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 ….