Tagged: Treaty of Waitangi

After the election trauma: disappointment, anger, fear, hope

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Election results: disappointment and anger

After the last election I wrote a blog entitled I was wrong. This time I was right, but I’m not happy about that, because what I was right about was basically that the polls would be pretty accurate.

I’m expecting special votes will be slightly favourable to the Greens and/or Labour at the expense of National, but it won’t be enough to change the basic configurations and possibilities.

So the result is about what we could have expected from recent polls and past polling accuracy. But of course this is a big disappointment for me and everyone who leans to the left, especially because slightly-less-recent polls were more positive for Labour vs. National. Those polls got our hopes up that we would have government change.

The main thing I’m devastated about is the Māori party being driven out of government, and I mainly blame Labour for that. Two kaupapa Māori parties have been driven out of Parliament in the last two elections. Of course, this is partly because of their decisions to sit at tables with rich white men. But it’s also partly because they’ve been taken out by their political opponents. I know that’s politics (and Te Ururoa himself helped defeat Hone last election), but it’s sad. The Māori party were an effective voice for Māori and for justice, and they held the major parties to account on Te Tiriti, which needs to happen. They were the best part of the National-led government and they would have been a good part of a Labour-led government.

Once again I’m angry at the undemocraticness of the 5% threshold for representation. The thousands of party votes TOP and Māori received mean those parties deserve a few seats between them: those party votes should be worth as much as party votes for the big parties. But the threshold (and their failure to qualify for the local-seat exemption) blocks those parties from getting those seats, because of the Electoral Commission’s undemocratic fear of a “proliferation of small parties” with extremist views. And yet ACT survives again because they & National use the local vote to their advantage.

 

The incoming government: hopes and fears

We don’t know yet what the government will look like, except that it will be some combination of just the four big parties (National has already cast David Seymour aside). While a Labour-NZ First-Green govt is technically possible, it would be a bit of a poisoned chalice for Labour and the Greens: firstly because a lot of people would (rightly or wrongly) consider this government illegitimate, and secondly because they’d have to work with Winston Peters. A National-Green government is also technically possible, but National would have to give some pretty enormous concessions for the Greens to decide the situation has changed and they’re now willing to risk electoral suicide by working with National.

On the whole, I’d be extremely surprised if it doesn’t turn out to be National-NZ First.1 We’ll have to wait and see what a National-NZ First government will look like. We’ll get some clues with coalition negotiations, and find out the rest over the next three long years.

They’re both terrible parties, so their government could be doubly terrible. But my hope is that since they’re terrible in different ways, they could somewhat cancel out each other’s terribleness. E.g. National are too committed to globalisation (for the sake of capitalism) to go too far in appeasing Winnie’s anti-immigrant sentiments. And NZ First are far more economically left-leaning than National,2 so they could hopefully stop National from going too far on neoliberalism. A bunch of things that were passed over the last nine years by National, ACT and Peter Dunne were opposed by NZ First. There is precedent for NZ First holding National to account on its extreme capitalism, such as in the 90s when the minimum wage was not increased during the whole term of the Bolger government until NZ First forced them to increase it in 1997. So I think there is some hope that this government will be not as bad as the government over the last three terms has been.

Secondly, there’s some hope that private members’ bills from the left will be taken over the line by NZ First. For example, it’s possible that a zero carbon by 2050 law could be passed this term.

Thirdly, there’s hope in the way the Overton window has shifted slightly leftward during this election campaign. Earlier on, it looked like it was shifting in a worrying immigrant-scapegoating direction, but the Greens repented of their immigration stance, Labour toned theirs down, National didn’t join in,3 and NZ First somewhat fizzled. The political conversation became more about issues that matter: poverty, homelessness, housing unaffordability, and river water quality (sadly, climate change not enough).

And I think there is some hope that this government will do at least something on these issues. Under Key, National’s line on these issues was basically “there’s no issue”, but under English it’s more like “there is an issue and we’ve got it under control”—not a dramatic difference but an important one. And there are some signs National are starting to actually act on some of these issues. For example, they’ve done some encouraging Housing First experiments in Hamilton and Auckland and it would be great if they made this nationwide.4 And in Paddy Gower’s debate, English famously committed to lifting 100,000 kids out of poverty (even if they have been conveniently vague on what poverty measure he’s using). If this happens, great. If not, it’s something to hold them to account for.5

My biggest fear is that NZ First will push National to revive its policy to abolish the Māori seats. It’s still their policy to do to this eventually, but it’s on hold because “now is not the right time” (translation: we have a government arrangement with the Māori party). Bill English has already said this won’t happen, and I don’t want to believe that he’d do it. He’s seemed quite different to Don Brash on te Tiriti and te ao Māori (and on basic human decency), but Bill English has disappointed me quite a bit over the last few months.

Last but not least, I also have hope that there will be a strong Labour-Green government in three years time. Hopefully Labour has got its act together more by then and is more Corbynite than it is now.

 

Footnotes

  1. Though Winnie will milk his technical queenmaker powers to gain maximum concessions out of National. 
  2. I see NZ First as roughly 2/3 Trump and 1/3 Sanders. 
  3. Not out of concern for immigrants so much as concern for immigrants’ low-wage employers, in my opinion. 
  4. Housing First is quite a radical reversal of the currently dominant mindset of having a bunch of conditions and sanctions in exchange for any welfare support. It gives an unconditional roof over the head first. Any state involvement in trying to change people’s lives comes after this, and isn’t a condition for having a roof over the head. And it works – it basically eliminates rough sleeping. 
  5. However, a third option is probably more likely: they’ll find a measure that allows them to say that they’ve met their target, even though the opposition and pretty much everyone else will say it hasn’t happened. They’ll continue to insist they’re right next election, as they did with the 11 billion dollar hole this time. 

 

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For services to prejudice, ignorance and easy listening music

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Paul Holmes, this country’s most prominent representative of mainstream racism, respectable prejudice and populist ignorance, has been knighted for “services to broadcasting and the community”.

Holmes is most famous for his 7pm current affairs show which ran throughout my childhood… it was like a dumber version of Campbell Live, but to its credit it did set the blueprint.  Despite some hiccups, Holmes was a powerful force in the NZ media for sixteen years.  Accepting a better offer on Prime TV in 2005 was a poor career move, but he’s refused to disappear since then.

The last significant thing Holmes did was write this nasty column for the New Zealand Herald.  The New Zealand Press Council upheld seven complaints against the column and the Herald’s defence of it, ruling that it made racist and inaccurate attacks against Māori as a people.  Hone Harawira’s response is worth a read.

The timing of Holmes’ knighthood is no doubt inspired by his recent health problems.  But knighting him, now or any time, is yet another blow to the credibility of knighthoods and other such honours, of John Key, and of the assumption that we’ve moved past racism as a society.

Guy Fawkes, Parihaka and the morals of the stories

Thinking about Guy Fawkes a.k.a. Parihaka Day yesterday, I started wondering what’s actually represented by the debate over what to commemorate on November 5th.

The shallowest way of looking at it is to say that it’s a debate between sparkly explosive things and politics/history/thinking.  But it takes only a little imagination to realise that we could set up a fireworks tradition on any night of the year we wanted; Matariki for example.  So really this is just saying lazy status quo versus politics/history/thinking.

A deeper way of looking at it is as a debate between NZ historical awareness and imported British history and culture.  Which is true enough.  (This seems to be how this Stuff poll interprets it; in which case it’s darkly funny that 63% of people say “No, we already have Waitangi Day”).

But the best way I can think of to understand it is to see Guy Fawkes Night vs. Parihaka Day as a debate between two images of violence, two ways of dealing with terrorism and two myths of how to achieve peace.

Guy Fawkes Night embodies the dominant story, the myth of redemptive violence, Thomas Hobbes’ theory of the state, the plot of kids’ cartoons and CSI/NCIS/SVU/etc… It’s the idea that there are violent chaotic baddies everywhere, threatening our stability and our way of life… but, never fear, there are also good strong people and institutions, and the way to get peace and safety is for these good strong people to violently suppress the baddies and maintain order from the top down.

Guy Fawkes himself had this kind of vision for society, which is why he wanted to blow up the king and Parliament; but the king and Parliament’s vision was almost as bad, and theirs is the one that prevailed and the one that’s celebrated.  As much as it’s lost its meaning now, traditionally Guy Fawkes Night has been the central festival of British patriotism, whipping up a frenzy of love and gratitude for the Crown which represents all that is good and safe, and an equally unthinking and passionate hatred for its enemies, who represent chaos and danger.

Parihaka Day embodies a very different story.  In this story there are also dangerous forces of chaos, but the solution isn’t as easy as calling in the Crown to subdue them.  In this story, the Crown aren’t the protectors from terrorism and the enforcers of order; like in Shelley’s classic poem The Masque of Anarchy, they themselves are the terrorists threatening peaceful people’s ways of life.  In this story, the way to deal with violence and chaos and danger is for little people to have the wisdom to identify it at the centres of power instead of just on the margins, and the courage to oppose it with stubborn love.  Unlike Guy Fawkes or the cartoons, there are no easy happy endings in this story… a grassroots, unenforced peace doesn’t always ‘win’, as it didn’t for Te Whiti and Tohu, but if we all came to the party, including the conscripts on the other side, it couldn’t lose.

So I think it’s what Parihaka Day represents, more than the public’s love of pretty explosions, that’s holding us back from from establishing an official Parihaka Day on November 5th.  Peace is just too dangerous for the powerful when it’s not a peace imposed by them.

Malcolm X was right about house negroes and about the media


At my job, the only non-work-related website we’re allowed to visit in our breaks is Stuff.co.nz, so we keep up with the news pretty well. It’s also a useful source of workplace small talk.

Outrage ensued at smoko the other day when the story broke that Mana Party leader Hone Harawira had “dropped the N-bomb”.  In a Facebook outburst, he had called right-wing Māori MPs “house niggers” for staying loyal to John Key despite his contempt for Māori water rights.

The way my co-workers were talking about it made it clear they had no idea what Harawira was actually saying. I think they were confused because it’s usually Pākehā that Hone is supposed to be ‘racist’ towards, not African-Americans. But they still managed to have a delightful conversation about how he’s a racist bastard and, worse, an extremist. The listener was even treated to such phrases as “It’s OK if they say say it, but if we do…” and even the perennial favourite, “I’m not racist, but…”

But we can’t really expect the general public to understand what Harawira was getting at when the mainstream media’s reporting of it was hardly less ignorant. The Stuff/Fairfax coverage was basically like this (watch 0:52 – 1:20).  It was another excuse for them to return to their tired, attention-grabbing theme of being outraged that Harawira says blunt, harsh things, which can occasionally be construed as racist if you have a shallow understanding of racism.

In a later revision of the story, they allowed Harawira to defend himself thus: “If people want me to stop using language from Alabama in the 1950s, maybe they should go back to John Key and tell him to stop treating his Maori MPs like he’s a plantation owner from Alabama in the 1950s.”

But there was still no mention in any article on Stuff of the fact that the phrase “house nigger” comes from a classic speech by Malcolm X. Nor was there any attempt to explain what Harawira was trying to communicate with the reference. The Stuff reporters either didn’t recognise the reference, didn’t bother to find out what it meant, or deliberately obscured it.

So, since Stuff have failed to educate us on it, here is Malcolm X’s original description of the “house negro” or “house nigger”… (full quote here)

“There was two kind of slaves. There was the house negro and the field negro. The house negro, they lived in the house, with master. They dressed pretty good. They ate good, cause they ate his food, what he left. They lived in the attic or the basement, but still they lived near their master, and they loved their master, more than their master loved himself … And if you came to the house negro and said “Let’s run away, Let’s escape, Let’s separate” the house negro would look at you and say “Man, you crazy. What you mean separate? Where is there a better house than this? Where can I wear better clothes than this? Where can I eat better food than this?” There was that house negro. In those days, he was called a house nigger. And that’s what we call him today, because we still got some house niggers runnin around here.”

If you ask me, this concept is highly pertinent today, and not just for African-Americans, or Māori for that matter. It’s a challenge to all of us who are subjected like everyone else to the domination of the current capitalist masters, yet are doing quite comfortably out of the deal.

Not least, journalists with steady jobs for corporate media conglomerates like Fairfax.

Rhetoric and reality

I’ve been noticing an unusual phenomenon over the past few weeks – National MPs drawing attention to the plight of the poor, the greed of corporates and the illusory nature of private property.  Are we living in an upside down world?

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It all started when I found myself in the unusual position of agreeing with Paula Bennett on the plight of poor beneficiaries.

Bennett drew attention to “absolutely sub-standard” yet “well over priced” housing, and landlords taking advantage of vulnerable people who couldn’t find housing elsewhere.  She asked such landlords to “have a good look at themselves”, provide housing they’d live in themselves, and show a good Kiwi “element of fairness”.  She even said she was looking at ways of “helping people towards home ownership”.

The funniest part about the whole thing is that she was responding to comments by Annette King on the accommodation supplement… so we have Labour criticising the welfare state and National pointing the finger at the propertied elite.

Of course, Bennett’s rhetoric falls flat when we remember that her party is entirely sold out to an economic system and worldview where the propertied are the good guys, individual self-interest is the universal incentive, and any fairness or concern for others is an optional extra.

So in criticising a few ‘bad apples’ among landlords, she’s actually endorsing the ideal of a ‘good landlord’, charging fair rates to their poor tenants even while getting filthy rich off them.

And any vague attempts to “help people towards home ownership” will be upstream rowing at best so long as they rule out ever taxing the proceeds of owning other people’s homes.

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A similar phenomenon happened the other day with Gerry Brownlee pointing the finger at private insurance companies for avoiding and delaying pay-outs in quake-hit Christchurch.  Although risk management/status quo protection is something that “the private sector claims it can do so particularly well”, Brownlee points out that it’s failing to do so – in fact, EQC, of all Kafkaesque government bureaucracies, is doing far better.

But is he really doubting the National party line that everything is better when owned and operated by private profit-maximisers?

When we look at another instance where the private sector is failing Christchurch, housing, his response was considerably different: Let the market sort it out.

So what’s the difference?  Well, firstly, as the minister in charge of EQC, Brownlee has a horse in the race.  But it’s also interesting that in an insurance crisis, it’s the property owners that suffer, and he’s taking umbrage.  But in the housing crisis, only the poor and ordinary people suffer, while the rental property owners prosper – and Brownlee can only see positives there.

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The worst example of this phenomenon, of course, has been John Key’s recent refrain that “nobody owns water”.

Key’s arrogance has reached new heights in this casual dismissal of traditional, Treaty-enshrined Māori rights.  Like a dog to its vomit, the Māori Party have returned to the fold after an assurance that National won’t legislate against Māori rights or claims – but you don’t need to legislate against something if you’re just going to use your legal prerogative to ignore it.

But Key’s use of the phrase “nobody owns water” to misrepresent Māori water claims is just as bad.

He’s portraying Māori as money-grabbing “opportunists” trying to take a vital natural resource away from ordinary New Zealanders, by referencing what we all instinctively know – that it’s wrong to be selfish and greedy, that nobody can really ‘own’ what belongs to everyone/nature/God, that property is ultimately theft because the world is everybody’s and nobody’s, etc etc.

But once again the reality belies the rhetoric when we see that he is using this line of thinking to dismiss Māori stewardship of public waterways, so that he can smoothly transfer hydro-electricity generation into the private hands of rich investors.

The fact is, the selfish opportunists are the very people National holds up as our role models, and the very people to whom they want to sell our power companies.  Key affecting an opposition to private property is a joke.  His party thinks everything should be private property – including water when it suits.

As Tim Selwyn put it, “Interesting how the Nats suddenly start espousing anarcho-socialism when Māori property rights are involved!”

In reality, as Tapu Misa eloquently explains, Māori rights surrounding water are far more in keeping with these anarcho-socialist ideals than the Pākehā/capitalist concept of private property.  Māori “ownership” means caretaking and free public use of everything that National wants to carve up, commodify and sell to the highest bidder.

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The consistent thread in all these stories is the way that National are co-opting quasi-socialist rhetoric to further their capitalist causes.

It’s hilarious, as well as worrying, that while the Labour leadership are still scared of sounding too much like a Labour party, even National can see the populist appeal in leftist language and the universals of fairness and co-operation it touches upon.

To paraphrase Slavoj Žižek, the only proper reply to such shrewd ideological manipulation is: “if you really believe in social justice and sharing the world, then why are you doing what you are doing?