LIVIA HATED THESE ASSIGNMENTS, she hadn’t joined the DPMC to sit at the feet of spooks. But, here she was, standing in the lift at the SIS headquarters on Pipitea Street, off to be brought up to speed on the 2021 National Security Intelligence Priorities – Whakaarotau Marumaru Aotearoa. And it wasn’t even Kitteridge she was going to see. She didn’t mind Kitteridge. For a Boomer, Kitteridge was okay. No, she was probably going to be met by one of those relics from the Cold War era. God! How she hated all that ancient history. They might as well be talking about the Peloponnesian War!
“Hi, you must be Livia. I’m Simon, come on in. Would you like some tea? I’ve just brewed some.”
Well now, this wasn’t a relic. Not at all. He couldn’t have been much older than herself. Lanky and dishevelled in an interesting sort of way, with a mop of brown hair that made him look like one of the Beatles. Livia gave him her best smile. This might not be so bad after all.
Nursing her mug of tea, and trying to ignore its jokey message: “NZSIS – the only government department that’s interested in citizens’ complaints.”; Livia waited for Simon to begin.
“Don’t worry if you haven’t read more than the Executive Summary, Livia, no one else has. We have to prepare one of these damn things every year, and to tell the truth anyone mad enough to actually plough through the whole text would notice that huge chunks of it are exactly the same as the year before’s. I take it you’re here because you drew the short straw and will be expected to brief the PM?”
“Something like that,” Livia replied – slightly taken aback by the young man’s flippant manner.
“Right, well, let’s get to it. Basically, we are alerting the Government to the same two basic national security threats that we always alert them to: threats from outside New Zealand; threats from inside New Zealand. Although we’re pretty careful not to be too specific – at least, not in the passages deemed fit for public release – the two biggest outside threats facing New Zealand, apart from the United States and Australia, are – surprise, surprise – China and Russia. And the biggest internal threat facing Aotearoa, apart from the Government’s own policies, of course, is ethno-nationalism. This comes in two basic flavours: Pakeha ethno-nationalism, and Māori ethno-nationalism. Right now we’re not quite sure which of those two poses the bigger threat.”
Livia hastily deposited her mug on the coffee table set between them, and started flicking madly through the report.
“It can’t possibly say that, surely?”
Simon laughed uproariously.
“No! God! No! Of course it doesn’t. It’s all dressed up in the usual impenetrable bureaucratese like ‘coercive statecraft of foreign actors against New Zealand’ and ‘manipulation of our information environment’. We’re committed to ‘understanding the trends and characteristics of the violent extremism strategic environment’.”
So, how do you get from all this incomprehensible verbiage to the outrageous comments you were making a few minutes ago? I don’t understand.”
“Well, Livia, there’s what we tell the world, and then there’s what we tell ourselves and, sometimes, the Government. This current PM is pretty smart. She gets it. You don’t need to sugar-coat the analysis too much when you’re dealing with Jacinda. I’m picking you’re not interested in the sugary version either.”
Livia gave him a long, level, look.
“No. I try to avoid sugary things, Simon.”
“Good. So this is where New Zealand really stands. Right now, neither Canberra nor Washington gives a rat’s arse that by joining them in their big push against China and Russia we are courting economic ruin. They just keep pushing and pushing, and we have no choice but to push, as gently as we can, alongside them. So, of course, Beijing and Moscow push back. Not all that hard – not at the moment anyway – but hard enough for us to know that they’re there, and that, if they chose, they could push a lot harder. So, that’s the external threat. Internally, the situation is the same as its been ever since the 1980s. Māori want their country back, and the New Zealand state is no longer strong enough to stop them. So, it placates them: pays the Danegeld to prevent matters spiralling out of control.”
“God, Simon, that’s so cynical!”
Really? … Huh … But, what else did you think the ‘Treaty Settlement Process’ was intended to achieve? The idea was always to build up a Māori middle-class as quickly as possible, entrust them with a palpable stake in the economy, and then work with them in a ‘Treaty Partnership’ to keep the country on an even keel. The problem, of course, is that when the New Zealand state aligns itself so unequivocally with Māori, it cannot avoid generating resentment, and eventually a dangerous push-back, from the Pakeha majority. As with the external threats, our internal threats have us caught between a rock and a hard place.”
“Yeah, it’s quite a balancing act. And we can’t rely upon the news media to suppress the Pakeha push-back for ever. The idea that the state is censoring out the ideas of the majority is, in itself, a goad to all manner of crazy Pakeha ethno-nationalists. Our agents are picking up an unmistakable drumbeat of resistance to this Government’s overtly bi-cultural policies – ‘co-governance’ in particular. Right-wing Pakeha males are radicalising – fast. Watching them is now a priority. How did we put it in the Report? Ah, yes, here it is. ‘The service is devoting considerable resources to the identification of likely sources of violent extremism threats and their potential terrorist methods, including radicalisation, facilitation, planning, financing and other forms of support.’ You look shocked, Livia.”
“Are you telling me that the PM is aware of all this – and agrees with it?”
Simon, put down his copy of the Report gently on the table.
“Pretty much. There’s a part of her that wants to do the bi-cultural thing anyway – simply because she believes it’s the right thing to do. Another part of her, the party leader part, knows she can’t afford to alienate her Māori caucus. But the best part of her, the stateswoman part, simply accepts that we are a dangerously exposed, economically dependent, former settler-state situated at the bottom of the world, and that we are rapidly running out of options. That’s the Jacinda who is willing to dance, as lightly and gracefully as she can, the oldest dance of all. The dance of keeping the peace. The dance of survival.”
“I had no idea, Simon, absolutely no idea.”
“Very few people do, Livia. Would I be breaking too many rules if I were to offer you a glass of decent Irish whiskey? You look as though you could use one.”
Livia smiled wanly at the young man seated before her. Through the window she could see towering rainclouds massing over the Rimutakas. She shuddered.
“Rules? Sounds like we’re breaking those up as we go along, Simon. Pour away.”
This short story was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 17 December 2021.