Saturday, April 17, 2021

Best in show - really? Des Gorman on New Zealand's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic

If New Zealand were Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Professor Des Gorman would have had the Alexei Navalny treatment by now. Government agents would have broken into his house and spread Novichok on every surface.

Like the Russian dissident whom Putin’s goons tried to eliminate, the distinguished University of Auckland medical professor insists on presenting a narrative that’s jarringly at odds with the one pushed by the people in power.

Fortunately New Zealand hasn’t got to the point of liquidating dissenters, though you couldn’t blame Gorman if he made a habit of checking under his car bonnet before turning on the ignition.

In a recent Leighton Smith podcast, the eminent medical academic was witheringly disparaging about New Zealand’s response to Covid-19, saying the government was caught with its pants down when the pandemic struck and hasn’t got any better since. “The only thing we had going for us is our geography.”

He described the public health system as being in a parlous state, citing its failure to deal with measles and ’flu epidemics, and said the response to the coronavirus pandemic had been “driven by political optics”.

He highlighted the government’s initial reluctance to close the border and the Health Minister’s resistance to the compulsory wearing of masks – as urged by experts such as epidemiologist Michael Baker, and eventually adopted – as examples of dangerous complacency.

Gorman accused the government of cultivating a culture of fear while simultaneously spinning the message that New Zealand was “best in show – the envy of the world” when in fact, countries such as Taiwan had “left us for dead”.

Most damningly, he reeled off a series of government claims that were contradicted by the facts. “‘All Russian crewmen have been tested’; no, they hadn’t. ‘They’ve all been in quarantine’; no, they hadn’t. ‘All the border workers have been tested’; no, they hadn’t. ‘No people are leaving quarantine early’; yes, they are. ‘There’s no mixing and mingling’ [in quarantine]; yes, there is. ‘There’s plenty of ’flu vaccine; no, there isn’t. ‘Nurses have plenty of PPE’ [personal protective equipment]’; no, they haven’t.

“I don’t know how many times we’ve been misled,” Gorman said. Yet he acknowledged that most people think the government has done a wonderful job. People who are frightened are more likely to accept authoritarianism, he suggested.

Gorman didn’t let the media off the hook, either. He said that with a few exceptions such as Newshub’s Michael Morrah, NewstalkZB’s Mike Hosking and Smith himself, journalists were saying what they thought people wanted to hear. “When you have the media and the government navigating [by] a populist star, you get a low level of critical thinking.”

Gorman’s critique comes as the government’s credibility is looking increasingly thin. Morrah continues to do sterling work in highlighting discrepancies between what politicians and officials are saying about the management of the pandemic and what’s actually happening “on the ground”. The latest inconsistencies arose over assurances that GPs were primed and ready for action on the delivery of vaccines – a statement that obviously came as news to doctors on the front line, who had heard nothing.

The sainted Ashley Bloomfield, in particular, keeps getting caught out telling fibs, though most New Zealanders don’t want to consider the possibility that he might be just another public sector careerist who can’t be counted on to tell the full, unvarnished truth, especially if it reflects unfavourably on his ministry’s handling of the pandemic.

Peter Williams is the latest to cast doubt on Bloomfield’s reassurances about how well everything’s going. In a recent commentary, the Magic Talk host quoted Bloomfield as saying serious adverse reactions to the Covid-19 vaccine were being managed appropriately and none required hospitalisation. Williams continued: “Now I know, and you know, that is not true. Because we had a woman on this show the week before last who was admitted to hospital after getting the vaccine and she was off work for at least two weeks and when I spoke to her on March 24th she was only then getting back to normal after three weeks.

“I know who she is, and who she works for. So I’m very concerned that we are not being given the full truth here about the adverse reactions, and when these vaccine numbers are rolled out every week, I think we should keep a very, very close eye on those numbers from the CARM [Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring] in Dunedin.”

Meanwhile, Jacinda Ardern’s practised earnestness (you know that pained, imploring expression she wears when she’s explaining to reporters why the government has to do things it really rather wouldn’t do?)  is looking increasingly forced too, especially when she tries to wriggle out of an awkward corner by dumping on a security guard who supposedly lied to his employer about getting tested (neatly side-stepping the point that if half-decent systems were in place, the lie would have been picked up months earlier).

So much for Ardern’s entreaties to “Be Kind”. That one’s coming back to bite her.

Gorman, of course, is right. When the history of New Zealand’s management of Covid-19 comes to be written, it will record that almost every government action to protect the country happened too late, and then only after politicians and officials were forced into action because a sceptical journalist (there are still a handful, thank God) or alert opposition MP (not a lot of them either) exposed glaring deficiencies in their performance or flagrant porkies in what the country was being told.

It makes you wonder whether Hosking might be right when he says, as he did in this commentary on Thursday, that it’s only sheer dumb luck that’s getting us through.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Why we should be sceptical about Kris Faafoi's grand broadcasting project

In a previous life, I served for two years as a member of the Library and Information Advisory Commission (LIAC).

You’ve never heard of it? That’s hardly surprising. Not many people have. It was established by Helen Clark’s government for the purposes of, among other things, “maintaining a strategic overview of the library and information sectors” and “providing stakeholder perspectives on issues and proposals”. Make of that what you will.

I was nominated for a seat on the board by the Newspaper Publishers’ Association and accepted, naively thinking LIAC might occasionally deal with issues related to freedom of information.

I can’t pretend it was an onerous job. It involved driving to Wellington once every couple of months for an all-day meeting where various people reported on various things and we were given a pleasant but simple lunch. For this I was paid a modest emolument.

Our minister was Marian Hobbs, whose responsibilities included the National Library. I recall the board strolling across Molesworth Street to the Beehive for a meeting with her and wondering why we bothered, since there seemed nothing of any substance to tell her. But apparently it was a statutory requirement.

My fellow board members were a likeable bunch but came from the public sector and spoke what seemed to me to be a foreign language. That is to say, I recognised the words but struggled to comprehend the sentences they were arranged into.

I particularly remember the late Paul Reynolds, a loquacious Scotsman with a background in IT, who would talk at great length and with irrepressible enthusiasm about the rich potential of the digital information sector. It was impossible not to like Paul, but he needed an assertive chair to rein him in. More to the point, I don’t recall anything actually happening or being decided as a result of his effusive rhetoric.

My occasional protestations that I needed a translator were usually met with the slightly condescending assurance that I served a valuable purpose by keeping my fellow board members grounded in the real world. But after serving one term I decided that keeping LIAC grounded in the real world – if indeed I succeeded in doing so, which I doubted – wasn’t enough to justify my continued presence. So I resigned.

Here’s the thing: at the end of my two years, I was no clearer about LIAC’s purpose than I was at the start. I still had no idea what I was doing there and couldn’t see what, if anything, our meetings were achieving. To me it was just talk, talk, talk, with no discernible outcome, though I admit I seemed to be alone in reaching this pessimistic conclusion. Perhaps I missed something.

Before writing this, I went to the Department of Internal Affairs website to check that LIAC still exists (it does), and to remind myself what it was set up to do. I’m still none the wiser, since its terms of reference are described in woolly bureaucratese that can mean anything and nothing.

Its remit is a masterpiece of vague abstractions and circular reasoning, empowering LIAC to do whatever it thinks might be worth doing, but not actually explaining in simple, practical terms what that is, or guaranteeing that anyone will take any notice of it anyway. It’s there because it’s there. Where LIAC’s reason for existing should be clearly explained, there’s a vacuum.

I came to the conclusion that LIAC was one of those quangos that Labour politicians, in particular, love to create because they create a perception of action, change and dynamic forward momentum.

You can see how this happens. Labour typically languishes in opposition for prolonged periods (in that case, nine years), chafing with frustration and grinding its teeth at all the things it thinks the government should be doing. By the time it eventually gets its hands on the levers of power (mixed metaphor alert!), a massive head of reformist zeal has built up.

All that energy has to go somewhere, so it tends to get diffused in a frantic welter of political and bureaucratic activity that employs legions of public servants, consultants and advisors but often produces no lasting, tangible or beneficial results.

Labour, after all, is a party of change. It has a compelling urge to re-invent the wheel; to re-arrange things, sometimes for no better reason than that it has the power to do so. In this respect it’s fundamentally different from National, whose instinct is to leave things alone. (Unfortunately, National’s inertia means quangos created under Labour often survive a change of government, which may explain why LIAC still exists.)

No doubt there are other LIACs lurking out of the public view, all hoovering up taxpayer money and consuming energy that might be better expended elsewhere. In fact on a government profligacy scale of one to 10, LIAC would barely register 0.5.  I mention it only because I happen to have had personal experience of it. (The Taxpayers’ Union does a very good job of exposing the countless other government feel-good exercises which squander public money, like the new Hamilton-Papakura commuter train that in its first week often carried fewer than 30 passengers per trip.)

This brings me to the point of this blog, which is the work going on behind the scenes toward a reinvention of public broadcasting in New Zealand – or to be more precise, a merger (although the government doesn’t like that word) of TVNZ and RNZ.

No one has satisfactorily explained why this is necessary, still less urgent (as Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi seems to think), or what benefits it will bring. But it’s going ahead regardless, at pace and mainly out of public view, and you get the feeling it’s likely to happen whether it makes sense or not. It looks like Faafoi’s big legacy project – one that’s almost inevitably fated to be dismantled and reconstructed by some other reformist minister further down the track, because that’s what happens.

The potential pitfalls in the proposed amalgamation are obvious. The two organisations’ cultures are fundamentally incompatible. Yoking TVNZ and RNZ together would be like trying to mate a komodo dragon with a barn owl.

Admittedly, the model the government is considering, which would combine a commercial television service and a non-commercial radio network under common management, has worked satisfactorily in the past. It’s pretty much how the old New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation operated before it was broken up (under a Labour government, as it happens) in 1975.

The NZBC was funded by commercial revenue not only from television but also from its profitable ZB radio network, which was sold off in the 1980s. This income was supplemented by a licence fee, similar to the one that funds the BBC, which everyone with a TV set was required to pay, and which theoretically funded non-commercial broadcasting.

But that was then and this is now. Under the NZBC and its immediate successors, a strong public broadcasting ethos prevailed despite the hybrid funding model. The people who ran the two state TV networks that emerged from the 1975 overhaul were still influenced, consciously or otherwise, by the lingering legacy of British-born Sir James Shelley, New Zealand’s first director of broadcasting. That was apparent from their programming policies, which strove for a balance between populist entertainment and more serious content – and mostly achieved it. Ratings were important, but not paramount.

That can’t be said of TVNZ, which long ago shed any trace of its origins as a public broadcaster. It has been commercially driven – aggressively so – for decades, despite futile attempts (notably the Clark government’s meaningless “TVNZ Charter” in 2003, which the broadcaster appeared to ignore) to impose public service obligations on it.

I would be the first to applaud the restructuring of broadcasting if it signalled a return to public broadcasting values, but I suspect that genie is well and truly out of the bottle as far as TVNZ is concerned.

People might feel happier if Faafoi could at least present a succinct, compelling case for change, but he hasn’t. We’re told the new organisation must be “fit for purpose” – but what purpose, exactly? That’s conveniently undefined. “Fit for purpose” is a fashionable phrase that, like LIAC’s terms of reference, can mean anything or nothing. We should be very suspicious of politicians who take refuge in jargon whose meaning is impossible to pin down.

A key justification advanced for the creation of a “strong new public media entity” (the officially endorsed terminology) is that the media sector is in crisis and needs government help. But a cynical interpretation is that the “crisis” – if it exists, which commentators such as Newsroom's Mark Jennings dispute – offers a perfect opportunity for a deep-pocketed government to step into the market and swamp private operators.  This raises the worrying prospect of a state-controlled media behemoth.

Commentators on all sides have expressed scepticism, and not all of it can be dismissed as self-interest or politically motivated. They have also expressed disquiet at a lack of transparency.

As Stuff’s Tom Pullar-Strecker wrote in a perceptive analysis a couple of weeks ago, the longer the government holds out against demands for wider involvement in the exercise, “the more likely it is that people may feel the merger is something that is being done to them, rather than for them”.

Pullar-Strecker also pointedly asked: “Might this simply be a case of public sector empire-building by Faafoi, himself a former TVNZ journalist?

He went on to suggest that it’s possible “there simply is no strong thinking behind the new public media entity and it is just the product of ill-defined aspirations that have been allowed to snowball in a policy vacuum”. 

In other words a bit like LIAC, perhaps, but on an infinitely grander and costlier scale.


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Why I'm suspicious of the phrase "award-winning"

I’ve said for years – not that anyone was listening – that two of the most useless words in the English language are “award-winning”.

Award-winning wine, award-winning magazine, award-winning artist, award-winning TV commercial, award-winning restaurant, award-winning book, award-winning movie, award-winning building … Many of these accolades can be dismissed as meaningless. I wouldn’t necessarily condemn them all out of hand, but people should be very wary of accepting them at face value.

I speak from some experience, having been a judge of journalism and newspaper awards, restaurant awards and even cheese awards. Though in all those instances the judging process was as transparent and fair as it could be, my misgivings grew to the point where I declined to be involved.

The reliability of awards depends on too many variables. Who was eligible? Who were the judges? What were the criteria? How could anyone ensure judges’ decisions were not subject to potentially unfair personal bias? Of critical importance, who bothered to enter and who didn’t? (Often, the best practitioners in any field don’t bother to enter competitions because they don’t need to. Wine competitions are a case in point.)  

Awards often don’t tell you what you most need to know. Just as a glowing review of a new car doesn’t tell you how reliable it’s going to be once it’s left the showroom, which is the crucial factor for most buyers, so an award for an individual piece of work doesn’t necessarily prove anything in the longer term.

In the same way that a clever winemaker can craft a wine that will stand out in a competition where judges might have to taste several hundred samples in a day, it’s possible for a newspaper or journalist to produce an individual edition or article that attracts high praise. But the real test is the ability to do the job to a high standard consistently over weeks, months and years.

Keri Hulme’s celebrated novel the bone people comes to mind. Hulme won the Man Booker Prize in 1985 and was lionised by the literati, but she appears to have done nothing of any note since. Which raises another question: how long can someone go on being described as “award-winning” before the award recedes so far into the past that it’s no longer relevant?

The honour showered on Hulme's novel, which some critics described as incomprehensible,  raises another problem with awards. Sometimes they represent the verdict of a rarefied elite that almost takes pride in being out of touch with popular taste. Art awards are another case in point.

The intimate (some might say incestuous) nature of New Zealand society presents additional risks. There’s always the danger that people will be judging the work of friends – or just as insidiously, enemies and rivals, especially in the bitchy literary community.

Returning to journalism, which is the field I know best, I can think of reporters who won acclaim for outstanding stories and never rose to the same heights again. As an editor, I once hired a reporter on the basis of a major award he had won but whose performance was mediocre. Some people thrive in a particular environment but, for whatever reason, are unable to reproduce that same level of excellence once they move on.

I know other editors who had similar experiences. A reporter I once worked with in Australia had several major newspaper titles bidding for his services after he happened to score a prize-winning national scoop simply by being in the right place at the right time (he happened to be close to the scene of a terrible accident in a remote location), but who proved a disappointment to the paper that ended up hiring him.

Digressing slightly, what about those stickers on wine bottles which purport to assure buyers of the wine’s quality? They guarantee nothing. As Michael Cooper pointed out in a recent Listener wine column, the relationship between some wine “critics” and the wineries that supply them is sometimes ethically compromised, to put it politely. Some critics are hired guns, paid to talk up a wine (though they presumably wouldn’t risk their reputations by putting a five-star sticker on an indifferent product).

Right now, the international media are getting excited about the most celebrated awards of all – the Oscars, which take place in a couple of weeks.  But it can be instructive to go back through the lists of past Academy Award winners. Many of those that scored the coveted Best Picture gong are soon forgotten. They came and went and made no lasting impression. Birdman (2014)? Moonlight (2016)? The Shape of Water (2017)? I rest my case.

Conversely, many movies that people still watch over and over again – true classics – never got recognition from the pompously named Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Even Citizen Kane, widely acclaimed – rightly or wrongly – as the greatest Hollywood movie ever made, failed to win either a Best Picture or Best Director award. (How Green Was My Valley won Best Picture that year – a wonderful film, but it didn’t have the staying power of Orson Welles’ magnum opus.)

And who knows, in the opaque maelstrom that is Hollywood, what political factors or studio power plays might have influenced the nominations?  

Arguably the Oscars will have even less credibility now that ideology, in the form of a continuing backwash from the Black Lives Matter and Me Too! movements,  has intruded. In future the awards are likely to be handed out not on the basis of how good a film is, but on how well it’s deemed to reflect ethnic and gender diversity. Could this be the final kiss of death to an overblown ritual that has outlived its usefulness?

Now, to get to the point (finally, I hear you say) of this rambling dissertation. My long-standing scepticism about that phrase “award-winning” has been resoundingly vindicated today by two stories on Stuff. Both concern buildings described as award-winning.

One, a house at Pekapeka, on the Kapiti Coast, was demolished in 2016 at a reported cost to the owners of $1 million. The avant-garde house, designed by Wellington firm Parsonson Architects, was a Home of the Year finalist and won an NZIA colour award. Unfortunately it didn’t keep the rain out. The owners were quoted $800,000 to fix leaking windows and mould-damaged cladding, but decided instead to demolish the house and replace it with one built by Lockwood.

To be fair, it appears the problem was caused by the building products used rather than by any inherent design fault, but the owners clearly weren’t impressed by architect Gerald Parsonson’s reported refusal to discuss possible solutions.

It was hardly good publicity for the architect, and made even more embarrassing by the fact that the owners contacted Stuff after reading about another “award-winning” Parsonson home, this time in the Wellington suburb of Northland, that was pulled down last month because of similar leakage issues. This was after the owner had spent $200,000 on remediation.

She ended up selling the property to a developer for $1.4 million – the value of the land. Earlier attempts to sell the house for nearly $3 million failed when building reports identified moisture damage to the timber framing.

In this instance the architect’s shame should be shared by the New Zealand Institute of Architects, which gave the condemned Northland house its “Supreme Award” in 2003. Oh, dear.

But wait, there’s more. Stuff also reports that the Altera Apartments in Auckland, built by Fletchers in 2015, is the subject of a TV documentary (screening on Prime tomorrow night) which reveals the building has leaky curtain walling and is not fire compliant. Stuff reports that repairs are expected to cost $15 million which will be covered by the builders.

Do I need to add that Altera Apartments won a 2016 NZIA award for the architects, Warren and Mahoney? Probably not. Readers of this blog, being an unusually astute and prescient lot, would have sensed that coming.

I have long suspected that some architects design buildings chiefly to impress other architects. Obviously I can’t prove that this was the case in these instances, but let’s just say my suspicions haven’t been erased.

I have similarly suspected for a long time that advertising people make ads to impress other advertising people. Architects and advertising agencies seem to share an insatiable appetite for awards and peer recognition, to the extent that I believe the prospect of an award is often more important to some agencies than whether an ad succeeds in generating business for the client.

I’m encouraged in this belief by the advertising news updates that regularly arrive in my inbox, which largely consist of a stream of announcements detailing who’s won what in the latest awards, which seem to occur almost weekly.

No other industry celebrates itself, or congratulates itself, with greater zeal. But I often wonder where the clients’ interests fit in, if indeed they do.  

Further confirmation of this apparent obsession with what other ad industry practitioners think came recently from an unlikely source: Margaret Hayward’s 1981 book Diary of the Kirk Years, which is a fascinating account of 1970s politics from the inside.  At one point Hayward describes an exchange during the 1972 election campaign between Labour leader Norman Kirk and a young Bob Harvey (now Sir Bob, and a former mayor of Waitakere City), who was handling Labour’s advertising.

Kirk was trenchantly critical of Harvey’s efforts, and cited one of his ads – a TV commercial which a Labour supporter mistook for a coffee ad – as evidence that the ads were not hitting their target. To which Harvey protested that two other agencies had been in touch with him to say how good the ad was, as if that emphatically settled the issue.

Was it an award-winning ad? Very likely.

Footnote: The writer has never won any awards, though he vaguely recalls being awarded with a certificate for an editorial (on sport, of all things) that he was reluctantly persuaded to enter in a competition in the 1990s. 


Thursday, March 25, 2021

Why move to a new country if your first instinct is to change it?

In a recent blog post, I drew attention to the fact that New Zealand’s leading pro-abortion activist, Terry Bellamak, is an American. She has brought to the abortion debate the type of aggressive, hard-ball approach that you might expect from a driven New York feminist and former executive of Goldman Sachs (which she is). Bernard Moran of Voice for Life describes her as coming from the “whatever it takes” school of political combat.  

I also pointed out that the examples of bad behaviour by anti-abortion protesters that Bellamak cited in an article for The Spinoff supporting 150-metre “safe zones” outside abortion clinics were all from America. I suggested that as long as we’re stuck with Bellamak, surely the least she could do is deal with the situation as it applies here, not in Colorado or Arizona. But of course it suited her purpose to portray the New Zealand anti-abortion lobby in the worst possible light, and to hell with the facts.

There’s a broader issue here. As immigration has ramped up, so New Zealand has become home to an increasing number of activists, political aspirants, bureaucrats and academics from countries whose values and mindsets are often dissimilar to ours. They arrive with attitudes moulded and fixed in societies that are, in some cases, thoroughly f**ked up (Somalia and Mexico, for example, though some might say that description also applies to the US) and which can teach us nothing about freedom, wellbeing or human dignity. But that doesn’t prevent these recent arrivals from insinuating themselves into positions of prominence and influence here, stridently finding fault with the way we do things and demanding that New Zealand – an exemplar of liberal democracy and a country respected worldwide for its human rights credentials – reshape itself to conform to their radical ideological prescriptions.

I’m aware that this sounds like textbook xenophobia, but generally speaking, I’m pro-immigration. Would I be happy to have neighbours from Iraq, Zimbabwe or Vietnam? Too right I would. I welcome ethnic and cultural diversity, though always with the proviso that immigration be managed carefully so as not to destabilise the host country or provoke a backlash.

But here’s the thing. Logically, immigrants are drawn to New Zealand because they recognise this as a country where they can live in peace, own their own homes, get a university degree, enjoy freedom of speech, vote for the politicians of their choice in free and fair elections, practise their religion without let or hindrance and enjoy the protection of the rule of law.  

This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t avail themselves of the rights available to native-born New Zealanders: the right to stand for public office, to lobby for political causes, to join political parties, to phone talkback shows and write letters to the editor. In other words, we shouldn't expect immigrants to remain silent and invisible. But neither should they expect those of us who were born and raised here, whose families in many cases have been here for generations, and who have paid taxes and voted in elections all our lives, to welcome newcomers whose first instinct on arrival is to plunge into political activism aimed at refashioning our laws and institutions.  

So if agitators like Bellamak, former poverty campaigner Ricardo Menendez-March (now a Green MP with a stonking sense of entitlement) and Black Lives Matter activist Guled Mire sometimes encounter a bit of pushback, it shouldn’t simplistically be dismissed as xenophobia or racism. Those of us who have been here much longer, and who have a lot more invested in this country, not unnaturally tend to resent new arrivals whose foreign-inspired inflammatory rhetoric magnifies points of difference and undermines social cohesion that has been painstakingly cultivated since the 19th century.  

A related issue that I’ve banged on about before (here, here and here) is the tendency to fill key public service positions with overseas appointees, usually from Britain. We like to think we’ve grown out of the so-called cultural cringe, whereby we instinctively looked overseas for guidance on how to conduct our affairs, but the evidence suggests otherwise. A particularly egregious example was the Labour government’s appointment of Paul Hunt, a Corbynite socialist academic from England, as Chief Human Rights Commissioner – a position in which he’s capable of causing enormous harm.

Like the aforementioned political activists, these globe-trotting careerists often arrive with a set of values, attitudes and ways of doing things that belongs to another culture and doesn’t necessarily transfer easily to ours. When they screw things up, as they too often do, they are able to fly away without so much as a backward glance and get on with their careers elsewhere, leaving someone else to clean up the mess they’ve left behind.

A contributory factor in all this, of course, is our own complacency and passivity. As I said in a column in 2019: “Because we tend to be passive and polite, we make it easy for shouty, highly motivated outsiders to push their way to the top. But they don’t speak for us.”

A fallacy exposed

Parliament last night passed a Bill that will provide three days’ paid bereavement leave for women who have experienced a stillbirth or miscarriage.

The Bill’s sponsor, Labour MP Ginny Andersen, argued that stillbirth and miscarriage can have traumatic consequences, and the House unanimously agreed.

Interviewed this morning on Morning Report by Suzy Ferguson, Andersen acknowledged that the Bill wouldn’t apply to women who have had abortions, as some submitters had urged.

She explained this was because the legislation was introduced before last year’s radical overhaul of the abortion laws and she wanted to remain focused on her principle objective.

However, when asked whether the new legislation could be amended to cover abortion, Andersen answered: “I think that’s a really good idea and definitely should be considered.”

This may have been a more significant statement than she realised. Andersen was one of the 37 Labour MPs who voted for the dismantling of the abortion laws on the basis that the right to abortion is all about women’s health. But by acknowledging that the procedure can have harmful consequences, she has exposed that argument as a brazen fallacy.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Free Kiwis! A flicker of light in the gloom

I recently recorded a conversation for the podcast Free Kiwis!, which was established several months ago by two Victoria University academics, Michael Johnston and James Kierstead. You can find it here: (663) Free Kiwis! Episode 8: Karl du Fresne - YouTube

I’m not linking to it because what I say is worth hearing. I cringe when I hear myself talk. Suffice to say that it reminds me why I should stick to print journalism, where you have the chance to weigh and fine-tune your words before setting them loose.  

But Free Kiwis! deserves to be brought to the attention of a wider audience. As true believers in free and open debate, James and Michael are rowing against the prevailing ideological current in New Zealand universities.

The podcast I did with them was the eighth in a series. Earlier ones included conversations with the Sydney-based American sociologist Salvatore Babones and the former ACT Party leader Jamie Whyte. You can find them all here: (664) James Kierstead - YouTube

The very existence of the podcast is a heartening sign that the spirit of free academic inquiry and the contest of ideas hasn’t entirely died, despite the stifling homogeneity of most comment emanating from our halls of higher learning. 

Free Kiwis! is a flicker of light in the Stygian gloom. Give Episode 8 a miss by all means, but I urge followers of this blog to check out some of the others.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

The parlous state of the media and its implications for democracy

 I've just caught up with this opinion piece by Oliver Hartwich of the New Zealand Initiative. It deserves a wider audience.

A nation talking to itself | The New Zealand Initiative (