Friday, August 12, 2022

Yes, the Uffindell affair is a sideshow - but that doesn't let National off the hook

Some commenters on this blog have chided me for joining the criticism of the National Party over the Uffindell fiasco. The implication is that I’ve added my rather insubstantial weight to a media offensive calculated to cause maximum damage to National at a time when things were otherwise looking good for the party. Conspiracy theorists are even speculating that Labour sympathisers in the media have known about Uffindell’s past for months but chose to break the story now as a distraction from the government’s shredded credibility across a range of issues that grows wider and more obvious by the day.

My response to those who suggest I shouldn’t support what is seen as a media gang-up against National is that no matter how bad Labour is, we shouldn’t let the major opposition party off the hook for its own failings. It’s not only possible but legitimate to hold what some people might regard as the contradictory ideas that while Labour is a disaster, National doesn’t automatically present an overwhelmingly attractive alternative. Only dyed in the wool National supporters would turn a completely blind eye to the party’s faults on the basis that the other lot is worse.

People accuse me of being anti-National, but I want the Nats to be an effective opposition and it irritates me that they aren’t. While it’s true that I’ve never been a supporter of the party, that doesn’t mean I don’t want it to be good at its job – which, right now, is to expose and highlight the damage Jacinda Ardern’s rogue government, possibly the most destructive in our history, is doing to the country. It’s in the interests of all voters for the main opposition party to do its job properly, and it can’t do that if it’s constantly distracted by the need to extinguish self-ignited bushfires. The media may delight in exploiting those screw-ups, but they don’t cause them.

Having said all that, it’s true that in the big picture, the Uffindell affair is a mere sideshow – albeit one that has come at a convenient time for Labour. It has given the media an excuse to shift the focus from issues of far greater concern, such as (to mention just two):

The Auditor-General’s finding that the Three Waters proposal would allow the four so-called water “entities” to operate without proper accountability, which is what critics of the scheme have been saying from day one. In a submission to Parliament, Auditor-General John Ryan said the Three Waters legislation “could have an adverse effect on public accountability, transparency and organisational performance” – an admirably polite and restrained way of saying Nanaia Mahuta’s plan overturns virtually all established principles relating to the management of publicly owned infrastructure assets.

Significantly, most media coverage of Three Waters continues to play down or completely ignore its most offensive feature – namely, the imposition of 50-50 co-governance with unelected iwi interests via deliberately convoluted and opaque mechanisms. RNZ’s otherwise thorough coverage of the Auditor-General's statement gave the co-governance issue only a brief, passing mention. Stuff managed to avoid it altogether. Sceptics, noting this strange reluctance to confront the taniwha in the whare, can hardly be blamed for wondering if it’s connected with the media’s acceptance of government funding conditional on endorsement of still-undefined Treaty principles.

Meanwhile we have been given fresh reason to be highly sceptical about Three Waters. A Wairarapa iwi organisation has complained that under the draft legislation, its voice and autonomy will be diminished because it will be only one of 40 iwi in the proposed entity “C”. “We believe,” Rangitane o Wairarapa told the government, “that the Crown has an obligation to listen to and honour each of the voices of the iwi, not through consensus [which the tribe described as “not how we work in te ao Maori”] and not by determining six people represent 40-plus iwi.”

You can see where this could lead. Brace yourself, if the legislation goes ahead in its present form, for disputes of the type that have repeatedly dogged Treaty settlement negotiations.

■ Then there's the broader but related issue of Labour’s attack on democracy and the principle of one person, one vote. The most recent manifestation was the passing of legislation granting the powerful Ngai Tahu iwi the right to appoint – that’s right, appoint, not elect – two members to the Canterbury regional council. The Ngai Tahu councillors will have full voting rights but won’t have to submit themselves for election and will presumably be accountable only to the tribal hierarchy. That’s how easily democracy is dismantled.

The supposed justification arises from a radical re-interpretation of the Treaty under which democracy is subverted in favour of automatic, guaranteed representation for people of Maori ancestry. The sponsor of the Ngai Tahu bill, Te Tai Tonga MP Rino Tirikatene, airily pronounced that “Ngai Tahu are entitled to this representation. They’re entitled to this representation because that is the promise of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and this is a modern-day expression of that promise.” There you go, then – 182 years of constitutional practice and precedent discarded in a few words.

All this is in line with Maori Development Minister Willie Jackson’s decree earlier this year that democracy has changed from being what he derisively called “the tyranny of the majority”. But if democracy no longer means that the majority ultimately holds sway, which after all is its key defining feature, then the game is up: New Zealand is no longer a democracy and we will have to find a new name for whatever mongrel form of government has replaced it. Pardon me, but did I miss the reference to this revolutionary change in Labour’s 2020 election manifesto?

Jackson makes no attempt to disguise his contempt for the notion that in a democracy, all citizens should exercise equal rights, labelling it a “political stunt”. He attacks what he calls “dog whistle” politics by opponents of the Ngai Tahu legislation while he himself unashamedly indulges in what might be labelled kuri whistling that can only promote racial division and separatism. He’s the Labour Cabinet’s resident brown-neck, aggressively championing race-based policies that threaten to drive a wedge between New Zealand’s two main racial groups and ramp up antagonism among extremists on both sides.

This is the same Willie Jackson who, when it suits him, has a highly selective view of who counts as Maori, as was made obvious when he disparaged ACT leader David Seymour (who claims Ngapuhi descent) as a “useless Maori” because he opposes separatist government departments such as Te Puni Kokiri.

The message couldn’t be clearer: if you sign up to Jackson’s radical ideology, you’re a good, authentic Maori. If you exercise your democratic right to dissent, you risk being dismissed as someone who doesn’t deserve to call themselves a true Maori. Jackson is a loudmouth and a bully. At the risk of stretching an analogy to breaking point, he’s the Labour government’s attack kuri.

Alongside these big issues, of course, are the continuing, everyday reminders of the shortcomings of a government whose ambition greatly exceeds its ability to deliver. Look no further than the Te Pukenga Polytechnic debacle for evidence of that. Two other examples from today: new migration figures that show a continuing net loss as people leave the country for better prospects elsewhere (many of the departees were Brits and Americans, presumably disillusioned with life under the sainted Ardern), and a Treasury forecast that an extra 3423 public servants and consultants will be needed to fulfil commitments made in the latest Budget – an increase of 6 percent when most New Zealanders think we have more than enough bureaucrats and jobsworths already. The Treasury noted a particular demand for climate and Maori policy advisers. Quelle surprise ….


Trev1 said...

A "conspiracy theorist" is simply someone who arrives at the truth before everyone else gets there Karl. There is documentary evidence Labour MPs had the Uffindell story at least 2 months before it was leaked at a highly propitious time for Labour. Uffindell is as you say a sideshow; the point is not to join in the merry go-round.

A coup against democracy is now well underway. On 3 Waters we are on track for civil disorder not seen since the 1981 Springbok Tour if Ardern presses ahead with the expropriation. The livelihoods of many people and the good governance of vital assets, as the Auditor General has signalled, are directly threatened. Labour will continue to deploy diversions, let's not be sucked in.

Phil said...

In the future there could potentially be scenarios like Iwi receiving multi billion dollar grants from a foreign government conditional on blocking the NZ Government's decisions on particular policy. It is disturbing that NZ media can't see the danger ahead.

Anonymous said...

One ought not forget the blatant nepotism as also an indictment of the corruption within this Government and, as an aside, what a toady bunch of sycophants our msm have become. As for Rangitane o Wairarapa, if consensus isn't their way then one must assune it can only be by decree? With 40-odd Iwi in their catchment I'm sure that will run like a well-oiled machine and we will be making those reputed savings in no time - not! If one ever needed proof of why tribal governance is not the way, there you surely have it.
And, as for Jackson, the racist who wants us all to re-live and apologize for past wrongs everyday, yet disavows any responsibility for his own tribe's genocide of the Moriori. If ever there were an empty vessel lacking principle...

Odysseus said...

Maybe it's true, as John Lennon sang, that "instant karma's gonna get you". Now we have allegations of bullying against the Labour Party from MP Gaurav Sharma and an anonymous senior staffer for Anna Lorck.

I was intrigued by something Sharma is reported to have said by the NZ Herald. He revealed it had been made very clear to him by Labour's Senior Whip Duncan Webb that, " Government means Labour. So the Party comes first and foremost before the country'." I find the implications of that kind of thinking, that the Party's interests rank higher than the country's, very disturbing. It's something a member of the Chinese Communist Party might say.

But perhaps it explains why Ardern seems ready to go to the brink in destroying our democracy? Does keeping her Maori caucus happy and her party intact rank higher than equal suffrage and good governance? It certainly looks like it. This could make an important and timely topic for a column Karl.

R Singers said...

I for one are glad you are off the topic of irrelevant opposition back benchers, especially when your local MP is apparently part of a campaign to bully Labour's own back benchers.

Ben Thomas said...

" the Three Waters proposal would allow the four so-called water “entities” to operate without proper accountability"

Where exactly is the accountability now? We have the Wellington Water fluoridation shambles. Every week in Wellington there is another water/sewer main collapse. WW now warn us to expect water restrictions in the summer. How many WW employees have lost their jobs? The same time servers are standing for re-election and will no doubt be there post election. So I repeat; where is current accountability?

Frederick Williscroft said...

It is interesting to see the contrast in the media's reaction to Sam Uffindell as compared to Gaurav Sharma. With Uffindell it is clear the media are going to milk everything possible from his situation. What on earth has the unkempt condition of his flat got to do with anything.
With the Sharma allegations it's amazing how quickly it has been bumped down the order or the media try diminish his credibility. Take Stuff. They refer to Sharma as "little known"- I presume to diminish his profile. Then they write a long article parroting Arden's statement, quoting other labour MP's who haven't been bullied (surprise, surprise) and then reporting that Sharma hadn't responded to interview requests (clearly has something to hide).
They then incredulously say that no evidence was provided to back up his claims. What is he expected to produce - secret tape recordings, whip marks where he has been flogged for his impudence.
Yep the media in full damage control. NZ is incredibly poorly served by it's media. They are a disgrace.

Andy Espersen said...

It is weird to accuse Karl du Fresne, a 70 year old New Zealander, of being "anti-National" - just because he is known usually to support Labour. He has been an adult during 17 general elections in his life - and, as a matter of fact, we all know that "tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee" have for ever been basically the two only political factors in our democracy. Nobody really worried that much which was in power. And, looking back at this half-century, I actually think they both did marvelously well. The proof of the pudding is in the eating!

Once before did we see one of these two otherwise stable political forces go complete out of its usually cautious, political mind; namely under Muldoon - when we experienced a similar period of political tyranny as now, when total power went to Government's head. To our delighted surprise we then were rescued by Labour! In hindsight we found that National had become ultra-socialist and, as a consequence, Labour metamorphosed to become ultra-right!

Will we experience a similar result in the 2023 election? Will the conservative, political forces in New Zealand come to the correct this ugly period in the life of the Labour party - as it has veered from its usually free, idealistically democratic ways?

The Labour party will take years to recover from Jacinda Ardern's leadership. She has ruined this once proud political party.

Karl du Fresne said...

Thanks Andy, but I must correct you on two points.
1. As of last month, I'm 72. Unfortunately the passage of time doesn't slow down.
2. I'm intrigued that you say I'm usually known to support Labour. While it's true that I've sometimes voted Labour, I couldn't be described as "supporting" either party. The best I could say for Labour is that I usually have a better grasp of what the party stands for (even if I don't agree with it) than I do in the case of National.

Karl du Fresne said...

I agree with you that accountability is often scandalously lacking under present arrangements, and you chose an obvious example with Wellington Water. But it seems to me that accountability is lacking in such cases not so much because of a structural deficiency in the governance mechanisms but rather due to a disgraceful failure to comply with them.
The other point you omit is that in the case of Three Waters, a race element is introduced into the governance arrangements. That's new and different.

Karl du Fresne said...

I've given some more thought to my response to Ben Thomas (above), and it's inadequate. It's true that in local government especially, lines of responsibility have become more blurred and more diffuse - I suspect deliberately so. Those in control of public assets have become steadily more remote from, and hence less responsive to, the public they supposedly serve. ("Council-controlled organisation" is a brazenly dishonest misnomer.) One result is that when things go wrong, everyone runs for cover and no one takes the rap - the Wellington fluoride fiasco being a case in point. Does this trend mean we should meekly accept Three Waters, which takes the hijacking of public assets to a new level? think not.

Karl du Fresne said...

* I think not.

Trev1 said...

Let's be clear, 3 Waters involves the expropriation of community owned assets and their handing over to control by iwi corporates. Expect water royalties to follow. And absolutely no accountability to the public as the Auditor General has recently warned.

But the implications of the project are far wider and even more disturbing. Kaipara Mayor Jason Smith captures the essence of the 3 Waters project when he says, "“Having worked in the engine room for the Three Waters reforms, it’s clear to me they are a Trojan Horse for ending democratic rights. Major constitutional reform wrapped up in a set of busted pipes.”

rouppe said...

It's not just water.

Read something today about geothermal plants looking to cut emissions. At the bottom was the statement that Maori class geothermal as a taonga.

Seems like a taonga is now anything they can extract a free from.

Geothermal activity was something Maori took advantage of if it made its way to the surface. It wasn't something they controlled, harnessed, possessed or took with them anywhere.

I'm not sure I can last in this country long enough to take national super somewhere else. Its getting very scary.

R Singers said...

@rouppe geothermal sites should come under the customary usage precidents of common law, which unfortunately Helen Clark decided to run roughshod over as it might have stopped her and cronies going for a tramp. Geothermal sites are tightly coupled with traditional habitation sites and the accomanying burial sites. Any Kiwi with Scottish ancestry that experienced the Highland clearances should understand the sense of dislocation and loss.

On the otherhand, radio spectrum allocation is an odd thing to be considered a toanga. I've never quite understood how Mātauranga Māori explains it.