■ If Michael Wood deliberately sat on his shareholding in Auckland Airport despite knowing it represented a flagrant conflict of interest, he was guilty of ministerial impropriety bordering on corruption.
If, on the other hand, he simply didn’t get around to selling his shares despite being constantly reminded that he should, presumably because he was preoccupied with other things, he was guilty of inexcusable procrastination, rank incompetence and shockingly bad judgment. This should automatically render him unfit for any ministerial portfolio.
So he is either dodgy, hopelessly disorganised, or perhaps both. Either way, the case for Wood’s dismissal is overwhelming. Chris Hipkins is playing for time because he’s running out of cabinet ministers, but Wood’s situation is hopeless. You can hear the Death March playing.
We have been here before. The hazard for Labour governments is that they come to power bursting with zeal and ambition after years of frustration on the opposition benches, then burn out spectacularly when their ability falls woefully short of their aspirations.
It happened in 1975 and it seems to be repeating itself now. A notable exception, as Matthew Hooton reminds us today, was the Clark-Cullen government of 1999-2008, but the Ardern-Hipkins regime has reverted to type. Incompetence and indiscipline are a fatal combination.
■ Michael Johnston and James Kierstead have written a piece for the NZ Initiative highlighting the precarious future of universities. They suggest a crucial part of the problem is that universities have abrogated their defining purpose – namely, to serve as incubators of ideas and nurturers of free thought and inquiry. This traditional function becomes impossible, they point out, when academics and students are scared to say what they think.
Johnston and Kierstead know what they’re talking about, having both experienced the chilling effects of the all-pervasive cancel culture that prevails in universities.
Their article also refers to the financial crisis that has forced several universities to consider laying off staff. Perhaps a useful starting point for embattled university administrations would be to focus on academics who use their privileged positions to promote polarising identity politics agendas for which they have no mandate.
This blog yesterday identified one such figure, Massey University’s Professor Mohan Dutta. A trawl through Dutta’s online activism and his involvement in the activist organisation CARE – or to give it its clumsy full name, the Centre for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation – revealed a web of far-Left connections, much of it appearing to operate under Massey’s aegis. (CARE’s 2023 Activist-in-Residence was indigenous rights advocate Tina Ngata, whose on-campus events at Massey last month bore the clear stamp of approval from the university – in striking contrast to vice-chancellor Jan Thomas’s hysterical 2018 ban on Don Brash.)
Dutta is hardly unique in using his academic status to pursue an ideological agenda. If university administrations wanted to save money and simultaneously regain lost credibility, they could strip back to basics by demanding a more rigorous level of accountability from academic staff and giving notice to those who treat their position as a licence to indoctrinate. Those who don’t comply should be shown the door.
That might have the additional benefit of breaking the repressive ideological stranglehold that Johnston and Kierstead allude to and creating an academic environment in which people again feel able to speak freely.
■ I had an exchange of emails yesterday with a fellow retired journalist who lamented the tendency for reporters to embellish their stories with personal opinion, something that was firmly discouraged in our time.
I offered two possible explanations. One was the adoption of bylines – the practice of putting the reporter’s name on the top of the story, often accompanied by their photograph.
Until the 1970s, bylines were used only sparingly, usually to indicate that the reporter was a “name” or had done an exceptional job. Sports writers often got them, as did some political reporters whose knowledge and expertise were acknowledged.
Now bylines are used automatically, even on the most routine news items. The inevitable consequence is that the reporter’s ego is inflated even if he or she has done only a ho-hum job. From there, it doesn’t take a huge leap for the reporter to think his or her opinion must count for something.
Another possible explanation for the intrusion of comment into what should be “straight” news stories, unembroidered by the reporter’s personal views, is that a high proportion of journalists in the 21st century have university degrees, which was rare a couple of generations ago.
Human nature being what it is, journalists who hold degrees may think themselves wiser than their readers, and therefore empowered to give us the benefit of their insight.
When I began in journalism, there was a prejudice against the hiring of university graduates for exactly that reason; they were suspected of being "above themselves”. It seemed an inverted form of intellectual snobbery, but I now sometimes wonder whether there might have been something in it.
Of course, not having been to university myself, I would say that.