Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Hillman Hunter option

“I’m sorry sir, but the deluxe suite we promised you appears to have been double-booked. But that’s okay, because we just happen to have a vacant sleep-out around the back. You’ll have to share the bathroom and there’s no carpark, but there’s a nice view over the demolition yard next door.”


“I’m sorry sir, but the A-class Mercedes you booked for your road trip is stuck in Eketahuna. But never mind – there’s a nice Hillman Hunter available. It’s got 230,000 km on the clock, but that’s okay, because these marvellous old motor cars can go forever. Plus the radio still works, though it's AM only.”

We can expect to be fed a similar line by Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins now that it’s clear the government is falling pitifully behind in its vaccination programme.

After being assured eight months ago that we were at the front of the queue for the sought-after Pfizer vaccine, we now learn that we’re actually at the tail end and Hipkins is crossing his fingers that enough dribs and drabs will trickle in to keep the programme going.

We’re down to our last 30,000 doses, with another 80,000 waiting to be processed, and in Hipkins’ own words, we’re “very close” to running out. Meanwhile, only one in 20 of the people most vulnerable to the virus have been immunised, and national anger is steadily building over incompetence and false promises.

National MP Chris Bishop, possibly the only member of the National caucus still engaging in real-world politics, blames the government for leaving it too late to order from Pfizer and says New Zealand is now a sitting duck for the highly contagious Delta strain.

But that’s okay, because Hipkins has other options up his sleeve. Suddenly he’s talking about dosing us with the AstraZeneca and Janssen (aka Johnson and Johnson) vaccines, both of which are going through the Medsafe approvals process.

Quality assurance checks are holding up the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is hardly reassuring. And this from Hipkins himself: “[It’s] not as good as Pfizer, but it’s certainly still a very good vaccine.”

That’ll be the Hillman Hunter option, then.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

An early prediction for 2023

We’re more than two years out from the next general election, but already I’m prepared to make a bold (or perhaps foolhardy – take your pick) forecast.

My prediction is that Labour will lose most, if not all, of the provincial seats it picked up last year. Many of those electorates broke with precedent by voting Labour, giving New Zealand its first decisive majority-led government of the MMP era, but on present trends they are likely to revert to the historical norm in 2023.

The 2020 election result was anomalous because of the exceptional circumstances.  Not only had Jacinda Ardern made a powerful impact with her handling of the Christchurch mosque massacres and the Covid-19 crisis (at least initially), but National was in turmoil.

Faced with having to choose between a personable young politician in charge of a government that seemed to know what it was doing and a rival party that couldn’t agree even on a leader, voters logically opted for the former.

But here we are, just eight months down the track, and already the picture looks very different. National is still fragmented, ineffectual and apparently demoralised, but in the meantime Labour's wheels have started to fall off and could roll right over the re-election chances of MPs who benefited from the provincial switch to Labour in 2020. 

There’s a pattern here. The third Labour government of 1972-75 fell apart after just one term. The fourth managed two before it collapsed in an inglorious heap. On both occasions, Labour tried to do too much too soon and with too little ministerial ability.

Helen Clark ran a much steadier ship, largely because she imposed tight discipline, but the present Labour government is looking more reminiscent of Norman Kirk’s. It’s over-ambitious, under-endowed with talent and too impatient to re-invent the wheel. The bureaucracy is struggling to keep up, and it’s showing. A popular leader isn’t enough to compensate for (or disguise) incompetence, fatigue and hubris.

On top of that, Labour, with no coalition partner to keep it in check, is pursuing a radical ideological agenda that’s alien to middle New Zealand. Voters have shown time after time that they prefer dull, stable and predictable (for which, read National) over mercurial and idealistic.

Here’s another strange thing about Labour governments. Often it’s minor, almost petty, irritants that turn voters against them. In a column this week, Heather du Plessis-Allan recalled the Clark government’s attempts to ban incandescent light bulbs and require the installation of water-conserving showerheads. Both became emblematic of an interfering nanny state and were partly blamed for Labour’s defeat in 2008.

Du Plessis-Allen could have gone back further – to the bizarre furore over Labour’s proposal to introduce health regulations banning cats from dairies, which triggered a backlash against an already floundering government in 1975. 

What’s it likely to be this time? Well, HDPA identified one obvious possibility: the punitive tax on diesel utes. This is especially potent because it plays into the old urban-rural divide, which was temporarily neutralised on election day last year.

Farmers will obviously be penalised by this supposedly climate-friendly move, but so will urban tradies. It won’t be lost on the public that the new tax will hit two crucial productive sectors in an economy that’s struggling to recover from the massive loss of international tourism revenue.

Ardern didn’t do herself any favours with her subsequent clumsy protestations that Toyota was planning to market an electric ute anyway (it isn’t), and that lots of ute owners have no legitimate reason to use them. That might chime with electric bike-owning Labour and Green voters in Grey Lynn and Mt Victoria, but it smacks of judgmental elitism of a type that Ardern normally seems careful to avoid. (Declaration: I assume I’m one of those ute drivers with no “legitimate” reason to own one. I bought mine because I tow a caravan and load the ute up with bikes and camping gear. Apparently Clarke Gayford has one too, presumably for towing a boat. And my local Labour MP, Kieran McAnulty, famously uses his ancient Mazda ute – painted socialist red, of course – as a political prop, presumably to emphasise that he’s just one of the blokes. Ardern was happy to be photographed in it with him during her election campaign last year. I wonder, did she quietly chide him for driving a thirsty, polluting clunker that he has no “legitimate” use for?)

The timing has been unusually inept too, considering this is a government that’s obsessive about orchestrating its PR spin. If you accept that in politics, optics is everything, it didn’t look good that the announcement of the unfriendly-to-farmers ute tax roughly coincided with the green light for a cycling and pedestrian bridge over Auckland Harbour. Committing $785 million to humour a tiny minority of the affluent urban middle-class – and this on top of generous taxpayer subsidies for EV buyers that will favour the same privileged group – sent a powerful signal about whose interests the government prioritises. To put it another way, it was a double dose of harsh medicine for the "old" New Zealand that Labour seems impatient to consign to the scrapheap.

I bet, too, that plenty of nurses were scratching their heads in dismay and wondering why a supposedly worker-friendly Labour government could find money for pet projects when it supposedly couldn’t afford to meet their reasonable pay demands.

Missteps such as these eat away at a government’s credibility – and popularity – by inches and degrees. It’s not always big issues (extremist climate change policies, for example) that damage governments; these often seem too remote, too complex and too abstract for people to grasp, still less bother about. Rather, it’s the things that hit them at a direct, human level. A tax on diesel utes is something people can easily relate to.

For another example, consider the shambolic Covid-19 vaccination programme. The government spin is that it’s meeting its vaccination targets, but that’s no indication of success when the targets have been set conveniently low. People will judge the government’s performance on how New Zealand measures up internationally, and in that regard our record is dire: 120th in the world, according to figures this week, and the poorest-performing of all the OECD countries with which we like to compare ourselves. Talkback lines are buzzing with calls from people frustrated at being unable to book their shots, despite supposedly being in a priority group, and angry at feeling misled by the smarmy Covid-19 propaganda blitz.

Even the media, whose natural instinct is to protect Ardern and Labour, are finding it hard to disguise the government’s failings, though they still do their best. Health Minister Andrew Little has been put on the spot this week over the embarrassing disclosure that only 0.2 percent of the money allocated to mental health has actually been spent – and this on top of mental health campaigner Mike King’s protest march to Parliament over the same issue.

This is a government that spends like a drunken sailor on follies such as the $98 million Hamilton-Auckland commuter train (which reportedly averages 30 passengers a day), but seems paralysed when confronted with areas of urgent and acknowledged need. A Labour government so inept that it can’t even spend money? That’s surely an historic first.

Even more embarrassing to Labour was Little’s anguished admission that he was frustrated by the lack of action from his ministry. In fact it was beyond embarrassing; it was pathetic. He’s the minister, for Heaven’s sake. He’s supposed to know what’s going on and to make things happen; it’s called ministerial accountability. Implying it's the fault of his bureaucratic underlings makes him look weak (and worse, cowardly).

Ardern and Grant Robertson were equally eager to disown the problem. T J Perenara would have admired the alacrity with which Ardern offloaded the ball when confronted at her Monday press conference about the measly five extra beds provided for acute mental health patients. For someone so unused to being asked awkward questions, the prime minister proved lightning-fast in switching her attention to a more agreeable subject. For the first time since she came to power four years ago, we are seeing what Ardern looks like when she’s rattled.

But back to that urban-rural split (and I mean split as in differentiation, not conflict). This week we heard about the NZTA’s harsh cuts to spending on rural roads, presumably so that money can be redirected to favoured projects such as the Auckland Harbour cycleway. Roads that keep farms supplied and enable crops and livestock to be transported for processing will be neglected so that affluent Aucklanders can cycle over the harbour on a summer’s day for a leisurely Saturday morning latte.

We also learned of a University of Otago report highlighting the long-term damage, human as well as economic, caused by the bungled response to the mycoplasma bovis crisis, which resulted in the culling of 171,000 cattle.

According to the report, a “badly planned and poorly executed” process led to farming families feeling bewildered, isolated and powerless. Local knowledge, expertise and pragmatism were ignored in favour of inefficient and insensitive bureaucratic processes.

Now here’s the thing: the majority of New Zealanders live in cities, and the close links that once existed between town and country have become attenuated over time. But people who are well-informed still realise that the country’s prosperity depends heavily on the rural sector, and there remains a high level of respect and empathy for farmers – particularly at times of crisis, such as flooding, drought and livestock diseases.

When New Zealanders hear of normally stoical farmers breaking down in tears over the needlessly brutal and heartless way their herds were slaughtered and the arrogant sidelining of their own knowledge and experience, they’re likely to be on the farmers’ side. This is especially true of people who live in the provinces and are exposed to the rural sector. 

On its own, this isn’t necessarily the type of issue that will determine how people vote in 2023, other than for those directly affected. But cumulatively, little peeves and resentments - over taxes on diesel utes, favouritism toward urban elites, neglect of provincial interests, incompetent and dishonest management of the vaccination rollout - build up over time. A government that was rewarded only last year for its empathy and sensitivity is rapidly turning into one that looks arrogant, incompetent and defensive.

I’m not predicting a Labour defeat at the next election; that’s too much of a leap (though I wouldn’t rule it out, either). But I do think there will be a backlash, and it will be most pronounced in the provinces. The crucial question is which of Labour’s rivals will be best positioned to take advantage of it - and at this stage, that’s an open contest.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

The whiting out of European forebears

There’s a story in The Dominion Post today about Simone Kaho, who has been named the 2022 Emerging Pasifika Writer in Residence at Victoria University of Wellington.

She’s described as Tongan, though the photos of her on the paper’s website show a woman of distinctly European appearance.

The story says Kaho’s Tongan father came to New Zealand in the 1950s. No mention is made of her mother, whom I would guess is/was white. She seems to have been erased.

A brief, passing reference is made to Kaho’s “Pakeha roots”, but it isn’t allowed to get in the way of the story’s main thrust, which is … well, I can only quote Kaho herself:

“I want to write about belonging in Aotearoa for Pacific diaspora and the relationship it gives us with Maori and non-white migrants, and what it feels like in the body when you’re in the environment,” she’s quoted as saying. (No, I couldn’t quite understand it either.)

Kaho, who’s been given a $15,000 stipend by Creative New Zealand for her three-month residency, goes on to say she wants to look at climate change [sigh], which she views as the “primary challenge to colonial western culture”.

She says her father came to New Zealand as a teenager and experienced a “brutally racist culture”. She wants to articulate things that are “bothersome and painful”.

I’m aware that in highlighting the whiting out (pun not intended, but appropriate) of Kaho’s European background, I’m exposing myself to the tiresome charge that I’m racist. 

It’s a label I repudiate. Kaho is entitled to identify with and celebrate her Tongan heritage. That’s commendable. But why must this be done, as is so often the case, in a way that suppresses recognition of the fact that she is also obviously European?

To put it another way, why are people so reluctant to declare that their white forebears were themselves supposedly the beneficiaries, if not the perpetrators, of racism?  

The reason is that this would conflict awkwardly with the ideology known as identity politics, which rests on the view that society is immutably divided between privileged whites and disadvantaged “people of colour”.

Proponents of identity politics and critical race theory, its ideological stablemate, hold that all people of Pasifika or Maori descent have experienced subjugation and have needs and interests that are at odds with those of the white oppressors. The aim is to secure political advantage to atone for their mistreatment, but unfortunately this can only come at the expense of social cohesion that benefits us all.

Denial of one’s European heritage is a necessary starting point, because otherwise those claiming to be descendants of the oppressed must confront the fact that they are also descendants of the oppressors. The proponents of identity politics don’t seem to have yet worked out a way to reconcile this dichotomy without weakening their claims, so they ignore it.

Do they, at the same time as they cry out for justice on behalf of their dark-skinned forebears, also experience paroxysms of self-reproach for the behaviour of their pale ones?

I doubt it. Much easier to shut out the problematical half of the equation.



Wednesday, June 16, 2021

This week in New Zealand

GULED MIRE continues to foul the nest that New Zealand provided for him and his family after they fled a country torn apart by warfare and crippled by corruption.

In a characteristically noxious opinion piece published on Newsroom this week, Mire waded into the furore over the proposed film They Are Us – which, if reports are to be believed, will take Jacinda Ardern another step closer to secular canonisation for her role in the days following the March 15 mosque massacres.

I entirely understand and sympathise with reported misgivings expressed by some Christchurch Muslims  about the proposed movie, which they say comes too soon after the atrocity and promises to focus attention on Ardern (to her discomfort, I would guess) rather than on the victims and the bereaved.

Against that, we must weigh the right to freedom of speech. In an open society, the film’s backers should be free to pursue the project. It’s an uncomfortable clash of values that would be neatly and definitively resolved if the film was completed and no one went to see it.

In the meantime it seems we must put up with more poisonous mischief from Mire, who has spewed up a bucketload of verbal vomitus in which he attacks the film using incendiary terms such as “white saviourism”.

Mire says the movie seeks to “whitewash” the murder of 51 Muslims (Really? How would he know? Has he seen the script?) and says: “It’s clear the film has gone too far and needs to shut down immediately.” Well, there you go. We can plainly see what a richly diverse marketplace of ideas New Zealand would become if zealots like Mire had their way.

“What we do not need,” he declaims, “is for Hollywood to appropriate, rewrite and shove another white saviour narrative down our throats. At the very worst, the film represents torture porn.”

“White saviour narrative”? Mire apparently thinks, then, that Ardern’s demonstration of empathy and support for the massacre victims (and by extension, that of the whole country) was just a marginally less malevolent flip-side of white supremacy.

You can’t win against that sort of deranged thinking. It’s the product of a mind warped by neo-Marxist critical race theory and locked into a sense of victimism.

It’s worth contrasting Mire’s overheated rhetoric with the typically more restrained reaction of other Christchurch Muslims when they heard about the film, but it would be too much to expect that he might note their more nuanced response and take his cue from it. I suspect his ego gets a buzz out of being a provocateur.

Here’s what I think about Mire. It’s my opinion that he has arguably done more than any other individual in the public eye to ramp up racial tension in New Zealand and undermine social cohesion. Under the pretext of speaking up for New Zealand Muslims, he’s magnifying ethnic and religious differences. Worse than that, he’s pushing a message that Muslims have no hope of equality in an irredeemably racist country.

It shouldn’t need to be spelled out that if anything is going to give oxygen to the tiny minority of pathetic white extremists in New Zealand, it’s the polarising rhetoric of activists like Mire. They enable white supremacists to say to the feeble-minded and impressionable among us: see what happens when we let these outsiders in? They turn against us!

And it’s worth noting one crucial difference between Mire and the white supremacists. While they skulk in the dark shadows of the Internet, he’s given a platform by sympathetic mainstream news organisations.

His relentless promotion of a sense of “otherness” strikes a jarringly discordant note, playing directly against the obvious desire of most New Zealand Muslims to live quietly and peaceably in a tolerant society where their right to practise their religion is honoured and respected. I’ll go further and say he’s the worst possible advertisement for Islam in New Zealand, and a liability to his co-religionists.

ON A related note, I heard Andrew Little describe a remark made by Juliet Moses at an anti-terrorism hui in Christchurch (sorry, Otautahi) as “provocative”.

Moses, who was representing the NZ Jewish Council in a panel discussion, was quoted as saying: “We need to hear leaders condemn all support of terrorism and all terrorism equally, whatever the source, target and circumstances, and even when it is not politically expedient to do so.  

“Hezbollah and Hamas … their military wings are proscribed terror organisations in New Zealand, but we saw a rally in support of Hezbollah on Queen Street in 2018.”

Moses was stating a bald fact, but it prompted some members of the audience to walk out and others to shout “Free Palestine”.

Well, that’s okay. Moses was asserting her right to free speech and the dissenting audience members responded by exercising their right to walk out in protest. No problem.

But it’s odd that Little thought Moses’s statement “provocative” when she was simply highlighting an obvious, if rather inconvenient, anomaly in politically fashionable thinking.

Many countries, including New Zealand’s closest allies, designate Hezbollah and the military wing of Hamas as terrorist organisations – even, in the former case, most member countries in the Arab League. Both organisations are implacably hostile to Israel. Why does a senior cabinet minister think it provocative to draw attention to that fact?

All terrorism against racial or religious groups is despicable, but how easily we forget that Jews have been the victims of the most vile and relentless persecution in human history. Moses was right to remind us of that.

And how odd, too, that Little and other government politicians don’t seem to find the inflammatory invective of stirrers like Mire similarly “provocative”. It would be nice to see him called out, but I’m not holding my breath.

DRIVING home from Martinborough the other day, I turned on the car radio to hear Jesse Mulligan introduce RNZ National’s resident TV critic, Guy Williams.

That’s right, the same irritatingly self-satisfied Guy Williams who pops up endlessly in ratepayer-funded television shows.  I presume he’s a mate of Mulligan’s, given that they’re frequently together on Newshub’s The Project.

This is jobs for the boys, 21st century style. There’s a distinct odour of incestuousness in the way members of the same chummy circle constantly recycle themselves. We can only conclude that NZ on Air smiles on them. 

Needless to say, there’s a certain sameness in their political stances. Here’s a tiny clue to the nature of that happy homogeneity: Williams is the partner of Golriz Ghahraman.

Even Jane Bowron of Stuff, who’s not one to frown on vogueish leftishness, was moved several years ago to protest at the overwhelming aura of chatty clubbishness on The Project, with only Mark Richardson being called in occasionally to give the illusion of balance (and be mocked as if he were some sort of Neanderthal curiosity, brought on for comic relief).

The common factor among these people is that they all seem exceptionally pleased with themselves. They laugh gaily at each other’s jokes and generally bathe in each other’s admiration. Moreover, they stick to forums where they can be confident their smug certainties won’t be challenged – such as The Project, obviously, but also RNZ, which is a cosy nest of like-thinking lefties (some of whom are old friends of mine and won’t be surprised in the slightest by my description).

I’m not sure what Williams’ talents are supposed to be. He’s described as a comedian, but the most striking thing about him in his role as a TV critic is the speed at which the words tumble out of his mouth, like water gushing from a fire hydrant. He talks as if he’s terrified that if he pauses even for a moment, people might realise he has nothing to say.  

Another characteristic of such people is that they suffer from the delusion that they’re daringly edgy and radical, constantly pushing the boundaries. Actually, they’re not. They are the new Establishment.

If the term “the Establishment” means those who hold power in society and whose ideas dominate the public conversation, then what we thought of as the conservative Establishment in the latter part of the 20th century has long been extinct. We’ve done a 180-degree flip, to the point where what was then considered radical has become mainstream. But just like the old Establishment, the new one is oppressively conformist, authoritarian and intolerant of different ideas and different ways of doing things. That’s the nature of Establishments.

This idea was explored a couple of years ago in an insightful Stuff column by Damien Grant, who now appears to be that company’s sole surviving unapologetic voice of the Right. In that column, Grant explored what it meant to wear the “radical” tag these days (basically, nothing) and concluded: “Being part of a baying mob … isn’t brave and nor is it radical. Standing up to them is.”

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Mistress Tova's latest discipline session

Sigh. Another day, another discipline session for the National Party caucus from Newshub’s resident dominatrix, Mistress Tova, and her understudy Jenna Lynch.

Last night’s round of punishment took up six minutes of the 6pm bulletin and started with Lynch rapturously reporting that Paul Goldsmith had been thrown to the wolves - my words, not hers, although that was the tone - by his caucus colleagues over his comment that Maori, “on balance”, had benefited from colonisation.

A procession of National MPs, all looking like frightened rabbits, eagerly dissociated themselves from Goldsmith before running for the hills. But not before Lynch had given us the benefit of her own view that colonisation was “brutal” – and as if to substantiate it, wheeled out Professor Margaret Mutu (now there’s a dispassionate judge for you), who equated colonisation with murder, theft, rape and pillage. That was followed by a parade of Labour MPs poking scorn at Goldsmith (who would have thought?), followed by a puerile jibe from Debbie Ngarewa-Packer of the Maori Party.

Then it was back to Lynch, who reminded us that Maori continue to experience poor outcomes in health, housing, justice and education. We were invited to conclude, therefore, that Goldsmith’s comment was clearly that of an unreconstructed racist – and an ignorant one at that, although Goldsmith has an MA in history.

Not content to leave it there, Lynch then seized yet another opportunity to bring up Goldsmith’s unwitting involvement in the media feeding frenzy that erupted last year when the then National deputy leader Nikki Kaye, in a pathetic attempt to fend off media accusations that the party caucus was insufficiently diverse, blurted out that the palpably Pakeha Goldsmith was of Ngati Porou descent.

The point of recalling that episode wasn’t clear, since Kaye dug that hole for herself with no assistance from the hapless Goldsmith. But it served the purpose of implying that Goldsmith was somehow tainted by association with the party’s shameful whiteness.

Newshub then played a clip of Goldsmith explaining at the time that no, he wasn’t Maori, as if that somehow further incriminated him. This provided a cue for Lynch to chime in again, saying “Not Maori himself, but speaking for Maori.” Actually, no: he wasn’t purporting to speak for Maori when he talked about the consequences of colonisation, but it suited Lynch to frame his comment that way.

Whatever this was, it wasn’t journalism. It was a hit job of the type we’ve come to expect from Newshub.

There is scope for a balanced, nuanced debate on the effects of colonisation, but don’t expect to see it in the mainstream media, and least of all in anything Lynch or Tova O’Brien have a hand in. And don’t expect it, either, from Goldsmith’s spineless caucus colleagues, who are so cowed by media bullying and so lacking in political conviction that they appear to have completely lost sight of what a centre-right party is supposed to stand for.

All that needs to be said is that Goldsmith’s opinion that colonisation, on balance, was good for Maori is one that a reasonable, informed, non-racist person can validly hold. Yes, colonisation resulted in the dispossession of Maori land, the loss of their language and the disintegration of their traditional way of life. But it also signalled the end of merciless tribal warfare, slaughter, cannibalism and slavery. It introduced the rule of law and led to the evolution of a society that is admired as one of the world’s freest, safest, most tolerant and open.  Only the most incorrigibly woke zealot (Debbie Ngarewa-Packer springs to mind) can ignore that.

But Newshub wasn’t finished with the National Party. As if in a tag wrestling bout, Lynch vacated the ring and O’Brien stepped in. Her target (yet again): Judith Collins.

Not for the first time, Mistress Tova was pursuing Collins over the recently announced retirement of long-serving National MP Nick Smith. But whatever intrigue lies behind Smith’s departure – if indeed there’s any intrigue at all – is a classic Beltway issue, of interest only to political obsessives and too convoluted for the public to untangle even if they could see any point in doing so.

No matter. It provided another opportunity to torment Collins. And once again, she meekly submitted to the dominatrix’s querulous questioning. Is there no limit to the mortification Collins is prepared to endure? I loathed the style of Robert Muldoon and Winston Peters, but sometimes I find myself wishing for a politician bold enough to put amoral, mischief-making journalists in their place.

Left-wing media academics love to talk about journalists speaking truth to power, but that’s not what’s happening here. Almost nightly, Newshub revels in pummelling a demoralised, fragmented National opposition while allowing the sainted Jacinda Ardern and her ministers a largely free run. (I say “largely” because Newshub reporter Michael Morrah is an honourable exception.) It’s the journalistic equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.

To be fair, National’s weak, divided and ineffectual caucus invites derision. We are witnessing a catastrophic failure of the centre-right, and surely the moment is David Seymour’s to seize. But there’s nothing noble or heroic about gloating, power-tripping journalists savaging a politician who appears to have lost the will to fight.

Jacinda Ardern, queue-jumper

I see the PM is going to have her first Covid-19 jab by the end of this month. By my reckoning that makes her, technically at least, a queue-jumper.

To tell the truth, it doesn’t bother me that Jacinda Ardern will get her jab before me, although being over 65 I’m in Group 3 and therefore theoretically take priority over someone who’s aged 40 and in good health.

I’m in no rush, though that may change if there’s an outbreak of the virus. But the announcement that Ardern is in line to get her jab does highlight the shambolic nature of the vaccination programme and the glaring inconsistencies and discrepancies in the way the government has handled the pandemic.

From Day One, we have been fed porkies. I now refuse to believe a thing Ashley Bloomfield says, simply because of the number of times his glib assurances from the stage of the Beehive Theatrette have been contradicted by evidence of what’s actually happening on the front line. In our house he’s known as Fibber Bloomfield.

But in his defence, he could say he’s simply taking his cue from his political masters. Example: Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins was telling us as long as long ago as November that New Zealand would be "at the front of the queue" for vaccine. But here we are, seven months down the track, and our vaccination performance looks feeble compared with, say, Britain (68.4 million first doses given, 42 per cent of the population fully vaccinated) and the United States (303 million first doses given, 42.6 percent fully vaccinated).

Only two days ago, we learned that 21 per cent of Air New Zealand’s frontline employees still hadn’t received their jabs – a situation epidemiologist Michael Baker, a man not given to wild overstatement, described as “hugely concerning”.

Now Ardern herself is expressing relief that an extra 1 million vaccination doses are being delivered to New Zealand and admits that she was feeling “a little bit of anxiety” (or as she calls it, “anxiedy”). The obvious inference is that the supply is precarious. How does this square with Hipkins’ smug declaration in November? Perhaps he had his fingers crossed behind his back at the time.

The truth is that the vaccination programme has been almost comically inept. As the retired journalist David Barber wrote in a recent letter to the Dominion Post, those of us in Group 3 keep being told “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”. But in the meantime he keeps hearing stories about people jumping the gun and gaming the system.

I can confirm that. Twice on the same day last week, I was contacted by friends offering me a phone number that I could ring to make an appointment. Both have now had their first jab.

One of my informants was given the number in a cafĂ© by someone he didn’t even know. Nudge nudge, pssst – it sounded like something out of Allo! Allo!.

The government keeps spending our money on full-page ads assuring us that someone will contact us when it’s our turn, but I don’t know anyone who’s had a call or an email from their medical centre or DHB.

This morning I heard general practitioners’ spokesman Bryan Betty complaining that people are still confused about when and where the vaccine will be available, so the medical professionals seem to be as much in the dark as the rest of us. Meanwhile the underground network is obviously buzzing.

I’m reminded of the old Soviet Union, where word would spread like wildfire when a fresh delivery of bread or potatoes arrived at the supermarket and people would run to join the queue. Perhaps the government has chosen the same the mode of delivery for the Pfizer rollout.



Tuesday, June 8, 2021

On racist abuse and what's driving it

Yesterday’s Dominion Post reported that Matthew Tukaki, executive director of the Maori Council, was racially abused in a Wellington street.

Tukaki said a Pakeha woman called him a “black arsehole” as she walked past him near the corner of Willis Street and Lambton Quay.

If the incident happened as described (and what reason would Tukaki have for making it up?), then it suggests that race relations in New Zealand have taken a turn for the worse.

Of course it was just one woman, so we should be careful about overstating its significance. But while we may argue endlessly about what constitutes racism, given that its definition is constantly being stretched in new and inventive directions, most New Zealanders would categorise the reported remark as unambiguously, offensively and deplorably racist.

The big question is, how much longer will we able to classify such incidents as isolated or exceptional? Tukaki says while he rarely encounters such overt racism face to face, he gets racist messages every day. We have to take his word for it that these messages are indeed “racist”, but there’s no doubt that the temperature in the race debate is being cranked up. And more to the point, we shouldn’t delude ourselves about who or what is driving it.

The Dominion Post’s story frames the Wellington street incident in the context of the race hatred that infamously erupted in the Christchurch mosque massacres, but that outrage appeared to have nothing to do with the Maori-Pakeha relationship. The perpetrator was an Australian who drew inspiration from a global alt-right movement that sees itself as defending Western civilisation against mass immigration and Islamism.

The occurrence described by Tukaki, on the other hand, seems distinctly local in tone and should be viewed quite differently from the mosque atrocities. While it may suit some people to draw a link between a racist insult directed at a prominent Maori in the street and the slaughter of 51 Muslims, my guess is that the two events are either completely unrelated or connected only very tenuously.

If it’s true that a new form of overt racial antagonism is emerging in New Zealand, then its origins are almost certainly domestic. I’d go further and say that the primary provocation is coming not from shadowy white supremacists, as the Dominion Post story speculates, but from the opposite direction – from proponents of critical race theory, the Marxist view that societies such as New Zealand are built on oppressive, systemic racism.

To put it another way, the divisive, polarising race rhetoric that we are bombarded with daily is coming overwhelmingly from one side, and it’s not from Pakeha. If we really to want to identify what’s destabilising race relations in New Zealand, we should point the finger at those who relentlessly promote an ideology of apartness – conveniently denying, as I’ve pointed out in this blog, that even the most strident activists carry the supposed curse of European blood.

The activists want to be seen as victims of oppression, not perpetrators. How they reconcile this with their European features and Anglo-Saxon surnames, which testify to the existence of colonial forebears - who by definition were white supremacists, if critical race theory is to be believed - is something they never explain. (As an aside, I note that like most part-Maori leaders, Tukaki routinely lists his tribal affiliation, but he doesn’t mention that he’s descended on his mother’s side from Sir Charles St Julian, a former Chief Justice of Fiji).

The problem for these part-Maori agitators (should we call them Maokeha?) is that if they acknowledged their European descent, the ideological narrative that we are two races, immutably divided into exploiters and exploited, would be deprived of much of its force. But as long as they continue to identify exclusively with their Maori heritage, they lay themselves open to the accusation that they do it because it enables them to exercise power and influence that would otherwise not be available to them.

These are the people who are dialling up the heat in the race debate, and no one should be surprised if a redneck backlash develops. Nothing is more likely to give oxygen to the small minority of true racists in New Zealand – people like the woman Tukaki encountered – than the perception that New Zealand is being reshaped along race-based lines that would advantage those of part-Maori descent. The danger is that the vast majority of New Zealanders who are liberally minded and racially tolerant are likely to get caught in the middle of an unlovely clash between extremes.

Footnote: Anyone who openly opposes the activist agenda risks being defamed as a white supremacist – a casual slur that seeks to invalidate legitimate concerns about racial polarisation. The slander works, frightening a lot of decent New Zealanders into silence. I hear time and time again from people who are deeply concerned about the corrosive effects of race-based politics, but who don’t say anything for fear of being branded as racists. We are a fair-minded people, but we are spineless when it comes to exercising our right to free speech.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Can we now expect Chloe Swarbrick to vote against the "Safe Areas" Bill?

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick has written an eloquent assertion of the right to protest.

“Our communities don’t evolve and progress by sitting around, hoping for the best,” she says in the New Zealand Herald. “Rarely, if ever, does change come from the top.”

She goes on to reflect that “many of the developments we’re proudest of as a country” – she cites the revitalisation of te reo Maori, rainbow rights and the stands against apartheid and nuclear weapons – arose from protests that were “typically pretty tense” and “didn’t come easy”.

She adds: “They never would have happened if protesters had relied solely on pre-existing ‘official’ avenues for civil engagement.”

Perhaps most pertinently, she says: “Peaceful protest often involves putting your body on the line in pretty inconvenient places. The point is to occupy space and time. The point is to make a point. It’s a spotlight firmly on the issue … it’s to show the difference between what is legal and what is ethical.”

Swarbrick’s opinion piece was inspired by the cyclists who defied the police by riding across the Auckland Harbour Bridge, but all of the above applies equally to the people who maintain peaceful vigils outside abortion clinics in protest against the killing of the unborn.

Can we, then, expect Swarbrick to vote against Labour's so-called “Safe Areas Bill”, which is aimed at denying those people their right to protest (or to be more correct, to highlight the fact that abortion involves extinguishing a life)? Or is she just another left-wing hypocrite?