CURMUDGEON COLUMN (PUB. DOMINION POST AND CHRISTCHURCH PRESS, 13 MAY 2008)
“DUMB, dumb and dumber”. That was the headline on a press statement by Act leader Rodney Hide criticising the Government’s back-to-the-future buyback of the railways. I agree with him, as I agree with Hide on many things. But Act has been indulging in some dumbness of its own.
It joyously trumpeted the fact that party co-founder Sir Roger Douglas, after a long period of estrangement, had returned to the fold. But from a strictly pragmatic point of view, the party would have been better to shut up.
Douglas may be Act’s ideological pin-up boy, revered for his bold economic reforms in the 1980s. But as necessary as those reforms were (and Labour has tacitly confirmed their value by leaving most of them in place), the fact remains that they caused a lot of pain and a large segment of the population still loathes Douglas for them.
Besides, he’s a man who projects no personal warmth or charisma. Act may regard Douglas’s return as messianic, but it’s likely to alienate more voters than it attracts.
Just as misguided was the delight with which Act announced that businessman Alan Gibbs had donated $100,000 to the party. I’m wholeheartedly in favour of transparency, but it was the triumphant tone of the announcement that puzzled me.
Act seemed to assume it would trigger a surge of popular support. If anything, the reverse is probably true. Rightly or wrongly, Gibbs is identified with the rich men’s club that is seen to have profited from deregulation and privatisation, often at the taxpayers’ expense.
To boast that his donation is a “vote of confidence” in Act, as Hide did, suggests Act’s leadership is out of step with popular perceptions. It will only reinforce the damaging and misleading stereotype of Act as a party that looks after the interests of the wealthy and privileged. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
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FOR DECADES, left-wing historical revisionists have been promoting the lie that New Zealand has an irredeemably racist past.
In Australia this is called the “black armband” view of history – the notion that everything in the past is cause for shame and recrimination. Well, it might be true of Australia, where the Aborigines were often treated scarcely better than animals; but it certainly isn’t true of New Zealand.
In their determination to portray Maori as crushed and marginalised, the revisionists ignore the many early administrators and politicians who were determined that Maori be treated with honour and respect.
They prefer to forget that Parliament created special seats for Maori in 1867, and that several distinguished Maori politicians – Sir James Carroll, Sir Apirana Ngata and Sir Maui Pomare – served at the highest levels of government. (Carroll acted as prime minister on occasions and Ngata as deputy prime minister.)
The revisionists would rather focus our attention on the injustices that were perpetrated against Maori, such as the Parihaka incident and the land confiscations that are now being atoned for (some of them not for the first time). But these were only part of a much bigger and more complex picture.
Perhaps the most powerful contradiction of the falsehoods propagated about the history of race relations in New Zealand can be found in the daily lives of ordinary people: in the high rate of inter-marriage between Maori and Pakeha and by decades of warm, close relationships between the two races in the workplace and on the sports ground, all of which would have been unthinkable in other mixed-race countries.
Sometimes these truths are brought home to us in small ways. My local community paper regularly publishes an old photo that someone has brought in, and it recently featured a picture of the team that won a local rugby competition in 1953.
Most of the faces are Pakeha, but there are three Maori in the team – and they happen to include the captain and vice-captain. This, in a provincial town that the left-wing guilt-mongers would doubtless characterise, in their simplistic way, as “redneck”.
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DIEHARD leftie trade unionist Matt McCarten recently took a poke at Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly for criticising the junior doctors’ strike.
“There is a sacred principle among trade unionists: when a group of workers is on strike you support them to the hilt,” McCarten wrote. “To side with the boss is the most serious of all crimes.”
This anachronistic, class-warfare mentality may help explain why unions are still struggling to rebuild their membership despite Labour’s repeal of the Employment Contracts Act eight years ago.
Many New Zealanders still have sharp memories of the 1960s and 70s, when union militants inflicted huge damage with precious little regard for their fellow citizens.
The attitude that the union must be supported, right or wrong, represents all that is worst about old-school union mindsets. It allowed union bullies to impose their will on compliant or intimidated memberships and to isolate and ostracise anyone who dared to dissent.
Fortunately McCarten’s dinosaur ideology is not representative of the union movement at large, whose leaders these days are more enlightened.