Tuesday 31 May 2022

Nanaia Mahuta’s Super-Narrative.

Dangerous Political Narrator? What this Labour Government risks is the emergence of what might be called a “super-narrative” in which all the negatives of co-governance, media capture, and Neo-Tribal Capitalism are rolled into one big story about the deliberate corruption of New Zealand democracy. The guilty parties would be an unholy alliance of Pakeha and Māori elites determined to keep public money flowing upwards into protected private hands. 

WHETHER NANAIA MAHUTA followed the conflict-of-interest rules set out in The Cabinet Manual hardly matters. A dangerous political narrative is forming around the appointment of, and awarding of contracts to, Mahuta’s whanau in circumstances that, at the very least, raise serious questions about this Government’s political judgement. Enlarging this narrative is the growing public perception that the mainstream news media is refusing to cover a story that would, in other circumstances, have attracted intense journalistic interest. The conflation of these two, highly damaging narratives with a third – the even more negative narrative of “co-governance” – has left the Labour Government in an extremely exposed and vulnerable position.

The Government’s failure to adequately prepare the New Zealand public for what Labour clearly regards as the inevitability of co-governance hasn’t helped. The party did not campaign on the issue, and kept He Puapua, the controversial “road-map” to full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – i.e. co-governance – by 2040, under wraps. Similarly unheralded was the Government’s determination to establish a separate Māori Health Authority. And the application of co-governance principles to Mahuta’s deeply unpopular “Three Waters” project has done nothing to allay public fears that the country is being changed, in fundamental ways, without the electorate’s consent.

The apparent failure of the mainstream news media to follow up on the story is being attributed to the extraordinary conditions attached to the Public Interest Journalism Fund administered by New Zealand On Air. In essence, these conditions require media outlets in receipt of the Fund’s largesse to subscribe in advance to a highly contentious series of propositions concerning the Treaty of Waitangi – most particularly to the Waitangi Tribunal’s claim the Māori never ceded sovereignty to the British Crown, and that this “fact” requires the Fund’s recipients to accept and support the “partnership” model of Crown-Māori relations. The fear expressed by independent journalists is that the net effect of these conditions will be unquestioning mainstream media support for co-governance.

Since the widespread assumption among Pakeha New Zealanders is that co-governance and representative democracy are fundamentally incompatible, Labour’s willingness to be presented as co-governance’s friend runs the risk of being cast as democracy’s enemy.

Of even greater concern is the inevitability of this anti-democratic characterisation being extended to an ever-increasing fraction of the Māori population. Statements from Māori leaders appearing to discount the importance of, or even disparage, the principles of democracy have done little to slow this process. Neither have the intemperate statements of the former National Party Minister for Treaty Settlements, Chris Finlayson. His comment to the online magazine E-Tangata, describing those opposed to co-governance as “the KKK brigade”, merely reinforces the widespread public perception that the slightest public opposition to the proposed changes will bring down accusations of racism upon the opponent’s head.

The problem with this willingness to indulge in ad hominem attacks on people holding genuine reservations about the Government’s proposals is that more and more of them will decide that they might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, and embrace the very racism of which they stand accused. In this context, the revelations that some members of a Māori Minister of the Crown’s whanau have been the recipients of Government funds, and appointed to roles not unrelated to the furtherance of the Minister’s policies, will be taken as confirmation that all is not as it should be in Aotearoa-New Zealand.

What began as an anti-co-governance narrative, and then merged with an anti-mainstream news media narrative, risks joining with a much older and more deeply entrenched narrative concerning the entire Treaty settlement process. This is the narrative that identifies the primary beneficiaries of Treaty settlements as a collection of Crown-assembled tribal elites, along with their legal and commercial advisers. Over the past thirty years these “Neo-Tribal Capitalists” have been accused of investing hundreds-of-millions of taxpayer dollars in what amount to private tribal corporations, over which the intended recipients of these funds – hapu and whanau – exercise only the most indirect authority and receive only the most meagre of rewards.

The result could very easily be the emergence of what might be called a “super-narrative” in which all the negatives of co-governance, media capture, and Neo-Tribal Capitalism are rolled into one big story about the deliberate corruption of New Zealand democracy. The guilty parties would be an unholy alliance of Pakeha and Māori elites determined to keep public money flowing upwards into protected private hands. In this super-narrative, the structures set forth in He Puapua to secure tino rangatiratanga, will actually ensure the exclusion of the vast majority of New Zealanders from the key locations of power. The only positive consequence of which will be a common struggle for political and economic equality in which non-elite Māori and Pakeha will have every incentive to involve themselves.

The painful irony of this super-narrative scenario is that Labour will have positioned itself as its cause – not its remedy. Rather than repeating in the Twenty-First Century the fruitful political alliance between the Pakeha working-class and the victims/survivors of the deals done between the Crown and the Māori aristocracy in the Nineteenth and Twentieth, Labour will be seen to have facilitated the creation of a Treaty Partnership that not only undermines democracy, but also exacerbates the inequality between Māori and Pakeha, Pakeha and Pakeha, Māori and Māori.

What lies ahead, as the institutions of co-governance take shape, is the coming together of two very privileged birds of a feather: the Pakeha professionals and managers who have taken command of the society and economy created by Neoliberalism, and the Māori professionals and managers created to produce and operate the cultural and economic machinery of Neo-Tribal Capitalism.

This, ultimately, will be the spectre that arises out of the controversy swirling around Nanaia Mahuta. The spectre of the worst of both the Pakeha and the Māori worlds. Worlds in which the powerful trample all over the weak. Where tradition constrains the free exploration of ideas and techniques. And where the petty advantages of separation are elevated above the liberating effects of unity. Where “Aotearoa” creates two peoples out of one.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 31 May 2022.

The World’s Rapidly-Changing Strategic Environment.

In Mandarin, Taiwan is spelt U-K-R-A-I-N-E: It is all very well for President Joe Biden to pledge his country’s military intervention should China invade Taiwan, the real trick is making Beijing believe him. Why would it, when Washington has been so careful to ensure that its own forces, and those of other Nato members, do not come into contact with Russian military units. After all, China’s nuclear arsenal is no less apocalyptic in its potential than Russia’s. 

“TIME IS SPEEDING UP”, says Wigram Capital Advisors’ principal Rodney Jones. His reference is to the speed at which the geopolitical situation is being transformed by the actions of Russia and China. Specifically, Jones is alluding to the presence of the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, in the capitals of the South Pacific and the prospect of at least ten of the region’s micro-states being drawn into a “China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision” by Beijing. As Jones forcefully reminds us, the “generally benign strategic environment” in which Prime Minister Helen Clark blithely located New Zealand more than twenty years ago, is long gone.

The Chinese Government, sensing a measure of disarray in US foreign policy, has not lost any time taking advantage of the global confusion and alarm caused by the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine. Looking past the ardent demonstrations of support for the Ukrainian Government’s resolute defence of its territory, Beijing has calculated that this enthusiasm will fade as the economic consequences of the war begin to be felt by the peoples of Europe and North America – not to mention Australians and New Zealanders.

It is all very well for President Joe Biden to pledge his country’s military intervention should China invade Taiwan, the real trick is making Beijing believe him. Why would they, when Washington has been so careful to ensure that its own forces, and those of other Nato members, do not come into contact with Russian military units. After all, China’s nuclear arsenal is no less apocalyptic in its potential than Russia’s. Biden’s monosyllabic tough-talk could only have been a bluff, and the White House’s immediate walking-back of his bellicose pledge into the relative diplomatic safety of “strategic ambiguity” proved it.

Not only that, but Biden’s resort to bluff can only serve to deepen Beijing’s conviction that the United States no longer feels confident that its military strength is equal to the challenge of the emerging Eurasian duumvirate. In this regard, the meeting in Tokyo of “The Quad” (USA, Japan, Australia, India) may not have delivered the geostrategic warning to Beijing that the Americans intended.

Anthony Albanese is not Scott Morrison, and the stance adopted by the new Labor Government of Australia seems likely to be considerably less belligerent than its predecessor. If the global economy continues to weaken, it is also quite likely that the folly of equipping Australia with eight nuclear-powered submarines will be postponed indefinitely.

The announcement of the trilateral AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom, United States) Pact in September 2021 is unlikely to have impressed China’s military leadership, most particularly since the US’s most powerful Quad allies, Japan and India, were not persuaded to join. To the Communist Party of China, the Anglophone AUKUS will have all the appearance of an absurd imperial anachronism. Once again, the impression conveyed is of a flailing and failing United States.

Of much more interest to the Chinese will be the reaction of the Indian Government to the Russo-Ukrainian War. India’s ties to Russia are strong, making it a less than vehement supporter of the West’s ruinous sanctions regime. Nor can New Delhi be insensible to the potential strategic challenges arising out of the Sino-Russian “entente” of 4 February 2022.

The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, will be observing with keen interest President Vladimir Putin’s ability to withstand the economic warfare unleashed upon his country by the West. Should the Russian Federation’s military forces begin to gain the upper-hand in Ukraine, and if China’s financial support renders the sanctions regime bearable, then Modi and India’s political class will have some serious thinking to do.

Does it make sense for a non-European nation like India to be perceived as some sort of Western lap-dog? Especially when it could, instead, become a crucial part of the Eurasian superpower fast emerging as the nemesis of the imperialist West?

If India goes, can the oil-rich nations of the Middle East be far behind?

All too aware of the energy vulnerability of the United States – not to mention the acute sensitivity of the American electorate to ‘rising gasoline prices at the pump’ – some US legislators are already attempting to throw their weight around on the question of how much oil the member states of OPEC should be sucking out of the ground. Threats of passing legislation allowing the United States Government to seize the American-based assets of “uncooperative” OPEC states are unlikely to impress the Saudis or their Arab allies. The defection of key oil producers to “Eurasia”, and the end of the US dollar as a fiat currency, would also spell the end of American/Western hegemony.

Even if Eurasia fails to materialise as the new global hegemon, the continued global dominance of the United States still cannot be taken for granted. Beijing will be paying as much attention as Moscow to the outcome of the 2022 mid-term congressional elections. Most political scientists agree that the chances of the Democratic Party retaining control of the House of Representatives and the Senate are close to zero. But, if the Republicans come surging back, then the potential for serious internal disorder breaking out in the United States is very high. Not only can a house divided against itself not hope to stand, but it also cannot possibly bend the rest of the world to its will.

With all of the above potentialities for Western disaster in play, it is not difficult to understand why, all over the world, the Chinese are actively probing for points of weakness. The South Pacific has clearly been identified by the geopoliticians in Beijing as an area ripe for the insertion of Chinese money and influence.

There will be those in the New Zealand foreign affairs community who respond to this probing with all the flatulent bombast of the pith-helmeted imperialists of yesteryear. These are the armchair warriors who are currently urging the Labour Government to tell the Chinese to “Clear orf out of ‘our’ backyard!” As if, like the Russians, we regard nearby, supposedly independent, nation states as falling within our sphere of influence.

Fortunately, however, there are also foreign affairs and trade specialists who understand that ‘national security’ is not simply about military force and the ability to project it aggressively. No nation can call itself secure if its economy is falling apart, and it people falling into poverty. As this country’s largest trading partner and key export market, China is not a country New Zealand should be in any hurry to infuriate and/or alienate. And, there are plenty of Australian politicians and businesspeople who feel the same way.

New Zealand’s “generally benign strategic environment” has not been undermined by the Pacific’s rising superpower. History teaches us that it’s the waning superpowers, edged-off the geopolitical stage by more dynamic rivals, that the world’s small and vulnerable states have most reason to fear.

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website on Monday, 30 May 2022.

Sunday 29 May 2022

Let’s Keep New Zealand A Boofhead-Free-Zone.

Class Act: Watching Jacinda Ardern’s performance on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, it was striking just how extraordinarily good she can be when the wind is in her sails. While there’s no disputing that her confidence took a pummeling during the inevitable transition from lockdown to living with the Coronavirus, and that a downcast Jacinda Ardern is no bloody fun at all, there’s equally no disputing the fact that, as we have seen, prime ministers’ moods can change.

RICHARD PREBBLE reckons the Aussie election should be read as a harbinger of doom for this Labour Government. The next general election will be all about the cost of living, Prebble says, and that is only going to get worse between now and election day. So, its ‘Game Over’ for Jacinda Ardern, he reckons, just like it was for Scott Morrison a week ago.


If Prebs’ analysis is correct, then the complexion of an incumbent government simply doesn’t matter anymore. Left or Right – it makes no difference. The highest rate of inflation in 40 years is bound to evict incumbents from office. They’re gone-burgers.

Which means, according to Prebble’s gospel, that Boris Johnson and his Tories must also be considered gone-burgers. After all, the UK inflation rate to April 2022 was a staggering 9 percent. That is actually a record for the Brits’ statistical series going all the way back to 1989. Given the sheer awfulness of their inflation performance, we should be rubbishing any prospect of the Conservatives being re-elected at the next UK general election in 2024.

Oh, really? Leaving aside the obvious point that a hell of a lot can happen in two years, and ignoring the Tories’ 80-seat majority (that’s right – 80 effing seats!), the state of the parties in the latest round of the UK opinion polls shows the Conservatives positioned an entirely competitive six percentage points behind the Labour Party.

If Boris Johnson can’t reclaim that ground from a constipated prat like Sir Keir Starmer, then he’s not the tousled Teflon toff the Brits seem determined to forgive over and over and over again.

No, the Aussie election result wasn’t driven by the cost-of-living stats, it was driven by the widespread assessment of Australian voters that Scott Morrison was a boofhead – and a pretty sorry specimen of boofhead at that. They certainly weren’t all that impressed by the Labor leader Anthony Albanese – who, by outward appearances, had also been manufactured by Stepford Industries Pty Ltd. It was just that the thought of another three years of Liberal-National boofheadism was just too much to bear. Painful though it may be for a Kiwi to admit, Australians just aren’t that dumb.

Which pretty much puts the skids under Prebs’ vulgar Marxist analysis that everything is driven by economics. Most Kiwis know that the inflationary pressures pushing up their living costs are practically all sourced offshore. That being the case, there’s bugger-all Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson can do about the price of oil; or the Russian blockade of Odesa, Ukraine’s wheat exporting port on the Black Sea; or the disruption of Chinese supply-chains due to Omicron; or the ever more serious effects of Climate Change. No. When it comes to deciding who to vote for, Kiwis’ preferences will be driven by factors that have very little to do with Prebble’s dialectical-materialism.

Watching Jacinda Ardern’s performance on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, I was struck by just how extraordinarily good she can be when the wind is in her sails. While there’s no disputing that her confidence took a pummeling during the inevitable transition from lockdown to living with the Coronavirus, and that a downcast Jacinda Ardern is no bloody fun at all, there’s equally no disputing the fact that, as we have seen, prime ministers’ moods can change.

What may not be all that easy to change, however, is the growing perception that Christopher Luxon is just another tory boofhead, and that his National Party has long since crossed the line separating rational conservatism from the same sort of boofheadism that brought down the Liberal-National government of Scott Morrison and Barnaby Joyce. I mean Simeon Brown? Mark Mitchell? Are we really supposed to take these characters seriously?

And while we’re on the subject of ineptitude, who the hell was it who talked-up Nicola Willis as some sort of economic whizz-kid? Her recent performances as National’s shadow finance minister have been woeful. Pitted against Grant Robertson, she risks being exposed as just another empty National vessel.

Similarly, I have no doubt that when the election debates roll around next year, Jacinda Ardern will easily outclass Christopher Luxon. Providing she holds onto the poise and confidence of her Late Show performance, she has every chance of demonstrating to New Zealanders the foolishness of changing political horses in midstream.

She’ll need something to say, of course. Something over and above simply sounding like a credible and competent prime minister. It’s what made her time on the Late Show so productive. She had something positive and progressive – gun control – to hold up to an American audience horrified by yet another massacre of innocents. Something that the Republicans she didn’t name, but who were clearly in her mind, could never hope to match.

The most effective “over and above” policy constellation, IMHO, would be a bold and unapologetic pledge to reform the way the New Zealand state operates. If Jacinda Ardern and her ministers were to explain how ineffective the state has become under the administrative protocols of the past thirty-five years – offering up its pitiful outputs on health, education, housing, social-welfare, transport and Climate Change as evidence – her government’s collective failure to deliver would, at least, be explained. Blend into that narrative the need to improve the delivery of services to Māori and Pasifika, and then top it off with a promise to comprehensively rejig our electoral laws. That would give the PM plenty to talk about: plenty of opportunities to display her hallmark idealism and empathy.

Of course Prebs would dismiss all this with a derisory snort. Constitutional reform butters no parsnips, he’d say – especially with Anchor butter at $8.00 for 500 gms!

Except, a halfway competent Finance Minister would explain that if Anchor butter’s at that price it’s only because Fonterra and our dairy farmers are creaming it on the international market – and that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

What voters want more than anything else is the sense that the incumbent government remains a work-in-progress: that it’s still got plenty of things it wants to do before its through – changes that promise to make their world a better place.

Voters want to know that their leaders aren’t just thinking about them: they want to know that they are thinking, full stop. In sharp contrast to American voters, the electors of Australia and New Zealand still possess fully operational crap detectors. They will not vote for boofheads – or, at least, not indefinitely.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 27 May 2022.

Friday 27 May 2022

Diagnosing Our Malady.

“The people, united, will never be defeated!” That is as true today as it was in 1793 when the French revolutionary government pioneered the Levée en masse – the mobilisation of the whole nation to resist the invader. And it still works.

FROM WHENCE ARISES our malady? This bewilderment at the present. This confusion about the past. This fear of the future.

The world no longer works the way we think it does. It is run by people we do not know. Such control as we once exerted over events has dwindled away to almost nothing. We have become powerless.

We all feel like this at times. When the world looms so large, and our ability to make the slightest difference appears so very small. We’re wrong, of course. The most powerful force on this planet has always been, and always will be, human-beings acting collectively.

Witness the people of Ukraine: outnumbered, outgunned, but determined to preserve their independence. And they’re winning! “The people, united, will never be defeated!” That is as true today as it was in 1793 when the French revolutionary government pioneered the Levée en masse – the mobilisation of the whole nation to resist the invader. And it still works.

Remembering the power of collectivism isn’t always easy, however. Our society’s relentless focus on the individual all-too-often transforms the experience of powerlessness into a demoralising confirmation of personal weakness and failure.

If you’re not winning, it’s because you’re a loser.

That’s a hard thought to shake – especially when the advertising messages with which we are bombarded every day confirm it. The banks’ ads make the securing of a home loan seem easy. The builders’ ads show satisfied clients singing the praises of their lovely houses. Two delightful children discuss the specifications of their parents’ brand new SUVs. If these stories are not about you, then, clearly, that’s because you haven’t done the things necessary to inhabit them.

“If you’ve got lots, it’s because you’ve been good. If you’ve got nothing, it’s because you’ve been bad. Just ask Santa Claus.”

But that’s not true, either. In the early 1930s, in a country ravaged – like so many others – by the dire economic consequences of the Great Depression, the working poor organised themselves into an unstoppable political force and won full employment, state houses, a public health service and free education for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren. By acting collectively, they turned all New Zealanders into winners.

That could be done again if we were willing to abandon selfies for selflessness. But, it wouldn’t be easy. Following last week’s Budget, Danyl McLauchlan, a scientist, novelist, former Green Party staffer, and social media commentator, had this to say about the enormous difficulties of getting anything done in this country – even when you’re the Government:

… the modern day public sector is very far from the one Michael Joseph Savage built, or even the walk-shorts and glide time stereotypes of the 1970s. It’s an amalgam of public and private entities: departments and ministries and commissions co-existing with law firms, consultancies, public relations companies, NGOs, corporations and other private sector providers. It’s carefully optimised to redirect vast amounts of public spending into private hands, and this is a problem this government struggles to confront.

Danyl has put his finger on the source of our malady. It is the structural negation of collectivism. The transfer of public money into private hands. The deliberate dismantling of the social and economic machinery geared towards meeting the needs of the many, not the few. A system of disempowerment, where not even Ministers of the Crown possess the authority to appoint, or sack, the bureaucrats upon whom we must all rely for the implementation of democratically mandated policies.

Five thousand years ago, acting collectively, the Ancient Egyptians constructed the Pyramids. These astonishing monuments were not the work of slaves, but of a vast army of free labourers dedicated to keeping the spirit and will of their civilisation – symbolised by their Pharaoh – alive for all eternity. Two hundred-and-thirty years ago, acting collectively, the French people preserved Liberty, Equality and Fraternity against the concerted opposition of the crowned heads of Europe. Fifty-three years ago, working collectively, the American people put a man on the Moon. Two years ago, acting collectively, a nation of five million, facing a deadly global pandemic, limited its Covid-19 death-toll to fewer than 30 citizens.

“For, oh, what strength is weaker than the feeble strength of one?”

Acting collectively, there is nothing we cannot conquer – not even our present and besetting malady of individual greed and selfishness.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 27 May 2022.

Monday 23 May 2022

Out! Morrison Is Bowled.

From Public Housing To The Lodge: Anthony Albanese wins the Australian Federal Election, bringing the career of Scott Morrison and his boofhead Coalition government to an end. The defeat of the boofheads was the victory Australia had to have.

CRIKEY! Those Aussies are pissed-off. To appreciate just how pissed-off they are it is instructive to look back at the last time Kiwis moved against their two major parties so aggressively. In 1996, National and Labour, between them, accounted for just 62 percent of the Party Votes cast. Taken together, NZ First, the Alliance, Act, United Future and the Christian Coalition accounted for 34.76 percent. The comparison with Saturday’s vote, of which the centre-right coalition of the Liberal and National parties attracted just 35.4 percent, Labor 32.8 percent, and their challengers 31.8 percent of the Primary Vote, is compelling.

The 1996 General Election in New Zealand was the first to be conducted under the new MMP electoral system, offering electors the novel opportunity to have their political choices much more accurately reflected in the final tally of seats. The 2022 Australian federal election, by contrast, was conducted under the well-established (if complex) Compulsory Preferential Vote system. The electoral havoc wrought across the Tasman is, therefore, even more telling. Angry Australians have dealt a massive blow to the two main political groupings, along with the political culture of bullshitters and boofheads in general.

These latter accretions to the Australian political system have multiplied alarmingly over the last 25 years – and not just in the Liberal and National parties. Some of the blame undoubtedly must be sheeted home to the One Nation Party, whose founding figurehead, Pauline Hanson, somehow succeeded in transforming ignorance into a political virtue. Like her fellow populist, Donald Trump, Hanson and her minders love the poorly educated – who reciprocate that love with unnerving passion.

The conservative coalition of Liberal Party toffs and National Party country bumpkins could not ignore Hanson’s vulgar intrusion into the hitherto settled politics of the Right. The Boofhead Vote was notoriously ill-disciplined, being as likely to award its second preferences to Labor as its more respectable conservative fellow-travellers. If Hanson couldn’t be beaten (and John Howard gave that option his best shot) then the only other alternative was to join her boofhead crusade.

But those second preferences came at a price. Yes, it was an unlooked-for blessing to witness the defection of that part of the Australian working-class which balked at embracing the socially-liberal supporters of feminism, multiculturalism, Aboriginal rights, sexual diversity and environmentalism who were becoming more-and-more entrenched in the Labor Party. But, how to transform Hanson’s party into a reliable electoral way-station for the Right? Part of the answer involved hitherto decent and responsible conservatives forcing themselves to pretend that these new recruits were not dyed-in-the-wool racists, sexists, homophobes and xenophobes who’d never met a lump of coal they didn’t like.

The ethical corrosion which these new electoral calculations inflicted on both the Centre-Right and the Centre-Left was devastating. By requiring their more sophisticated followers to hold their noses and adapt themselves to the needs of the Boofhead Vote, both parties had opened a pathway to power for their most ambitious and unscrupulous opportunists. Parliamentary politics, never all that refined in Australia, was coarsened still further.

Making matters worse, especially for the Liberals, was the vicious class politics at work on the Right. The upwardly-mobile working-class, and the middle-class suburban “battlers” who idolised “Little Johnny Howard”, felt keenly the lofty condescension bestowed upon them by the Liberal Party’s aristocratic grandees. Safe in their leafy, blue-ribbon redoubts (or sprawling squatter estates) these worthies felt more keenly than ever the pull of noblesse oblige. Boofhead votes were all very welcome, naturally. But, you couldn’t have boofheads running the party, or, God forbid! – occupying The Lodge!

To which the boofheads (Tony Abbot, Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison) responded: “Well see about that, mate. You just watch us.”

But, the boofheads could never have succeeded, or at least, not so completely, had it not been for Climate Change. With Australian coal fuelling the furnaces of China, and Australian iron and copper holding up and connecting much of the world, the inconvenient scientific truths of global warming prompted Australia’s richest and most conservative industrialists to go in search of politicians who could be relied upon to make damn sure that nothing of any significance was ever done to curb it.

To the many boofhead prejudices already injected into Australia’s political bloodstream was added the manifold dangers of Climate Change Denial. It was an affectation adopted without hesitation by a worrying number of the well-paid workers in Australia’s mining industry. The latter’s powerful trade unions made the formulation of a science-driven Climate Change policy extremely difficult for Labor. Meanwhile, on the right, the unholy boofhead alliance of ignorance, anti-intellectualism, evangelical Christianity and rank opportunism had destroyed the career of the leafy-suburbs’ Liberal standard-bearer, Malcom Turnbull.

The 2019 Federal Election, was won by Scott Morrison who succeeded in mobilising every available boofhead vote where it most mattered. (Which was not, as Labour and most of the pundits assumed, in the left-leaning cities.) Unfortunately for the Coalition, 2019 also marked the moment of Peak Bullshit. In the years that followed, the all-too-real impacts of global warming – in the form of devastating bush-fires and floods – left the denialists with an ever-decreasing audience among intelligent Australians.

Labour’s equivocation on the Climate Change issue had already fuelled the rise and rise of the Greens, threatening the party’s left flank and forcing it further and further away from Boofheadism. This became easier, and much less costly electorally, as even the dimmest working-class boofhead began to realise that having his prejudices tickled by Scotty From Marketing did nothing to halt the rapidly rising cost of living.

But if the Greens were challenging Labor for the support of young, non-boofhead Australians, the Liberal Party was about to fall victim to what might best be called “The Revenge of the Grandees”. The good and the great of the leafy suburbs had had enough of watching highly-intelligent and accomplished Liberal moderates whipped into line by the likes of boorish National Party leader, Barnaby Joyce. It was time to strike back against the corrupt political meddling of the Mining Industry and its refusal to accept the reality of Climate Change.

With what might be called “progressive capitalist” backing, a team of first-rate female “independents” was enlisted to destroy the Liberal’s moderate wing in its blue-ribbon seats - thereby making it impossible for the Morrison-led Government to win re-election. This rich admixture of regal blue and environmentalist green produced what, on the night, proved to be a “Teal Revolution”.

The Liberal-National Coalition now faces an historic fork in the road: either abandon Boofheadism and keep the Centre-Right in play; or, double-down on the failed politics of ignorance and prejudice. Dwindling to a vague political memory in the cities, and dying, unloved and unlamented, in some dusty bush electorate.

The editorial published on election day in the Melbourne-based small-l liberal weekly The Saturday Paper, said this of Australia’s boofhead PM:

Morrison, this cruel and bilious man, now asks for a fourth term. He says he’s just getting started. He plans to be different. He looks out at the carnage behind him, all of it the result of his ineffectiveness and ineptitude, and says he is a bulldozer. There is no crisis that doesn’t begin and end with him imagining himself as a small boy playing with a toy truck.

Yes, the Aussies are an angry people. Too pissed-off to give Anthony Albanese and his Labor Party a ringing endorsement, they have grudgingly made him their ‘lesser evil’ prime minister. What they enthusiastically made certain, however, was that Scott Morrison and the Coalition did not win.

The defeat of the boofheads is the victory Australia had to have.

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website of Monday, 23 May 2022.

Saturday 21 May 2022

An Exercise In Basic Accountancy.

Hoopla And Razzamatazz: Putting the country into debt allows a Minister of Finance to keep the lights on and the ATMs working without raising taxes. That option may become unavoidable at some future time, for some future government, but that is not the present government’s concern – not in the context of a three year electoral cycle. The politician’s motto is simple: “Always put off until tomorrow what is likely to cost you votes today.”

WHY HAS MAKING such a ridiculously big deal out of the whole Budget exercise persisted? The very notion that the government of the day possesses the foresight and skill to successfully diagnose and treat the nation’s economic ills in ways that have not been tried a hundred times before is fanciful. The smart move would be to treat the entire process as an exercise in basic accountancy. Because that’s all it is.

In essence, the budgetary process is about whether or not present state expenditures should persist (with appropriate adjustments for inflation) or be discontinued. Since most state expenditure is committed to activities that cannot be discontinued without throwing society into chaos, practically all of the Minister of Finance’s decisions are made for him. The sick must continue to be treated. The young must continue to be taught. The poor must continue to be housed and fed. The elderly must continue to be supported in their old age. Just attending to these “Musts” consumes practically all of the State’s annual revenue.

Of course a wise Minister of Finance will also keep a weather-eye on the condition of the global economy. Not because he can do anything about it, but because the impact of exogenous economic events – especially negative events – cannot help but affect the condition of the domestic economy. A reduction in the amount of money people spend and/or invest has consequences for the health of the nation’s businesses, the number of its citizens in work, and, most importantly, the quantum of revenue collected by the state.

In a rational society, any shortfall in state revenue would be made up by a corresponding increase in taxation. Unfortunately, democratic states are seldom governed rationally. Governments elected by the people are reluctant to court the wrath of their electors by increasing their taxes, preferring instead to allow the nation’s cultural and physical infrastructure to decay. Or, if the deferral of crucial maintenance fails to produce the savings necessary to keep the “Musts” operational, borrowing to make good the shortfall.

Government borrowing poses all manner of potential problems for the nation, but not immediately. In a democracy, this delay between the act and its consequences is precious. Putting the country into debt allows a Minister of Finance to keep the lights on and the ATMs working without raising taxes. That option may become unavoidable at some future time, for some future government, but that is not the present government’s concern – not in the context of a three year electoral cycle. The politician’s motto is simple: “Always put off until tomorrow what is likely to cost you votes today.”

The problem with days of reckoning is that they always come. It was Rob Muldoon who found himself without a chair to sit on when the music stopped playing in 1984. When the game resumed, David Lange, and his Finance Minister, Roger Douglas, found themselves without fiscal options. Something dramatic had to happen to the way New Zealand was run, or the lights would indeed go out and the ATMs stop working. (In 1984 they very nearly did!)

As we all know, something dramatic did happen – “Rogernomics”.

Prior to Rogernomics, Budgets had been newsworthy largely because they were the occasion for rises in government taxes on petrol, tobacco and alcohol. Less frequently they made news on account of minor adjustments to Income Tax. Roger Douglas put paid to all of that.

After 1984, Budgets became part of the grand theatre of economic reform. Not even the “Musts” escaped the attention of the reformers. The National Party Finance Minister, Ruth Richardson, confronted with another day of fiscal reckoning in 1991, produced what she called “The Mother of All Budgets”. (A reference to Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein’s promised “Mother of All Battles” during the First Gulf War, which should have warned New Zealanders what Richardson had in store!) It was TMOAB that slashed the incomes of beneficiaries by 25 percent – impoverishing thousands. For some Kiwis, Budgets were now events to be feared.

In spite of the best efforts of the political marketing experts, there has not been a Budget to match Ruth Richardson’s TMOAB for more than 30 years. Yes, there have been years in which Bill English (another National Finance Minister) felt obliged to cut back sharply on what he memorably described as the “Nice To Haves”. (Government projects that made life easier, happier, more fulfilling.) But the “Musts” have limped on from one Jerry-built Budget to the next. But, not for much longer. Those dark clouds gathering on the horizon speak gloomily of another day of reckoning that is fast approaching.

It will not be an ordinary day. Crowded into its 24 hours will be climate change, global financial fragility, the weakening and breaking of supply chains, rising geopolitical tensions, rampant inflation, and the ongoing effects of a global pandemic. To keep the lights on and the ATMs working in the face of these challenges, governments all around the world have been forced to borrow and spend like there was no tomorrow. (Which, with the hooves of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse thundering across the planet, may not be an unreasonable prediction!)

The current Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, has about as much chance of holding these grim arrivals at the border as King Canute had of keeping the incoming tide at bay. The budget Robertson delivered today, like most budgets, is a holding operation. If he’s lucky, he will get the chance to borrow and spend all over again in 2023, in a final bid to retain control of the Treasury Benches.

If, however, Robertson is unlucky and/or unsuccessful, then he is unlikely to be too distraught. Indeed, he may feel extremely relieved that he does not have to write the 2024 Budget. And if his assumed successor, Nicola Willis, has a lick of sense she will persuade her boss, Christopher Luxon, to hand-off the job of dealing with the Mother of All Days of Reckoning to Act’s David Seymour. After all, he’s the man with the machete.

Rather than search for a Budget title to top Ruth Richardson’s, Seymour should dispense altogether with the hoopla and razzamatazz surrounding the Budget performance. Since the document he hopes to present will be nothing more – nor less – than an exercise in basic accountancy, that’s the description he should use.

That the phrase ‘an exercise in basic accountancy’ will forever after strike fear into the hearts of New Zealanders is, sadly, as unavoidable as death and taxes.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 20 May 2022.

Blah Blah Blah – Is That All There Is?

Speaking Truth To Power: Greta Thunberg argues that the fine sounding phrases of well-meaning politicians changes nothing. The promises made, the targets set – and then re-set – are all too familiar to the younger generations she has encouraged to pay attention. They have heard it all before. Accordingly, she angrily disdains to respond in detail to the carefully-crafted speeches of world leaders. As far as she, and the millions she speaks for are concerned, it is all just – “Blah Blah Blah.”

SOME STORIES stretch our credulity. Surely, we object, someone is pulling our legs? Nobody could be that dumb. The sort of stories for which my friend, the war correspondent, Jon Stephenson, habitually reserves his pithy quip: “You just couldn’t make this shit up!”

Like the story that came out earlier this week from the Ministry of the Environment. In preparation for the Labour Government’s long-awaited announcements on Climate Change mitigation, some poor soul had drafted a new addition to the Ministry’s webpage headed: “Here are some the actions currently being taken by New Zealand to mitigate against climate change.”

Alongside the bullet points, inserted in anticipation of the Government’s initiatives, this same poor soul had written “Blah Blah Blah”. I say “poor soul” because my assumption is that when he or she inserted “Blah Blah Blah” it was an act of naïve innocence.

The alternative explanation is that the person responsible for this extraordinary blooper was only too aware that “Blah Blah Blah” was the scornful riposte delivered to the assembled representatives of the world’s nation states by the young Swedish founder of School Strike For Climate, Greta Thunberg.

Her point was that the fine sounding phrases of these well-meaning people changed nothing. The promises made, the targets set – and then re-set – were all too familiar to the younger generations she had encouraged to pay attention. They had heard it all before. Accordingly, she angrily disdained to respond in detail to the carefully-crafted speeches of the politicians. As far as she, and the millions she spoke for, and to, were concerned, it was all just – “Blah Blah Blah.”

Meaning that if the Ministry of the Environment employee responsible for this priceless story was aware of Greta’s rhetorical trope, then he or she is in possession of a satirical talent that would, almost certainly, be better appreciated elsewhere. (Unless, of course, the Ministry itself has become as frustrated as Greta – and who could blame it!)

Whatever led to the error (long since expunged from the Ministry’s website) it anticipated to perfection the reaction of most environmentalists to the Government’s “Emissions Reduction Plan” – abbreviated to the rather dyspeptic-sounding “ERP”.

Certainly, its incremental steps and irresponsibly optimistic expectations, left those scientists aware of the urgency now required of not just this government, but all governments, to avoid runaway global warming, fighting off feelings of anger and disappointment. Like the inimitable chanteuse, Peggy Lee, they were left asking, plaintively: “Is That All There Is?”

Is That All There Is? - The inimitable Peggy Lee.

And, sadly, the answer is “Yes.” Because, how could it be anything else? Ours is a democratically elected government, all-too-aware that those who endorsed it so emphatically in 2020 are now ill-disposed to repeat the favour in eighteen months’ time.

Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw, knows how to interpret an opinion poll and read a focus-group report. If you ask the voters if they want effective action on Climate Change, they will answer “Yes!” But ask them if they are willing to support the drastic actions required to make a serious difference, and their answer will be an equally emphatic “No!”

Ditto, his colleague. Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s Budget, delivered yesterday afternoon, reflected a very similar reliance on incrementalism, hopeful expectation, and strategic forbearance. Certainly, there was little of sufficient muscularity to grapple with the multiple challenges currently besetting the New Zealand economy. Lifting the burden of debt repayment from the shoulders of the most vulnerable by overseeing a fiercely redistributive reformation of this country’s tax system, may be the most obvious and the most ethical response to the nation’s fiscal crisis, but it is also a response that will collapse what’s left of the Government’s electoral support.

The public’s attitude to death, taxes and Climate Change is remarkably consistent. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die, pay more, or give up their SUV.

The trick of successful democratic government in times of global warming, pestilence, war – and rampant inflation – is to convey the impression of doing something while actually doing very little at all. The job of the politician, when you boil it right down, is to keep the lights on and the ATMs working. If not forever, then until well past the next election.

So, yes, “Blah Blah Blah” is pretty much all that there is. Pretty much all that there’s ever been.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 20 May 2022.

Thursday 19 May 2022

Budget Morning.

No Jesus Here.

She rises, unrested, and steps
Onto the narrow balcony
To find the day. To greet
The Sunday God she sings to.
But this morning His face is clouded.
Grey and wet as a corpse
Washed by tears.

Behind her, in the tangled bedding,
the children bicker and whine.
Worrying the cheap furniture
Like hungry puppies.
They clutch at her threadbare gown
with hands as insistent and
unforgiving as the clock’s.

She wishes she could dream.
Finding in the darkness
A life unaided by
The office lights’ bleak florescence,
The whining of the vacuum cleaner,
The endless emptying and
Refilling of rubbish bins.

Last night she paused, panting.
Held captive by a single word
‘Wellbeing’. A selfish word.
Comfortable and sated.
A word accustomed
To feeling well and being safe.
A word with a working lock.

Budgeting was something
They made her do at WINZ.
Recalling the Miracle of
The Loaves and Fishes.
Jesus feeding five thousand.
She’d settle for food to feed
Five hungry children.

Was that happening today?
A budgeting miracle?
Housing found? Children fed?
The man from the adjoining unit,
Heading for the bus-stop,
Eyes her narrowly.
No Jesus here.

Chris Trotter
19 May 2022

This poem was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 19 May 2022.

Tuesday 17 May 2022

Describing The Katipo.

Poisonous! From a very early age New Zealanders are warned to give small black spiders with a red blotch on their abdomens a wide berth. The Katipo, we are told, is venomous: and while its bite may not kill you, it can make you very unwell. That said, isn’t the Acting Chief Censor’s decision to suppress absolutely mass killers manifestoes a bit like a parent telling his child that, yes, New Zealand does have a venomous spider, but, no, he is not going to give her any information about what it looks like and where it is most likely to be found?

THE ACTING CHIEF CENSOR’S decision to ban the “manifesto” of the latest hate criminal doubles-down on his predecessor’s error. Putting to one side the universal tendency of all forbidden things to stimulate popular interest purely on account of being banned, keeping the deranged, hate-filled ravings of Brenton Tarrant – and now Payton Gendron – out of New Zealanders’ hands has once again robbed us of the opportunity to gain some understanding of the tortured and fantastical world these individuals inhabit.

Since the ideas of these mass killers are extremely dangerous, and potentially fatal, it is surely in the interest of society to be provided with the means of recognising them when encountered. When a family member or friend starts spouting forth the sort of racist ideas that motivated Tarrant and Gendron, that is presumably a strong indication that all is not well. But, with the ideas of both men kept out of the reach of the public, how are those closest to potential offenders supposed to know what they’re looking for?

From a very early age New Zealanders are warned to give small black spiders with a red blotch on their abdomens a wide berth. The Katipo, we are told, is venomous: and while its bite may not kill you, it can make you very unwell. That said, isn’t Mr Rupert Ablett-Hampson’s decision to suppress absolutely Gendron’s manifesto a bit like a parent telling his child that, yes, New Zealand does have a venomous spider, but, no, he is not going to give her any information about what it looks like and where it is most likely to be found?

Ablett-Hampson’s news release justifies his decision to declare Gendron’s manifesto “objectionable” – thereby making it a serious offence to possess and/or disseminate its content – by referencing the harm it could do if accessed by the wrong sort of person:

We understand most people in Aotearoa reading such publications would not be supportive of these hateful messages but these kind of publications are not intended for most people. We have seen how they can impact individuals who are on the pathway to violence.

It is, however, extremely doubtful if declaring such documents “objectionable” will have the effect Ablett-Hampson intends. Those disposed to the arguments of white supremacy, for example, need only search for the topic on YouTube to activate the algorithms that will supply them with a great deal more information than is good for anyone’s mental digestion.

Moreover, if our white supremacist is persistent he will soon be in a position to move well beyond the material available on YouTube. There are places on the web where the red meat of murderous racism is served up blood raw and dripping. In these infernal regions of the Internet, the Acting Chief Censor’s writ simply does not run.

Another place the Acting Chief Censor’s writ does not run (at least, I hope it doesn’t!) is the past. History, sadly, is one long chronicle of human cruelty and suffering. The acts of injustice committed by our ancestors cannot be undone by the simple expedient of declaring them “objectionable”.

One could try, I suppose, but it would mean banning all material relating to the Knights Templar (who inspired the Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik) and the Ottoman Conquest of South-East Europe (which played an important part in the formation of Brenton Tarrant’s worldview). All literature and films relating to the Ku Klux Klan (To Kill A Mockingbird, Mississippi Burning) would have to be proscribed, along with all histories of the Third Reich, and, of course, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. A similar fate would, presumably, lie in store for the writings of the eugenicists and “scientific racists” of the early Twentieth Century. The thoughts of H.G. Wells, Beatrice and Sydney Webb, Winston Churchill – all would have to be declared objectionable.

The list of things one could be sent to jail for possessing and disseminating grows long!

And then there are the everyday conversations and personal rantings of ordinary New Zealand citizens. A fair proportion of these are bound to contain all manner of objectionable ideas and claims. Racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia and Islamophobia are to be found everywhere. Misinformation and disinformation are not restricted to social media, they constitute the daily subject matter of our national discourse. It is still possible to sit on a bus and hear the person seated in front of you regale his companion with the long discredited myth that the Māori, upon arriving in these islands, encountered the culturally less sophisticated Moriori people, and exterminated them.

Objectionable? Of course it is. But what is the best way to finally put this white supremacist myth to rest? By jailing everyone who repeats it? – A solution which would require all of us to become government spies ready and willing to dob in our neighbours, relations, friends, lovers? Or, for New Zealand society to use its considerable educational and media resources to set forth clearly the anthropological and historical evidence revealing what actually happened – thereby equipping our children to move beyond the myth and embrace the truth?

Would there still be some, diehard racists all of them, who still peddled the Moriori myth? Yes, there would. The point, however, is that when we heard them spout their racism we would be well placed to assess whether or not we were listening to nothing more alarming than a bore in a bar, or, to an individual “on the pathway to violence”.

Hate speech is jarring, distressing, and potentially indicative of murderous intent. After the Christchurch Mosque Attacks it was completely understandable that many of us made the leap from the terrible events of 15 March 2019, to the terrible idea that another such event might be prevented by banning the expression of objectionable ideas – on pain of imprisonment.

But, the actions of the Acting Chief Censor notwithstanding, we cannot incarcerate our way to virtue, we can only arm our fellow citizens with a reasonable description of vice. So that, when they encounter it in the street, the pub, on the bus, or at a dodgy Coastal Otago gun-club, they will recognise it and contact the appropriate authorities – who will do something about it.

Like the blood red blotch of the Katipo, the manifestoes of mass killers must be allowed to acquaint us with the offensive smell and the bitter taste of ideological poison.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 17 May 2022.

The Truth Prevails.

“The truth prevails, but it’s a chore.” – Jan Masaryk: The intensification of ideological pressures is bearable for only so-long before ordinary men and women reassert the virtues of tolerance and common sense.

ON 10 MARCH 1948, Jan Masaryk, the Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia, was found dead below his bathroom window. His death was ruled a suicide, but very few Czechs believed the official story. Everyone knew that Masaryk, son of the country’s first president, Thomas Masaryk, had for months been a thorn in the side of the Communist-dominated government of Czechoslovakia. While he remained in office, it was still possible for liberals and conservatives to believe that the democratic state over which his father had presided still breathed. Jan Masaryk’s murder and the murder of democracy in Czechoslovakia occurred at precisely the same moment, at the hands of the same Soviet assassins.

Six months after Masaryk’s assassination, the Berlin Airlift was in full swing. Determined to drive the Western allies out of the Soviet Zone of Eastern Germany, Joseph Stalin had ordered the city’s land corridors to the west blocked-off. Without the food and fuel delivered to West Berlin by road and rail, the city would be forced to capitulate, and another thorn in the side of the new Soviet masters of Eastern Europe would be removed. What Stalin hadn’t counted on was American airpower. After nearly a year of Berliners being supplied by US aeroplanes, the Soviets threw in the towel. West Berlin remained a free city.

These brief historical snapshots from the late-1940s reveal exactly why the governments of the Western states, soon to be grouped under the aegis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) had grown increasingly alarmed at the behaviour of their former wartime ally. Why, within the security services and across the government departments of the Western democracies, anti-communist attitudes began to harden, and serious questions began to be asked about the loyalty of individuals known to be sympathetic to the Left in general and to the Soviet Union in particular.

With the explosion of the first Soviet atomic bomb in 1949, and the subsequent exposure of the extent to which Soviet espionage had made it possible, Western suspicion of the Left metastasised into full-blown political paranoia. The years that followed, known as the McCarthy Era (after the Wisconsin Senator who put himself at the head of the Red Scare) were notorious for the “witch-hunts” that saw people turned out of their jobs, imprisoned, and even executed for the “crime” of being a communist. Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Association counted for little in the Cold War battle against the “Global Communist Conspiracy”.

Seventy years later, the word “McCarthyism” is again on people’s lips. Politicians and journalists point to the current persecution of individuals whose ideas do not sit comfortably with the “Powers That Be”, and attempt to construct an argument of equivalence.

It isn’t that hard. Once again, persons expressing unpopular opinions are risking their employment. Once again lists of required beliefs are being drawn up to weed out politically unacceptable aspirants to government funding and/or government jobs. People who once spoke freely to mass audiences are being “de-platformed” – lest their evil notions attract followers.

There is, however, a huge difference between the persecution of communists that took place in the decade following World War II, and the attacks on those giving voice to heterodox opinions in the early years of the Twenty-First Century.

The first and most obvious difference is that the Soviet Union was a brutal, totalitarian, nuclear power whose leaders openly boasted that their Marxist-Leninist ideology would “bury” capitalism. The Soviets did operate a global network of spies – some of whom, like Kim Philby, rose to the highest echelons of the Western security apparatus. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics thus constituted a real threat to the freedom and security of the capitalist West. While the state authorities, egged-on by an aggressive news media, may have caught up far too many innocent citizens in their anti-communist witch-hunts, no one can say, truthfully, that their fear and their zealotry were without at least some justification.

Identifying the equivalent of the Soviet Union behind the persecution of today’s conservatives and liberals poses real difficulties for contemporary political analysts. What, exactly, is the source – or sources – of the fear and antagonism currently coursing through the public service, academia and the mainstream news media? What is it that reduces hitherto voluble civil servants, professors and journalists to wary silence? What sets an entire government off on a quest to extirpate “Hate Speech” from all public discourse – even at the cost of putting a match to the Bill of Rights Act?

There are those on the Right who are adamant that what they call the “woke” are nothing more nor less that the children and grandchildren of the Marxists who commenced what they called “the long march through the institutions” way back in the 1960s and 70s, and who have now risen to positions of power and influence in the public service, academia and the mainstream news media.

From these “commanding heights” of our society and culture, argues the Right, these “woke commissars” are overseeing the deliberate dismantling of our liberal-democratic capitalist institutions. Like a grim spectre, the Communism which most people in the West thought dead and buried has risen from the grave to exact a terrible revenge.

A slightly less paranoid explanation identifies “wokeism” as the ideological terminus of the so-called “new social movements” of the 1960s and 70s: anti-racism, feminism, gay liberation and environmentalism. With the economic, social and political doctrines of actually existing socialism buried beneath the triumph of liberal capitalism in the 1990s, these new movements, often grouped under the heading “identity politics”, became the only “left-wing” game in town.

Backed, as they are, by the Centre-Left parties of the major Western powers: the Democratic Party of the USA; the Labour, Social-Democratic and Green parties of Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand; the politics of identity can boast sponsors every bit as powerful as the Communist International (Comintern) of the 1920s and 30s.

If it was Stalin’s murderous totalitarianism that terrified the nations of the West in the years after World War II, igniting the Cold War, and causing them to lash-out at anyone considered a “fellow traveller” of the people who murdered Jan Masaryk and blockaded Berlin, then we can only assume that it is the West’s alleged racism, sexism, homophobia, and hatred of the natural world, that has mobilised the identity politicians behind the woke witch-hunts.

Putting his own eccentric spin on this explanation, the prominent English historian, David Starkey, has posited “wokeism” as a Twenty-First Century echo of the Protestant Reformation of the Sixteenth. He likens the social-media of today to the cutting-edge communications technology of the printing-press back in the days of Martin Luther. A technology which spread Protestantism’s revolutionary credo across Europe with unprecedented speed. Starkey’s entertaining “The Woke Reformations: Historical Parallels” is available on You Tube.

Whatever it is that drives the persecution of old-fashioned liberals and conservatives in the Twenty-First century West: Marxism Redux; Identity Politics; or the social-mediated, quasi-religious fervour identified by Starkey; its promoters would be wise to ponder the common fate of History’s witch-hunters. The intensification of ideological pressures are bearable for only so-long before ordinary men and women reassert the virtues of tolerance and common sense.

The Enlightenment robbed religious extremism of its political heft. McCarthy was censured by the US Senate. The Soviet Union fell. The Czechs are once again a free people. Wokeism, with all its militant intolerance of debate, will also fail.

As Jan Masaryk said, paraphrasing the motto of the Czechoslovak state: Pravda vítězí, ale dá to fušku. – “The truth prevails, but it’s a chore.”

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz of Monday, 16 May 2022.

Sunday 15 May 2022

History Lessons.

That’s a C- for History, Kelvin! While it is certainly understandable that Māori-Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis was not anxious to castigate every Pakeha member of the House of Representatives for the crimes committed against his people by their ancestors; crimes from which his Labour colleagues continue to draw enormous benefits; the direction of his prosecutorial rhetoric at National and Act MPs exclusively was historically indefensible and morally obnoxious.

I SURE HOPE Kelvin Davis wasn’t a history teacher before he became a principal and then Te Tai Tokerau’s MP. Why? Because his grasp of what happened in this country between the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and today isn’t just wrong, it also has the potential to create great mischief.

The speech he delivered to the House of Representatives on Wednesday (11/5/22) is a particularly grim example of the Minister for Māori-Crown Relations historical ignorance. In it he appeared to equate the Opposition parties with the entire Pakeha population – past and present. This was more than just racially inflammatory, it represents a dangerous distortion of reality.

Addressing the Opposition Benches, Davis declared: “They conveniently overlook the fact that their wealth, their privilege and their authority was built off the backs of other people’s misery and entrenched inequality across generations.”

This is interesting. National’s leader, Christopher Luxon, was born in 1970, and the Act leader, David Seymour, in 1983. At the ages of 52 and 39 respectively, that doesn’t leave them many generations across which to have inflicted misery and entrenched inequality! He would have been on slightly firmer ground if he had been addressing his remarks to Labour’s Roger Douglas – whose policies did indeed inflict misery and inequality. Perhaps not across generations, but certainly since 1984. Except, of course, Labour MPs don’t like to draw attention to those policies – mostly on account of the fact that their party has done so little over nearly 40 years to reverse them.

Davis did considerably better, historically, when he described to the House the fate of his ancestors at the hands of Nineteenth Century colonial authorities. The gradual consolidation of the colonial state, its laws and regulations, effectively dispossessed Davis’s forebears, leaving them destitute and demoralised.

What Davis failed to mention, however, is that the Nineteenth Century dispossession of the Māori was Crown policy. More importantly, it was a process cheered to the echo by the overwhelming majority of the burgeoning Pakeha population. Rich and poor alike understood that their future prosperity was contingent upon the immiseration of the “native” population. Meaning that it wasn’t just the ancestors of the present Opposition MPs who built their wealth and privilege off the backs of his tupuna, but also the present crop of Pakeha Labour MPs seated alongside him.

While it is certainly understandable that Davis was not anxious to castigate every Pakeha member of the House of Representatives for the crimes committed against his people by their ancestors; crimes from which they continue, as a people, to draw enormous benefits; the direction of his prosecutorial rhetoric at National and Act MPs exclusively was historically indefensible and morally obnoxious.

If Davis is unaware that the single most devastating economic and social assault upon Māori of the last 50 years occurred on the Fourth Labour Government’s watch, then he has no business being an MP – let alone the Minister of Māori-Crown Relations. Certainly he cannot have forgotten that it was the Fifth Labour Government which oversaw the passage of the Seabed and Foreshore legislation. Or, that it was a Labour Prime Minister, Helen Clark, who described the leading opponents of that legislation as “haters and wreckers” – preferring to meet with an excessively woolly ram than with the tangata whenua her proposed law had so enraged.

Maybe the reckless willingness of the Sixth Labour Government to embrace the co-governance agenda of its Māori caucus is a delayed reaction to the actions of the Fourth and the Fifth. If so, then it is a very foolish reaction. Had Helen Clark and her Attorney-General not moved with speed to reverse the Court of Appeal’s overturning of what had been considered settled law, then Don Brash would, almost certainly, have won the 2005 General Election. Given that a National victory in 2005 would have meant the effective re-nullification of the Treaty and the abolition of the Māori Seats – thereby provoking civil war – Māori and Pakeha both owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude.

The depressing thing about the politics of the moment is the apparent historical amnesia of just about all its practitioners. The Settler Nation responsible for extinguishing the Treaty in the 1860s is simply not prepared to see it reinstated as New Zealand’s de facto constitution in the 2020s. The way Davis chose to deliver his thoughts to the House of Representatives: in the form of an attack on the Opposition; shows just how impossible it is to construct an argument about our history that does not inevitably boil down to the equivalent of Sir Michael Cullen’s memorable taunt: “We won. You lost. Eat that!”

The most frightening aspect of Davis’s performance is that it showed no signs that the Minister of Māori-Crown relations has the slightest idea of what will happen to that relationship if co-governance is forced upon an unwilling Pakeha nation.

Davis’s colleague, Willie Jackson, has labelled the Act leader a “useless Māori” and “a dangerous man”. But David Seymour is no more or less “useless” than those Māori iwi and hapu that saw which way the wind was blowing in the 1850s and 60s and ended up fighting alongside General Cameron’s imperial troops. As for being a dangerous man. Well, Jackson’s description can only be proven if Seymour and his party attract sufficient support to enforce the implementation of Act’s radical policies. He will be a dangerous man only because his fellow New Zealanders have made him one – by voting for him.

It’s not Seymour that poses a danger to you and your people, Willie, it’s democracy. But, then, you already knew that, didn’t you?

By the same token, it’s not the Opposition that has somehow cornered all the privilege, Kelvin, nor is it the exclusive property of the 63 percent of the New Zealand population known as Pakeha. These fair-skinned Polynesians are not – and never will be – “Europeans”. Just as contemporary Māori are not – and never will be again – the Māori who inhabited these islands before colonisation. Both peoples are the victims of historical forces too vast for blame, too permanent for guilt.

It is high time we stopped using History as a weapon, and started relying upon it as a guide.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 13 May 2022.

Friday 13 May 2022

Struggling Upwards For America’s Soul.

Justice Denied: At the heart of the “Pro-Life” cause was something much darker than conservative religious dogma, or even the oppressive designs of “The Patriarchy”. The enduring motivation – which dares not declare itself openly – is the paranoid conviction of male white supremacists that if “their” women are given personal control of their wombs, then white Americans will soon be “outbred” by Blacks and Hispanics.

THIS IS WHERE it was always bound to end: at the base, not the summit, of the political pyramid. The acceptance of racial equality. The recognition of a woman’s right to choose. These are battles that have to be won on the ground and in the ballot boxes, not at the Supreme Court Of The United States.

Dr Martin Luther King understood this necessity better than most of his white supporters. The whole point of his campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience was to produce not only political but spiritual transformation.

Nonviolence certainly ennobles those who practice it, but of equal importance is the impact on those who resist its objectives. Against the hardened shells of unrepentant racists the disciplined sacrifice of the civil rights activists make no impression. But these lost souls are fewer in number than many reformers suppose.

What many knee-jerk racists saw happening in the streets and at lunch counters across the South gave them pause. It made them think. And when they learned about the children killed in the Birmingham bombing, it made them ashamed.

This was precisely the response Dr King was hoping to evoke. The fight he was engaged in was for the souls of the whites who had been raised to see African-Americans as something less than truly human. He knew the battle for racial equality would never be won until his movement had made the process of dehumanisation morally repugnant – not only to decent America, but also to its indecent bigots. Only when these ‘good ole boys’ no longer had the stomach for repression would the Civil War finally be over.

The great tragedy of the Civil Rights Movement was that it required a measure of patience and forbearance beyond the reach of all but a handful of very special human-beings. The race-riots of the mid-Sixties: in Watts, Detroit and Newark; were catastrophic to Dr King’s cause. “Burn, baby, burn!” let White America off the hook. The violence and destruction, no matter how egregiously provoked by racist police officers, reconfirmed all the old racial prejudices.

Ultimately, Dr King’s moral struggle failed. Supreme Court rulings might compel racism to adapt, but they could not kill it.

Something very similar happened in relation to the struggle for the right of women to control their own fertility. The protagonists for abortion never truly plumbed the depths of their opponents’ determination to overturn the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision, referred to simply as “Roe v. Wade”, which decriminalised terminations in the first trimester of a woman’s pregnancy.

At the heart of the “Pro-Life” cause was something much darker than conservative religious dogma, or even the oppressive designs of “The Patriarchy”. The enduring motivation – which dares not declare itself openly – is the paranoid conviction of male white supremacists that if “their” women are given personal control of their wombs, then white Americans will soon be “outbred” by Blacks and Hispanics.

The family size of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants has been steadily shrinking for generations. The United States of America, which these “WASPs” regard as their own, could not be permitted to fall under the sway of ethnicities typically producing larger families. Not for nothing did the Far-Right demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, greet Black, Hispanic and Jewish counter-demonstrators with chants of: “You will not replace us!”

It is surely instructive that the legal grounds for protecting American women’s right to abortion is located in the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. Passed by Congress in 1866, this amendment guaranteed the bodily liberty of America’s former slaves, along with the “equal protection of the laws”.

The Supreme Court has found that without individual privacy, individual liberty is rendered legally unintelligible. Private decisions about what we do with our bodies, and who we choose to perform those acts with, cannot be the proper business of federal and state legislators.

To revoke Roe v. Wade not only strikes at the heart of women’s freedom, but at the bodily freedom of all Americans.

To “breed” slaves it was necessary to impose a tyranny of terrifying intimacy. Neither the womb, nor the child that issued from it, belonged to the female slave. White Supremacy’s need for this intimate tyranny endures, extending now to the wombs of all American women. With the Supreme Court under its sway, the struggle for America’s soul must toil upwards.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 13 May 2022.

Thursday 12 May 2022

Getting On With Co-Governance – Without Debate.

Who’s Missing From This Picture? The re-birth of the co-governance concept cannot be attributed to the institutions of Pakeha rule, at least, not in the sense that the massive constitutional revisions it entails have been presented to and endorsed by the House of Representatives, and then ratified by the citizens of New Zealand in a democratic referendum. It is, rather, the work of Cabinet Ministers and Judges; of New Zealand’s permanent executive; of the body that slowly emerged to replace the tutelary power and influence of the British state. The force that now calls itself “The Crown”.

CO-GOVERNANCE, and what it means for New Zealand, is predicted to feature prominently in next year’s general election. Passions are already running high on both sides of this issue. All the more reason, one would think, for this country’s public broadcasters to facilitate a reasoned debate between those holding opposing views. Alas, in 2022, the publicly-owned radio network, RNZ, appears to have either forgotten how to conduct reasoned debate, or repudiated the whole idea.

On the morning of Wednesday, 11 May 2022, RNZ Contract Producer Sharon Brettkelly began promoting her latest contribution to “The Detail” series of podcasts. Entitled “Co-Governance: Time To Get On With It?”, Brettkelly’s piece featured just two participants.

These were Chris Finlayson, former National Party Minister for Treaty Settlements, and Traci Houpapa, Chair of the Federation of Māori Authorities, both of whom were, indisputably, well-qualified to speak on the podcast’s subject. Unfortunately, they were also very strong supporters of co-governance. Brettkelly had not thought it necessary to balance her journalism by including the opinions of equally strong and well-qualified opponents of co-governance.

Now, there will be those who object immediately that “balanced reporting” does not require the arguments for and against any given proposition to be included in the same broadcast. For balance to be maintained, it is sufficient that the views of antagonists and protagonists are presented to the audience fairly, and with equal potential impact, within roughly the same timeframe. So long as Brettkelly, or some other RNZ Contract Producer, created a podcast featuring two well-qualified and forceful opponents of co-governance, all would be well.

Sadly, given the current ideological climate in which RNZ’s journalists are required to operate, the chances of such a podcast being made are extremely slim. To broadcast such a production would be considered a breach of RNZ’s obligations under te Tiriti o Waitangi. It would also very likely be denounced by at least some of RNZ employees as a threat to their own and other New Zealanders’ well-being.

After all, we have it on the authority of no less of an expert than Chris Finlayson himself, that only the “Sour Right” and other “losers” oppose co-governance. What possible benefit could there be in providing a publicly-owned platform from which the views of people who “don’t like tangata whenua” and who “dream of a world that never was and never could be”, are spewed forth?

As the title of Brettkelly’s podcast suggests, the question is not whether co-governance represents a fundamental and unmandated break with New Zealand’s constitutional norms; or even if it is a politically feasible objective; but whether or not it is time to just get on with the job. Or, to quote Finlayson, addressing those who might still be entertaining doubts: “Go with the flow”. Clearly, among the people Brettkelly and her ilk deem worthy of a RNZ platform, there is no debate about co-governance. Or, at least, no debate in which representatives of iwi, or the Crown, should allow themselves to become involved.

Listening to Brettkelly’s podcast, it becomes increasingly clear that “The Crown” is a player in the co-governance drama meriting much closer scrutiny.

Most of us, when we hear someone refer to The Crown, rather naively (it turns out) assume the term is being used to describe the Government – the body which we, as citizens of New Zealand, elect to manage the country on our behalf.

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

When iwi representatives and Cabinet ministers talk about The Crown they have something else in mind altogether. For these folk, The Crown represents the permanent and supreme executive power. It encompasses all the decisive institutions of the New Zealand state: the Executive Council (a.k.a the Cabinet); the senior echelons of the public service; the armed forces and the Police; the national security apparatus; and – most important of all – the Judiciary.

Why does this matter? Because the Treaty of Waitangi was presented to the representatives of the indigenous people of these islands by a representative of the British Crown. It was a take-it-or-leave-it deal, that was offered to Māori: not by the British people, who, in 1840, had bugger-all say in the treaties negotiated by their betters (and still don’t) but by agents of the British state. Māori took the deal precisely because, at that time, the British state was the most powerful executive authority on Earth.

What undermined the Treaty was the steady devolution of authority (kawanatanga) from the executive power back in London (and from its local representative, the Governor) to the representative institutions of the Pakeha settlers – whose numbers had grown from a couple of thousand to something equal to or greater than the indigenous population.

In the eyes of these settler governments, the Treaty was not an agreement in which they had played any part, and most certainly was not a document they had the slightest intention of honouring. In the early 1860s, they demanded from London – and got – the overwhelming military force they needed to bury the Treaty and, along with it, the very idea of co-governance.

The re-birth of the co-governance concept cannot be attributed to the institutions of Pakeha rule, at least, not in the sense that the massive constitutional revisions it entails have been presented to and endorsed by the House of Representatives, and then ratified by the citizens of New Zealand in a democratic referendum. It is, rather, the work of Cabinet Ministers and Judges; of New Zealand’s permanent executive; of the body that slowly emerged to replace the tutelary power and influence of the British state. The force that now calls itself “The Crown”.

This is what lies behind the tangata whenua’s fear of representative democracy or, as they prefer to call it, “the tyranny of the majority”, and their preference for working with The Crown alone. They understand perfectly what most Pakeha have yet to grasp: that representative democracy was the means of their dispossession. They know that New Zealand can have democracy, or it can have co-governance, but it can’t have both.

Fair enough. But how are the citizens of New Zealand to explain the scorn and disdain in which The Crown so clearly holds them? Is it simply because The Crown knows that the measures required to keep the peace between Māori and Pakeha will never receive the imprimatur of a freely and fairly elected New Zealand Parliament? That only under a constitutional arrangement in which iwi and The Crown between them wield sufficient power to over-rule the will of “The [Pakeha] People” can the instruments of peace be created?

Because iwi and The Crown both know that co-governance will never be forged by free and fair debate, or free and fair elections, but only by “getting on with it”.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 12 May 2022.