion than her critics’.

Goff, himself, is clearly determined to use Harawira’s gaffes as an excuse for finally cutting the Labour Party adrift from the whole Maori Sovereignty movement – and hence the Maori Party. He is betting that most of the emerging Maori middle-class is in the process of doing the same, and that, in the not-too-distant future, Maori professionals will start drifting back to Labour.

Given that the overwhelming majority of the Maori middle-class derive their incomes from the State (rather than the conservative iwi corporates currently backing the Maori Party) my instinct is that Goff is making a pretty safe bet.

But that still leaves the Maori working-class.

Who is best-placed to represent these forgotten New Zealanders? That’s the question Maori leaders like McCarten, Jackson and Tamihere are asking. It’s also the issue which the Maori Party leadership is pig-headedly refusing to address. Why? Because the extraordinarily inconvenient answer is – Hone Harawira.

It's the Maori Party’s failure to acknowledge this elephant in the room – the issue of class – that explains the rather bemused tone of McCarten’s HoS commentary. It’s as if he can’t quite believe Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples are really as silly as they seem.

He also knows that a party calling itself the Maori Party simply cannot afford to shrug off the people of the Tai Tokerau. Not only does the electorate contain between a quarter and a third of all Maori Party members, but, as the largest Maori tribe, Ngapuhi's participation in the Maori Party is essential.

No one can credibly claim to speak for Maori without at least one of the three great tribes: Ngapuhi, Tainui and Ngati Porou standing behind them. With Labour still holding Ikaroa-Rawhiti and Hauraki-Waikato, it simply beggars belief that the Maori Party would seriously contemplate casting aside Te Tai Tokerau.

It is similarly impossible for a Maori Party to ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of the people they claim to represent do not control large iwi corporations and are a very long way from being middle-class. Most of them cannot speak te reo and would feel as ill at ease on the marae as most Pakeha. If it refuses to speak for – and act for – these people, then the Maori Party risks being branded a political fraud.

Harawira knows this – it’s what fuels his anger and frustration. He also knows that every day the Maori Party remains in cahoots with the National Party its support among working-class Maori – whose numbers propelled the Maori Party into Parliament – is steadily eroding away.

But, Harawira is no friend of the Labour Party. He remembers too well the devastation Rogernomics wreaked upon his people, and how readily Helen Clark embraced the spirit of Orewa in 2004. He will not go that way.

But there’s another way he could go – and McCarten, Jackson and Tamihere know it. That’s why McCarten wrote his HoS column the way he did. Screaming out between the lines of his text was a blunt warning to Turia and Sharples – not to mention Goff and Curran:

"If you don’t want the young, angry, Maori and Pasifika working-class, there’s at least one man in Parliament who will take it off your hands. Expel him at your peril."

To which Harawira could reasonably add, in the immortal words of that white mother****er, Clint Eastwood:

"Go ahead, make my day." 

Friday 13 November 2009

A World Of Our Own

"Did you call these Pakeha mofos 'mofos', mofo?": Pakeha New Zealanders outrage at Hone Harawira's use of the Black American expletive speaks volumes about their fundamental isolation from the all-too-contemporary manifestations of New Zealand's colonial legacy.

IF THE REACTION to Don Brash’s infamous "Orewa Speech" proved that "biculturalism" had failed to "take" among a large number of Pakeha, Hone Harawira’s brutal e-mail to Buddy Mikaere offers proof that the bicultural ideal is similarly resented by many Maori.

This should worry John Key.

If New Zealand’s official ideology pleases neither Maori nor Pakeha; if the smouldering resentments fanned into flame nearly six years ago at Orewa still glow; then how much confidence can the Prime Minister (or any Pakeha politician) have that Treaty settlements negotiated between the Crown and Maori will "take"?

In 2004 the "political class" closed ranks over race relations. No less than Don Brash, Helen Clark validated the fears and suspicions of the Pakeha nation. Only a fool could read the Foreshore & Seabed Act as anything other than a ruthless and unequivocal assertion of Pakeha power.

The Maori reaction: the massive hikoi of protest that filled Parliament grounds in May 2004; Tariana Turia’s defection from Helen Clark’s government; the formation of the Maori Party; followed with Newtonian precision.

But, nothing was resolved.

National’s narrow loss to Labour in 2005 merely put off the day of reckoning.

For the next three years Pakeha New Zealand, at odds with itself, was consumed by other issues. The vexed question of race-relations was pushed onto the back-burner. When they entered the polling booths in 2008 most voters had more pressing priorities.

But not the Maori Party. For Tariana Turia, Pita Sharples et al, the priorities remained unchanged. Their mission was to roll back the bipartisan obliteration of Maori aspirations symbolised by the Foreshore & Seabed Act, and to make their party the indispensable partner of whichever of the two main Pakeha parties secured a plurality of the popular vote. They were determined that, henceforth, the electors on the Maori Roll, through the Maori Party, would exercise the casting vote of New Zealand politics.

The events of the days following the 2008 election were, therefore, interpreted very differently by Maori and Pakeha.

For Maori, National’s offer of partnership was seen as proof of the pivotal role the Maori Party is destined to play in New Zealand’s political and constitutional affairs. The Prime Minister had to keep the Far-Right at arm’s length or risk re-energising Labour. He needed them more than they needed him.

For Pakeha, however, John Key’s outreach to the Maori Party was seen not as a forced concession, but as a generous gesture of reconciliation and inclusion. The very fact that the Prime Minister, with Act’s support already in his pocket, didn’t need the votes of the Maori Party, merely confirmed the generosity of inviting Ms Turia and Dr Sharples to join his government.

To a dyed-in-the-wool Maori nationalist like Hone Harawira, the Maori Party’s decision to accept the Prime Minister’s invitation must have looked like very high-risk politics. With the overwhelming majority of the Maori Party’s voters being semi-skilled or unskilled workers, there was a real danger of it being perceived as cuddling-up to their White and Brown bosses.

The Maori Party’s equivocation over Nick Smith’s Emissions Trading Scheme, coupled with its support for National’s cutbacks to ACC, strengthened this perception considerably.

Mr Harawira’s intemperate response to Mr Mikaere bears eloquent testimony to the Te Tai Tokerau MP’s frustration with the situation in which he and his party now find themselves.

The decision to work with National (or, one suspects, any Pakeha-led party) requires the Maori Party to demonstrate an ongoing ability to both propose and accept reasonable compromises.

But, to someone holding Mr Harawira’s nationalist beliefs, it was the Maori people’s willingness, over the past 150 years, to make "reasonable compromises" with the Pakeha authorities that led to the alienation of 63 million acres of Maori land. And, it clearly enrages him that "puritanical" Pakeha politicians and journalists were unwilling to characterise the trading-off of an inconsequential meeting in Brussels for a day in Paris – "The City of Light" – as his own "reasonable compromise".

New Zealand’s official "bicultural" ideology enjoins its citizens to walk in two worlds with understanding and respect. But reality tells a very different story. Maori New Zealanders have no choice when it comes to walking in two worlds. Pakeha New Zealanders do - and most of us choose to stay in our own.

It’s enough to make a saint swear.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 13 November 2009.

New Myths For Old

A landscape to swallow souls: Alone in their empty land, New Zealanders have a murderous need to feel at home.

RONALD HUGH MORRIESON saw New Zealand through a whiskey-glass - darkly. The provincial society his novels describe oscillates uneasily between the sunny certainties of rural life, and the pitch-black nightmares of small-town dysfunction.

Obsessions born of boredom and isolation:

"What’s really going on behind the perpetually drawn curtains at Number 13?"

"That body the cops dug up from under the big Macrocarpa hedge surrounding the old Thompson place – did they ever find out who it was?"

What is it about New Zealand society that encourages these gothic outpourings? What transforms sullen misfits like Stan Graham and David Gray into homicidal gunmen? What leads so many "good blokes" to turn their hunting rifles on their wives – and then themselves? What’s our best guess when we hear that: "The Police are not seeking anyone else in relation to the incident."

Is it something in the water – or something in ourselves?

We’re a prickly people, prone to sudden mood-swings – as Helen Clark could testify. One minute she’s riding high in the polls, and the next thing you know she’s the grim commissar of politically-correct Helengrad.

Maori, too, know exactly how volatile Pakeha New Zealanders can be: from "bi-cultural partner", to seething enemy of "Maori privilege" – and all in the blink of Court of Appeal judge’s eye, or the time it takes to deliver a speech to the Orewa Rotary Club.

Pakeha sensitivity on racial issues is, of course, understandable. It’s difficult to feel positive about a country founded on bad faith, violence and the wholesale expropriation of the indigenous inhabitants. Much easier to construct a national mythology which declares the exact opposite to be true.

Up until the mid-1970s, New Zealand’s founding myth went something like this.

In the beginning were the Moriori – a primitive Melanesian people who were easily defeated and exterminated by a proud and warlike Polynesian race called the Maori. The arrival of Europeans profoundly disrupted Maori society, forcing their chiefs to seek the protection of the all-powerful British Empire. Almost alone among Britain’s colonies, New Zealand was founded peacefully and in good faith. The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi guaranteed native property rights and gave Maori the legal status of British subjects. Unfortunately, the warlike Maori tribes proved incapable of keeping the peace, and the British Government was required to subjugate them by military force. As the Moriori succumbed to the more powerful Maori, so were the Maori forced to give way before the more civilised Europeans. However, the dignity and valour of their Maori adversaries left a deep and favourable impression on the victorious "Pakeha" settlers. Convinced they were descended from the same Indo-European stock, the two peoples intermarried freely, producing a vigorous hybrid nation famed throughout the world for its racial harmony.

Over the course of the last thirty years, this myth has been relentlessly deconstructed by both Pakeha and Maori historians. For some New Zealanders, learning the truth about their country’s past has been a liberating experience, but for many others it has been profoundly disorienting and unsettling. Particularly galling has been the State’s effective endorsement of the revisionists’ work. For a surprisingly large number of citizens, this official repudiation of the nation’s founding myths is something akin to treason.

In small town, provincial New Zealand – Morrieson country – the State’s bi-cultural "treachery" has led to the growth of an alternative historical narrative. A curious collection of rogue anthropologists, pseudo-historians, New Age mystics, and old-fashioned racial supremacists have combined to produce a bizarre new version of New Zealand’s past.

Since rigorous historical research has made the country’s original founding myth untenable, the new "home-made" myth has been relocated in New Zealand’s pre-history.

The first people to reach these islands were not, it seems, Melanesian Moriori, nor Polynesian Maori, but a highly sophisticated band of proto-Europeans. More than a millennium before the birth of Christ, these daring sea voyagers established a dazzling antipodean civilisation. Long-since buried beneath bush and sand, it is remembered now only by the name the Maori gave to its remnants: "Waitaha".

The Waitaha myth, like the Moriori myth before it, answers a number of urgent needs in its provincial Pakeha creators. It destroys the Maori claim to indigeneity. It reaffirms the historical superiority of European civilisation. And, by extending out the length of time civilised people have dwelt in New Zealand from hundreds to thousands of years, it renders Maori culture irrelevant. Most importantly, however, these new myth-makers reassure historically disoriented Pakeha that their cultural "connection" to these islands is far stronger than that of the brutal primitives who destroyed the wonder and glory that was Waitaha.

In the tiny Northland town of Dargaville the Waitaha Myth briefly crossed the line from unofficial to official history.

While wandering through the town’s museum, Scott Hamilton, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Auckland, spotted a "pou" – or carved gatepost marking the entrance to a Maori settlement.

According to the museum’s curator: "The carving, called Pouto Ki Rongomaraeroa, is the only one of its kind to be restored and put on display in a public place. It is different in type and design to Maori carvings, reinforcing the theory that the Waitaha had different origins and a longer history in New Zealand than Maori. The Waitaha lived in settlements around much of New Zealand’s coast."

When Hamilton took the Museum’s staff to task for passing-off pseudo-history as anthropological fact, he was told that "Maori communities and the archaeologists and historians who work with them have a ‘vested interest’ in suppressing information about a pre-Maori people."

Welcome to the parallel universe of provincial New Zealand. A universe in which the remnants of an ancient, seafaring, pyramid-building civilisation lie buried beneath the sands of your local beach. A universe where non-indigenous Maori and wicked urban intellectuals conspire to keep ordinary Kiwis ignorant of their country’s "true" history.

To the well-educated and well-travelled inhabitants of metropolitan New Zealand, the fevered mental landscapes of their provincial cousins will give rise to genuine alarm. But Ronald Hugh Morrieson: whose Kiwi-gothic novels described every crooked feature of provincial New Zealand’s weird physiognomy; would’ve known exactly what he was looking at.

Adrift in these empty seas, New Zealanders will turn almost anything into an anchor. Alone in their empty land, Kiwis have a murderous need to feel at home.

This essay was originally published in The Independent of Thursday, 12 November 2009.

Saturday 7 November 2009

Putting The Beach Beyond Our Reach

Putting the beach beyond our reach: Both Maori and Pakeha have a mutual interest in taking the foreshore and seabed off the market - permanently.

THE IDEA of vesting the ownership of the foreshore and seabed in the tupuna (ancestors) of the coastal-dwelling Maori hapu (clans) is nothing if not imaginative. Property developers and mining companies are very resourceful, but (as far as I know) they’ve yet to master time travel.

In addition to permanently taking the foreshore and seabed off the market, "Tupuna Title" would also encourage the conservation of New Zealand’s coastal environment. As kaitiaki (guardians) of resources passed down to them by their ancestors, local hapu would have powerful cultural and legal incentives to protect and pass-on the rights of customary usage to their children and grandchildren.

But, how would Pakeha New Zealanders relate to this revolutionary legal concept? The short answer is: with considerable difficulty.

For a start, we’d have to be willing to embrace a radical expansion of the number of things which cannot be bought and sold. The most important of these prohibitions relate to the human person. Since the abolition of slavery in the early part of the 19th Century, it has been illegal to sell or buy human-beings – or any part thereof. Our persons are also legally protected against intentional injury, and the State is prohibited from inflicting cruel or unusual punishment upon our bodies.

The creation of "Tupuna Title" would extend the idea of legal inviolability to the coastal territories and customary rights of New Zealand’s first inhabitants. In a very real sense, these would become an extension of their bodies: things that could never be legally bought, sold, injured or abused.

Once Pakeha New Zealanders got their heads around this extension of legal inviolability, a new compact with the Maori clan-guardians of the foreshore and seabed could be negotiated. In return for reposing the title to this resource in their ancestor’s hands, and placing it beyond the reach of legal confiscation, hapu would grant to Pakeha the inalienable right to access and enjoy New Zealand’s beaches.

But, are we Pakeha ready to embrace a concept as radical as "Tupuna Title"? Or, would we rather the whole of New Zealand’s foreshore and seabed remain vested in the Crown – which we, through our dominant position in Parliament, control? What are the chances of Pakeha giving that up?

No better, I would say, than the chances of the iwi-based Maori corporations having any truck with the notion that their interests should be subordinated to those of the individual hapu and whanau – whose claims to exercise customary usage remain the strongest.

It was the Ngati Apa iwi, and its repeatedly refused applications to establish a commercial aquaculture enterprise in the Marlborough Sounds, that precipitated the legal and political debate which gave birth to the Maori Party.

That debate was both framed and articulated by the growing class of Maori middle-class professionals. They have become the party’s principal advisers, just as the top layer of Maori businessmen have become its principal supporters. Unsurprisingly, it is for the Maori middle-class and the large iwi corporates that the Maori Party now speaks.

What the Maori Party is seeking, on their behalf, is a legal formula for turning the customary rights of hapu into profitable opportunities for iwi entrepreneurs.

The Green Party co-leader, Metiria Turei, sees it like this:

"The most likely outcome is repeal [of the Foreshore & Seabed Act] but legislation which results in exactly the same situation: a confiscation; a denial of access to the courts; the benefits going to some, perhaps, of the wealthier Maori organisations, but not to the hapu and the whanau on the ground who came to our select committee and pleaded with us to protect their customary title."

It’s hard to fault Ms Turei’s reasoning. To date, all of the Government’s statements on the issue have been framed in terms of negotiations between iwi and the Crown. The simplest solution – returning to the legal status quo ante and allowing the Courts to determine customary title on a case-by-case basis – is regarded by everyone (except Act) as too risky politically.

With only the Green Party willing to champion hapu rights, it’s pretty clear that the question of who "owns" the foreshore and seabed will be settled by some sort of "deal" between iwi and the Crown (i.e. the Maori Party, National and Labour).

I seriously doubt whether the concept of "Tupuna Title" will make the cut.

This essay was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 6 November 2009.

Plain English and Plain Wrong

Public Broadcasting? What's that? It’s hard to decide which is worse: TVNZ’s decision to broadcast the "Plain English" promo, or its curious inability to understand why it shouldn’t.

EXPLAINING THE ECONOMY, in Plain English. "Plain English" – geddit?

It’s a pun – don’t you see? A play on words.

TVNZ 7 is putting together a month-long documentary series about the economy in "plain English" – so the viewers won’t feel intimidated by a whole lot of complex, pointy-headed jargon. And then – guess what? Someone in the Marketing Department discovers that the Finance Minister is called Bill English.

Who knew!

Instantly, the whole promotional exercise becomes a no-brainer. TVNZ’s Marketing Department not only persuades English to front a promo for the first programme of the series – it hands him the script.


YOU JUST COULDN’T make this stuff up. In fact, if you sat down and thought for a week, it would be difficult to come up with a more compelling demonstration of everything that’s wrong with our publicly-owned television network.

First, there’s the network’s deeply ingrained anti-intellectualism: its reflexive hostility towards anything resembling a complex idea.

Then there’s the obvious, and very troubling, disconnection between TVNZ’s news and current affairs producers, and the people responsible for marketing their product.

That disconnection is amplified by the quite breath-taking inability of TVNZ’s senior management to recognise that scheduling a promo featuring the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Bill English, delivering an up-beat assessment of the Government’s handling of the economy, screened across four channels in prime time, might – just possibly – be construed as a "party political broadcast".

Lastly, and this is where the "Plain English" imbroglio gets really serious: it demonstrates just how deeply the whole neoliberal ideological agenda has become embedded in TVNZ’s institutional culture.

A media organisation in which "politics" can be neatly separated-off from "economics" is one in which anything resembling critical and conscientious thinking has stopped.

And nowhere was this intellectual and moral vacuity more clearly demonstrated than in the statements of TVNZ’s spokesperson, Andi Brotherston.

Insisting that the promotion had "nothing to do with news and current affairs" – a statement directly contradicted by the all-too-obvious fact that she was responding to a major news story about current affairs – Brotherston compounded her error by suggesting that TVNZ’s obligation to provide fair and balanced coverage of political events only applied in the run-up to a general election: "We are not within an election time frame so there isn’t a requirement on us to give equal time to specific parties."

So, let’s get this straight: the governing party can be given sixty-five 45-second spots, in prime time, to polish its image before the voting public; the Opposition gets nothing; and that’s just fine – because "we are not within an election time frame".

Any notion that by favouring the governing party so blatantly, the state-owned television network might be influencing the outcome of the next election, was clearly much too fanciful an idea to deserve even an atom of Brotherston’s brain-power.

"The other thing is", Brotherston breezily continued, "while other parties might think it’s an ad for Bill English, if we consider it from the viewers’ point of view, they see it as the Finance Minister.

"The series is about demystifying the economy. Viewers might see it differently and they’re the people we have in mind.

"Those people may not care about the other politicians and the time they have on television."

Consider what Brotherston is saying here: that TVNZ has taken on the role of the people’s tribune; that it possesses both the right and the mandate to speak confidently on behalf of the millions of citizen-viewers who comprise its audience; and that, whilst acting in this capacity, it enjoys a status far superior to that of any democratically-elected politician or party.

These are quite extraordinary claims – and they’re just plain wrong.

In the last election the voting public divided itself almost evenly between the Centre- Right and the Centre-Left. Even if one discards the 2008 election-night figures, and uses only the latest opinion poll results, the inescapable fact remains that a huge number of New Zealanders oppose the policies – especially the economic policies – of the National-led Government. These citizens quite rightly expect the public broadcaster to reflect the reality of their opposition in its daily political coverage.

But, Brotherston’s statements blithely ignore this expectation. As far as she’s concerned TVNZ’s "viewers" are of a single mind. Bill English is not a National Party politician, he is the Finance Minister: a figure without politics; dispassionate, disinterested – entirely above the fray.

Equally disturbing is Brotherston’s claim that TVNZ not only can, but has, "demystified" the economy. This suggests that the network sees economics as an essentially simple and straightforward discipline: one whose precepts can be readily simplified and presented in "plain English" to a mass audience.

But only an ideologue could make such a boast. Because only ideologues regard economics – the ground upon which nearly all of modern politics is fought out – as something indisputable and unproblematic.

For those of us not yet enthralled to some ideological system, economics cannot be anything but difficult, complex and "mysterious". If it were otherwise, there would be no need for a series called Focus on the Economy.

My guess is that the economics TVNZ is "demystifying" will turn out to be neoliberal economics. Only neoliberals believe it’s possible to break up the discipline of political-economy into its component parts. A public broadcaster uninfected by neoliberal certitude would be attempting the opposite – trying to put politics and economics back together.

Brotherston’s saddest statement, however, is the one in which she assures the public that the "Plain English" promo went through all of TVNZ’s internal approval channels. These "consider all aspects" of the programmes which go to air.

That such a blatant breach of public broadcasting norms and ethics could have been signed-off without demure is astonishing.

Is there no one left in TVNZ who understands that its role as the "national town hall" forbids it from taking sides? That there’s a crucial moral distinction to be drawn between a public television network which provides a forum for complex, multi-faceted and contentious civic debate, and one which serves up only such "debate" as it believes its viewers ought to be watching?

The broadcast of the "Plain English" promo sets the seal on TVNZ’s existence as an neutral public broadcaster.

In Putin’s Russia, state television delivers its master’s voice. Here in New Zealand, it puts the words in his mouth.

This essay was originally published in The Independent of Thursday, 5 November 2009.