Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Falling Between Two Treaties: A Reply To Dr Emily Beausoleil.

Bringing The Past Into The Present: For the proposed solutions of those promoting a Tiriti-based constitution of Aotearoa to work, the whole history of New Zealand subsequent to the signing of the Treaty must be set to one side, and New Zealanders living in 2021 must proceed as if they are living in 1840. This is necessary because in no other way can the terms employed to translate the English of the Treaty into the Maori of te Tiriti be infused with real constitutional significance. 

THE “CONVERSATION” demanded on the meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi is likely to be short. Not because there is no need for a national debate on how Maori and Pakeha should live together in the twenty-first century, but because the current defenders of te Tiriti (as it is now advisable to call the Maori translation of Captain Hobson’s document) will be unable to present a convincing defence of their ahistorical interpretation of its undertakings.

The reason for this incapacity is a simple one. To make their proposed solutions work, the whole history of New Zealand subsequent to the signing of the Treaty must be set to one side, and New Zealanders living in 2021 must proceed as if they are living in 1840. This is necessary because in no other way can the terms employed to translate the English of the Treaty into the Maori of te Tiriti be infused with real constitutional significance. What the promoters of a Tiriti-based constitution of Aotearoa are saying, in effect, is that everything which New Zealanders came to understand about their state must be cast aside, and that we must all begin again.

Is it reasonable to ask the five million human-beings inhabiting these islands in 2021 to agree to such a proposition? Dr Emily Beausoleil, senior lecturer in Political Science at Victoria University, writing for Newsroom, insists that it is.

Working from the strongly contested conclusion of the Waitangi Tribunal that “the rangatira who signed te Tiriti o Waitangi in February 1840 did not cede sovereignty to the British Crown”, Dr Beausoleil dismisses dissenters’ objections as “misconceptions” born out of “conflicting translations” and “the greater airtime the English version has had in our schools, media and government.” She does, however, acknowledge that the Tribunal’s 2014 rangatiratanga bombshell “also raises serious questions without any easy answers about what fulfilling these Articles [of te Tiriti] would require of us as a society today.”

Well, yes, it most certainly does.

Serious questions about the Treaty’s meaning have been raised before in New Zealand history. The most serious were arguably those raised by the leaders of the new settler state established by the New Zealand Constitution Act of 1852, whose first Parliament met in Auckland in 1854. A strong argument can be mounted that the Foreign and Colonial Office, in persuading the British parliament to grant its New Zealand colony a large measure of self-government, was effectively affirming the cynical view of the Treaty enunciated by one of the Governors of the land-grabbing New Zealand Company:

“We have always had very serious doubts whether the Treaty of Waitangi, made with naked savages by a consul invested with no plenipotentiary powers, without ratification by the Crown, could be treated by lawyers as anything but a praiseworthy device for amusing and pacifying savages for the moment.”

There is a logic to the Treaty, however, which is present in both the English and the Maori versions. A logic which asserted itself more and more forcefully as the settler government of New Zealand became ever more firmly established, and the number of Pakeha arriving in the country grew by leaps and bounds. The guarantees contained in Article 2 of the Treaty: that only the Crown could purchase Maori land; and that any decision to sell land had to conform with the tikanga (customs and practices) of chieftainship; were simply incompatible with the settler government’s vision of New Zealand’s future. The Maori King Movement, by refusing to sell any more land to the Crown, exposed the logic of the Treaty in a way that made a decisive settler response inevitable.

It came in 1863, when the settler government, aided by 12,000 imperial British troops, militarily overwhelmed the Maori Kingdom of the Waikato. Article 1, which, in the only version of the Treaty the settler government recognised, granted the Crown full and undivided sovereignty, was deemed to trump Article 2. This amounted to what the distinguished New Zealand legal scholar, Professor Jock Brookfield, described as a “revolutionary seizure of power”.

It was a revolution which resulted in the Treaty of Waitangi being dismissed as “a simple nullity”, and which led to the ruthless suppression of all Maori resistance to Pakeha rule. Built upon the expropriated resources of the autonomous Maori communities which preceded it, the New Zealand State has, with the passing of time, won both the de facto and the de jure right to dispose of these islands as it sees fit.

Dr Beausoleil’s arguments in favour of implementing the “Tiriti-led” recommendations of the controversial He Puapua Report would be a lot more convincing if she simply acknowledged that, for the logic of the Treaty to be successfully reasserted, then a similar “revolutionary seizure of power” will be necessary.

Significantly, the word “revolution” does not appear in Dr Beausoleil’s Newsroom post. The transition to a Tiriti-based constitution is, instead, to be accomplished by education and persuasion. In her words:

“When we understand these commitments, objections that He Puapua is divisive and undemocratic […] begin to ring hollow. Changing our institutions to more fully realise the unceded authority of tangata whenua would not only fulfil our Tiriti and United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples obligations and thereby make our power arrangements more legitimate – it would also mean greater self-determination, equality and meaningful voice among Tiriti partners.”

That’s a nice vision of the future, but, as someone who lectures in Political Science ought to know, the efficacy of education and persuasion in the state’s application of political, economic, social and cultural power is – to put it mildly – limited. Such a host of interests; such an array of prejudices; such a collection of legal and constitutional objections stand in the way of securing majority consent for even a tenth of He Puapua’s recommendations that the chances of bringing any of them into force by democratic means are vanishingly small.

More to the point, if a majority of New Zealanders come to believe that their government is attempting to bring about a revolutionary change in New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements by stealth, then the opportunity for any of us – Maori or Pakeha – to participate in the creation of Dr Beausoleil’s “more just, more honourable, more inclusive Aotearoa” will disappear entirely.

When Britain’s soldiers, having executed the “revolutionary seizure of power” demanded of them by the settler government, departed, did they leave behind them a more just, more honourable and more inclusive New Zealand? Or, did they bid farewell to a state which, having secured these islands by force of arms, would surrender them to nothing else?


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 11 May 2021.

Monday, 10 May 2021

Playing By A New Set Of Rules

Meet The New Rules, Not Like The Old Rules: The old book was written on the assumption that political principles are important, and that, accordingly, political consistency from political parties must also be important. At its core, the old rule book accepted that the game it was regulating was the game called “Democracy”. That’s why it enjoined politicians to put the convictions and interests of their core supporters at the heart of their policy decisions.

WHAT HAS HAPPENED to the old Political Rule Book? This government appears to have found a new edition: one which the rest of New Zealand has yet to see, let alone read. Actions which the old Political Rule Book once rejected as electorally disastrous are being implemented with a jarring and inexplicable confidence. What’s going on?

Let’s begin with the Labour Government’s decision to impose a three-year wage freeze on three-quarters of the Public Service. Under the old Political Rule Book, such an action would have been deemed extremely unwise. That rule book would have explained the sheer folly of effectively decreasing the purchasing power of some of the Labour Party’s most loyal supporters. This is hardly surprising: “Look after your electoral base.”; has always been the first and most important rule of electoral politics.

The old Political Rule Book would have further explained that to unfairly treat people regarded as heroes by a broad cross-section of the electorate is also a very bad idea. New Zealanders are three months into the second year of the Covid-19 global pandemic. That they have come this far without enduring the horrors witnessed in countries overseas is attributed in no small measure to the public servants who have positioned themselves courageously between their fellow citizens and the virus. Telling doctors, nurses, police officers, customs officials, military personnel, health ministry staff and teachers that they won’t be getting a pay-rise for three years, is likely to strike most Kiwis as not only grossly unfair, but as evidence of the most perverse ingratitude.

There was, of course, an entire section of the old Political Rule Book devoted to New Zealanders deep commitment to the idea of “Fairness”. It reiterated the scholarly argument that most New Zealanders feel about fairness the way most Americans feel about freedom. Threaten an American’s freedom and watch out! Fail to meet the ordinary New Zealander’s expectation of fair treatment and, again, watch out! Given the Government’s behaviour, it would appear that this whole section is missing from the new Political Rule Book.

Exactly what the new Political Rule Book does say is the puzzle so many Kiwis are struggling to solve. Once again, judging by the Government’s behaviour, it would appear to discount the old rule book’s warning that extraordinary events, giving rise to extraordinary outcomes, are most unlikely to be repeated. The 2020 General Election, for example, produced a result which the old Political Rule Book declared to be impossible – i.e. a single political party winning an absolute parliamentary majority. That was not supposed to happen under MMP, where coalition governments are the norm.

Not only must we suppose that the new Political Rule Book has radically reassessed the likelihood of a single party winning a majority of parliamentary seats, but that it also argues in favour of extraordinary outcomes being repeatable. More specifically: that the great red wave of electoral gratitude that washed over New Zealand in response to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic can, indeed, be replicated. That all those tens-of-thousands of National voters who defected to Labour in 2020 can be persuaded to vote for Labour again in 2023.

The new Political Rule Book also seems to have had second thoughts about the political rule-of-thumb advising Labour against allowing itself to be outflanked on its left.

Without an absolute majority of parliamentary seats, Labour would be forced to rely upon the Green Party for the numbers needed to govern. Now, the old Political Rule Book warned Labour in the strongest terms not to have a bar of this. (A warning which the Helen Clark-led Labour governments of 1999-2005 were careful to heed.) The rationale being that such overt dependence on the support of a much more radical party would aggravate voter concerns about “the tail wagging the dog”.

To be fair, that same old rule book also cautioned the Greens against allying themselves too closely with a more conservative political entity. Such an alliance was likely to create potentially fatal tensions within the party’s own ranks. (This was, indeed, the common fate of NZ First and the Alliance, both of whom were torn apart by internal conflicts over the party’s fraught relationship with its larger partner.)

Assuming that our guesses about the content of the new Political Rule Book are correct, we must assume that the Labour Government is proceeding on the basis that it is no longer imperative to look after its electoral base; that perceptions of behaving unfairly no longer matter; that even if holding onto all the sunshine socialists of 2020 turns out to be impossible, governing alongside the Greens comes with no electoral downside.

We would probably be further justified in assuming that the new Political Rule Book takes into account the recent spate of right-wing populist victories across the West. In this new political environment, policies aimed at inflaming right-wing prejudices should not be summarily dismissed – not even by ostensibly left-wing parties. Not when they could produce an expansion of the party’s electoral base. Labour need not fear the defection of their traditional supporters because, seriously, apart from the Greens, and maybe the Maori Party (both of whom are committed to coalescing with Labour) who else are its supporters going to vote for?

Certainly a new rule of this kind would explain why Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins were willing to announce a policy calculated to win the enthusiastic backing of public-servant-hating conservative voters. Their new rule book may even have recommended throwing such a sop to Cerberus in advance of the Minister of Labour, Michael Wood, announcing the imminent introduction of Fair Pay Agreements – a policy aimed directly at the party’s trade union supporters.

Cynical in the extreme? Well, yes, obviously. But that may be the key difference between the old Political Rule Book and the new.

The old book was written on the assumption that political principles are important, and that, accordingly, political consistency from political parties must also be important. At its core, the old rule book accepted that the game it was regulating was the game called “Democracy”. That’s why it enjoined politicians to put the convictions and interests of their core supporters at the heart of their policy decisions.

The events of the past week – so at odds with the old rules of the game – would suggest that not only have the rules changed radically, but so, too, has the name of the game itself. What our politicians now appear to be playing is a game called “Holding On To Power At All Costs”. It is predicated on voters having a smaller set of principles, and a larger collection of prejudices. A greater propensity to complain, but a reduced willingness to do anything more than post their displeasure on social media. Most important of all, it assumes that voters are rapidly losing the ability to act consistently from first principles; and that they no longer expect their politicians and political parties to even try.


This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website of Monday, 10 May 2021.

Hiding He Puapua From Winston May Cost Labour Dearly.

Contemplating Utu? Had Peters known of its existence, he would have fallen upon He Puapua as a gift from God. No one has a more fearsome reputation for “fighting Maori separatism” than Winston. He Puapua, and all it represents, could have been sold to the electorate as the best possible reason for keeping the NZ First “handbrake” in place: the Kiwi voter’s insurance against extremism.

IF (OR SHOULD THAT BE ‘WHEN’) Winston Peters hits the comeback trail, Labour should look to its defences. Having transformed their erstwhile NZ First ally into a sworn enemy, Labour’s leadership will likely be forced to rely on the Greens to keep them in office. That reliance may end up costing Labour much more than anything NZ First ever asked it to pay.

The “crime” for which Peters and his party will be seeking vengeance is the deliberate suppression of the He Puapua Report. I must confess to missing this aspect of the He Puapua story. My assumption was that there were still enough people around Jacinda Ardern with the political smarts to spot the report’s enormous potential for inflicting electoral damage, and that is why it was kept under wraps until the 2020 general election was safely out of the way.

It took a journalist of Richard Harman’s insight and experience to identify the real reason. Writing on his Politik website, Harman put it like this:

“[S]ources close to NZ First believe the decision to keep He Puapua from Cabinet was deliberate. Once it had gone to Cabinet it would have been seen by NZ First’s four Cabinet Ministers and they would have been able to campaign on it; veto it and thus kill it. But now, NZ First are out of Parliament and the document is public.”

Like all shrewd observations, when you see it written down in black and white, Harman’s conclusion seems obvious. Had Peters known of its existence, he would have fallen upon He Puapua as a gift from God. No one has a more fearsome reputation for “fighting Maori separatism” than Winston. He Puapua, and all it represents, could have been sold to the electorate as the best possible reason for keeping the NZ First “handbrake” in place. Peters would have had little difficulty in painting a Labour-Green majority as both unable and unwilling to prevent the report’s “Maori separatist agenda” from being rolled out in its entirety. NZ First could have billed itself as the Kiwi voter’s insurance against extremism.

It is important to remember the time-line here. He Puapua was presented to the then Minister of Maori Development, Nanaia Mahuta, in November 2019. Had it gone to Cabinet, Peters and his fellow NZ First ministers would have had close to a year to position it at the centre of their 2020 election campaign strategy. Even with the Covid-19 wind at its back, Labour was unable to prevent the nationalist and conspiratorial Right from amassing over 6 percent of the 2020 Party Vote. Had Winston had He Puapua to play with, there is every chance he would have claimed the lion’s share of that vote (and quite possibly a bonus sliver of National’s) to take him safely over the 5 percent MMP threshold.

Ironically, such a result may have served Labour’s long-term interests a great deal better than NZ First’s failure to be returned to Parliament. In retrospect, Winston’s judicious application of the conservative handbrake, looks suspiciously like a plus, not a minus, for Jacinda Ardern’s coalition government. It arguably prevented her from making a number of deeply unpopular decisions – as well as providing her with a handy excuse for not keeping her promises.

No chance of that now. All the major players in NZ First have been made aware of Labour’s deadly sin of omission. If they’re clever (and they can be) they will turn the suppression of He Puapua into a dark betrayal myth: a fundamental gesture of bad faith and ingratitude which cries out for vengeance.

Two years from now, the howling Covid gale that blew Labour into an absolute parliamentary majority will (hopefully) have sunk to a gentle zephyr. With “normalcy” restored, the electorate will be much less disposed to accept excuses for abject government failure, and much more willing to listen to alternative and harshly critical voices. Chances are that in 2023 National and Act will still have the biggest sound systems, but, as has happened three times before under MMP, it may prove to be Winston’s little loud-hailer that contributes the decisive voice.

And the inspiration for the song he’ll be singing will be He Puapua – but not in a good way.


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 7 May 2021.

Friday, 7 May 2021

With Friends Like These ...

He's On Our Side? When Australia’s very own Minister of Defence, Peter Dutton, is telling anyone who will listen that "a war over Taiwan cannot be discounted" and that Australia was "already under attack" from Chinese cyber-warriors, it is probably time to think again about who New Zealand's "friends" and "enemies" truly are.

“REMEMBER WHO YOUR FRIENDS ARE.” Most often this is said in a reassuring way: a reminder that in tough times your friends will always be there for you. Sometimes, however, it is said as a warning, with the word ‘friends’ placed between inverted commas. It would seem New Zealand is rapidly moving into one of those times. With ‘friends’ like our so-called “Five Eyes Partners” New Zealand doesn’t really need enemies.

Consider the view of Major-General Adam Findlay, described as one of Australia’s top military commanders, who warned an audience of Australian Special Forces personnel in April 2020 that Beijing was already engaged in “grey zone” warfare against their country, and that they should proceed on the strong assumption that this will escalate into actual conflict at some point in the [near?] future.

Now, just in case you were thinking of dismissing these daunting observations as the rantings of a bellicose Aussie boofhead, it might pay to consider the comments of “influential public servant”, Michael Pezzullo, who recently warned Australians that “the drums of war are beating”. Seriously? Yes, seriously. When the person saying such things is the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, it would be unwise to ignore them. Especially when Australia’s very own Minister of Defence, Peter Dutton, is telling anyone who will listen that “a war over Taiwan cannot be discounted” and that Australia was “already under attack” from Chinese cyber-warriors.

Remember, these are our ‘friends’ – the people who accused our Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of sucking-up to the Chinese and betraying the Five Eyes ‘alliance’.

Frankly, Beijing scares me a whole lot less than these loud-mouthed, Aussie sabre-rattlers! Because, behind all the Washington-sanctioned bombast, one detects the reckless militaristic mindset that allows wars to happen by accident. Because people very like these war-hawks delivered very similar diatribes in London, Paris and St Petersburg; Berlin and Vienna; in the early months of 1914. (And that ended well!)

Thank God our own political, diplomatic and military leadership show no signs of the anti-Beijing distemper currently afflicting Canberra. It is reassuring to know that New Zealand’s ability to discern its own national interest is not degraded by this mania for a new cold war.

Before we pat ourselves too enthusiastically on the back, however, we should turn our eyes from our leaders and focus, instead, on the political campaign to undermine this country’s relationship with China by asking Parliament to condemn Beijing’s alleged “genocide” of the Uighurs of Xinjiang.

Genocide is one of those words that should be used with extreme care. Attempts to define it are fraught with difficulty. Tragically, it is much easier to recognise its effects. When we gaze in horror at the Holocaust’s death camps; or see the swollen corpses of Rwanda; we know that we are looking at genocide. But, when we consider the fact that the Uighur population of Xinjiang has grown from around five million in the 1980s, to more than twelve million today, we can be sure that whatever it is we are looking at, it isn’t genocide.

It is also advisable to look very closely at those who are making these claims. Earlier this week a spokesperson for the Uighurs living in New Zealand, interviewed on RNZ, cited the research of the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy as compelling evidence for their charge of genocide. But who stands behind New Lines? According to the Chinese newspaper, Global Times, New Lines has links to the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks the IIIT was raided by the FBI for suspected terrorist associations.

Given that the ongoing confrontation between Beijing and Xinjiang was originally sparked by the terrorist activities of Uighur Islamists and nationalists, the ultimate identity of those accusing the Chinese government of genocide is, surely, an important detail? So, too, I would have thought, is the fact that Beijing’s aggressive programme of de-radicalisation was inspired by the practices of Western powers engaged in the Global War On Terror.

Before our parliament votes on an Act Party motion, supported by the Greens, to condemn China’s “genocide”, it would, perhaps, be wise to ask itself two questions. In this exercise, are the Uighurs the end – or the means? And: Is this being done at the behest of our friends, or our enemies?


This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 7 May 2021.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Developing Separately – Or Together?

'He iwi tahi tātou'? Should Maori poverty be addressed as a manifestation of the economic and social injustices inherent in free-market capitalism; or, is it the inevitable consequence of colonial oppression, white privilege and institutional racism? If it’s the former, then Maori and Pakeha can tackle the problem together. If it’s the latter, then the only effective solutions are those set forth in He Puapua. Maori and Pakeha will have to develop separately.

I’M NOT all that interested in Maori Separatism. It does not require much in the way of historical or rhetorical skill to construct an argument that Maori have lived separate lives for most of this country’s colonial history. Prior to World War II they lived separate lives in the countryside. After World War II they lived separate lives in places like Otara and Porirua. Their ongoing separation from the Pakeha world is plainly visible as you drive up Highway One into Northland. Drive through Moerewa, then through Kerikeri, and you’ll see what I mean.

If you really wanted to be hard-nosed about it, you could argue that a hell of a lot of Pakeha would be most unhappy if Maori separatism could suddenly be brought to an end. If the barriers of income, occupation and education were dissolved, and New Zealanders of all colours and creeds found themselves living on the same street – lawyers next door to check-out operators, doctors next door to cleaners – I rather suspect the reaction would fall well short of easy acceptance. In my experience, “racial tolerance” increases in inverse proportion to the proximity of economically deprived ethnicities.

Logically, if Maori are agitating to have themselves sealed-off from the Pakeha world, then all the white supremacists out there should be celebrating. If, as suggested in the extraordinary He Puapua report, Aotearoa should, once again, be divided into distinct and autonomous tribal territories – on the model of Tuhoe – Maori might be surprised at the number of Pakeha eager to facilitate their repatriation. Although, the white supremacists might not be quite so enthusiastic when they realised that colonial land-titles were most unlikely to survive the Maori exodus.

Personally, I am doubtful whether many Maori would be all that keen to up stakes and return to their rohe. In all of human history there has been nothing even remotely as liberating as the big city. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine the individualism that underpins contemporary global culture surviving in any other setting. Historically-speaking, traditional societies tended to be uncompromisingly collectivist. But, living under the watchful eyes of the group, leaves very few places for the individual to be truly alone. It took centuries for people to identify themselves self-consciously with the first person singular: “I” is a reasonably recent invention.

Ironically, it is individualistic Maori who have done the most to break down Maori separatism. I vividly recall walking back from a seminar alongside the then National Party MP, Murray McCully. He was dismissive of the Maori nationalist agenda, pointing out with considerable relish than many more Maori voted for National than voted for the Maori Party. Given that the Party Vote for Te Paati Maori in 2020 was just 33,630, he was probably right. McCully referenced figures like Winston Peters as examples of indigenous men and women who identified themselves proudly as New Zealanders first and Maori second.

This is very far from being a recent phenomenon. From the very beginnings of European colonisation there were Maori who reached out eagerly to grasp the possibilities presented to them by the Pakeha colonisers. Even when the settler government, backed by 12,000 imperial troops, attacked Tawhiao’s Waikato kingdom in 1863, as many as 50 percent of the Maori population either threw in their lot with the British Crown, or maintained a studied neutrality. The strength and vitality of contemporary Maori culture owes much to these kupapa Maori. By opting to bend, they avoided being broken.

Presumably, these were the people Dr Ranginui Walker had in mind when he said the differences between Maori and Pakeha would ultimately be reconciled in the bedroom. Genetically-speaking, it’s a difficult claim to refute. Indeed, to argue otherwise one is required to adopt the bizarre “racial science” of the American South.

In the states of the old Confederacy, to possess so much as a single drop of “African” blood was to lose forever the privilege of calling oneself (or being called) “white”. Here in New Zealand it’s the other way ‘round. To possess even a single Maori ancestor – no matter how distant – is to be permanently and indisputably tangata whenua. That being the case, the very notion of Maori separatism must eventually be rendered a nonsense. All New Zealanders will be Maori – and vice-versa.

Which still leaves us with the separation imposed by socio-economic deprivation – a condition in which a disproportionate number of Maori find themselves trapped. Sadly, New Zealand society is becoming increasingly divided on the question of how best to free the Maori poor from their poverty.

Should their situation be addressed as a manifestation of the economic and social injustices inherent in free-market capitalism; or, is it the inevitable consequence of colonial oppression, white privilege and institutional racism? If it’s the former, then Maori and Pakeha can tackle the problem together. If it’s the latter, then the only effective solutions are those set forth in He Puapua. Maori and Pakeha will have to develop separately.

This is the separation that truly troubles me. Not the separation of Maori from Pakeha, but the division of New Zealand society into two mutually incomprehensible camps. The first camp, highly-educated and well-remunerated, is concentrated occupationally in the caring, teaching and communications professions, and in the administration and governance of society generally. The second, much larger, camp is composed of just about everybody else.

In the first camp, the ideas contained in He Puapua are regarded as both morally correct and politically necessary (not least because they will have to be implemented by people like themselves). For those in the second camp, such ideas (when they are comprehended at all) are perceived as dangerous and divisive. With Maori in both camps, this societal bifurcation has nothing to do with ethnicity. New Zealanders are being separated by an ideology which elevates cultural difference above social solidarity.

Personally speaking, I cannot think of a better way of bringing Maori and Pakeha together than to try and impose an ideology committed to forcing them apart.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 6 May 2021.

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Shaken and Stirred: The Left Reacts To Judith Collins’ Race-Based Politicking.

Extremely Moderate: That was the “problem” with Judith Collins’ address to the National Party’s Northern Regional Conference on 1 May 2021: its totally unexpected moderation. This was no bilious outpouring of racial hate – quite the reverse. With a degree of political subtlety and tactical agility that did both Collins and her speechwriter, Michael Forbes, credit, the speech left Labour with nothing but questions to answer. 

THE REACTION to Judith Collins’ speech to National’s Northern Regional Conference (1/5/21) was always going to be instructive. It would signal just how seriously National’s opponents took both Collins and her race-based politicking. A flat line on the political seismograph would indicate complete indifference: proof that the National Party leader’s strategy was out of time, and that she, as Leader, was running out of luck. Were the seismograph’s needle to flutter, however, National would know that it was on to something.

And flutter it did. Not wildly, admittedly, but enough to register something large and dangerous shifting deep underground. To give the Prime Minister credit, she was careful to let Collins’ speech pass without comment. While undoubtedly registering the seismic shock, her instincts told her to pretend that she hadn’t. Prime Ministers have surrogates to do that for them. Dutiful as ever, Kelvin Davis let loose the necessary slings and arrows – as did Jacinda’s Pavlovian poodles in the Press Gallery. Given the quality of Collins’ speech, they really had no choice.

Because that was the “problem” with Collins’ address: its totally unexpected moderation. This was no bilious outpouring of racial hate – quite the reverse. With a degree of political subtlety and tactical agility that did both Collins and her speechwriter, Michael Forbes, credit, the speech left Labour with nothing but questions to answer. Difficult questions about the contents of He Puapua, the report of the secretive, Cabinet-appointed working group established to develop a plan for bringing New Zealand’s state institutions into conformity with both te Tiriti o Waitangi and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“The Prime Minister needs to explain why Labour has been busy implementing He Puapua’s recommendations one by one”, Collins stated in a follow-up media release, “without sharing this wider plan with New Zealanders.”

This is clever politics. We live in an age of mistrust. Fewer and fewer citizens have much faith in their country’s political institutions anymore. Fewer still have faith in the reliability of the nation’s news media – as a study released last week by AUT’s Centre for Journalism, Media and Democracy makes clear. Plant a seed of doubt in the voters’ minds about the Labour Government’s secretive “wider plan” for New Zealanders and watch it grow into a thornbush of paranoia.

Collins knows that Jacinda’s only hope of preventing that seed from sprouting is to dismiss He Puapua as just another of Labour’s many, many working party reports; and to reassure New Zealanders that any changes to New Zealand’s core constitutional structures will only ever be undertaken after they’ve been endorsed by a binding referendum. Except, even these undertakings offer Labour only the most fragile of defences. It was, after all, Helen Clark and Margaret Wilson who abolished appeals to the Privy Council and established the Supreme Court of New Zealand without holding a referendum. Moreover, it was precisely because referenda kept quashing attempts to set up Maori wards, that Jacinda’s government rushed through legislation denying local voters that option. On these matters, the public has every right to be sceptical.

Collins also knows, or, at the very least, suspects, that throwing He Puapua over the side of Labour’s waka might prove to be a great deal harder than it sounds. If Labour’s Maori Caucus’s “Plan A” was a full-scale assault on the homelessness, joblessness, ill-health, incarceration-rates and general despair of so many of their people, then it has failed. Both Jacinda and her right-hand man, Finance Minister Grant Robertson, made it clear, very early on, that the rapid “transformational” effort required to move the dial on Maori deprivation was a fiscal bridge too far for them to contemplate. That made the slower, but much deeper, transformations set out in He Puapua, the Maori caucus’ “Plan B”. If Jacinda, bowing to pressure from National and Act, tosses He Puapua overboard, then Te Paati Maori will invite the Maori electorate to, once again, draw their own conclusions about the wisdom of expecting a Pakeha party to prioritise Maori concerns.

The truth is that Labour, just like Saint Peter, does not wish to be caught denying the messianic He Puapua, just as David Seymour and Judith Collins commence crowing.

If anybody knows this, then it’s Jacinda’s former Chief-of-Staff, and the current Director of the lobbying firm Capital Government Relations, Neale Jones. Sitting alongside his fellow Wellington insider, Brigette Morten, on this morning’s (3/5/21) Nine-to-Noon “Political Panel”, it was Neale who finally indicated exactly where on the Richter Scale, Collins’ political earthquake registered. And it was high. High enough, in fact, to thoroughly rattle Mr Jones who, unlike the identically named hero of Bob Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man, knows exactly what’s going on here.

Which is why, presumably, from the moment host Kathryn Ryan asked him for his take on Collins’s speech, Neale started throwing bombs. The Leader of the Opposition, he insisted, was guilty of “racist fearmongering”; engaging in a “toxic form of politics”; and had concocted her very own “conspiracy theory”. This is not the sort of language your average capital city insider generally uses to describe a political event of no impact or importance. On this occasion, I think it’s fair to say that the man licenced to kill Labour’s foes (at least rhetorically) was both shaken and stirred.

Perhaps the most disturbing element of Neale’s critique was his characterisation of any attempt to critique the rangatiratanga agenda of He Puapua and its ilk as illegitimate and sinister. It was difficult to avoid the conclusion that if Neale had his way this kind of “toxic” politics would be impermissible: a form of “hate speech”. As a line of argument, it is chilling: conveying the impression that some kinds of politics – most particularly the politics of Maori-Pakeha relations – should be considered “out-of-bounds” and strictly controlled.

Listening to this morning’s “Political Panel”, I found it impossible not to imagine Brigette Morten sitting in the RNZ studio with a grin as wide as a Cheshire Cat’s. Seeing, as we, the listeners, were hearing, Neale’s discomfort, Morten must have recognised just what a winner Collins has picked.

The National Party leader’s May Day address, unlike Brash’s Orewa Speech, will not be a sky-rocket – hauling National’s poll numbers up into the electoral stratosphere. No, He Puapua and all it stands for will be a slow-burner, spreading underground like a peat fire until, finally, it surfaces in clouds of acrid, choking smoke.

In the immortal words of Rachel Hunter: “It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.”


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 4 May 2021.

Redefining Democracy.

The Dead Hand Of Privilege: To be white, male, heterosexual, well-educated, and – of course – wealthy, is to enjoy a high degree of “privilege” in a culture where such distinctions are generally esteemed. Formal democratic equality, it is asserted, actually serves to mask this privilege and, by doing so, permits the disproportionate power conferred upon its possessors’ to be wielded with, if not impunity, then without serious challenge.

DEMOCRACY – WHO NEEDS IT? Fewer and fewer people, both at home and abroad, seem as willing as previous generations to “defend democracy”. The term itself: once generally understood as a system of government dedicated to personal liberty, the inviolability of private property, equality before the law, and majority rule; has acquired a bewildering complexity. What you were born, and where, now pose a serious challenge to democracy’s universalist claims. To be a human-being is no longer enough.

There is an irony here. The rise of democracy – to the point of becoming the ultimate constitutional goal and the accepted measure of civilised government – has for the past three centuries been driven by the steady expansion of what it means to be a human-being. If a human-being may be defined, politically, as a person whose expressed opinion is accorded a determinative influence, then their numbers have indeed been growing steadily.

Males in possession of land and/or demonstrable martial prowess were the original political humans, to whose numbers were soon added males conspicuously successful in trade and commerce. For centuries, these barons and burghers had the game pretty much to themselves. It required an epochal shift: from feudalism to capitalism; to open the ranks of political humanity to middle-class males.

Democracy was the lever by which these middle-class males gained entry to the places where decisions are made. The problem with the core principles of liberty, equality and solidarity, however, is that they are dangerously extendable. The same arguments that secured political rights for the middle classes could be mounted on behalf of the working classes. Even more worryingly, they could be extended from males to females; from the old to the young; from persons of your colour, to persons of all colours.

When Abraham Lincoln so magisterially distilled the essence of democracy to: “government of the people, by the people, for the people”; the “people” he had in mind were white (and just possibly black) American males. Not included were American women of any colour, Native Americans or “Orientals”. For the next 160 years, American history would be driven by the efforts of those excluded from the definition of “the people” to be recognised as fully human beings.

It is worth pausing for a moment to consider the moral transgression required to drive people out of the human definition once it has been claimed and/or bestowed. The terrifying history of the Jim Crow South not only bears testimony to the level of harm that must be inflicted to enforce exclusion from the political community, but also to the disfiguring spiritual violence those responsible for such exclusion are required to inflict upon themselves. The “strange fruit” of the South describes not just the dangling bodies of lynched African Americans, but the dead eyes of the White killers who watched them die.

Recall, too, the extraordinary violence inflicted upon the Suffragettes by the Liberal Government of Herbert Asquith in the years immediately preceding World War I. The forced feeding of female hunger-strikers was widely condemned as a form of politically-inspired torture. And all because an insufficient number of British parliamentarians were willing to include women within the definition of the politically human.

No such blots appear on New Zealand’s democratic escutcheon. Indeed, this country boasts one of the longest continuously operating democratic political systems on earth. Since 1867 New Zealand’s parliament has reserved seats for the country’s indigenous population. In 1879, it granted full “manhood suffrage”. In 1893 the franchise was extended to include women. In 1969, the “voting age” was lowered from 21 to 20 years-of-age. Eighteen-year-olds were enfranchised in 1974. There is even a reasonable chance that at some point in the next decade the voting age will be lowered to 16 years. New Zealand is the only self-governing country that can boast an uninterrupted period of democratic government, based on universal suffrage, lasting 128 years. Certainly, none of our “Five Eyes Partners” can say as much!

With this history, one could be forgiven for assuming that faith in democracy would be stronger in New Zealand than anywhere else in the world. There are, however, worrying signs that New Zealand’s long democratic history has produced a sense of complacency among its citizens.

For decades, New Zealanders were famed for turning out to vote in record numbers. In the 1984 snap general election, for example, a record-breaking 93.7 percent of those registered to vote cast a ballot. In the intervening three decades, however, turnout has declined, falling to just 74.2 percent in 2011. Interestingly, the extraordinary “Covid Election” of 2020 registered a sharp improvement in turnout. At 82.5 percent, it was the highest since 1999.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Maori New Zealanders evince considerably less faith in democracy than their Pakeha compatriots. Certainly it is understandable why an indigenous people comprising only 16 percent of the total population might find reasons for looking at the principle of majority rule through narrowed eyes. The so-called “tyranny of the majority” has long been cited as one of the downsides of the democratic system of government. For an indigenous culture locked into permanent minority status, the dangers of uncompromising majoritarianism loom large.

Joining these Maori sceptics of democracy are those who are simply unwilling to accept formal political equality as the be-all and end-all of human rights. These are the people who enjoy quoting the Nineteenth Century French writer, Anatole France, who famously declared that: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” Or, as George Orwell slyly puts it in his political fable, Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

To be white, male, heterosexual, well-educated, and – of course – wealthy, is to enjoy a high degree of “privilege” in a culture where such distinctions are generally esteemed. Formal democratic equality, it is asserted, actually serves to mask this privilege and, by doing so, permits the disproportionate power conferred upon its possessors’ to be wielded with, if not impunity, then without serious challenge.

In its essence, this argument rejects the proposition that in a country like New Zealand all human-beings possess equal determinative influence. In effect, the possessors of privilege are said to enjoy super-human status. In short, they have the power to put their thumb on the scales of social justice, and secure for themselves an unfair share of society’s goods and services.

Democracy, as it is generally understood, is dismissed as a sham. Only when the privileges of these “supermen” are stripped from them can those who suffer from the deficiencies such inequity imposes: women, Maori, LGBTQI, the disabled; hope to enjoy the equal determinative influence they are entitled to as fully human beings.

By this reckoning, simply being human is no longer enough. True democracy cannot exist where privilege goes unchallenged and unchecked. It can only flourish where no one has to sleep under a bridge, beg in the streets, or steal bread. Where rape is unthinkable, and racism no more than an evil memory from a bitter past.


This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website of Monday, 3 May 2021.

Friday, 30 April 2021

Can Judith Collins Make Don Brash’s ‘Nationhood Soufflé’ Rise Twice?

Can She Raise It A Second Time? The question is: Can National’s current leader, Judith Collins, rely upon Don Brash’s Nationhood Soufflé recipe to produce an equally dramatic rise in her party’s fortunes? Or, in the intervening years, has the ideology of “Treatyism” persuaded enough New Zealanders to renounce the ideas which, in 2004, transformed National overnight from a party of the walking wounded into a serious electoral contender?

SEVENTEEN YEARS HAVE PASSED since Don Brash gave his in/famous “Nationhood” speech to the Orewa Rotary Club. On the strength of the sentiments communicated in that address, the Brash-led National Party leapt from a risible 28 percent in the polls to 45 percent. In a single 17-point bound, National was free of the clutches of its crushing 2002 election defeat. Had National’s chief strategist, Steven Joyce, not played silly-buggers with the Exclusive Brethren Church, there was every chance that 18 months later Brash would have become prime minister.

The question is: Can National’s current leader, Judith Collins, rely upon Brash’s Nationhood Soufflé recipe to produce an equally dramatic rise in her party’s fortunes? Or, in the intervening years, has the ideology of “Treatyism” persuaded enough New Zealanders to renounce the ideas which, in 2004, transformed National overnight from a party of the walking wounded into a serious electoral contender? More to the point, does Collins share Brash’s unwavering moral commitment to the ”single standard of citizenship” principle at the heart of his “Nationhood” address.

This is not an idle question. If Collins is unable to convince those voters who are either doubtful of, or openly hostile to, the Labour Government’s radical Treatyist agenda, that her opposition is authentic, then she is most unlikely to emulate Brash’s success. Love him or hate him, only the most rabid of his opponents doubted Brash’s sincerity on the “race issue”. Those who voted for him were absolutely certain that, if elected, he would fulfil his promise to remove all references to the Treaty of Waitangi and its ex post facto “principles” from the statute books; and that the Maori seats would, indeed, be abolished. Collins, if she is to capture the support National so desperately needs, must convince both her party, and the public, that the “separatism” she decries must – and will – be stopped in its tracks.

The slightest equivocation on this matter will convince even those who agree with Collins’ basic proposition that she cannot be trusted to see it through. Anything other than a rock-solid guarantee to uphold the core principles of liberal, colour-blind, democracy will only convince her potential supporters that her brave words are hollow: that, when push comes to shove, she, like all the others, will retreat before the relentless criticism of practically the entire political class. Does Collins have what it takes to hold her ground on the “race issue”? Does her caucus? We shall see.

The feeling that National needs to exploit, if it is to return to office in 2023, is the feeling shared by a great many voters that, no matter which party they vote for, the core settings of New Zealand society will not be changed. That the people “in charge” have absolutely no regard for, or interest in, the opinions of what Richard Nixon called “the great silent majority”. Indeed, many Kiwis are now uncertain whether or not their opinions are any longer shared by a majority of their fellow citizens, or whether they – and people who think like them – now constitute a minority of the New Zealand population.

On the “race issue” and “Treatyism”, this sense of being shut out of the debate is very far from being a figment of their imaginations. The politician most responsible for inserting “the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi” into legislation is the former constitutional law professor-turned-Labour-politician, Sir Geoffrey Palmer. In a paper entitled “Māori, the Treaty and the Constitution” delivered to a Maori Law Review symposium on 12 June 2013, he observed:

“These [legal] developments, and indeed later developments, have meant that substantial grievances of the Māori minority have a good chance of being handled in a principled fashion. Insulation from the ravages of extreme opinion has been achieved. The settlements have become mainstream.”

“The ravages of extreme opinion”. It is difficult to conceive of a phrase that more vividly sums up the way the New Zealand elites view the thoughts and feelings of their less elevated citizens. It would be equally difficult to locate a clearer confirmation of the widely held conviction that nothing ordinary Pakeha New Zealanders might say in relation to the “race issue”, or the Treaty’s place (if any) in this country’s constitutional arrangements, is likely to have the slightest effect upon the conduct of the powers-that-be.

Palmer, himself, confirmed as much in the same address when he stated: “My mail about the Treaty was always adverse and voluminous, but I was not deterred by it.”

What produced that extraordinary 17-point jump in National’s poll-ratings following Brash’s “Nationhood” speech was the electrifying collective conviction that Brash had listened to the opponents of Treatyism, heard their grievances, and was determined to give effect to their wishes.

Nothing mobilises voters faster or more effectively than the belief that, for once, their vote might actually count. Whether it be Dominic Cumming’s invitation to “Take Back Control”, or Donald Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again”, the idea that a visit to the ballot-box just might make a difference, almost always makes one helluva difference.

Collins’ predicament would be made a great deal easier if she and her team could avail themselves of solid data on New Zealanders’ views about the Treaty of Waitangi and the “race issue” generally. Twenty years ago this was a relatively straightforward process. In the 1990s, for example, one could turn to the reports of the New Zealand Study of Values (NZSV) for a very precise take on the public’s attitude to a whole host of economic, social and political issues.

In a little book entitled New Zealand Politics At The Turn Of The Millennium by Paul Perry and Alan Webster, which was based on these reports, New Zealanders attitudes towards the Treaty of Waitangi were set out very clearly.

In 1998 only 5.4 percent of those questioned believed that the Treaty should be strengthened and given the force of law. A quarter believed that Treaty claims should be dealt with through the Waitangi Tribunal “as it is at present”. Nearly 30 percent believed there needed to be greater limits on Maori claims under the Treaty. And 33.8 percent believed the Treaty should be abolished. Only 16.3 percent of those questioned responded positively to the idea of giving Maori special land and fishing rights to make up for past injustices.

When Don Brash delivered his “Nationhood” speech to those Orewa Rotarians in January 2004, his ideas fell upon fertile ground. We cannot be so sure that Collins’ views on separatism will be equally well-received. The NZSV ceased in 1998. For reasons one can only speculate about, academic interest in acquiring and publishing data on inconvenient public attitudes appears to have declined in the new millennium.

A great many of the New Zealanders who participated in those NZSV surveys more than two decades ago are no longer alive. Judith Collins must, therefore, make a big political bet. Have the numbers relating to the status of the Treaty of Waitangi, and to the “race issue” generally, become more favourable to the Treatyists – or more unfavourable? How many New Zealanders have changed their minds? More importantly, how many of them are willing to bet that National’s leader won’t change hers?


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 30 April 2021.

After Four Years In Office …

They Did This: On March 27th 1939, Michael Joseph Savage opened the new Social Security building. Built in just 7 weeks, the new structure replaced the half-completed Social Security headquarters destroyed in an arson attack on 2 February 1939. In his book The Quest For Security, W. B. Sutch recalled the ceremony taking place “in the presence of thousands of people, in time to mark, five days later, the end of poverty.”

IT’S 30 APRIL 1939, and the New Zealand Labour Party has been in office for nearly four years. On the 15 October 1938, the government of Michael Joseph Savage had been re-elected with 55 percent of the popular vote – a still unsurpassed level of support.

April 1939 began with the coming into force of the Social Security Act. Described by the National Party as “applied lunacy”, and by the Labour leader as “applied Christianity”, the Act represented one of the most far-reaching social reforms ever undertaken by a New Zealand government.

Just how popular Labour’s social reforms were among the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders was revealed when, on the morning of 2 February 1939, the half-completed Social Welfare departmental headquarters situated in Aitken Street, not far from Parliament Buildings, was burned to the ground in a deliberate arson attack. Savage refused to be daunted by this overt act of far-right defiance. “We have got to get the Social Security Act working on April 1st and it’s going to work”, Savage told the country.

The Labour prime minister was as good as his word. “We are not going to weep,” Savage’s irrepressible Minister of Public Works, Bob Semple, bellowed. “It is a question of getting our backs into it, and getting the job done.”

While firefighters were still dampening down the smoking ruins on Aitken Street, Semple promised the construction of a replacement building within six weeks. The Public Works Department, Fletcher Construction, and the building firm of R.C. Love began work immediately on a site in Aotea Quay.

This breakneck schedule would “necessitate the working of two 10-hour shifts”, James Fletcher admitted, “and it is anticipated that approximately 150 men will be required for each shift”. The normally obstreperous building trades unions agreed to work the site around the clock. Fletcher and Love agreed to take no profit.

Thirty years later, the eminent public servant and historian W. B. Sutch, recalled the almost festive atmosphere that permeated the construction site: “Wellington citizens daily visited the job to share, to encourage, and to offer, at breaks, refreshment for weary workers.” Astonishingly, the construction was completed in seven weeks – just 7 days shy of Semple’s wildly optimistic target. Even the normally hostile journalists of the daily press were forced to acknowledge “an achievement never approached in New Zealand before.” On March 27th 1939, Savage opened the new building. In his book The Quest For Security, Sutch recalled the ceremony taking place “in the presence of thousands of people, in time to mark, five days later, the end of poverty.”

When the First Labour Government said “Let’s do this!” – it meant it.

Because, of course, the Social Security Act (1939) and the herculean rebuilding of the new department’s headquarters, were not the only things Labour was able to show after nearly four years in power. Between 1935 and 1939 Savage’s housing czar, the charismatic John A. Lee, had overseen the construction of thousands of so-called “state houses”. According to Sutch: “[D]uring 1937 there were three times the number of houses built compared with 1932 or 1933; by 1938 this had risen to five times”. By 1940-41 fully 40 percent of all houses built in New Zealand were state houses.

It is important to remember that the Members of Parliament who served in the First Labour Government were overwhelmingly drawn from the same working-class that made up the solid core of the Labour Party’s electoral base. Hardly any of them had much in the way of formal education. University graduates were few and far between. Trade unionists, on the other hand, were sufficiently plentiful to secure the passage of a bill making union membership universal across most of the New Zealand workforce. For good measure, they also reduced the working-week to 40 hours.

Like the Sixth Labour Government of Jacinda Ardern, Mickey Savage’s ministry was fond of harking back to the darkest days of the Great Depression, when New Zealanders were subject to the tender mercies of the right-wing coalition of George Forbes and Gordon Coates. Unlike Jacinda’s government, however, Savage’s never resorted to highlighting the Tories’ failures as a way of justifying its own.

Michael Joseph Savage made a promise to transform New Zealand, and nothing – not even a right-wing arsonist in Aitken Street – was going to prevent him from keeping it.


This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 30 April 2021.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Winston's Comeback: A Strategy.

On The Comeback Trail? Having followed it all the way to the Deputy Prime Ministership and a coalition with National in 1996, Winston Peters is well aware of right-wing populism’s advantages and disadvantages. Few New Zealand politicians possess a better appreciation of how well anti-Maori and anti-Asian messages are received by large sections of the electorate. He is also aware of how much more effectively these familiar right-wing themes might be “sold” to conservative voters if they were associated with the “evils” of “liberal wokedom”.

IS WINSTON PETERS on the comeback trail? At 76 years of age, there are many who say that Winston is too old to contemplate a return to Parliament. Then again, the President of the United States, Joe Biden, was 78 years old when he took the Oath of Office on 20 January 2021. So … maybe not. But, if he is serious about taking the comeback trail (and there are many well-placed to know who insist that he is) then from what quarter of the political compass should Winston set out? And, who will provide him with the wherewithal for what is always a very costly journey?

Winston’s knows well the path he and NZ First would be best advised to follow. It is a path with which the NZ First leader is already thoroughly familiar. Having followed it all the way to the Deputy Prime Ministership and a coalition with National in 1996, he is well aware of right-wing populism’s advantages and disadvantages. Few New Zealand politicians possess a better appreciation of how well anti-Maori and anti-Asian messages are received by large sections of the electorate. He is also aware of how much more effectively these familiar right-wing themes might be “sold” to conservative voters if they were associated with the “evils” of “liberal wokedom”.

It is often forgotten by those on the Left who range themselves alongside tangata whenua struggling for tino rangatiratanga and a te Tiriti-based constitution, that by no means all Maori subscribe to their cause. As was the case in the 1850s and 60s, there is a substantial number of Maori who are much more concerned to get their share of the good things made possible by the Settler State than they are with restoring the cultural status-quo ante. Winston is the perfect representative of these Maori, and in that role is able to attack “separatists” and their “sickly white liberal” allies with, if not impunity, then a great deal more success than any right-wing Pakeha politician attempting to do the same.

As the bi-cultural agenda set forth in the controversial He Puapua report becomes more widely known, and uneasiness among Pakeha voters grows, the National Party, Act and NZ First will vie with one another for the “honour” of leading the fightback against separatism and wokeness.

For the moment, the advantage lies with Act, whose leader, David Seymour, is currently fronting a nationwide campaign against the proposed criminalisation of “hate speech”. He is also deploying to good effect the divisive content of He Puapua on the floor of the House.

National, by contrast, has so far failed to distinguish itself in any of these battles. Inwardly focused, and bereft of serious political talent, the largest party of the Right, to the dismay of its followers, drifts aimlessly: a ship becalmed by its captain’s inability to catch any breeze strong enough to carry it out of the doldrums of electoral defeat.

National’s inaction leaves plenty of space for a reinvigorated NZ First to fill – if only Winston can find the money required to fund a credible comeback. Money (or the lack of it) has always been Winston’s and NZ First’s Achilles Heel. Time and again funding issues and problematic political donations have figured in the events that resulted in NZ First (and its leader) being voted out of Parliament. These misfortunes have made the raising of party funds an increasingly fraught undertaking. Potential donors could be forgiven for looking upon Winston in the same way aristocratic English ladies once looked upon Lord Byron: as someone “mad, bad and dangerous to know”. What NZ First needs is an injection of cash from donors with deep pockets and the skills to deploy it without precipitating another funding scandal.

Over recent years the place to go looking for this sort of assistance has been at discreet gatherings of Chinese business investors and their consular guides. Certainly, both National and Labour have benefitted from accepting such invitations. There’s no point in Winston attending these gatherings, however. Not when, as New Zealand’s foreign minister, he made it so very clear where his allegiances lay. Winston Peters, like his namesake, Winston Churchill, believes in the historical mission of “the English-speaking peoples”. Washington long ago marked him down as an “asset”. Beijing sees him as an adversary. From a Chinese perspective, keeping Winston out of Parliament serves their country’s interests much better than financing his triumphant return.

The Americans, on the other hand, have everything to gain by assisting Winston back into the role of king/queen-maker. With the “balance of responsibility” (as he likes to call the balance of power) Winston could furnish both National and Labour with a plausible excuse for distancing themselves from Beijing. The major parties’ leaders would be able to reassure the Chinese: “You know how we feel, but, what can we do? Without Winston, we cannot form a government. For the time being, we’re going to have to make nice with Washington. Please try to understand.”

To avoid the damaging charge of being Washington’s poodle, Winston and his party could play the Five Eyes card. If anyone can sell the argument that New Zealand’s fundamental interests lie in reaffirming its identity as a loyal member of the family of democratic, English-speaking nations, it’s Winston Peters. Certainly, the enunciation of such a position would be music to the ears of not only the Americans, but also the Australians, British and Canadians. The sort of music that could very easily persuade those nations to toss a goodly sum of money (via appropriate surrogates) into NZ First’s hat.

Nothing would be gained by Winston and his party following their usual practice of attempting to keep the sources of their financial support secret. Indeed, with a bit of luck he could turn the enthusiastic support of New Zealand’s traditional allies into an invaluable political asset. Anti-Chinese sentiment is growing in New Zealand at about the same rate as the electorate’s unease with the Ardern Government’s support for the liberal woke agenda. By casting himself as the defender of New Zealand’s classical liberal-democratic values, and his opponents as the enemies of those values, the moral and financial support of traditional allies might be transmuted into electoral gold.

Such is the nature of political competition that NZ First making itself the champion of a return to the English-speaking fold would trigger a powerful “patriotic” response from the National Party. As the principal representative of the Right, National simply could not afford to cede so much of its ideological territory to Act and NZ First. In short order, all three right-wing parties would take on the appearance of a solid electoral bloc committed to severing the ties binding Wellington to Beijing. Labour would be most unlikely to allow itself to be electorally positioned as the unpatriotic stooge of the Chinese Communist Party. It’s best bet would be to repudiate Nanaia Mahuta’s independent foreign policy and try to pass itself off as the leader of the new Anglophone realignment.

As a way of capping-off the NZ First leader’s career, this returning-New Zealand-to-the-English-speaking-fold strategy is hard to beat. In all the capitals that matter to him, Winston would be fêted as the statesman who brought New Zealand to its senses. For the many honours that would be showered upon him by a grateful Right – both at home and abroad – New Zealand’s loss of the Chinese market would not be counted too high a price.


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 29 April 2021.

Monday, 26 April 2021

Anzac Day 2021: Myths Under Pressure.

Imperial Mission: All nations need myths: common narratives – usually heroic, or tragic, or both – with which to bind their citizens to the state with just the right mixture of awe, pity, gratitude and pride. New Zealand’s historical myths were initially crafted to instil loyalty to the imperial British mission, and have maintained a remarkably tenacious grip on the public imagination.

NICHOLAS BOYACK’S controversial commentary piece for Stuff is a harbinger of historical controversies to come. Published just 48 hours before Anzac Day’s dawn parades, Boyack’s “We need an honest debate on Gallipoli and a fresh approach to history”, offers an unashamedly revisionist take on the Gallipoli landings. Not surprisingly, it aroused powerful emotions in Stuff’s readers.

Predictably, many of these emotions reflected the affronted nationalism of adherents to the official version of the Anzac story. More interesting, however, were the responses signalling sympathy with Boyack’s anti-imperialistic views.

With the current government strongly committed to overseeing a revolution in the teaching of New Zealand history, Boyack’s Anzac bombshell looks set to be just the first of many such attacks on our national myths. There are few individuals more subversive of the status quo than historians on a mission.

All nations need myths: common narratives – usually heroic, or tragic, or both – with which to bind their citizens to the state with just the right mixture of awe, pity, gratitude and pride. New Zealand’s historical myths were initially crafted to instil loyalty to the imperial British mission, and have maintained a remarkably tenacious grip on the public imagination. The second great wave of national mythmaking gathered strength in the 1950s and 60s and was aimed at inculcating a robust faith in New Zealand’s “progressive” impulses – the reforms that made “little New Zealand” the “social laboratory of the world”. The grip of this second iteration of “New Zealand-ness” turned out to be considerably weaker than the first.

The proof of the imperial mythology’s enduring strength has just been presented to us in the impressive numbers once-again turning out for the traditional Anzac dawn parades. The devotion of the young to the Anzac Myth has perplexed and delighted not only traditional historians, but the entire New Zealand political class.

It was, after all, the young New Zealanders of the 1970s and 80s who had offered up the first serious challenges to the monolithic imperial mythology of the “RSA Generation”. Provoked, at least initially, by New Zealand’s involvement in the Vietnam War, Anzac revisionism soon expanded into a critique of the deeply-ingrained conservative values, and limited political vision, of the taciturn Kiwi blokes who returned from World War II. The fear was that as those with personal memories of the First and Second World Wars became fewer and fewer the Anzac spirit would also march away, shoulder-to-shoulder, with their ghosts.

The Scotsman-turned-Aussie songwriter, Eric Bogle, summed-up this anxiety in his famous song about Gallipoli “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”

And so now every April, I sit on me porch
And I watch the parades pass before me
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reviving old dreams of past glories
And the old men march slowly, old bones stiff and sore
They’re tired old heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, “what are they marching for?”
And I ask myself the same question

But the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call
But as year follows year, more old men disappear
Someday no one will march there at all


Except, astonishingly, the thinning ranks of the world war veterans were filled by their children, grandchildren and, by 2021, their great-grandchildren. The Baby Boom generation may have been sceptical of Anzac Day and what it stood for, but Generation X et seq embraced the Gallipoli myth with a passion that was little short of embarrassing. The question is: Why?

Much of the answer is doubtless bound up with the dramatic social and economic transformations of the 1980s and 90s. The free-market reforms that characterised the political histories of both Australia and New Zealand during that critical period effectively put paid to the “progressive” mythologies of the Anzac “brothers” – represented most forcefully by the Labour governments of Gough Whitlam and Norman Kirk.

Globalisation was an important part of the sales pitch of their successors, Bob Hawke and David Lange, and their respective finance ministers, Paul Keating and Roger Douglas. The only problem being that a political project based on giving de-regulated capitalism its head is extremely difficult to reconcile with the tightly regulated capitalism of the social-democratic Australia and New Zealand which Hawke and Lange were in the process of sweeping away. With the costumes of “progressive nationalism” now passé, the Anzac brothers had little other recourse but to reach into the depths of their national memory chests for the imperial paraphernalia of an even older era.

That the Anzac nations did not emerge from this re-invention exercise wearing pretty much the same clobber is due to New Zealand’s nuclear-free policy. Cold-shouldered by Canberra and Washington, and scolded by the British, New Zealand’s embrace of the old imperial myths was tempered by its new status as the scourge of the English-speaking nuclear powers. For a while, at least, this gave to New Zealand’s Anzac Day commemorations a decidedly Blackadder Goes Forth flavour. While the Aussies become increasingly jingoistic (to the point of almost forgetting what the “nz” in Anzac stands for) the Kiwis played up the horror and tragedy of war.

Unfortunately for the New Zealand political class, that doesn’t really work. Play up the horror and tragedy of war too poignantly and people cannot avoid questioning the point of going to war at all. Moreover, it’s only a short step from recognising the futility of war to grasping, as Nicholas Boyack does so persuasively in his commentary, the less-than-honourable motivations of the imperial politicians who refused to stop the war; and the willingness of New Zealand’s politicians to trade so much blood for butter.

And so it is that the rattle of imperial harness has become more and more a feature of Anzac Day commemorations. Youngsters, in particular, will declaim proudly on how the Anzacs went to war for “freedom” and “democracy”, rather than to strengthen the Mother Country’s grip on the oil reserves of the Middle East. One is moved to wonder if the new and compulsory New Zealand history curriculum will appraise these young New Zealanders of the fact that the wartime government of William Massey considered it advisable to lock up freedom and democracy for the duration: conscripting socialist MPs and subjecting the Christian pacifist, Archibald Baxter, to the torture of “Field Punishment No.1”

“It is time for a national debate on our history, focusing on what we can do to lift the standard in schools and universities” says Nicholas Boyack. “We also need to stop peddling myths about Gallipoli and New Zealand nationalism, and take a more honest approach to our history.”

Ah, yes, but that will entail emulating the sorcerer in Aladdin who offered new lamps for old. And when our historians set about exchanging old national myths for brand new ones, who knows what sort of genies will be summoned forth – or what they will be asked to do?


This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website on Monday, 26 April 2021.

Friday, 23 April 2021

Labour’s Health Reforms: Boldly Going Where It Might Not Be Wise To Venture.

Breaking Bold: Andrew Little's reform of the health sector smacks of the sort of desperation that seizes politicians who know very well what the solution to the problem facing them is, but, having been told they cannot choose that solution, have opted to distract us with something so huge that our first instinct is to say: “Crikey! They’d hardly choose to do something this big if the odds of it succeeding weren’t exceptionally high.” But, are they?

THERE IS NOTHING WRONG with being bold, the real trick is to be bold about the right things. Is “Health New Zealand” (HNZ) the right thing? Labour supporters are saying it is with a suspicious degree of vehemence. (The sort of vehemence usually reserved for the defence of a dear friend who has done something that we all know, deep down, is really, really stupid.)

Meanwhile, the National Party has promised to repeal the legislation setting up HNZ the moment it’s re-elected. For good measure, they’re labelling the proposed Maori Health Authority (MHA) “separatist”.

So, there you have it. This “bold” reformation of New Zealand’s health system will proceed without the slightest hint of bi-partisan consensus. Excellent.

What do I think of Labour’s proposed reform? From what I’ve been able to glean over the course of the past few hours, the whole exercise smacks of the sort of desperation that seizes politicians who know very well what the solution to the problem facing them is, but, having been told they cannot choose that solution, have opted to distract us with something so huge that our first instinct is to say: “Crikey! They’d hardly choose to do something this big if the odds of it succeeding weren’t exceptionally high.”

It’s a good trick – but is it the right trick?

Regretfully, I’m forced to say “No.”

What has been at the root of our health system’s problems for the past 30 years? Inadequate funding and a management regime intended to replicate the incentives and disciplines of the free market. As New Zealand’s population has aged, the demands upon its public health system have steadily increased. Unfortunately, this rising level of demand has coincided with the imposition of neoliberal economics. Accordingly, from the mid-1980s onwards, the necessary fiscal adjustments have been deemed impermissible by politicians and bureaucrats alike. Rather than raising taxes to fund New Zealand’s hard-pressed health system, successive governments have commanded those charged with running it do more and more with (in real terms) less and less.

Had Andrew Little and his colleagues announced this morning that, thanks to a major fiscal re-jig (to be announced later in the day by Finance Minister, Grant Robertson) there was to be a significant and permanent increase in Vote Health, then we would have been able to say that this government had indeed grasped the nettle of reform. If they’d also announced a return to the ratio of administrators to health professionals that prevailed in the early 1980s, then we could be certain that what we were witnessing was a wholesale repudiation of the neoliberal model in health delivery. That would have been “transformational” – with bells on.

Sadly, that is not what Little and his colleagues announced. Rather than more money, more professionals and fewer administrative overseers, this government has opted to construct a massive single bureaucracy out of its current collection of 20 smaller bureaucracies. There is no hint that this new HNZ bureaucracy will be run on anything other than neoliberal lines. The same determination to prevent “professional capture” of the health service will lead to exactly the same sort of bureaucratic interference that eliminated the outstanding professional leadership of the Canterbury District Health Board only a few months ago.

For good measure, the new health system has been shorn of all the pitiful vestiges of democratic accountability still clinging to the DHB model. How the new, improved, neoliberal bureaucrats of HNZ will be held to account is anybody’s guess.

“But what about the new Maori Health Authority?”, I hear you ask. “Surely this innovation is an unequivocally progressive advance?” We must certainly hope so, but even here the Labour Government’s proposals fill me with nagging doubts.

In this morning’s media release, the Minister announced that: “A new Māori Health Authority will have the power to commission health services, monitor the state of Māori health and develop policy.”

On its face, this sounds excellent. Indisputably, Maori and Pacifica New Zealanders fare much worse at the hands of their health system than Pakeha New Zealanders. A MHA run by Maori, for Maori, is surely more likely to produce better results than the present system, which insists on treating all patients “the same” – regardless of the very different (i.e. inferior) health outcomes its one-size-fits-all approach produces.

If, however, we unpick the Minister’s statement, it becomes apparent immediately that the MHA will not, itself, be the provider of Maori health services. These will be “commissioned” by the Authority: presumably from private Maori contractors. Exactly who these contractors will be is not spelled out. Urban Maori Authorities will almost certainly be involved, as will health providers established by Iwi. We may even see the rise of Maori health entrepreneurs: individuals keen to profit from the needs identified by the MHA’s “monitors”.

If Little had announced that HNZ would be commissioning private sector providers to supply the health needs of New Zealanders, then the Left would have condemned him roundly. Labour would stand accused of privatising the public health system. People would demand to know how the citizen’s right to publicly provided health care can possibly be reconciled with the pursuit of private profit. That no such outcry has greeted the Government’s decision to hand over the health care of New Zealand’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens to private entities – some of them quite likely profit-seeking businesses – is telling.

Is Labour of the view that Maori are incapable of exploiting Maori? Is it saying that the operating principles of capitalism cease to function when the capitalists’ skins are brown? That indigenous people, simply by virtue of being indigenous, possess moral qualities that render them incapable of wrongdoing and that, as a consequence, they must be permitted to operate freely, without the strict bureaucratic oversight deemed essential for businesses conducted by the descendants of settlers and immigrants? Surely not.

Labour might also like to answer how it could possibly be in the MHA’s interest to report anything other than a strong improvement in Maori health outcomes. Were it ever to report that in spite of its best efforts the general health of Maori New Zealanders, as compared to Pakeha, continues to decline, then one of the key rationales for its establishment would be seriously compromised. Is it reasonable to ask the MHA to be a judge in its own cause?

Readers may find these propositions jarring, but that will not stop them being advanced by Labour’s political opponents. Indeed, it is happening already. What’s more, if any of them turn out to be true, then Labour’s health reforms will stand revealed as the wrong sort of boldness. Jacinda’s government will have tricked itself.


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 22 April 2021.

The Kangaroo Encounters The Taniwha.

Uncomfortable: Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, along with the rest of the Five Eyes Partners, were shocked to hear New Zealand's Foreign Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, tell the New Zealand-China Council: “It’s a matter that we have raised with Five Eyes partners; that we are uncomfortable with expanding the remit of the Five Eyes relationship; that we would much rather prefer looking for multilateral opportunities to express our interests on a number of issues.”

ON WEDNESDAY, when the Australian Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, met with our own, Nanaia Mahuta, diplomatic sparks undoubtedly flew. By then, Payne would have had plenty of time to analyse the content of Mahuta’s ground-shifting speech to the New Zealand-China Council on Monday. If that wasn’t enough to turn her face to flint, then it’s hard to know what could. Australia has made no secret of its desire to see the Kiwis straighten up and fly right for their Five Eyes partners. That Mahuta announced New Zealand’s intention of doing no such thing would certainly have sent sparks flying all over Canberra.

The Australians would’ve been no more interested than the Chinese in all the usual diplomatic ruffage in Mahuta’s speech. The only line that would have made them sit up and take notice was this one:

“It’s a matter that we have raised with Five Eyes partners; that we are uncomfortable with expanding the remit of the Five Eyes relationship; that we would much rather prefer looking for multilateral opportunities to express our interests on a number of issues.”

In plain English:

New Zealand is unwilling to go along with the Five Eyes intelligence gathering operation being expanded into a full-scale diplomatic and military alliance.

That is NOT what the Aussies were expecting, or wanting, to hear. Up until Mahuta’s appointment as foreign minister, New Zealand’s diplomatic (and military) direction of travel had been set by the Five-Eyes-friendly Winston Peters and his Defence Minister sidekick Ron Mark. The idea of New Zealand being welcomed back into the bosom of what Peters’ namesake, Winston Churchill, called “The English-Speaking Peoples” was one that warmed the cockles of the NZ First Leader’s heart.

Reading Peters speeches, it is clear that Canberra (and Washington, London and Ottawa) had allowed itself to hope that not only was Wellington finally prepared to set aside all that 1980s “nuclear-free” nonsense, but that it was also ready to make the key conceptual leap from the old “Asia-Pacific” to the new “Indo-Pacific” diplomatic paradigm.

Aimed directly at the Peoples Republic of China, the Indo-Pacific strategy of containment pits the combined military might of the United States, Japan, India and Australia against the burgeoning capability of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army. Encouraged by Peters anti-Chinese rhetoric, did New Zealand’s Five Eyes partners indulge the wild surmise that New Zealand was preparing to resume its strategic role as the guardian of Australia’s eastern flank? If so, then Mahuta has dashed their hopes most cruelly.

Contained in her address to the New Zealand-China Council (the venue, alone, should have put the other four “Eyes” on alert) is the outline of a wholly new set of foreign policy objectives. At the heart of Mahuta’s plan is the Pacific nation “Aotearoa”. As the largest of the South Pacific island nations, “Aotearoa” intends to articulate and defend the interests of the region in a proudly indigenous fashion.

“I believe our foreign policy settings can be enhanced by te Tiriti,” said Mahuta. “The principles of partnership, active participation and protection can be called upon to enable equity and tino rangatiratanga (self-determination).”

Mahuta’s title for her address, “The Dragon and the Taniwha”, must have sent the diplomatic corps scurrying for a dictionary of Maori myths and legends. What did she mean?

Given her comments about the predicament of small South Pacific nations currently overburdened by Chinese debt, Beijing might consider mollifying the Taniwha by writing-off these onerous “development” loans. How better to reward Wellington for stepping away from the rapidly solidifying anti-Chinese alliance? How better to signal to the nations of the South Pacific that Aotearoa-New Zealand’s new regional diplomacy deserves their enthusiastic support?

The veteran political journalist, Richard Harman, describes Mahuta’s diplomatic gambit as “arguably one of the most important made by a foreign minister in recent years”. Describing the speech as “subtly and carefully worded”, Harman argues that “with its declaration that we would no longer participate in the Five Eyes alliance’s broader political and security campaigns, it may prove to be as important as the 1984–87 Labour Government’s anti-nuclear speeches which led to New Zealand being expelled from ANZUS.”

Certainly, Bob Hawke resented David Lange’s do-it-yourself diplomacy. At the very least, Marise Payne, will be telling Nanaia to tell her mate, Jacinda, that “Australia’s not happy about this – not happy at all.”


This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 23 April 2021.