Thursday, March 29, 2018

For NZ First De Nile Is A River That Runs Through Warkworth

Two brief thoughts on this imbroglio presently embroiling New Zealand First up in Rodney.

The first is that Simon Bridges is engaging in a fulsome rewrite of reality when he claims that MPs (and potentially Ministers of the Crown) threatening to withhold funding for projects for political gain is "not the way we do things", particularly in the New Zealand National Party.

After all, it was only a few months ago that National's then-Associate Housing Minister, Alfred Ngaro, was publicly stating through the media that National would deny funding to organizations which criticized it - in particular, singling out Willie Jackson and the Manukau Urban Maori Authority as targets for losing funding and a charter school application thanks to their trenchant criticism of the then-Government over housing policy and other areas.

Ngaro also directly claimed that he'd paid Jackson a personal visit to outline this rather brusque diktat that "bagging" National for alleged political gain or otherwise would lead to funding and approval for programmes championed by the critical figures and foundations in question being "off the table"; although Jackson disputes this.

I mention those last details because they sound eerily familiar to what is alleged to have occurred up at the Orewa Surf Club over the weekend between newly minted NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft and former National Defence Minister slash present local Rodney Electorate MP Mark Mitchell.

In specia, Marcroft is supposed to have asked for a meeting with Mitchell, turned up, and bluntly laid out that Mitchell was to cease his support for a particular river restoration project if he wanted it to see funding from the Government.

She reportedly stated she was there at the instruction of an unnamed Minister of the Crown.

This is allegedly supposed to have occurred due to Mitchell's previous attacks on current Defence Minister (and present NZ First MP) Ron Mark. However, while that might be what Marcroft *claimed* was the underlying causation for her somewhat dubious actions, for various reasons partially related to internal NZ First politics [e.g. what Marcroft's patron appeared to say about that incident when it turned up in the media], I'm not buying it.

An obvious line of suspicion would be to ponder the role of Shane Jones in all of this. After all, the Provincial Growth Fund falls squarely under his Ministerial Portfolios, and Marcroft is supposed to have directly sought an assurance from Mitchell that Jones would not be questioned in Parliament about any decision to award cash to the Mahurangi River project, particularly by National's Regional Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith [and given Goldsmith's record in other areas, I would have been stunningly surprised if he could even locate the Mahurangi River on a map, let alone single it out in Parliamentary Question Time unbidden].

However, Jones has stated that he is not the Minister being referred to by Marcroft - and for what it's worth, even though I have previously levelled quite some criticisms against him, I actually do believe him on this score.

Besides which, for all his faults, Jones tends to possess a certain degree of political cunning and a much more subtle selection of political underlings ['tools'] with which to execute his will. I doubt he would have been stupid enough to engineer something as crystal-china-sledgehammer-operated-without-safety-goggles as all of this.

Instead, I cannot help but suspect that the age-old question - Cui Bono? ['Who Benefits?'] - proposes a rather immediate answer here as to precisely *which* Minister of the Crown may be overtly responsible for what appears to have occurred.

The Mahurangi River lies in Rodney, and more specifically, runs directly through the town of Warkworth.

There is a particular MP, recently elevated to the ranks of Cabinet as a Minister, who lives in Warkworth and who has previously unsuccessfully contested the Rodney Electorate on quite a number of occasions.

This particular Minister has also had a bit of a history of using Marcroft as a mouthpiece - including, in an instance in which I was personally involved in (as the target), when it comes to perhaps morally dubious undertakings.

It is understandable why Marcroft would be employed in such a manner by this Minister - according to my information, they went to school together way back when.

It is also understandable why said Minister would wish to claw back any advantage possible from incumbent MP Mark Mitchell over the next two and a half years before they contest the Rodney Electorate again.

And that apparently includes endeavouring to deny Mitchell the ability to positively associate himself with a river restoration project.

Although personally, considering it has taken now some nine long years to get *any* National Party MP to even *acknowledge* there's a problem with at least one of our more significant rivers, I probably would just have let him get on with it instead were I in the relevant decision-making position.

Still, all of this brought to mind a quotation occasionally attributed to Sun Tzu [although also cited by Umberto Eco as being of Indian origin]:

"If you wait by the river long enough, you will see the body of your enemy floating by".

Unlikely, perhaps, in this case (as the river in question appears to be in need of some restoration work); but nevertheless, my penchant for purviewing political pop-corn aside, it might be good if the Minister in question would just get on with the job they're nominally there for - rather than attempting to re-enact select scenes from House of Cards every two to six months with an approximately 50-50 win rate.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

On The Greens' Transition From Voice In The Wilderness To Ventriloquism Through Handing Their Questions To National

Unquestionably the biggest news in politics of the past week - despite several somewhat sensationalized stories that've been in circulation recently - was the Green Party announcing a bold move to give the National Party their Primary Questions in Parliament on occasions when the former are not using them.

Now, this might seem like a triflingly arcane thing to get all worked up about - mere minutiae of Parliamentary procedure in lieu of actual substantial action.

And yes, that's pretty much how Parliamentary Questions seem to have been treated by Governments and their allies since time immemorial; as little more than a cursory formality wherein 'patsie' questions designed to provide positive PR for the parties in power jostled with occasional Oppositional lancing in an effective contest of questionable "questioning" and ever-starved-for-space interrogation from those presently deprived of power.

Which is precisely why the Green Party sought to inject added relevancy to them by giving the Opposition a greater go at holding the Government to account through them by giving them additional questions when they're not themselves using them - rather than simply proffering 'patsies' off their own bat to questionable discernible effect.

The obvious question from the skeptical (or, indeed, outright - and perhaps justifiably - cynical) perspectives of politicos across the spectrum and country, is if the Greens are so hell-bent on keeping their Labour Party and New Zealand First associates "honest" ... why not just simply ask better and more probing questions of them themselves, instead of 'farming out' this sacred responsibility to the Nats.

And it is a fair line of inquiry.

Yet when one considers the overall 'optics' of 'tough questioning' in the House, an answer almost immediately reveals itself.

Namely, that were the Greens to *actually* put serious heat and/or screws upon the Labour-NZF Government they nominally support, then either the Media would start blowing it out of all proportion into some sort of over-hyped "collapse of the Government imminent" campaign [i.e. they'd quite likely start working over-time to attempt to make such a thing ensue], replete with any array of quoting from the sad annals of Parliamentary History viz. the Alliance Party's often-rocky relationship with its Labour Party partners, to try and prove their point.

Meanwhile, it would seem very plausible indeed that Labour and its apparatchiks would seek behind closed doors [as well as with more measured spite & venom in public] to castigate the Greens in no uncertain terms for their temerity in DARING to ask actual, probing questions of the Government instead of simply propping up the more usual and customary "window dressing".

It would, in short, provoke yet another bout of "THE GREENS ARE TOO IMMATURE/'PRINCIPLED' TO BE ALLOWED NEAR GOVERNMENT" from all the usual voices. Despite the fact that actually getting to the heart of matters and being straight-up about concerns is arguably one of the most mature things one can do - whether in or out of politics.

And while one might be forgiven for presuming that the "Agree to DIsagree"  provisions in the agreements Labour signed with its support partners late last year *should* mean that the latter are more easily able to vent their displeasure with the decisions and undertakings of the former (or, for that matter, with each other for the two support partners) - as we have perhaps seen when it came to New Zealand First backtracking on the TPPA earlier this year, these appear to provide no sure guarantee of outcomes nor 'safe space' for discourse in public when the chips are down on important issues.

But with this particular chartered course the Greens are undertaking - wherein it's National rather than the Greens who'll do many of the hard-attack interrogatives .. as is the constitutional role of Her Majesty's *Loyal* Opposition in the first place - they really do seem to get the best of multiple worlds.

On the one hand, the Government gets held to account more and more frequently than would otherwise be the case; whilst simultaneously enabling a greater 'easing' of relations between the Labour and Greens parties than would likely be possible in a clime of actual and overt Parliamentary back-and-forth between the two.

The Green's proposal also may manage to avoid the sort of Constitutional not-crises that accompanied New Zealand First in 2005-2008 seeking to ask searching questions of or even actively oppose the Government on certain matters, despite Winston holding a Ministerial Warrant with them at the time.

And, not to put too fine a point on it (although it's doubtless been the single loudest refrain yet issued on this whole matter), the deal with National *also* allows the Greens to put vital distance between themselves and Labour in the run-up to the 2020 General Election - although I do think that much of the sentiment attempting to treat this as a pre-Coalition Engagement Party with the Nats is rather alarmist and overblown.

For the moment, at any rate.

(Also, if you're wondering why it's so vitally necessary for the Greens to manage to distinguish themselves, even *detach* themselves somewhat from Labour, while still managing to represent their values, you can consult some of the rather detailed analyses I wrote up on the arguable necessity of NZ First doing much the same thing, last year. Or, to phrase it more bluntly & succinctly: Government, and Near-Government are places where small parties go to Die. With the sole exception of the Green Party in each of 2002 and 2008, I cannot think of ANY 'small' party in MMP History here in New Zealand that has actually managed to increase its share of the Vote following its supporting a Government, of either stripe and whether on Confidence & Supply or outright Coalition. Instead, it invariably goes the other way - with eventual slipping below the 5% threshold or command of an electorate seat seeming inevitable as the 'gravitational forces' around such a concentration of power and media attention inexorably pull the smaller vessel apart.)

In any case, it has been interesting to take in the broad spectrum of responses to this announcement from the various sorts of people who take some measure of interest in the ongoing churnings of our political firmament.

For example - I am presently rather amused by some New Zealand First people who were OK with said party siding with the Nats a few months ago being rather visibly annoyed at the vaguest appearance of the Greens co-operating with same.

I am also rather amused by the sorts of people who spent the last eight or so years telling me that a vote for NZF was a vote for National, either having to defend/justify this deal or turn a most distinct shade of purple in the face with quiet infuriation at the situation.

And, eminently predictably, almost everybody involved is somehow attempting to blame James Shaw for the whole scenario at hand (because three years on from his elevation to the Co-Leadership, the "JAMES SHAW IS A RIGHT-WINGER WHO QUOTED MARGARET THATCHER IN PARLIAMENT" meme steadfastly refuses to die).

But you know what? Even leaving aside my technical arguments above, I actually happen to think that the Greens, and Shaw in particular, are on to something with this unfolding course of action.

There's three ways to play politics, in my [oft-ineluctable] experience.

There's the "MY PARTY RIGHT OR WRONG" way; the "my party right or wrong - when right to be kept right, and when wrong to be *set* right" approach; and somewhere out on a limb reserved for extremists and the rare diamonds of genuinity ... the "principles uber alles" kind.

Attempting to insist that a party that is *not* party to Cabinet, and whose relationship with the present Government is one of the provision of Confidence & Supply with a few [again, extra-Cabinet] Ministerials ought to be one of slavish adherence rather than reasoned criticism is very much in that *first* camp instead of the second one.

Meanwhile, putting greater scrutiny on the Government of the day, even (indeed - especially) if it's one which you in principle support, is definitely in the second grouping. It may even veer into the third, from time to time.

Now don't get me wrong.

I understand why some people are feeling hurt, shocked, betrayed, and viscerally annoyed about all of this.

In some cases, it is because the notion of assisting an Opposition is seen as giving an inch of ground to "The Enemy".

In others, it is because they long ago decided that being in politics to *achieve* something is a very much *secondary* priority to the sort of loyalty expected of a "team player".

In yet still more, it is perhaps they don't like the idea of their own 'tribe' being held to account by perceived 'lessers'; and for a different sort again, the ongoing concern about whether all of this might help contribute to this Labour-NZF-[Greens] Government being merely a one-term one.

There are valid concerns and kernels of truth in each of these perspectives.

Yet casting my mind back over the past few decades of New Zealand Politics [something that yes, does tend to entail remembering events from some years or even decades before my own birth], I can think of no greater 'door' for the infiltration of untrammelled Evil into our Parliament and thus our public life than that most pernicious of foes - uncritical support for one's own side "just because".

I will not sully this post with the implicit specter of the Nuremberg Defence.

But if we consider what happened in 1984-7, and again from 1990 through to 1996 [dis-honourable mention, arguably, for 1996-1999, and most assuredly for mid-'97 to 99] ... we find that notionally otherwise 'principled' people in each of those Governments, who'd signed up to support and advance *one* set of things [and yes, there is much commonality between, say, Labour in its pre-Rogernomics days of advocating for the working man and National's 1990 'rollback' manifesto - hence also NZ First six years later, as a 'union' of both forces] found themselves press-ganged in repugnant service of almost the complete opposite.

And how did it happen? Well, simple.

They decided to just "do what we're told" [with, to be fair and sure, oft-explicit threats of Expulsion if you should happen to (externally) object or try and put a stop to the whole thing].

They decided that shutting up and just blithely supporting the people 'above' them was the supremest virtue to which they could affix some modicum of their political action & capital.

They, in short, made their seemingly-inevitable "peace" with adhering to group-think and what we would perhaps today refer to as "tribalism" [a word, in this sense and context, that diminishes & demeans *actual* tribes as a system of human organization, but I digress].

And you know where "they" are now?

Almost to a man, cast upon the ash-heap of history. Forgotten about, running far-from-the-headlines quisling efforts with foreign banks or attempting to potter away in other private sector roles.

Emerging every so often to reflect upon what they did and why - and, if Jim Bolger's statements in recent years are anything to go by, sadly concluding that they got it wrong and helped to play their part in (further) unleashing terrible forces upon our Nation.

All made possible by this most INSIDIOUS "conspiracy of silence" with regard to (externally visible - and from thence, even *internal* "if you know what's good for you") criticism of "their own side".

So if something good comes from Shaw's stance of disavowing such slavish adulation of his nominal partners in next-to-Government, that will more than likely be it.

I am *not* saying that Labour circa 2018 is *actually* going to be Labour circa 1984 all over again.

But as we've seen with the #CPTPP or whatever the #TPPA is being called these days, as an example, there remains a clear and present reason for certain parties and other political actors to take upon themselves the mantle akin to that of Old Testament Prophets - "voices in the wilderness" who abjectly warn "IF THIS GOES ON..." and maybe perhaps eventually find themselves leading angry armies of the politically dispossessed to the 'clearing and cleaning of house' should events take a turn for the irrecoverably decrepit & depraved.

Once upon a time, I would have pointed a finger in a particular direction with that above paragraph, if you get my drift.

But I now realize that the responsibility - nay, the right - of holding Government (and, indeed, the entire present socio-politico-economic paradigm we labour under and within) to account is far broader than that deserving of a mere 'partisan' champion.

So kudos to the Green party for this move.

Let us hope it functions as intended.

[My thanks to my former NZ Politics lecturer, Patrick Hine, for his insightful comments around the projected rationale for the Greens' decision - which played a strong role in helping to clarify my thoughts on this matter between 07 a.m yesterday morning and the present time of setting finger to keyboard in explication.] 

Friday, March 16, 2018

National's Anti-Aircraft Fire At Ron Mark Proves To Be Blanks

Good grief. The National Party's attempted attack on Ron Mark would be farcical if it weren't so downright facile. They're claiming Defence Force aircraft were illegitimately used to transport Ron to official commitments in his capacity as Defence Minister from "Mark's hometown, Masterton".

That's ridiculous for a start. I thought *everybody* knew that Ron hails from Carterton (where he was the incredibly popular local mayor before his re-entry into national politics). Although given that National only seems to discover the Regions - and the Wairarapa in particular - once they're relegated to Opposition, we can perhaps forgive them for confusing two different towns in their breathless rush to seem relevant due to a lack of familiarity.

But leaving aside the Member for Rodney's evident difficulty with toponyms, political history, and basic New Zealand geography ... as soon as we take a look at the facts of the allegation against Ron Mark, it quite rapidly becomes apparent that Ron doesn't appear to have done anything wrong.

The list of flights at-issue which appeared in the NZ Herald's coverage of this tawdry not-scandal confirms this (as does an official statement indicating it's cheaper for the Minister to travel by air rather than car for the sorts of events which have been cited).

I mean, seriously. It is bizarre in the extreme to take issue with a Defence Minister being on board a regularly scheduled flight to Antarctica which departed from and then returned to Christchurch (unless, perhaps, Mitchell's understanding of New Zealand cartography is so ill-fitting that he thinks that too is somewhere near Carterton and Masterton .. on account of its rather famous inhabitant, "Anderton"). And with deference to Mitchell's repeated commentary about how Ron ought apparently to have used Crown cars instead of helicopters - I can only ponder whether Mitchell knows something I don't about the amphibious capacity of the former.

After all, how else to attempt to explain Mark Mitchell seemingly prescribing them as a means to get from the South Island to the HMNZS Canterbury - and thence, yes, to Masterton. Or, for that matter, to and from the Chatham Islands in the company of a number of other Ministers, Media, and Defence Force personnel for a Maori Battalion funeral. Are these Crown cars actually airlift-capable extra-capacity busses or something?
Meanwhile, I do not seem to recall Mr Mitchell raising issue with John Key using a Defence Force Iroquois helicopter to transport himself from a V8 car-racing event to a golf club dinner; or to be ferried from Blenheim to Kaikoura to launch a whale-watching boat, or any of the rest of it.
In fact, I'd perhaps go so far as to speculate that one of the reasons why Defence Force transport aircraft seemed to be breaking down so frequently during the tenure of the previous National-led Government ... was precisely because John Key seemed to be using them curiously often, rather than going with commercial airlines.

Although one of the most peculiar uses of a helicopter here in recent times is unquestionably former National Party President Michelle Boag having the Westpac Rescue Helicopter make a rather expensive trip to Waiheke Island to pick up her passport so she could make an international flight after she left it behind.

But hey ... clearly a Defence Minister flying to Defence Force events using a Defence Force aircraft at the
 Defence Force's recommendationand in the accompaniment of Defence Force personnel is TOTALLY out of bounds!

I rather suspect that Mark Mitchell is still smarting over his failure to win the National Party's leadership contest, and is therefore seeking to take out his ire at Mark in lieu of doing something useful.

In any case, as this is apparently such an extraordinarily pressing issue for Ron's predecessor as Defence Minister, Mark Mitchell, I look forward to the results of Ron's upcoming audit of previous use of Defence Force aircraft by prior Defence Ministers. It will be interesting indeed to see in greater detail how the National Party's highly placed functionaries have been making use of military assets during the past nine years.

Perhaps we shall find out that Mitchell's absurd accusations against Ron are merely what psychiatrists would term "an exercise in projection". 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Get A Grip: Forcing A Handshake Is Not Right

Late last week we were treated to one of those regrettable instances of "THE COMMENTS SECTION HAS INCARNATED IN HUMAN FORM AND NOW APPEARS TO BE AMBLING ABOUT THE PLACE" ... attempting to forcibly shake the hands of people, inter alia, apparently.

I'm not quite sure what was going through the head of the academic at the University of Auckland who sought to coerce a Muslim student into grasping hands with him, although for him to then go to the subsequent effort of attempting to run the poor girl through the University's official complaints process for alleged sexual discrimination presumably suggests that it was quite some level of (faux) outrage.

And were it just a case of a university staffer attempting to mount a soap-box on 'civilizational values' or whatever ...  but instead finding himself shipped off in a packing crate, then hardly more would need to be said.

But I noted with some considerable dismay any number of people leaping to the guy's defence. Not merely quibbling over whether dismissal is the appropriate outcome for somebody making a seriously questionable use of an internal disciplinary process in order to try and push a cultural agenda. Actually taking some considerable offence of the "if you don't like it, deportation!" kind [and, to be fair, various more gradated responses along the general spectrum of same], and engaging in that habitual ritual of greeting so beloved of the talkback radio-caller demographic that is the Jumping Up And Down and the Wild Gesticulations about the much-mythologized "PC GONE MAD" that's allegedly responsible.

Even otherwise reasonable people not of the aforementioned societal grouping seemed pretty clear in their views that not necessarily wanting to press the flesh with your fellow man was some sort of grave infringement of the common decency of the nation which ought be responded to accordingly.

So let's get one thing straight.

If you are trying to force somebody to have physical contact with you, then in all probability ... you are being at least a bit of a dick. In fact, viewed from out of context, one could even go so far as to say that an older male going to such lengths to attempt to *force* a younger female student to touch him (particularly when it appears he's aware she's not down with it), looks a bit creepy.

But having said all that, and assuming it really *was* just about handshakes and such rather than some sort of incipient "WESTERN VALUES UBER ALLES" microaggression ... [and leaving aside the slightly older custom/cultural more that you're not supposed to be grabbing a lady's hand, and instead waiting for her to offer it if she is of the handshaking variety] .. I really don't see why somebody shouldn't be able to turn down a handshake.

One of the things I really like about Hindu culture is that handshaking isn't quite so much a thing. Instead, clasping *your own* hands together as an acknowledgement, or dependent upon relationship and your own station, the deployment of mudra postures, is perfectly satisfactory as a greeting. I'd say it's *downright more meaningful* than replicating the ol "let's shake him by the hand and see if any weapons fall out of his sleeves lest he try any funny business!" that forms the basis for the modern Western handshake ... but then, I'm biased.

Now, part of my reasoning for having a preference in that direction is I'm not wild about touching other people's hands. They tend to be greasy, oily, and according to quite the array of scientific studies, often covered in various bacteria, faecal matter, etc. etc. etc.

So something as simple, yet obviously intentional and direct as what you think of when one says "Namaste", is pretty legit as an alternative.

Yet I've noticed that when I defer on a proffered handshake to instead do the above (with non-Hindus), as is my own preference, the reaction i get tends to be pretty nonplussed. Even a little offended.

For somebody who looks rather more different to the average, ordinary New Zealander than I do, such as the Muslim student in question, no doubt this would have felt magnified.

And apparently we've moved on from 'merely' Frantz Fanon's dictum about the act of speaking being to "uphold the weight of a civilization" through to a "clash of civilizations" mindset being encapsulated in a dispute about a handshake.

But to turn the situation around a bit - one custom of the indigenous people of this fine land of ours is the Hongi. Which in terms of its symbolism goes rather further and deeper towards bringing people together than the humble handshake.

Yet I somewhat suspect that despite the fact it's a gesture which, thanks to its provenance, is about as intrinsically Kiwi as it's possible to get without foraging for insects in the undergrowth using one's nose at night time - that many of the same people so outraged about somebody daring to turn down a handshake would nevertheless kick up a huge degree of fuss if somebody Hongi'd them without permission.

Perhaps, for some of them, offence would be taken even if they were ASKED first.

And this is without getting into the speculation as to whether these umbrageous types would be quite so keen to extend their "WHEN IN ROME" dictums to encompass, say, men kissing each other as a customary form of greeting in much of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe.

In any case, some of the defenders of the iron grip of the handshake custom upon us in EVERY conceivable meeting situation, have sought to make this all an issue about "Values".

Claiming, as yon academic presumably had in mind at the time, that Western Values and/or Western Civilization At Large are somehow imperilled, marginalized, and eroded via somebody choosing not to reciprocate with one frankly quite incidental custom drawn from same.

I cannot help but ponder just how weak a civilization or an ethos must be if something as incredibly minor and passe as the lack of a handshake can apparently seriously imperil it, but I digress.

Among the general corpus of "Western Values" are customarily included things like a certain degree of individual sovereignty [often part and parcel with particular understandings around the idea of 'personal space' , a 'private sphere', and 'liberty']; as well as, these days at least, a general acceptance that women aren't property, objects, or otherwise the mere chattels of the nearest manfolk in a position of authority.

An attempt to *force* a woman to violate *her own* chosen and ascribed to value-set [in this case, religious ones of a particular flavouring], suborn her will to that of hte local man with a title, and meticulously brow-beat her via quasi-legalistic bureaucratic processes when she STILL refuses to submit to him... well ... you CAN argue those're some Western Values in practice.

It's just that you'd be about a century or two out of date.