Thursday, August 31, 2023

The soldier whose heroism the NZ Defence Force strangely refuses to recognise

I wrote this post for my blog last week, then decided it was an issue of public importance that deserved a wider audience. I shared it with the NZ Herald, which published its own story by David Fisher today.

A New Zealand Army hero has been denied proper posthumous recognition for reasons that are bafflingly unclear. The most plausible explanation is that the NZ Defence Force wanted to be spared further embarrassment over a shameful episode from its past.

Private David Edward Whawhai Stewart, 23, was killed in a ferocious blizzard on Mt Ruapehu in 1990 while trying to save his comrades on an ill-planned winter training exercise. He was one of six who died from hypothermia in the army’s greatest loss of life in a single incident since the Second World War.

Stewart (pictured above) could have saved himself by hunkering down in his sleeping bag but instead risked his life exposing himself to the elements, moving around in 180 kmh winds and near-zero visibility in an attempt to help his comrades and keep up morale. Seven in the party of 13 survived, but Stewart died after the wind ripped away the sleeping bag he had volunteered to share with two others. Evidence suggested he was the last of the six to die.

An army court of inquiry led by Colonel Bernard Isherwood found that Stewart exhausted himself helping his companions. “It is the Court’s belief that his efforts to assist others were largely instrumental in causing his own death.” Stewart and Private Sonny Te Rure, the court said, had displayed “leadership and self-sacrifice of the highest order”.

It recommended decorations for both soldiers and for Private Brendon Burchell, who descended the mountain with one of the two instructors in the party to get help. Burchell and Te Rure (now known as Sonny Tavake) both survived.

Extraordinarily, it took nine years for the army to formally acknowledge the men’s heroism. And when recognition finally came, it was in the form of the New Zealand Bravery Medal – the lowest of four civilian awards for bravery. The Bravery Medal is awarded for “acts of bravery”, with no reference to the context in which the act occurred. (Military honours for gallantry, such as the Victoria Cross, are not awarded in peacetime.)

For several years, Isherwood, a former commanding officer of the NZSAS, and retired Warrant Officer Bob Davies have led a patient but determined campaign to get Stewart’s honour upgraded. They submitted that a more appropriate honour would be the New Zealand Cross, which is given for “acts of outstanding bravery in situations of extreme danger” – an apt description of the circumstances in which Stewart put his own life at risk.

At times it seemed they were almost across the line. Former Defence Minister Peeni Henare was supportive. So was Sir Jerry Mateparae, former Governor-General and chief of the NZ Defence Force. But this month Isherwood and Davies learned via a letter from current Defence Minister Andrew Little that the request had gone right to the top, to prime minister Chris Hipkins, who turned it down.

The reason given was that “the prime minister was of the view that it was important to uphold the long-established principle that decisions about awards of this kind were best made while all the relevant information was readily available, recall of the events was clear, and the actions concerned could be considered against the standards and values of the time and other contemporary examples.”

It seems an elaborately contrived excuse. The “relevant information” was all there in the 24-page report of the court of inquiry led by Isherwood only days after the tragedy, when recall of the event could not have been clearer. Statements were taken under oath from men who had personally witnessed Stewart’s valour.

The court of inquiry’s citation for Stewart – not made public at the time – noted that he “would have been fully aware that his actions in continually moving out of shelter and the warmth of his sleeping bag to assist those with hypothermia meant he had an increased chance of also becoming a casualty. He was also aware that he was becoming increasingly exhausted by the continual battling of the elements.”

What further information could have been needed? And in what way have “standards and values” altered since 1990? Has heroism been redefined in the intervening 33 years?

It was a fob-off that left the ex-army men scratching their heads. They believe their efforts were stymied by the hierarchy of the NZDF. But why, when it would appear to be in the interests of the NZDF to honour its own?

One possible explanation is stubborn institutional reluctance to revisit decisions made decades ago. But what seems more likely is that the NZDF doesn’t want to admit, even after all this time, that the army got it badly wrong not once but twice: the first time by sending 10 soldiers and a naval rating up on the mountain with inexperienced instructors, and again by not promptly recognising the acts of heroism that almost certainly prevented further loss of life. 

Isherwood, who now finds himself at odds with the army that he devoted 32 years of his life to, describes it as a can of worms that the military hierarchy doesn’t want to reopen.

The excuse given for the nine-year delay in awarding medals to Stewart, Te Rure and Burchell was that the bravery awards were in transition at the time from a British system to a New Zealand one. But Isherwood says there was resistance “from day one” within the NZDF.

It may be an indication of the army’s discomfort over the Ruapehu tragedy that it took more than 30 years for the report of the court of inquiry to be released. I obtained it last year after requesting it under the Official Information Act. Even Isherwood, who left the army in 1999, had to make an OIA request before he was given a redacted version of his own report so he could write an account for the history of the Royal NZ Infantry Regiment to which Stewart belonged.

Certainly the army had reason to be embarrassed by the inquiry, which found there was inadequate instruction and preparation prior to the training exercise. It concluded, damningly, that the inadequate skill levels of the instructors – both of whom survived – were a major contributory factor in the deaths of the six servicemen.

The inquiry found that the instructor who remained on the mountain absolved himself of leadership responsibility when it was most required. Isherwood thinks the fact that Stewart stepped into the leadership vacuum made his actions even more commendable.

The inquiry also noted that the party had no communications equipment – on the face of it, an extraordinary omission.

The army went some way toward atoning for its treatment of Stewart and his fellow servicemen last year, 32 years after the event, when a plaque was unveiled in Stewart’s memory at Linton army camp. His mother, Kathleen Kotiro Stewart of Whakatane, jointly unveiled the plaque with the head of the army, Major General John Boswell.

Among those pushing for Stewart’s heroism to be properly recognised, it was welcomed as a belated step in the right direction. But it wasn’t enough, and this month’s brush-off from Hipkins is unlikely to be the last word on the affair.


Guest post: Spiro Zavos on Australian rugby and the Folau factor

Former Wellington journalist Spiro Zavos wrote a highly regarded rugby column in the Sydney Morning Herald for nearly 30 years. He is the author of "How to Watch a Game of Rugby". Here Spiro brings his insight to bear on a crucial factor behind the decline of Australian rugby and ponders whether Eddie Jones can repair the damage.

Eddie Jones took over a Wallabies side on 29 January 2023, seven months ago, that was jaded, too old, falling rapidly into second-tier status and most importantly was divided on race and religious grounds because four years ago Rugby Australia sacked the soul of the side, as far as the Polynesian players were concerned, Israel Folau.

In preparing his squad for the 2023 Rugby World Cup tournament, Jones has responded to this problem of a team that had no morale by making two crucial decisions.

First, he has sacked most of the senior members of the Wallabies side he inherited, including its leadership group.

Second, he has appointed an outsider from the squad who happens to be Polynesian, Will Skelton, as the captain.

In my opinion, Jones is correct to do this even though the short-term problems involved with creating a new side in a few months could make the coming World Cup tournament a painful learning experience for his side - and for all Wallabies supporters.

There is method, in other words, in the Jones madness.

This wilful destruction of the Wallabies spirit by the Australian rugby class is a story that has essentially been neglected by an anodyne and compromised rugby media.

From the moment the then CEO of Rugby Australia, New Zealander Raelene Castle, decided to sacrifice Folau to appease big business interests, the Wallabies were doomed.

This is not to endorse what Folau did or said. It is to state the fact that Folau was the leader on and off the field for the significant number of Christian Polynesian players in the Wallabies squad. He was the team's talisman and, perhaps most importantly the side's main try-scorer.

The Polynesian players made representations to RA and to their trade union, RUPA, after Folau was sacked to find out what they could say about the woke policies RA enforced on them. RA and RUPA refused to tell them. So the punishment given to Folau was potentially theirs, too, if they expressed religious views similar to his.

Take the case of Samu Kerevi, the only other world-class Wallaby in recent years, aside from Folau.

Kerevi was born in Fiji. His father is a pastor. He was one of the Wallabies who "
liked" Folau's "hell awaits gay people" post.

He told ABC documentary-makers for a programme on the Folau issue that none of Folau's supporters in the team were allowed to "say anything about supporting Izzy or saying anything at all".

While denying Kerevi and his fellow Polynesian Wallabies their rights to express their religious beliefs, the leadership of the Wallabies, including the captain Michael Hooper, said they would never play with Folau again.

The new coach, New Zealander Dave Rennie, also insisted that he was committed under the terms of his appointment never to select Folau for the Wallabies.

Kerevi reacted against all of this hostility to Folau by leaving Australia to play his rugby in Japan.

In my view, the expulsion of Folau and its subsequent creation of disenchantment by Wallabies Polynesian players was the main reason why, under Rennie, the national side then created the dismal a record of winning only 38 per cent of their Tests.

The most important signs that Eddie Jones understands how much damage was done to the morale and integrity of the Wallabies by the rejection of Folau is his clean sweep of most of the older white Wallabies who were in leadership positions under Rennie.

This has been followed by the first appointment of a new captain from outside the Australian rugby environment that piled on against Folau.

Jones has been open with journalists about the risks involved with what he has done: "Obviously I'd like to have a better win-loss record but we've destabilised the team, we've taken away all the leadership that was there previously, we've got a new leadership team in its place.... we do have a longer-term plan in terms of the World Cup ..."

There are clear risks with this scorched earth policy.

Steve Hansen, the former All Blacks coach, remarked after his three-day look at the Jones training regime that the new group of Wallabies were a "nice group of young men ... they are very excited about the World Cup tournament ... but the leadership group is not in the same place as the All Blacks ..."

We saw examples of this lack of leadership during the France-Australia RWC warm-up match last weekend. The Wallabies could not cope when France opened up play out wide, a weakness that was never shut down throughout the match.

The new Skelton Wallabies did present a strong scrum and a competent lineout against France. This is a reflection of the fact that Jones has based a number of his selections, in the backs and in the forwards, on size, something that has been lacking in the Wallabies for some years.

The Wallabies scored three tries to the five of France, a better outcome than the All Blacks managed against the Springboks.

There is a belief expressed in most commentaries that the Wallabies have an easy route to the semi-finals.

Admittedly, France, Scotland, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland - the top-ranking rugby nations and all sides with the potential to win the RWC tournament - are all on the same side of the draw.

Indeed, the South Africa/Ireland/Scotland pool seems to be the most lethal "pool of death" in any pool in the history of the RWC tournament.

For this tournament, though, the second lethal pool is Australia's.

Starting on September 10, the Wallabies play Georgia (a team with one of the most impressive packs in Europe), September 18 Fiji (a team ranked above them, coming off an historic victory over England at Twickenham), September 25 Wales (a traditional rival with a good winning record against the Wallabies) and October 2 Portugal (the only assured victory for the Wallabies in the pool).

And the Wallabies are diving into this pool with five successive defeats this year. As Tom Decent in the Sydney Morning Herald has pointed out, this "is the worst pre-World Cup record in the last 20 years".

Twenty years ago, the Wallabies went into the RWC tournament with four losses from five Tests. The team fought its way through to the final in which a field goal in extra time gave victory and glory to England.

The Wallabies coach in 2003 was Eddie Jones. Can lightning strike twice for him and his new team?

■ Spiro, who is now 86, coached the St Patrick's College Silverstream Third Grade "C" rugby team, of which I was a member, in 1966. Our record for the season was: played 7, won 5, drew 1, lost 1. I had never played rugby before and knew so little about the game that Spiro had to come onto the field at half-time and turn me around. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Guest post: Perce Hàrpham on the Maori electorates

In the following article, retired businessman Perce Harpham makes the point that Maori electorates are no longer necessary to ensure Maori representation and provide a means by which voters of part-Maori ancestry can exercise disproportionate political power. This runs counter to the basic democratic principle that every person's vote should carry equal weight, regardless of race. Publication of his article on this blog doesn't imply endorsement of everything Perce says, but I agree with his essential proposition.

New Zealand is unique. It is the only country in the world which became a colony of another – not by conquest but by request of the inhabitants. Some wise chiefs saw that the introduction of muskets in 1805, unchecked, would lead to their obliteration because their custom (utu) required them to avenge every wrong done to their tribe (iwi) by another. So, in 1840, more than 500 chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi. This foundation document gave all the people of New Zealand equal rights as citizens under the sovereignty of the Queen. The melding of stone age wisdom and later “civilisation” was handled, for the most part, with mutual respect and dignity.

When the governor was replaced by an elected government, in conformance with British law, only property-owning males could vote. Maori had largely communal ownership so few could vote. The same was true of many of the settlers as most were simply servants and workers. However a wave of change was sweeping over Britain. Slavery had been abolished and the public were being given some voice in government. Fuelled by these British changes, four parliamentary seats were established exclusively for Maori in 1867. Strangely, and unfairly, the many landless settlers were not given representation.

The Maori seats were intended to last for only five years and in that time the law was changed to allow all males to vote. So the reasons for the Maori seats disappeared, but the seats did not. Instead more have been created so that there are now seven Maori seats. This has given Maori political power way beyond anything that could be achieved with financial donations. No amount of money to fund a political party in its electoral campaign can guarantee a single seat, but the Maori hierarchy can essentially dictate how those seats can be decided.

When the “First Past the Post” electoral system was replaced by the present “Mixed Member" system, the Commission of Inquiry which designed the latter proposed the abolition of the Maori seats, as MMP would allow minorities to obtain seats. But they were not abolished. Clearly neither of the major parties were prepared to risk losing the next election by taking that step.

Non-Maori cannot vote for the Maori seats but Maori can choose to go on the electoral roll for Maori seats and vote for them. They can also choose to be on the general roll and to vote for non-Maori seats. The Mongrel Mob have reportedly directed their members to go on the general roll and to vote in an electorate which is marginal for Labour. There is, of course, a requirement to have an address in that electorate but this is unlikely to be problem for Mongrel Mob members.

There are now 25 MPs who identify as Maori. So 18 have either been elected on the general roll or on a party list. The latter number, interestingly enough, is precisely the number required to represent the proportion of Maori in the population. Accordingly there is no justification for the Maori seats.

Many questionable ideas have resulted from the power of the block of Maori seats. Without that power would any sane politician believe that Queen Victoria went into partnership with 500 Maori chiefs on the other side of the world? Or that they would think that they were in partnership with one another?

To secure Maori votes, political parties have increasingly accepted claims that the problems disclosed by various statistics are the result of systemic bias against them and that the Treaty means different things from what it says.

My book, The Corruption of New Zealand, supports the well-reasoned view of the Auckland University professor of education, Elizabeth Rata, that the tribal vision is wrong and that the problems are a matter of class, not race. Thus, for example, the reason for 50% of the prison population being Maori is likely to be that 50% of the poor in New Zealand are Maori and the solution is to apply the explicit Treaty provision for all the people of New Zealand to be under the same laws. Changes for the benefit of all the poor are needed.

The Labour Government commissioned a report on the Maori vision for objectives in 2040. The report was kept secret until it was leaked. With great speed the Labour Government is now changing systems and laws in conformance with that vision. The Government has rejected the established system of “one law for all” to give overarching power to Maori through a tribal system with different laws for Maori. Jacinda Ardern as prime minister said only that there will be no separate Parliament. But the country is being separated on Tribal lines.

There is a pattern of events and vested interest moves that have corrupted our democracy and our history to promote a drift back to tribalism. The treaty was actually about the end of tribalism. It ended the warring of groups among the 500 iwi by unifying them and their constituents as equals with non-iwi under one rule. This is being turned on its head with a return to tribalism and a squeezing out of anyone not affiliated with one of the tribes.

If we do not rapidly undo much of what has been done, and is proposed, then our democracy will be crippled, or perish entirely, and our legal system will become largely impotent and inoperable. There is also a danger that we will develop racial intolerance at a level which we have never known.

As a nation we have been proud of laws which made no mention of ethnic divisions. But, suddenly, people of Maori descent are being given different legal rights from all other races.

Unless actions which have been taken, or are in progress, are reversed there is no point in worrying about ideas for reducing inequality and preserving our democracy. Instead we will have a tribally based legal system where power is held by unelected hereditary Maori leaders. A necessary first step to avert disaster is to abolish the Maori seats. 

As founder of the Progeni software company, Perce Harpham, now 91, was a pioneer of the New Zealand computer industry. He is a former Green Party candidate. His book is available here.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Hypocrisy, cant and fashionably woke opinion masquerading as news

■ The Master Huffer and Puffer is back in business. When Winston Peters spent 11 minutes blustering his way through an interview with Corin Dann on Morning Report this morning, it was if he’d never been away. It was déjà vu, and not in a good way.

One point in particular struck me. Peters got indignant, as only he can, when Dann asked whether NZ First might be prepared to provide confidence and supply from the cross benches in the event of a hung parliament.

“You’re asking me the outcome before the people have spoken,” the Great Populist righteously declaimed. “You have to know [first] what the voters have decided on, and the voters are masters of this matter, not politicians.”

Oh, really? When, I wonder, did Peters come around to the novel view that the voters’ will is paramount?

Could this be the same Winston Peters who decided in 2017 that NZ First would endorse a party that won 37 percent of the party vote over one supported by 44 percent of the voters?

The voters didn’t decide the outcome of the election on that occasion. Peters did, and now he seeks to rewrite history by pretending the voter is supreme. Only Peters would expect to get away with such bare-faced hypocrisy.

We may never know whether he anointed Jacinda Ardern as prime minister in 2017 because she offered him a more generous deal than Bill English did, or whether he was motivated by pure spite toward National, with whom he had a rancorous history. Quite likely it was a bit of both.

What we do know is that Peters disregarded the voters’ preference when he went with Labour, to the astonishment and delight of Ardern and Grant Robertson.

Ardern subsequently became something of a political phenomenon, leading the country through the Christchurch mosque massacres, the Whakaari-White Island eruption and the Covid pandemic with such assurance that voters rewarded her by giving Labour an unprecedented majority in 2020. We know how well that turned out.

NZ First was unceremoniously wiped out in that same election, but the damage had been done. Had Peters not ignored the voters’ clearly expressed preference in 2017, we would have been spared the most harmful government in living memory.

To put it another way, Peters, by going with Labour, is ultimately responsible for everything that has happened in the past three disastrous, chaotic years. Voters have notoriously short memories, so need to be constantly reminded of that.

He now has the effrontery to present himself as Mr Fixit. But putting Peters back in government, in any capacity, would be like calling back the same builder whose dodgy workmanship caused your house to collapse the last time you employed him.

■ Also on Morning Report, Maori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer was extolling the virtue of unity. She claims to want her fellow politicians to focus on a future where we can live in harmony rather than focus on what we don’t have in common (her words).

It’s an appealing sentiment, but it rings resoundingly hollow coming from one of the most divisive figures in Parliament and the co-leader of the only New Zealand political party that, by definition, sets itself apart on the basis of racial identity. Far from cultivating a spirit of accord, Te Pati Maori proudly celebrates its otherness. That seems an odd basis on which to present yourself as a champion of unity.

Ngarewa-Packer railed against the politics of fear and division and twice described the positions taken by her political rivals as “revolting” – not a word calculated to promote the warm, positive vibes she supposedly aspires to.

She didn’t name them but clearly she was referring to National, ACT and presumably NZ First as well. It’s worth pointing out that all those parties have Maori candidates as well as Pakeha, and in the case of National and ACT, representatives of other minorities as well. ACT, which I suspect is the party Ngarewa-Packer most reviles, has three MPs of Maori descent, including leader David Seymour.

By way of contrast, the defining feature of the Maori Party is that all its candidates are (and presumably are required to be) Maori. But can you really exclude 84 percent of the population and present yourself as a unifying force? I suspect that when Ngarewa-Packer affirms the value of unity, she means unity on her terms. If there was an award for cant of the day, she would be runner-up to Peters.

■ You know there’s no real news around when you turn on RNZ at 8am on a Saturday and the lead item is about an Auckland University sociologist no one has ever heard of urging the New Zealand government to protest against the discharge of waste water from the Fukushima nuclear reactor.

Of course there was real news around; it’s just that whoever edited the bulletin decided the opinion of an obscure leftist academic – one who spoke with a North American accent – was the most urgent and compelling story of the morning.

I later googled the academic, one Karly Burch, and found an earlier RNZ news item which quoted her as saying the nuclear waste discharge needed to be viewed “in the context of nuclear imperialism and nuclear colonialism”.

In other words this was a purely political opinion: a fashionably woke one, but no more relevant, coming from a sociologist, than that of a bank teller or a barber. No newspaper – not even a leftist one like The Post – would lead its front page with such a flimsy story.  But this is RNZ, and normal editorial criteria don’t always apply.

The next item wasn’t much better. It quoted Buddy Mikaere, a former member of the Waitangi Tribunal, who was concerned about supposed misinformation in a booklet about co-governance. More than any other news outlet, RNZ loves stories about people’s opinions, just as long as they’re the right sort (Family First not so much). The item included a voice report in which the journalist presented a loaded, politicised interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi as if it were a settled fact.

My impression is that most RNZ reporters do a conscientious job, but as an institution it leans sharply to the left, like all public broadcasters, and ideology inevitably seeps into its news bulletins. This is more likely to happen when there’s a skeleton staff on (I’m told RNZ newsrooms are scarily empty at weekends) and editorial checks and balances are probably not applied as rigorously as they might be during the week.

As a publicly funded news outlet, RNZ has a unique obligation to ensure fairness, accuracy and balance. This becomes even more important at a time when public trust in the media is dangerously frayed.

It’s also worth noting that RNZ recently went through an expensive, high-profile inquiry that resulted in an embarrassing mea culpa for illicit editorial tampering by a rogue journalist who has since been dismissed. Has the organisation learned nothing, or do different standards apply when the influence exerted by biased journalists is deemed to be ideologically acceptable?

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Ron Palenski, journalist and author, 1945-2023


I was saddened last night to learn of the death of Ron Palenski. Ron (pictured) was one of the most distinguished, and certainly one of the best-known, New Zealand print journalists of his generation.

Ron, who was 78, had suffered from cancer for several years and died yesterday in a hospice in Dunedin – the city of his birth, where he moved after his retirement from active journalism and became chief executive of the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame. He is survived by his wife Kathy and one of their two sons.

Ron came to prominence as a reporter for the New Zealand Press Association during the NZPA’s golden era – that is to say, before the long-established co-operative news agency became a casualty of rivalry between the two Australian-owned companies that came to dominate the New Zealand print media. His colleagues included Bruce Kohn, David Barber, Max Lambert, Paul Cavanagh, Chris Turver and the late Mike Robson and Derek Round – bylines once familiar to New Zealand newspaper readers on stories filed from the foreign cities where NZPA maintained offices.

Ron was best known as a sports writer but like most NZPA correspondents, could handle whatever assignment was thrown at him. His many sports books included The Games, the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand Rugby, biographies of Graham Mourie and John Walker and, much more recently, Rugby: A New Zealand History (2015) and the aptly titled Brutal (2021), a history of the rugby rivalry between New Zealand and South Africa.

On leaving NZPA in 1984 he moved to the Dominion, where he served as assistant editor. He underwent a late career change after quitting journalism, earning a doctorate in history and writing The Making of New Zealanders, based on his doctoral thesis, in which he examined the origins of New Zealand nationhood. He will be remembered as an “outstanding, talented journalist” (his former colleague Max Lambert’s words) and prolific author.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Professor Dutta ducks below the parapet


It’s now more than three weeks since I challenged Professor Mohan Dutta (above) of Massey University to a debate, and still there has been no response.

In the meantime, he has locked his Twitter account after I urged readers of this blog to check it out. I thought people should see for themselves how incendiary – in fact borderline crazy – some of his tweets were.

Dutta would no doubt say he locked his account to protect himself from racist abuse, but another explanation is that he realised how bad it looked for him. Better to limit his readership to fellow zealots whom he knows won’t challenge him.

Before he ducked for cover beneath the parapet I cut and pasted bits of his Twitter feed as examples of his off-the-wall extremism. They reveal his overtly racist obsession with the evils of whiteness and how white supremacy “erases” minority voices in New Zealand.

He characterises free speech as an American idea that doesn’t fit New Zealand and needs to be “decolonised”. This from a man who (a) exercises his own right to free speech in a highly inflammatory way and (b) assumes the right to decide what’s good for New Zealand despite having arrived here only five minutes ago, metaphorically speaking.

An anonymous post on Wordpress provides a striking insight into Dutta's splenetic, vindictive rage. I can't verify the writer's allegations about Dutta, which should be treated with caution, but his Twitter and Facebook posts speak for themselves. 

For the record, I don’t dispute Dutta’s right to say what he thinks, irrational and offensive though it may be. He’s as entitled to freedom of speech as I am. In fact he has done us all a favour by obligingly exposing to the world the poisonous, polarising rhetoric he spouts from his privileged position as the Dean’s Chair in Communication at Massey.

My argument is not with Dutta’s right to express himself. But I do object, strenuously, to the fact that the state generously provides him with a taxpayer-funded platform from which to propagate ideas that undermine democracy and promote division; ideas that are fundamentally hostile to the society he has chosen to live in, and in a broader sense openly hostile to the values of Western civilisation that most New Zealanders (including the vast majority of immigrants) hold to.

In fact a crucial question that I would put to Dutta, in the unlikely event that we meet face to face, is this: Why is he here? Why choose to live in New Zealand when he clearly finds this country so vile? It was a downright perverse move unless you accept either or both of two explanations. One is that he came here with the aim of tearing down a civilised, tolerant, liberal democracy painstakingly built up over nearly two centuries. The other is that he was made welcome by a university sector that seems to have infinite room for second-rate imported academics pushing brazen ideological agendas, but which shows zero tolerance for any competing narratives.

Dutta may be a particularly conspicuous and egregious example of this phenomenon, but he’s not alone. The system is infested with people like him.

There is an argument that the best response to Dutta is ridicule, on the basis that his pronouncements are so risible they don’t deserve to be taken seriously. People say he’s deranged and that I’m only encouraging him. To take that approach, however, would be to ignore the damage he’s doing. He needs to be held accountable for his choleric, hateful rhetoric – as do the vice-chancellor of Massey (the Australian Jan Thomas, who famously and dishonestly banned Don Brash as a supposed menace to public safety) and the university council. After all, Dutta is operating with impunity under their imprimatur.

So I continue to wait patiently for the professor's response to my invitation. I also eagerly anticipate Parts Three, Four and Five of his promised five-part hit job on me, which seem to be taking some time to materialise. In the meantime, other people have been digging into Dutta's record – engaging in the type of online archaeology that the extreme neo-Marxist Left, as represented by people like the excitable Secret Squirrel conspiracy theorists at the Disinformation Project, normally specialises in.

Auckland lawyer Juliet Moses, spokeswoman for the New Zealand Jewish Council, has exposed Dutta’s support – along with another far-Left New Zealand academic, Professor Richard Jackson from the comically misnamed National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies – for a British academic with a history of anti-Semitic pronouncements.

Someone else has found evidence that Dutta was previously known by the surname Dutta-Bergman, raising the tantalising possibility that he is himself tainted by the ineradicable stain of whiteness. 

Meanwhile, Ben Espiner of The Platform has weighed in with a muscular and well-reasoned critique that concludes with the line: “It is generally believed that the most ignorant and indefensible of ideas wilt the fastest under the light of public scrutiny”. Public scrutiny is what Dutta, who's normally an incorrigible attention-seeker, now seems suddenly eager to avoid.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Winston Peters as a hooker in fishnet stockings

Is this the political cartoon of 2023? I think it will take some beating. The Herald's Rod Emmerson produced it to illustrate an article by former Labour MP Graham Kelly (paywalled) on the pitfalls of MMP. 

Thursday, August 10, 2023

An update on the Dutta file

It’s now nearly two weeks since I invited Professor Mohan Dutta (above) of Massey University to have a debate with me to determine which of us was more accurate in his characterisation of the other. (He says I’m an agent of the hateful American Far-Right; I say he’s a bitter, angry, obsessive zealot peddling a toxic ideological line that’s openly hostile to the country he has chosen to live in. I think he may even be unhinged.)

In case Dutta didn’t see the blog post in which I issued this invitation (although he obviously did), I repeated it in an email to him. I have had no response.

While waiting to hear back from him, I had a look at his Twitter account. I saw nothing there to contradict my opinion of him. If anything, quite the contrary.

I urge people to check it out. Here’s a sample tweet from earlier this year in which Dutta applauded something Greens co-leader Marama Davidson had said: “Our research @CAREMasseyNZ consistently demonstrates that whiteness, cisnormative patriarchy and settler colonialism are the drivers of family violence and sexual violence”.

Right there you’ve got several trademark Dutta-isms: the undergraduate, bumper-sticker jargon, the wild accusatory tone and the outlandish, unsubstantiated assertion that family violence is somehow the fault of a white settler patriarchy. (Explainer: the clumsily named CARE (Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation), of which Dutta is director, sits within Massey University and appears to have at least semi-official status. It describes itself as “a global hub for justice-based communication research that uses participatory and culture-centered methodologies to develop community-driven com­munication solutions for building and sustaining human health and wellbeing”.)

At times Dutta is so angry as to be almost incoherent. A recurring theme in his tweets is the iniquity of “whiteness” – this from a man who presents himself, ironically, as a crusader against racism. It appears that to Dutta, anyone who is white is automatically and ineradicably stained with the taint of racism.

One of the points I would like to explore with Dutta, in the unlikely event that my suggested debate happens, is how we define racism. It would be helpful if we could settle on an agreed meaning.

The essence of racism, surely, is the belief that some races are intrinsically superior to others and that discrimination and ill-treatment, even genocide, is therefore okay. That’s what the Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and the rulers of apartheid-era South Africa believed. But it suits people like Dutta to adopt an infinitely flexible definition that can be stretched as required to fit any circumstance; in other words, to denigrate any opinion he doesn’t like and to smear his opponents as white supremacists.

Another notable feature of Dutta’s splenetic tweets is his obsession with the Hindu nationalist movement called Hindutva. You hadn’t heard of it? No, me neither, until recently. But Dutta is doing his utmost to ensure that we do.

Hindutva may be a political and ideological force in India. It may be true that it’s a malignant one, as Dutta insists. But does Hindutva present a threat to democracy or social cohesion in New Zealand? If it doesn’t, Dutta should pull his head in.

Many immigrants come to New Zealand to escape violent, divided societies where old hatreds run deep. They don’t need them stirred up here.

Sunni and Shi’a Muslims appear to co-exist peacefully in New Zealand. So do Catholics and Protestants who came here from Northern Ireland, and immigrants from the Balkan States – parts of the world long plagued by vicious sectarian divisions. Old enmities should be left behind: dumped in a bin in the airport arrivals lounge, metaphorically speaking, in the same way that incoming passengers are encouraged to jettison plants and foodstuffs that pose a biosecurity threat to the economy.

As a liberal, tolerant, open, capitalist democracy, New Zealand offers an opportunity to break free from historic patterns that lock people into ancient prejudices and predetermine their social and economic status. Thousands of desperate refugees from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia risk their lives trying to get into Western Europe, often with tragic consequences, for much the same reason.

Dutta, however, gives the impression of wanting to replicate in New Zealand the social, cultural and religious tensions that bedevil other countries. For all his sanctimonious and hypocritical talk about wanting to promote social cohesion, creating division is what he does. It’s his ideological stock-in-trade. He views society not as a settled collection of disparate yet compatible groups with common values and aspirations, but as a seething agglomeration of aggrieved minorities whose interests are irreconcilable with those of the supposedly oppressive majority.

According to this world view, these purported power imbalances (which is where the influence of Marxism comes in, although many traditional Marxists are repelled by the woke ideology promoted by people like Dutta) can be resolved only by dismantling existing structures and reconstructing society from the ground up. Dutta is hostile to democracy and even more so to capitalism. It doesn’t concern him that there’s no appetite in New Zealand – outside a noisy extremist minority – for radical transformation of the type he’s agitating for.

After I started writing this, I learned that Dutta had resumed his attack on me. He has posted (again on the Massey University website, thereby implying the university’s official endorsement) Part 3 of what he promises will be a five-part series, all apparently triggered by my post of June 7.

His latest post runs to more than 3700 words. I’m not going to cry “foul”, seeing I started this. But really – 3700 words (with some assistance from his cronies)? And two more articles still to come?

Once again, Dutta abandons any pretence of rational analysis. No longer content to simply characterise me as a voice of the far Right, which in itself justifies my description of him as unhinged, Dutta associates me with violence, racism, death and rape threats, transphobia, misogygny and the banning of books. He sees the world through a lens grotesquely distorted by rage and resentment.

He rails against hate but paradoxically indulges in some of the most hateful rhetoric I’ve seen. We’re left to conclude that there are two types of hate: the virtuous kind, as articulated by Dutta, and the other type that only white people are guilty of.

If his latest attack on me was remotely on target, I would have reason to worry about my reputation, but I get the impression the truth doesn't matter to Dutta. If he’s capable of portraying me as someone who approves of violence and rape threats, he’s capable of saying anything. His characterisation of me is best described as a cartoonishly crude caricature. I urge people to read his article (though be warned – it takes some stamina) and form their own conclusions.

I’ll disregard misquotations and errors of fact in Dutta’s piece and restrict my comment to two points. The first relates to his implication that I’m driven by nostalgia for a vanished New Zealand, which is partially true. I have had the good fortune to spend my life in one of the world’s most civilised (which is not to say flawless) countries. Naturally I value that and will do what I can to protect all that's admirable about that heritage. I think I have a deeper appreciation of what’s worth preserving in this country than someone who arrived yesterday. It's striking that much of the discontent fuelling the culture wars in New Zealand comes from people who, like Dutta, have been here only a short time. I have likened this to being invited into someone's home and immediately demanding they rearrange the furniture.

The other point concerns academic freedom, which Dutta seems to think confers the right to indulge in whatever poisonous ideology suits him (funded by the taxpayer, of course).

In principle I agree with him on academic freedom. The problem in New Zealand, as in other Western democracies, is that academic freedom runs only one way, as we saw when the Listener Seven were vilified by their peers (a cowardly gang-up which Dutta clearly endorsed). As a Curia survey revealed earlier this year, a majority of academics at five New Zealand universities felt unable to express controversial or unpopular opinions. Across all eight universities, only 46 per cent said they felt free to question received wisdom or challenge ideological orthodoxy. At professor level, the ratio was even lower: only 31 per cent. In reality, academic freedom exists in New Zealand only in the sense that press freedom could be said to exist in Putin’s Russia or Xi’s China. But Dutta’s safe.

Beyond that, to deal with Dutta’s latest polemic point by point would imply that it’s serious enough to be worth responding to, which it’s not. But for what it’s worth, I repeat my invitation to him to take part in a debate, the venue and time to be determined by mutual agreement. Needless to say, I’m not holding my breath.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

The English pub where you could feel woozy without touching a drop

Sad news this morning. The Crooked House has burned down.

That name would mean nothing to readers of this blog, but the Crooked House – or the Glynne Arms, to use its official name – is famous in the Black Country of England’s West Midlands.

Built in the 18th century, it was known as Britain’s wonkiest pub. Undermined by coal mines beneath it, the building started to tilt in the 19th century but miraculously stayed erect.

It became something of a local tourist attraction. Visitors would be taken there to see the optical illusion of marbles appearing to defy gravity by rolling upwards on the bar. In New Zealand the pub would have been roped off and condemned by health and safety commissars, but the English celebrate such glorious eccentricities.

The above photo of me at the pub door was taken in 1985 when I was on attachment to the Wolverhampton Express and Star as part of a Commonwealth Press Union fellowship. My hosts at the paper were extraordinarily hospitable and insisted that I see the local sights, of which the Crooked House was one. (The legendary Ma Pardoes, where I was introduced to the working-class pub treat known as pork scratchings, was another.)

You didn’t need to down a pint of the potent Banks’s ale to feel slightly disoriented in the Crooked House (though it helped). As the photo shows, the pub wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Harry Potter movie.

Now it’s a pile of rubble and the locals are mourning. What a shame.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

My invitation to Professor Mohan Dutta

Professor Mohan Dutta has written about me again in a piece published on the Massey University website yesterday:  Opinion: The Far-Right, Misinformation, and Academic Freedom (

Among other things I'm accused of communicative inversions and linked by association with online misogyny and even death threats. I can't say which accusation is more damning because I'm not sure what communicative inversion is.

I'm happy to link to Dutta's article here because I believe in free speech and the right of reply. I could respond point by point but that would be several hours of my life that I'll never get back. 

I do, however, repeat my invitation to Prof Dutta to debate me face to face. Just in case he missed that suggestion in my last post, I have communicated it to him directly via email.