Friday, June 17, 2022

On virtue signalling, Kiri Allan, Three Waters and secret donations

Newly promoted minister Kiritapu Allan has said what a lot of people think but feel unable to say.

She lashed out in a tweet against “tokenistic” use of te reo by employees of DOC “as an attempt to show govt depts are culturally competent”. She told Stuff she encouraged the use of the Maori language, but wanted it used “with integrity”.

“You want to use te reo, you use it with integrity and use it responsibly,” Stuff quoted Allan as saying. “This isn’t a ‘everybody go out and use mahi and kaupapa’ and say you have a deep and enduring relationship with te ao Māori.”

Of course this shouldn’t apply only to DOC, where Allan was in charge before this week’s cabinet reshuffle resulted in her elevation to the justice portfolio. The same message could be directed at all government agencies where middle-class Pakeha public servants, eager to demonstrate their solidarity with the tangata whenua, indulge in an ostentatious display of virtue-signalling by using token Maori words and phrases. I wonder whether Radio New Zealand also got the memo.

Being Maori, Allan could get away with this rebuke. No Pakeha could; the cries of racism would be deafening. But to me it has always seemed patronising that many Pakeha liberals flaunt their cultural sensitivity with expressions such as “morena”, “nga mihi” and "doing the mahi” (the latter a term practically unknown in the Pakeha world until a couple of years ago).

If they were truly committed to the use of te reo, they would take the trouble to learn the language. I think that’s the point Allan was trying to make.

Many people do make the effort, of course, and good for them. The rest of us should stick to English, since it’s our lingua franca – the language everyone knows and understands. And the primary purpose of language, as Joe Bennett reminded us in a recent column for which he predictably got caned, is to communicate, not to signal cultural empathy or indulge in a form of verbal snobbery.

I like what I’ve seen of Allan. She’s Maori and lesbian, but she doesn’t appear to play the woke card and deserves better than to be dismissed as someone who got where she is simply by ticking fashionable diversity boxes.

She’s a former KFC employee who got a law degree – big ups for that, as they say – and who represents a real electorate (East Coast), so earned her seat in Parliament in the honest, old-fashioned way. She also impressed a lot of people with the gutsy, no-nonsense way in which she confronted a life-threatening cancer. And though I know we’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, she has an open, honest face. We now know she’s blunt too, a refreshing quality lacking in the majority of politicians on both sides of the House who prefer to play it safe.

I tested my opinion of Allan on Clive Bibby, a politically alert resident of her electorate. He largely confirmed my impression, saying that Allan had served the electorate well and National would have a hard job finding someone to stand against her (this from a retired Tolaga Bay farmer whose political inclinations are firmly to the centre-right).

Another good friend and long-term East Coast voter – again, not a natural Labour supporter – agreed that Allan was well-liked in the electorate. The fact that Gisborne’s population is 50 percent Maori probably helps, although her tribal roots (Ngati Ranginui and Tuwharetoa) lie outside the district.

Clive noted that Allan had resisted any temptation to serve as a flagbearer for the radical rainbow movement, which he thought was a smart tactic in conservative Gisborne. But he wasn’t sure that her impressive performance would be enough to save her in the event of the expected anti-Labour backlash in 2023, and he hoped she would secure a good position on the Labour list.

He thinks Allan is marked for higher office – a view shared by political commentator Tim Watkin, who speculated this week that she and Michael Wood, who were both promoted in the “minor” (ha!) reshuffle, might be a Labour leadership team of the future.

Wood strikes me as a bit too polished and smiley for comfort (I’m reminded of a politician from a former era of whom it was said, “Behind the thin veneer there’s a thin veneer”), but Allan has an aura of authenticity – an impression reinforced by her obvious exasperation with the virtue-signallers. If we must have Labour governments – and history suggests they’re the yin to National’s yang – then we could probably do worse.

Then again, maybe I’m so desperate for something to feel positive about that I’m reduced to searching for promising omens on the Left. Certainly the picture is pretty bleak everywhere else.

The past week was a particularly depressing one. Consider the following:

■ The blandly named Water Services Entities Bill, aka Three Waters, passed its first reading – an event virtually ignored by most mainstream media outlets, reflecting their wilful indifference to an issue arousing acute agitation in the heartland (or as on-trend journalists would say, “across the motu”). Cynics will quite reasonably suspect that the media’s failure to subject the Bill’s co-governance provisions to anything resembling critical analysis is linked to their craven acceptance of the ideological conditions attached to funding from the Public Interest Journalism Fund, aka the Pravda Project. (You can read the Hansard record of the first reading debate here. It’s worth reading for Nanaia Mahuta’s speech, which raised the bar for bare-faced spin to a new level, and for Labour’s arrogant failure to explain, still less defend, the co-governance proposals that are driving much of the opposition to the Bill.)

Court proceedings over hitherto secret donations to the New Zealand First Foundation revealed that wealthy business people contributed large sums to the party in the clear expectation that it would promote their interests, leading inescapably to the conclusion that New Zealand may not be the transparent, corruption-free democracy we all fondly supposed it to be. As political scientist Bryce Edwards put it: “That wealthy interests were secretly donating large amounts of money both before and after [NZ First] was elected into office should raise questions of whether [the] Government led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was corrupted in some of its decision-making.” Coming on top of accusations of nepotism swirling around Mahuta – largely unreported in the mainstream media – the NZ First court case will leave many New Zealanders gravely concerned about integrity in public life and wondering whether Central America or the Middle East now serves as our political model.

Again, superficial media coverage would have left most of the country in ignorance of what was disclosed in court, indicating that news executives were either unwilling or unable to grasp the significance of the case. Only Newsroom reported the evidence in all its damning detail. Conclusion: we can no longer rely on the New Zealand mainstream media to fulfil their vital function as one of the last lines of defence against corruption and abuses of power. While the media may have no formal constitutional role in a country such as New Zealand, a democracy can only function properly if people are informed about matters of public importance. It goes without saying that when the media fail in that duty, democracy is at risk. Do the leaders of the media recognise and accept that responsibility? If they do, then the evidence suggests they exercise it very selectively.

■ There’s no shortage of other uplifting news I could mention from the past few days, such as the failure by police to make any arrests, despite multiple witnesses, for a shocking assault by Tribesmen gang members on a motorist in the Waikato; the forcible snatching from Lower Hutt of a Maori man’s body by his Northland whanau, against the wishes of the man’s widow and immediate family (a violent act subsequently justified by his cousin, Hone Harawira’s wife Hilda Halkyard, as being in accordance with tikanga); another week of ram-raids and shootings, including one while children were being dropped at school; and the government’s cynical and vindictive emasculation of the job of Children’s Commissioner, despite overwhelming opposition from submitters, and evidently for no better reason than that Labour was fed up with Oranga Tamariki being criticised.

Oh, and I shouldn’t forget that the health system is collapsing and schools have run out of teachers. I don’t personally blame Jacinda Ardern for all this, but it adds insult to injury to be told constantly by the international media that we should feel blessed to be living in blissful Aotearoa under the world’s most empathetic and inspirational leader.


Gnr39 said...

Karl - why did you not buy Stuff for $1.50?

Karl du Fresne said...

I had to make a spur of the moment decision: buy Stuff or feed a parking meter.

Gnr39 said...

A wise move by you, but not very helpful for the nation.

Neil Keating said...

Old Chinese proverb: " Very easy to start a business; very hard to keep it going."

Perhaps if we could organise a whip-round we could buy Stuff from Sinead and company for a few grand. Any takers? (This must be Friday, although I haven't been to the pub.)

Gnr39 said...

I'll do a whip around with my red wine group tonight. They would be keen to become the narrative.

Neil Keating said...

Ah, red wine, that's the solution. Now what was the problem again?

(I am the walrus, I am the walrus, I am the... errr... narrative.)

Eamon Sloan said...

I have caught up with Joe Bennet’s column and agree all the way with his views on Maori language and where it should stand and be used in the wider culture. I note that he writes separate columns for the ODT and for our best loved Dominion Post. I doubt the Dominion Post would have wanted to carry his ODT comments – given the Dominion Post’s current love affair with Maori culture.

You mentioned the body-snatching case out of Lower Hutt. The standout for me was that the escapade was truly to begin with a home invasion. Police were called and decided to back off completely. On whose say-so I wonder. Were firearms involved? No one has said anything about that. I checked out the Crimes Act as I was sure there was a law stating that it is a crime to physically disrespect a dead person.

S 150 (b) reads: “improperly or indecently interferes with or offers any indignity to any dead human body or human remains, whether buried or not.”

Two crimes were committed. The home invasion and the body-snatch. If we wanted any further proof that Police are soft on Maori crime, look no further. The Lower Hutt event gives a green light for any Maori group to repeat the nonsense at will.

ihcpcoro said...

Another Chinese proverb - 'easy to say, hard to do', would fly high over the current government's heads.

Phil said...

Chris Trotter has been wondering if Kiri's move to Justice will see Hate Speech back on the table combined with Willie Jackson at Broadcasting who might establish a big media campaign around Co-Governance.

Doug Longmire said...

Our beloved Comrade Jacinda is described in the global leaders list as "Minister for National Security and Intelligence, and Minister for Child Poverty Reduction. "
What is her actual track record in reducing child poverty? And in enhancing National Security?

LNF said...

Please do not be critical of Stuff's business skills.
I had the digital edition of the Dompost for a long time. Cost $25 per month
Stuff rang and made me an offer. Dompost digital plus Sunday papers digital and Saturdays paper delivered. Cost $17 per month
Of course I took it. Saturday's delivered paper goes from the gate to the bin and I saved myself $100

Unknown said...

Excellent read. Thanks for the enlightenment.

G Faulkner said...

People may remember the James Takamore body snatching case against he and his widows wishes a few years back
That case went all the way to the high court which ruled in the widow and family’s favour
James Takamore remains buried where he was taken on the shores of Ohiwa harbour

Max Ritchie said...

Why not save yourself a whole lot more and decline the offer? Nothing worthwhile to read in any of it.

Hilary Taylor said...

Joe Bennett is right in his column, which the Press prints every Wed.
Kiri Allan too. Who isn't fed up with the virtuous sprinklings through everything? The writer of the editorial page of the Listener recently spoke of tamariki through its was about education here.
Kamala Hayman, Press editor, when I asked her why she hadn't printed Goldsmith's piece, replied it's policy not to print opinions of current MPs. Further, she said they have taken no dosh from the PIJF at all, whilst accepting funding from NZ On Air toward their podcasts like Black Hands. She made no comment on my accusation of lack pf balance on co-governance, amongst other things but did say their own ethics demand obeisance to te paraphrasing.

hughvane said...

Re Kiri Allan, and the various other political machinations going on in the Wasps' Nest, remember ... "fool some all, and all some, but never fool all all"

LNF said...

@max Have been getting paper for 50 years and now every time I read it I ask why the hell I get it. Will dump it when I come to my senses

D'Esterre said...

Mrs Plums and Joe Bennett are correct: the purpose of language is to communicate meaning. Larding English with Maori words, as many institutions - including RNZ - are doing now, is pointless. It has even begun to infest Concert - to which nowadays I listen exclusively - and I have texted the presenters asking them to desist.

I read somewhere that the intention is to help with the revitalisation of the Maori language, to make it heard, so that more people will learn it. As Bennett says, they're barking up "a barren linguistic plum tree". Despite all of the efforts over many years, the language is on life support. That's because there are now either no native speakers left, or if there are any, they are too few to make a critical mass for language revival. And if there are no native speakers, the language is dead, as is Latin. Not extinct in either case: just dead.

I'm a bit of a language nerd. In the 1970s, when I was a young adult, I learned the Maori language to a fair degree of competency. I was taught by a native speaker: there were still quite a few of them around at that time. And at uni, I did a bit of study in linguistics. For survival, languages need native speakers (I'm a native speaker of English, as will be probably most of the commenters here). No matter how many Pakeha learn the language, we'll still be second-language speakers, as will our children. It's Maori themselves who must do the heavy lifting of language revival, by bringing up their children in a Maori-only language environment, at least for the first four or five years of their lives. There is no other way: the ineluctable rules of language survival and revival apply to Maori, as to all languages worldwide. And attempting to save a language for political reasons is doomed to failure. Just ask the Irish.

I'd be much more tolerant of pepperpotting Maori words into public discourse, even though I know it won't save the language, were it not for the fact that it's been freighted with a large and unwanted dose of ethno-nationalism. Ethnic chauvinism, even. This society could live without the divisiveness and outright hostility that this brings.

I note Kiri Allan's comments about "tokenism", and I wouldn't disagree. But it seems to me that she's coming from the ethno-nationalist perspective. The same is true of the 3 Waters issue, and its accompanying Bill, linked here.

The body-snatching case, along with attempts to justify it, springs from ethnic chauvinism, in my view, as does the furore surrounding OT and the emasculation of the Children's Commissioner's role. And pretty much anything to do with police failure to charge gang members in relation to crimes they've committed.

What lies ahead? Nothing good, unless opposition politicians can be convinced of the dangerous waters (pardon the pun) into which this polity is sailing, and they stop just meekly going along with it.

Andy Espersen said...

D'Esterre's comments are always good value - this one being no exception. I quote and paste the concluding words from the article (because I think it is so important) :

"What lies ahead? Nothing good, unless opposition politicians can be convinced of the dangerous waters (pardon the pun) into which this polity is sailing, and they stop just meekly going along with it".

Note the word "polity" instead of "policy"? Bravo, D'Esterre.

Susan Belt said...

I think you are mistaken, Karl, to judge all Pakeha who sprinkle their language with te reo words and phrases as 'virtue signalling'. I use lots of Maori words and phrases such as 'mahi', 'kaupapa', 'across the motu' because they have entered my vocab by osmosis. This is a common occurrence in the development of languages and NZ English is ever-changing. I like the phrase "do the mahi, get the treats" and use it often as encouragement to kids. Think of 'mahi' as the new 'yakka'. I still use the phrase 'hard yakka', even though it's a relatively new addition to English. Susie Belt.