Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Never mind democracy - off with his head!

Meng Foon, the recently appointed race relations commissioner, thinks newly elected Tauranga city councillor Andrew Hollis should resign because he said on Facebook that the Treaty of Waitangi was “a joke” and “past its use-by date”. The new mayor of Tauranga, Tenby Powell, agrees.

Never mind that more than 7500 people voted for Hollis, making him the second most popular candidate for the four “at large” council seats. Never mind that many of the people who voted for him quite possibly share his view – rightly or wrongly – about the Treaty.

This is the way it is in New Zealand in 2019. The option of first resort, if you disagree with something someone in public office has said, is to demand that they resign, and to hell with the democratic process that got them elected or the voters who supported them. Dissent is dealt with not by debating the issue, but by trying to silence the dissenter. 

This is not the way things are supposed to be done in a supposedly liberal democracy, but it’s increasingly the norm in 21st century New Zealand.

Hollis obviously stands in the way of Powell’s wish for a “united” council. Well, tough; that’s democracy. It’s often messy and peopled by contrary characters, just as it should be if it’s to reflect the real world.

Tauranga’s new mayor rose to the rank of colonel in the New Zealand army, and there’s a hint of military thinking in his apparent desire for order around the council table. But councillors are elected to speak their minds, not to meekly fall into line with what the mayor wants. New Zealand is a democracy, and democracy is supposed to provide a forum for all views. It is not selective.

Besides, forcing Hollis to stand down – or disqualify himself from any discussion relating to Maori issues, which is Powell’s alternative demand – doesn’t  magically get rid of his opinions. On the contrary, heavy-handed attempts to stifle dissent serve to foster anger and resentment, and are likely to reinforce the widely held opinion that New Zealand has been captured by authoritarian orthodoxy and groupthink.

The really disappointing response to Hollis’s heresy, however, is not Powell’s, but Meng Foon’s. Powell is just a provincial mayor seeking to assert himself at the start of his first term, but Foon occupies a position of power and influence in central government and, unlike Powell, doesn’t depend on votes to stay there.

Like many people, I welcomed Foon’s appointment as race relations commissioner. He had seemed an admirable mayor of Gisborne and promised to bring a grounded, common-sense approach to a job where ideology, rooted in identify politics, had previously held sway. We are now forced to conclude, regrettably, that it’s still business as usual at the Human Rights Commission.

The furore over Andrew Hollis is only a symptom of a much bigger problem, which is that freedom of speech is under concerted attack.

Whenever a public figure or institution loudly proclaims his, her or its commitment to free speech, you sense there’s a “but” coming. It seems we’re allowed to enjoy free speech, except on certain issues deemed to be offensive to fragile sensibilities.

Take Massey University, for example. Announcing last week that it had chickened out of hosting the Feminism 2020 conference, Massey made ritual noises about being committed to academic freedom and freedom of speech as “values that lie at the very heart of the tradition of a university and academic inquiry”. But its supposed commitment wasn’t strong enough to save the feminist event after it was targeted by a noisy group of precious transgender activists threatening disruption.

Massey’s excuse for capitulating to the protesters was that cancellation was the only way to avoid breaching its health, safety and wellbeing obligations. It was another victory for the enemies of free speech – and an early demonstration of the danger inherent in the recent High Court ruling which held that an Auckland Council-owned company was within its rights in cancelling a speaking engagement at the Bruce Mason Centre following an unsubstantiated threat of protest action (but with strong evidence of political influence on the part of Auckland's mayor).

There’s a strange and chilling irony here. Feminists were once at the cutting edge of radical politics, but now, because of their insistence that a person with a penis cannot be a woman, find themselves supplanted by a more radical ideology that wants to silence them.

Interestingly, this isn’t a classic left-vs-right debate. Some of the most vigorous defences of free speech have come from hard-core leftists such as Chris Trotter and Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury.  The threat to freedom of expression comes from the so-called snowflake generation, which loudly champions diversity but contradictorily has no tolerance of diverse opinions. Sadly, they are encouraged by academics and some politicians – and now by Meng Foon and Tenby Powell.


rowang said...

I believe race relations in NZ have gotten worse over the last decade. The denigration of white NZ Europeans has become institutionalised within certain government agencies as demanded by the needy and noisy minority group complainers. Meng Foon is just another biased RRC who is well on the way to proving the irrelevance of the role.

Dan said...

Karl, thanks for your commentary and insight.

'Massey made ritual noises about being committed to academic freedom and freedom of speech as “values that lie at the very heart of the tradition of a university and academic inquiry”.'

They hope that if they proclaim this loud and often enough, we won't notice their behaviour to the contrary.
I've seen a spate of advertisements by media outlets lately that express their earnest commitment to things like truth, facts, and balance.
These are of course things that we took for granted, not so long ago. That they now have to advertise this point belies the fact that they know they've strayed.
Nor are these advertisements enough to mask their selectivity and soft-censorship. Take, for example, the reluctance and ultimate refusal of the NZ Herald to publish Rachel Stewart's recent column without doctoring it to conform to their narrative.
I would add Rachel's name to Trotter's and Bradbury's as one on the left who genuinely appreciates free speech.

Again, thank you Karl for your writing; I read and enjoy your articles regularly.
Much of your writing resonates with me; perhaps that is due to my being of Wairarapa stock.
Keep up the good work!

Andy Espersen said...

You are spot on, Karl : All this is really "a symptom of a much bigger problem,which is that freedom of speech is under concerted attack". And that should be our concern.

I laughed when I heard Andrew Hollis' flippant, irreverent remarks about the Treaty of Waitangi. No, it is not "a joke", of course. In its day, it was the most important and meaningful documents for our country - and we rightly celebrate it every year (Andrew Hollis will probably agree with that). But yes, in a way it is "past its use-by-date". It has achieved its purpose - after 8 generations, Maori are well and truly absorbed, immersed and blended into our society with the same legal rights and privileges as everybody else. That was what the Treaty set out to achieve - that was why a huge majority of Maori chiefs signed it.

Karl du Fresne said...

I would have agreed with you about Rachel Stewart were it not for a column she wrote in 2017, which I commented on here:
I think it suits her to present herself as a free-speech martyr but I'm not entirely convinced.

Trev1 said...

We have a posturing elite who like to make much of the Treaty of Waitangi in seeking approval and validation among their peers. It's another way of displaying their "liberal" credentials and general superiority over the great unwashed, particularly the "white trash" from which they themselves evolved into higher beings. And yet so often they are utterly ignorant of the content of the document itself. It would have been amusing if it were not so ominous for the country that both Ardern and Shaw were unable to describe the Treaty's three main articles when questioned by a reporter at Waitangi last February, when their own political manifestos had made so many racially driven commitments. And so it goes. Our "opinion leaders" in government and the universities are frequently fundamentally unintelligent but "clever" people who have clambered up the greasy pole by displaying the correct behaviours. We are reaping the whirlwind of failing to call them out.

Max Ritchie said...

Well, I voted for both of them and I must say I am very disappointed in our new mayor and totally support Mr Hollis. The treaty served a purpose. It is not a living document and it most certainly does not give Maori New Zealanders any more of a say in the affairs of this country than New Zealanders of other races. The Ritchies came here in 1872 and our 6th generation is on the horizon bearing great-grandfather Ritchie's genes. Some of our family are descended from people who have been here longer. So? We all have the same rights and privileges. We all came into this world with nothing and we'll take nothing with us when we depart. I didn't have any land when I was born and I don't have any now (I live in a retirement community). It doesn't seem to matter, so let's put all this separation nonsense behind us, accept that we are all New Zealanders and stop claiming some sort of special status because one of our ancestors came here earlier than the rest of us. Mr Hollis is right.

Hilary Taylor said...

Who wants or needs a united council? It should be a feverish cauldron of competition and provocation, or something approaching that...not a bunch of yespersons there for the money & the teas. Foon? Disappointing but unsurprising...his whole job is to find and ferment little squabbles. Stupid job, stupid boss. Massey? Disturbingly consistent after orchestrating a 'oh look, we can do free speech here...but we're going to sabotage it from within'. The tragedy is the apparatus of the country is festooned with these woke types.