Posts Tagged ‘NZ’

Prepare to be Offended

October 15, 2010 Leave a comment

During the course of arguing that New Zealanders are too easily offended, I have been mocked for using “quasi academic dribble [sic.]” in the form of phrases like  hypersensitive umbrage-taking.  Point taken, so I will keep this one simple.  I read a story online just now that shone a light on the issue again.  The link is at the end, but here is the movie trailer treatment.

It sparked anger.

It was met with gasps and silence

It disgusted someone so much he walked out.

He was angered.

“It was a racist comment based on ignorance.” he said,

To the victim, it was distressing.

“It hurt us quite a bit.”

“We still hurt about it.”

The guilty party called it an absolute tragedy.

Another called it highly offensive and disappointing.

Yet another agreed it was both distressing and disappointing.

If you want to get to the bottom of this disappointing, distressing, disgusting, racist, ignorant, hurtful, gasp-, silence- and walk-out-inducing (absolute) tragedy, follow the LINK.

WARNING:  It contains material that may underwhelm some readers.

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Misfired Hyperbole: Henry Resignation Not a Freedom of Speech Issue

October 14, 2010 9 comments

Deborah Hill Cone claims in the NZ Herald that the Paul Henry resignation represents an affront to freedom of speech and speaks to a disturbing undercurrent of intolerance in NZ society. She even claims that a million Kiwis choose to live abroad because partly in response to this.

This is a pretty good example of misfired hyperbole. First up, I actually agree, in broad terms, with Hill Cone’s argument. New Zealand, for a long time, has been far too thin-skinned to allow a sufficiently robust public discourse. This is often laid at the doorstep of “political correctness” (yawn) and the Helenistas who imposed it on the country for most of the past decade. There is something to this, but it misses a critical point: New Zealand’s culture of hypersensitive umbrage-taking is a direct offshoot of the excessive and detrimental politeness hard-wired into Kiwis.

What is often derided as PC-gone-mad (yawn) is actually as much a product of painfully good manners as anything else. Even New Zealanders of the radical right-wing, anti-PC (yawn) fringe would, I bet you, apologize to when someone on the NYC subway stands on their toes.

I am not denying that there is an ideological component to New Zealand’s version of political correctness (yawn). Of course there is. The Waikato University types have a very definite political agenda to soft-cockify the nation — but, absent the right breeding conditions, it wouldn’t have gone anywhere. My argument is simply that New Zealand’s endemic over-politeness provides exactly such conditions.

Hill Cone is delving into rich and productive territory but she misses the chance to say anything particularly useful.

Freedom of speech is not the issue here. No-one, not even “Dr” Brian Edwards, is saying that Henry doesn’t have the freedom, or legal right, to say pretty much whatever he likes about the Governor-General.

This doesn’t mean he can’t be forced to resign for saying it. Henry doesn’t have a constitutional right to a job for life. By conflating his resignation with broad freedom of speech arguments, Hill Cone’s post loses credibility and punch.

The real question is cultural, not legal. Is it a good thing that New Zealand society is such that Henry had no choice but to resign? Whatever we think of Henry (which is not much, in my case), Hill Cone and I agree that the answer is “no”. Since there is no shortage of good arguments in our favour, it’s a shame Hill Cone, given her platform, neglected to use any of them.

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Chris Carter’s Hypocritical ‘Coup’ Sledge

October 11, 2010 1 comment

Chris Carter is not a bad person.  I am on the record as blaming Jonathan Hunt for his downfall which, to be honest,  is a fairly generous interpretation of events.

But, Chris, Chris, Chris….what on earth are you talking about when you compare your conduct favorably to Phil Goff’s attempted “coup” against Helen Clark in 1996?  Are you really, truly going there?

This nonsense begs to be debunked.

First, it is not an offense within a political party to support an alternative to the incumbent Parliamentary leader.  It is an internal Party matter, and fair game for all concerned.

It would be an offense if Phil Goff and others were secretly supporting another political party — and no-one is leveling that charge.

Phil Goff was joined by at least half of his colleagues in 1996 in believing that Helen Clark was leading Labour to electoral defeat, which she promptly did.  There were two reasons for her survival:

  1. Clark’s inspired last-minute promotion of Micheal Cullen, a key coup lieutenant, to deputy leader (hat-tip, HC!)
  2. While a majority of Labour MPs supported dumping Clark, they fell just short in securing a plurality for either alternative, Goff or Mike Moore.

That is what happened. I am a primary source.

Chris Carter had a secret poll taken in ’96 to ascertain whether he could hold Te Atatu with Clark at the helm.  I know this because I conducted the poll.  The results were unequivocal: Carter would lose big time, which he went on to do.  Chris was not keen on backing Mike Moore — a figure of derision on his side of the Party — but his clear preference was for Goff to run.  The numbers, however, forced Mike Moore’s name into the race.

Based on conversations he and I had at the time, I have every reason to believe that Carter was supportive of a Goff ‘coup’ in 1996.  Plenty of people know this, including Goff himself, and it is to their credit that they keep quiet.   For my part, I am tired of the sanctimony of people — Carter being the latest–  who try and misrepresent those events as treachery.  Leadership spills happen, some for good reason, some for ill.  Some succeed, like Clark in 1993; some fail, like 1996.  Such is politics.  The tendency within NZ Labour to vilify the vanquished in these internal party disputes is not entirely non-Stalinist.

Carter shouldn’t be allowed to get away with such shameless hypocrisy. Surely?

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Kiwiblog Manages Mana Meme Marvelously

October 9, 2010 Leave a comment

New Zealand’s smash-hit politics and current affairs site, Kiwiblog, wears its National Party allegiance lightly.  Founder, David Farrar, keeps his conservative politics in check and gives credit where it’s due across the political spectrum. This ecumenical approach has won his site a wide and diverse following.

On the question of the Mana by-election, however, it is tough not to conclude that Kiwiblog is doing some hard yards for the National Party. This post is the latest effort to portray Mana as all but unwinnable for National when nothing could be further from the truth. I have written earlier about how Labour has strangely opted out of the expectations game in Mana — and have thereby allowed the Kiwiblog meme to take hold. This is an unfortunate — and unforced — strategic capitulation on Labour’s part.

I feel obliged to fly the flag for the Mana Labour Party here: this by-election is an uphill slog and National have at least an even chance. First, however, is Farrar’s case:

    1. The history of by-elections in New Zealand suggests a government pick-up is unlikely (weak)
    2. The turnout is likely to be low (weaker)
    3. Key’s popularity won’t translate into vote-switches (weakest)

Kiwiblog deserves credit for allowing that the chance of a National pick-up is not nil, a modest but notable shift on its part. Perhaps, by November, Farrar and I will meet in the middle somewhere — but not yet. Here’s why I think his argument doesn’t stack up:

    1. While history is useful as a general guide on these matters, I don’t see the same definitive pattern Farrar does. Admittedly, my research is limited to a couple of hours’ wading through old election results and Wikipedia snippets (as well as my frail and fractured memory), but nothing suggests that the Mana by-election is bound to any immutable historical precedent. The current political climate is a far more compelling guide — and far less comforting for Labour. If we agree that 2,500 is the nominal margin, National could achieve it without breaking a sweat — given the right conditions.
    2. This brings me to the genius at the heart of Farrar’s argument: he concedes that the political conditions are indeed favourable to National but pivots with breathtaking speed to suggest that this will not translate electorally:
    “…the PM is a popular Prime Minister, but being popular doesn’t necessarily mean voters will want to take a seat off the Opposition and give it to the Government as a thank you note.” 

    I can’t help but admire the audacity here. Of course John Key’s popularity will help National’s chances in Mana, and to suggest otherwise is just spin. You could argue that it won’t help enough to overcome a 2,500 vote margin but it flies in the face of common sense to suggest that people will vote against the government they support in favour of an opposition they don’t for clever-sticks tactical reasons. Voters don’t “take a seat off” the incumbent party as if playing chess; they make a choice based on who they support at the time. And this time, I would suggest, the popularity of the Key Government will translate, straight-forwardly enough, to a some degree of vote-switching. Enough for Mana to change hands? I suspect so, but hope not.

    3. If the “National Can’t Win” crowd keep saying a low turn-out is good news for Labour I may be forced to conclude that they actually believe it. This notion strikes me as so completely bogus that I can’t really see the point in rebutting it, except for this: Mana/Porirua had a low-stakes, low turnout election as recently as yesterday. Take a look at the outcome of that and do, as the Columbia University students whose wifi I am currently thieving might put it, the math.

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Hasn’t India Got Much On?

October 7, 2010 2 comments

The Foreign Office in India has summoned New Zealand’s High Commissioner in that country to explain the racism of TVNZ breakfast presenter, Paul Henry, after Henry deliberately mispronounced the surname of the Delhi chief Minister “dick-shit”. If her surname was Patel, for argument’s sake, this would be and open-and-shut case of outrageous racial insensitivity. In fact, her name is Dikshit.

Sheila Dikshit.

Apparently it is pronounced as in “Dixit” with a silent H. (I wonder if the Dikshit family ever considered discarding the “h” altogether since it serves no obvious purpose except for making their name look very much like it should be pronounced DICKSHIT).

None of this is to forgive Paul Henry. I am not a member of the racism police, but it is enough for me that Henry is a self-styled trouble-maker to determine that he is the worst kind of wanker.

If finding foreign language surnames that sound a lot like rude words in English funny is racist, then racism is very rampant indeed. A friend of mine once reported how the stiff formality of his graduation ceremony was shot to pieces when “Edwin Yu Phat Kok” was awarded his engineering degree.

If “quin” meant ejaculation fluid in Hindi, would I be offended if my arrival at Delhi airport was met with howls of laughter? I doubt it. I would probably find it funny and eventually really boring — but I would never ask my government to intervene.

So, it seems a little overwrought to call in diplomats over “Dikshitgate”. If anything calls for a radio play, this is it.

Indian Foreign Office. Tea cups clinking.

Official: Mr High Commissioner, you know why you are here.
HiCom: Yis.
Official: It is a very serious matter.
HiCom: Yis, ut uz.
Official: Minister Dikshit is a great servant to India and the Commonwealth and we find it extremely insulting that she should have her surname deliberately mangled so as to sound very much like obscene English words.`
HiCom: We understand.
Official: How would you like it if your name were mischievously reconfigured into synonyms for penis and excrement?
HiCom: I should like it not at all.
Official: You see the point, then, High Commissioner?
HiCom: I most certainly do.
Official: We are not content to leave it there.  The Indian Government wants to convey this message very clearly to your government and to the Commonwealth more broadly: as punishment for the gross insensitivity of Mr Paul Henry, we will withhold from all parties a well-run Commonwealth Games.
HiCom: I big your pardon?
Official: You heard me, High Commissioner. India will ensure that the Delhi Games are a complete debacle as a way of conveying our offense at the Henry comments. We will make the whole experience weird and annoying for everyone involved.
HiCom: Forgive me, but isn’t that somewhat extreme?
Official: What is extreme, High Commissioner, is the phrase “DICKSHIT”.
HiCom: Yis, but…
Official: “Thanks, Paul Henry, for this  terrible, terrible sporting event” – this will be the phrase will echo in every farflung corner of the Commonwealth, my dear High Commissioner!
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Repost: The Senescence of NZ Local Government

October 7, 2010 3 comments

The NZ local body elections are on Saturday. I thought I would repost this from August, back when no-one was reading my blog. It seems to raise a legitimate point.

I was saddened but not surprised to hear that Bob Tizard, 87,  who served as New Zealand’s deputy prime minister briefly in the mid-1970’s, was spending a lot of time in hospitals around Auckland.  And then  I realised it wasn’t as a patient.

Tizard, who first  entered the NZ Parliament in 1957, is running for a second term on the Auckland District Health Board, which means that his political career exceeds in longevity that of Fidel Castro.  I point this out not to make light of Tizard’s many contributions to New Zealand public life, but to highlight a serious and growing problem with local body politics in New Zealand:  the transformation of city, district and regional Councils, as well as health boards, into gold-plated retirement homes for politicians past their prime.

In 1989, the Labour Government of Geoffrey Palmer drastically increased the remuneration levels for government politicians.  This was a neat policy trick that satisfied both Labour’s desire for more diversity among elected officials and Treasury’s hope for a higher calibre.  At the time, I could not have agreed more.

I was a 19-year old candidate for Porirua City Council’s Tairangi ward, an election I won in a thumping landslide.  This result, it has to be said, was entirely unrelated to diversity or calibre:  I was a Labour candidate in an area that would have elected me even if I had spent the entire election campaign in hiding; and many voters understandably confused me for my father, a recently retired and beloved local headmaster with whom I share both surname and initials.    I retired from Council two and a half years into my first and only term, ending one of the shortest and least consequential political careers in NZ history.  I am, if you like, the anti-Tizard.

Michael Fowler’s widely-reported decision, at age eighty, to run for Council three decades after retiring as Mayor of Wellington doesn’t even rate as strange in the scheme of things.  Across the country, we are witnessing a stampede of semi-retired politicians in time for October’s local elections.

In the race for Wellington Regional Council alone, there are four ex-MP’s in the running (Fran Wilde, John Terris, Paul Swain and Chris Laidlaw), three ex-Mayors  (Jenny Brash, John Burke and Rex Kirton) and two who have been both (Terris and Wilde).

After entering the race for the Porirua Mayoralty, former Lange Government Minister, Russell Marshall, was quick to accuse his critics of ‘ageism’ as if there weren’t plenty of other reasons to oppose his quixotic candidacy.  (His slightly younger brother, Kerry, is running for re-election as Mayor of Nelson, perhaps on a platform on relative youthfulness).   Elsewhere, Mark Burton, Martin Gallagher, Harry Duynhoven and George Hawkins have all jumped into local races.

There are three reasons why New Zealand’s political elite so eagerly parachute into local government.

Firstly, politicians with well-established name recognition generally prevail in  these elections because the policy stakes are low and the voters don’t much care.  This ease-of-victory acts as a great incentive for would-be has-beens looking for a next step.

The second reason relates to what Gareth Evans (who employed me as an advisor at the tail-end of his splendid career as Australia’s Attorney-General, Foreign Minister and Deputy Opposition Leader) coined “relevance deprivation syndrome”.  Evans, referring to his own experience after 13 years in government,  gave expression to the hollow feeling that grips politicians as power dissipates and the limelight recedes. Local government treats these withdrawal symptoms.  It acts as a kind of methadone programme for recovering politicians.

The third and most powerful explanation for this phenomenon is — to put it bluntly — cash.  Parliamentary superannuation in New Zealand is modest by international standards, and even the longest-serving New Zealand Mayor is left with nothing after leaving office.  New Zealand is not replete with seats on lucrative corporate boards or academic sinecures for the retired political class, in stark contrast to the US or even Australia.  Consulting or lobbying is rarely an option, either.  As New Zealand political figures exit the main stage and seek ways to remain active and cashed-up, local government is often the solitary piece of low-hanging fruit.

As long as elected councils and boards offer a generous retirement income, it will be impossible to stop high-profile politicos from hogging the available spots.  One radical solution is to starve the beast, and slash remuneration levels to pre-89 levels.  This brings its own problems:  it will undoubtedly prevent many otherwise excellent candidates from entering the fray, as well as favour the independently wealthy.

A better alternative may be legislated term limits or an enforceable retirement age, but politicians are famously reluctant to sign their own death warrants.

Maybe there is no easy policy solution, but there is something immensely appealing to the idea of clearing the decks, and opening up the second-tier of NZ political power to people who do not recall exactly what they were doing when JFK was shot.

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Brian Edwards and the Republic of (E)ire

October 4, 2010 1 comment

Provocative TVNZ breakfast presenter Paul Henry is in hot water for racist comments about NZ’s Governor General, Sir Anand Satyanand, who is of Indian parentage and whose term is about to expire.  “Are you going to choose a New Zealander who looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time,” Henry asked of Prime Minister John Key, who was appropriately taken aback, “are we going to go for someone who is more like a New Zealander this time?”

Paul Henry’s reputation revolves around saying precisely this kind of outrageous thing.  He called Susan Boyle “retarded”, for example, and made fun of a female Greenpeace activist for having facial hair.  You get the picture: champagne comedy.

The GG slur has dominated headlines in NZ for the past 24-hours, and much outrage is ensuing.

Veteran broadcaster “Doctor” Brian Edwards, an Irishman who moved to New Zealand when he was deemed to have an inadequate sense of humour, was interviewed in the NZ Herald about the Henry comments:

Dr Edwards said he was a good friend of Sir Anand and found the comments “doubly offensive” for that reason. “He couldn’t talk about a more delightful, charming and wonderful born and bred Kiwi.”

Dr Edwards said TVNZ should look at itself and ask whether it was worth keeping Henry. “He’s offended a whole lot of people before, but they weren’t in the same calibre as Sir Anand.”

I am outraged by two aspects of Dr Edwards’ outrage.

  1. Edwards is “doubly” offended by Henry because the GG is a good friend.  I am fuming at this vile favouritism!  In effect, Edwards admits he would be only 50 percent as outraged if the offended person were a stranger.  This clearly discriminates against the nearly 4 million Kiwis who are not friends of Brian Edwards and yet could conceivably find themselves offended by Paul Henry.
  2. And how about Edwards’ suggestion that this is a worse-than-usual crime because the people usually insulted by Henry are “not in the same calibre as Sir Arnand”? In Brian Edwards’ sick mind, the level of anger he feels at Henry’s aspersions is directly related to the calibre of person at whom they are directed.  According to this formulation, Henry can insult low-calibre types — Susan Boyle does creep into mind here — to his heart’s content without risking the ire of Edwards or his ilk. It seems that only when Henry directs his attention to high-status individuals — especially when those people are on the Edwards Xmas card list —  that Edwards will find cause to summon a conniption.  This unequal application of fury by Edwards is sickeningly elitist.

As a low-calibre-Kiwi-non-Edwards-friend who is not at all “delightful, charming and wonderful”, I am offended.

Doubly, triply, multitudinously offended.

Edwards should resign, from his golf club if necessary.

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