Category Archives: Democracy

On Ignorance

“One kind of ignorance is willful stupidity; worse than simple stupidity, it is a callow indifference to facts or logic. It shows itself as a stubborn devotion to uninformed opinions, ignoring (same root) contrary ideas, opinions, or data. The ignorant are unaware, unenlightened, uninformed, and surprisingly often occupy elected offices. We can all agree that none of this is good”.

Firestein, Stuart. Ignorance: How It Drives Science (Kindle Locations 119-121). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

The US Election: Looking Back, Looking Forward in New Zealand

“Keep me from the man who says, ‘I am a candle to light the people on their way’; but to the one who seeks to make his way through the light of the people, bring me nearer.  – Kahlil Gibran

The reactionary authoritarian movement culminating in the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States, preceded by the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, and the rise of authoritarian right wing political parties across Europe and elsewhere, had its genesis in the 1980’s.

It was then that the business and political elites of the Western world overturned the post-WW2 social, political and economic consensus, seized for themselves (again) the reins of power from the people, their organisations and their representatives, and set out to erode the democratic process itself. Neoliberal economic ideology provided the rationale and the vehicle for them to trickle up the wealth of nations from the people into their own hands, all the while extolling the benefits of their ideology through their trickle down propaganda.

Perhaps, despite the enormous potential danger of a Trump presidency, their hubris has finally bitten them on the arse, and perhaps out of the ashes of this catastrophe, the people might regain their place in the democracy. But not of course under Donald Trump. The next few presidencies perhaps. It took over thirty years to get into this mess. It will take quite a few years to climb out of it. And they will be years of turmoil.

The danger is that the political hijackers will take us in an entirely different direction. Into something resembling fascism, in which the business elites will prosper even more at the expense of the people, and democracy will die a faster death than it has been doing under the neoliberal social, political and economic paradigm.

I’ve been waiting for over thirty years for something like this to happen. And yet I haven’t a clue what is happening. I can only watch and document it as it happens.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s I chronicled some of it as it affected Maori. It has been an interesting few hours looking back over what I wrote at the time. It might be worth reflecting on how we got to this point. In a book review on 10 October 1988 we see how the authoritarian right was always there, sheltering behind the libertarian right, poised to take over the reins of power if and when the opportunity arose.

In the United States and United Kingdom, as it is in New Zealand. Perhaps in New Zealand we will be sheltered from the worst of it by our MMP electoral system. Perhaps not.

One thing is certain. Change is upon us, once again.

Looking back.

19 September 1988

Pakeha Networks

The networks of Maoridom are well understood by Maori people, and are totally impervious to the eyes of most Pakeha.

The networks of the Pakeha centre and left (including unions, Labour Party, peace movement, women’s movements) are also well known. Indeed many Maori people are involved in these Pakeha networks. Maoridom is also well acquainted with sporting networks (at the players’ level rather than the power level).

The networks of the Pakeha Right are not so well known these days.

As a boy I grew up under the benign influence of the old Right. In Ngati Kahungunu we were colonised by such families as Williams and Ormond. They bought the land, converted it into the very image of rural England, populated it with their subjects (white and woolly, but four-legged), and set themselves up as a colonial version of the English aristocracy.

They became the Sheepocracy.

Ngati Kahungunu was the labour force which kept the sheepocracy in the manner they aspired to. Which was not all bad. Maori contractors cleared the land, built the fences, and stripped the wool from the sheep. Good times for the sheepocracy meant good times for Ngati Kahungunu.

The Hawkes Bay/Wairarapa sheepocracy, and others like them all over the country, spread their networks deep into the business world. They dominated the boards of the meat and wool industry, and the rest of the business sector, which existed primarily to serve their interests.

Through the National Party they controlled the political life of the country for most of the last fifty years.

With the destruction of the meat industry, and the decline of the wool sector, they have finally lost the almost total grip they had on New Zealand.

I used to dream of the day it would happen; of the day when their power would be broken.

But they have been replaced by a powerful city-based elite, the libertarian Right.

The sheepocracy never ever considered sharing power with Maoridom, but they acknowledged our existence, and until recent years depended on our labour for their own lifestyle.

The libertarian Right has no use for us whatsoever. We are no longer needed to fuel the farms and the factories of the sheepocracy. The new elite don’t need us in their kingdom at all; in the finance sector.

What is the libertarian Right?

They are the very people who have been idolised in the Pakeha media for the last five years. They are the swashbucklers of the money markets, the corporate raiders, the property spectaculators, the take-over buccaneers, the Americas Cup admirals.

Their organisations are the Business Roundtable, and the NZ Centre for Independent Studies (a think-tank). An Australian think tank, the Centre of Policy Studies at Monash University, does work for both Treasury and the Business Roundtable. These think tanks are tools of the libertarian Right.

They read the National Business Review. They no longer owe allegiance to the National Party. They will support whomsoever will support them – like Roger Douglas.

Much of their impetus comes from the Chicago School of economists, from Milton Freidman and others of the “monetarist” persuasion. They are advocates of the free market. They are dedicated to the cult of individualism, and to the belief that what is good for them is good for the country.

Their central belief is totally opposed to the value system and cultural community that is Maoridom.

For instance the NZ Centre for Independent Studies, in conjunction with the National Business Review, has brought to New Zealand a Dr Thomas Sowell for a series of seminars. Dr Tom is an American Black who has a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago.

He is a strong opponent of positive discrimination and affirmative action in favour of racial minorities. He has been brought to New Zealand to speak [against] positive discrimination in favour of racial minorities in employment, and the economy as a whole.

To my knowledge this is the first overt foray into racial issues by the libertarian Right. It brings into the open their stance on these issues, cloaked in economic terms.

The theories of the libertarian Right have penetrated the very bastions of the State, to Treasury and the Reserve Bank. They are being adopted by the whole of the State Sector as practitioners of the libertarian Right spread their networks into powerful and influential places.

Who are they?

The libertarian Right is a network of likeminded people. In listing the following people “Te Putatara” does not wish to convey the impression of a conspiracy. The aim is simply to show the extent of the network.

They are listed in no particular order.

(Sir?) Alan Gibbs of Gibbs Securities, friend of Roger Douglas, chairman of the Forestry Corporation, author of the Gibbs Report on the health services, member of the Business Roundtable, and responsible for bringing the Centre for Independent Studies from Australia to New Zealand.

Professor Richard Manning of Canterbury University where many Treasury staffers have been educated, and who is involved in the Centre for Independent Studies.

Professor David Emanuel of Auckland University and the Centre for Independent Studies.

Max Bradford, formerly of Treasury, then the Bankers Association, and currently secretary-general of the National Party. Involved with the Centre for Independent Studies.

Rob Cameron, formerly a senior member of Treasury (co-authored briefing papers to the incoming Labour Government in 1984), and now an executive of the Centre for Independent Studies.

Ian Douglas of Renoufs and formerly a chairman of the NZ Planning Council.

Roger Kerr, ex-Treasury (another author of the 1984 briefing papers), now executive director of the Business Roundtable. An important link between the business sector and the mandarins of the new public sector.

Sir Ron Trotter, chairman of the Business Roundtable etc.

Allan Hawkins (Equiticorp), David Richwhite (Fay Richwhite), Peter Francis (Chase Corporation), Doug Meyers (Lion), and Robson (Independent Newspapers) are all involved with the Business Roundtable.

Rod Deane formerly deputy governor of the Reserve Bank, then Chairman of the State Services Commission and now Chief Executive of the Electricity Corporation. Also a trustee of the Centre for Independent Studies.

Graham Scott, another co-author of the 1984 Treasury briefing papers, and now Secretary of Treasury.

Sir Ron Brierly, chairman of the Bank of New Zealand, etc.

Jaz McKenzie, Secretary for Labour.

John Fernyhough of the Lion Foundation, colleague of Douglas Meyers, chairman of the Electricity Corporation, deputy chairman of the Forestry Corporation, and long time associate of Alan Gibbs. Reported to have participated in the Centre for Independent Studies. Studied at Chicago University.

Professor Bruce Ross of the Economic Development Commission.

Bryce Wilkinson who co-authored with Graham Scott, Rob Cameron and Roger Kerr the 1984 Treasury briefing papers.

Patrick Duignan who with Rob Cameron wrote another Treasury paper on state-owned enterprises. Doug Andrews who was Roger Douglas’ link with Treasury when Labour was in opposition.

Dr Don Brash, former National Party candidate, and recently appointed as Governor of the Reserve Bank. Prominent as an advocate of the free market and monetarism.

(Sir?) Brian Picot, director of Progressive Enterprises, chairman of Phillips NZ, chairman of Pacific Venture, director of NZI, and author of the Picot Report on education.

Derek Quigley, an early National Party member of the libertarian Right network. Ousted from Cabinet by Sir Robert Muldoon.

Ruth Richardson, Opposition spokesperson on finance.

Simon Upton, National MP for Raglan. One of the few who can argue his position from an intellectual and philosophical base rather than from economic prejudice.

Roger Douglas who has given his name and his political clout, along with that of Richard Prebble, to the work of the libertarian Right network.


Te Putatara wishes to acknowledge its debt to Bruce Jesson, political columnist with “Metro”, author of “Behind the Mirror Glass”, and editor of “The Republican” magazine, for his research on the libertarian Right.

Readers wishing to study the subject in more detail should read “Behind the Mirror Glass”, Bruce Jesson, Penguin, 1987. “The Republican” is available on subscription ($15 for six issues) from P.O.Box 22-263, Otahuhu, Auckland 6.


Much of what has been done to restructure the economy and the state in the last five years certainly needed to be done. Few would deny that.

However, the paucity of social experience and social conscience in Treasury, coupled with extreme right wing zeal, has turned the process into an absolute nightmare.

The restructuring of the rest of the state sector has been justified by Treasury on the grounds of efficiency and effectiveness. There is an even more compelling reason to restructure the treasury system – Democracy.

10 October 1988

BOOK REVIEW: A Study in Right Wing Politics – A Must for Maoridom

“Revival of the Right. New Zealand Politics in the 1980s”, A new book by Bruce Jesson, Allanah Ryan and Paul Spoonley. Heinemann Reed, Auckland, 1988. $19.95.

The September issue of Te Putatara drew heavily on the work of Bruce Jesson and his analysis of the libertarian right. Coincidentally a new book by Jesson and two members of Massey University’s Department of Sociology has just been published.

In this book the three authors combine to describe the right wing in New Zealand, both the libertarian right and the authoritarian (moral) right. These two strands are loosely linked as the new right. The authors collectively describe the philosophical and political origins of right wing belief in the western world, then in a chapter each they provide more detail.

Jesson gives a history of the libertarian right in New Zealand, outlines its rise to pre-eminence in the intellectual, political and economic life of the country, and updates its progress to the present. I believe that it is important for Maori leaders at local, regional, and national levels to understand the libertarian right and its ideology. This chapter is a must.

The chapters by Ryan and Spoonley which cover areas we are probably more aware of, are equally informative.

Ryan gives an overall view of the authoritarian right and its preoccupation with feminism, abortion, sex education, pornography, and homosexuality. She also discusses the politics of the authoritarian right, its new found enthusiasm for the economics of the libertarian right, and its links with fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity.

Spoonley, who has previously written on racism and ethnicity, looks closely at four other issues of the authoritarian right; anti-communism, pro-contact with South Africa, anti-peace movements, and anti-biculturalism. The most significant issue raised by Spoonley is the growing racism of Pakehas.

In New Zealand overt racism has in the past been largely confined to the authoritarian right, and to extremist groups such as the League of Rights. [Incidentally Bob Martin, Welsh activist, retired fisherperson, and grandfather of two lovely part-Pakeha children, is the patron of one such group called the One New Zealand Foundation.]

However there is now a newer and more publicly acceptable form of racism. It includes the belief that when different races and cultures come into contact there is competition for resources. This is seen to generate suspicions which are entirely “natural”, and just part of human nature [see the Treasury definition of discrimination in Issue No.9/88].

With these and other justifications being developed by the libertarian right, “racial prejudice” can therefore be denied. The sophisticated racism of the libertarian right also provides a subtle vehicle for the extremists of the authoritarian right.

Spoonley states: “…the arguments will focus on the need to encourage a national will as a basis for economic growth and prosperity.”

“Biculturalism will be defined as subverting free-market capitalism, as undermining the competitive and academic elements of education, and as dividing New Zealand by emphasizing minority, rather than majority interests.”

“Already, libertarian right activists such as Bob Jones and Winston Peters, along with publications such as Metro and More, have expressed these arguments.”

“A new racism has emerged.”

On this issue the two strands of the right have a common cause. Pakeha racism is therefore becoming more entrenched and is settling in for the long term.

[For Maori people this development has long term implications. Governments come and go, but the libertatrian right has installed itself in the highest levels of the public service, and will be there for two generations at least. It is already generating justifications such as “mainstreaming” for the new face of racism, and it has a long way to go. Never mind what the politicians meant in “He Tirohanga Rangapu”; watch how the Mandarins of the libertarian right implement it in the years ahead].

The final chapter, “Reclaiming the Debate”, contains the “separate reflections” of the three authors. They suggest “new ways to recast current debates about the form and future of New Zealand society.”

The reflections are informative but contain no suggestions for Maoridom to reclaim the heights. We shall have to develop those strategies for ourselves.

A good book to have.

To those more attuned to the cut and thrust of intellectual debate on the marae it may at first seem too Pakeha to be bothered with. I suppose those educated only in the Pakeha university tradition have the same problem within the Maori intellectual framework.

However the book is worth getting into. The advantage in being Maori is in understanding both intellectual traditions.

 22 January 1989

Look in the bed, not under it!

This article is written by a retired NZ Army officer who served Queen and Country diligently and honourably for twenty years at peace and at war; an officer and a gentleman (mostly), a pillar of the establishment (Still, I tell you! Still!).

For all of those twenty years the official “enemies” of the state were the communists, and other less than loyal fellow travellers of the left. We were as a nation urged to beware of the red menace (Reds under the Bed) and the yellow peril. At various times these took the form of Russians, Chinese, and Vietnamese. At home we were warned of the evil Ken Douglas and arch-commo Bill Anderson of the Socialist Unity Party, and of the Communist Party of New Zealand.

The preoccupation with the “enemies of the left” reached its heights in the prosecution/persecution of Dr William Sutch by the government of the day for his alleged collaboration with the Russians. A former senior public servant, Sutch was presumed to have left his protégés buried deep in the public service, and after his public denunciation the Government went to great lengths to root out his influence.

Sir Robert Muldoon made an art form of commie-bashing (along with academic bashing, economist bashing, journalist bashing, union bashing, anti-tour activist bashing, and Maori activist bashing). Unionist turned capitalist Rob Campbell was consigned by public condemnation to surreptitious membership of the Socialist Unity Party for daring to stand up to Muldoon.

Well? After all those years of vigilance did New Zealand survive the holocaust?

After three decades of disastrous economic management, by both National and Labour, the social cohesion of the country is close to destruction.

Ironically the coup de grace was delivered not by our traditional enemies on the extreme left, but by our “friends” in the extreme centre and on the extreme right.

Close to 200,000 will soon be unemployed, the farming sector all but collapsed, the manufacturing sector is reeling, the share market has crashed, untold thousands of small investors have lost their life’s savings, some of the largest companies in the country have collapsed or lost millions of other people’s money, and there is more to come. [As the final edit is being done Equitycorp crashes]. The nation’s capital assets have been stripped. Muldoon’s “ordinary blokes” and their families are hurting – deeply.

Maoridom again bears the brunt of it, and the Pakeha politician drags up his trustworthy “race relations” drum to beat. It takes people’s minds off the real issues.

Dr Bill Sutch was robbed of his reputation, and eventually his will to live. His followers were hounded from the public service. Even if he was guilty as Muldoon has avowed, history will record that he did little real long term harm to the nation.

Senior public servant Dr Graham Scott and senior quasi-public servant Dr Rodney Deane of the libertarian right are still at large, both hugely rewarded for their contributions to the state of the nation today. The grapevine reports that with salary and perquisites they are both close to $250,000 per annum. No wonder they keep their salaries secret!

Sir Robert Muldoon, Roger Douglas, Richard Prebble and Trevor de Cleene have all fallen from grace, but their many supporters on both sides of the House remain in power.

Let those who would find a new enemy in the guise of Maoridom beware. Beware, for the real enemy is closer to home. Look in the bed as well as under it. That is the lesson of the last thirty years for Pakeha New Zealand#

20 February 1989

Prime Minister Pokes Treasury

Predictably, the Treasury opposed a proposal for women to get equal pay for work of equal value on the grounds that it would not be good for the economy.

The Right Honourable Mr David R. Lange stated that Treasury would have been opposed to the abolition of slavery. He’s right. Treasury IS opposed to the full recognition of the Treaty.

20 May 1989

Parliament – What a Hard Case!

Just in case you don’t know what’s going on down here. There are something like six, or maybe sixteen, or even 97 parties in Parliament.

There’s the Government which is the Tired Old Labour Party, the Jim Anderton Leadership Crusade which is the New Old Labour Party, and Roger Douglas’ Funnybone Club which is the Funny New Labour Party. Some people belong to all three parties.

On the other side there’s Jim Bolger’s Sad Old National Party, the Peters & Muldoon Charade which is the Sad & Lame Old National Party, and Ruth Richardson’s Radicals who are the Funny Old New National Party. Some people belong to none of them.

On our side of the House there’s the Cyclone Koro Party which is sometimes a tuturu Maori party, sometimes a Tired Old Labour Party, sometimes a New Old Labour Party, and sometimes a Funny New Labour Party. Good strategy Koro. Keep yourself guessing.

There’s also the Ratana Party with Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan which is certainly tuturu Maori. At the moment I think the Ratana Party will be having difficulty working out which Labour Party it had a deal with. E Whetu, I think that was Te Old Old Labour Party.

The Bruce Gregory Labour Party which is also tuturu Maori (and definitely Labour) gets upset with all the Labour Parties from time to time because they don’t take any notice of him, so it must be counted as a Labour party on its own.

Finally we have the Peter Tapsell Party which tends to be a bit to the right so it could be part of the Funny New Labour Party, but then again it could be part of the Funny New National Party. On the other hand it’s pretty conservative so it could be part of the Tired Old Labour Party, or the New Old Labour Party, the Sad Old National Party, or the Sad & Lame Old National Party. Or perhaps the Old Old Labour Party too.

Outside the House we have the Mana Motuhake Party which is a tuturu Maori party but wants to do a deal with the New Old Labour Party. You should have learned your lesson by now Matiu; they only want your votes, not your kaupapa.

Then we have the Socialist Unity Party which is telling everyone to stay in the Tired Old Labour Party, and the NZ Democrats Party which is telling everyone to join the Gary Knapp Self-Admiration Party. Bruce Beetham, who was the one who changed the Social Credit Political League into the NZ Democrats Party, is now back in the Social Credit Party: or is it the Bruce Beetham Nostalgia Party?

E hoa ma, you can’t blame all these MPs for voting for themselves to be leader. There’s so many parties they can all be leader if they want to! I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up with more Pakeha political parties than Maori tribes. That would be a real rabble wouldn’t it? They do a lot more fighting than the iwi eh.

All the sensible people I know have joined the Don’t Know Don’t Care Party. All the porangi ones are joining me in the Mad Hatters Tea Party.


20 July 1989

The War of the Blowfly

Paul Holmes ran a show about gun-running and landing craft in Tai Tokerau. E hoa ma, I think there really ARE things like that going on up there. But it’s not Ngati Whatua, Ngapuhi, or even those shady Aupouri. It’s the Pakeha himself.

True, e hoa ma, the kumara vine has secret intelligence that the South Island has declared war on the North Island!

Long, long ago during the reign of Sir Robert the Great (Muldoon silly, not Jones), those South Islanders started to get real hoha because the North Island was pinching all their electricity and not giving anything in return. Their economy got so bad all the people were leaving for Queensland, and they were in grave danger of being overrun by sheep and blowflies.

Those wily Ngai Tahu strategists saw this happening and began to organise a takeover. The situation was dangerous. So the South Island devised a strategy to conquer the North, using the North’s own weaknesses to destroy itself.

This strategy is known as the War of the Blowfly, so called because it is the tiny blowfly that would defeat the mighty sheep.

First, they trained heaps of economic saboteurs at the University of Canterbury, and then they started to infiltrate the Treasury and Reserve Bank. Their plan was to use the Freemarket to seduce the greedy business and financial sectors of the North (particularly Auckland), and to induce them to destroy themselves. Some of them got alongside Roger Douglas when he was in opposition and convinced him that he was the Messiah. Then they filled his head with their subversive ideas.

As luck would have it, on a worse than usual night in June 1984, Sir Robert the Great handed the whole country over to them. It caught them unawares but they immediately launched a small invasion on NZ Railways landing craft. E hoa ma, some of you call them ferries. In a single night in June they brought in all their economic shock troops and captured many vital installations in the economy.

I heard their chilling war-cry: “To market, to market, to buy a fat pig!”

After that, their agents in the Labour Caucus got down to some serious brainwashing, and before the month was over they had converted a mildly socialist government into an extreme capitalist enclave. Such was the power of their principal weapon; Treasury-Speak. This was their crowning victory. The takeover was complete.

Those South Islanders didn’t bargain on the resilience of the iwi though. It was Maoridom that used their own “Rule of Law” against them and blunted their attack in the courts.

So they had their propagandists launch rumours and misinformation in the North Island about Maori revolutionaries and about gun-running. This strategy used another of the great weaknesses of Pakeha North Island; their fear of the tangata whenua. Commercial fishermen and dopey farmers have fallen for it and are now armed to the gums.

Every now and then the South sends a real landing craft up to Tai Tokerau. Just to keep the pot boiling. See.

15 July 2000

Our own coup d’etat in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“What I have described ….. is a civilization — our civilization — locked in the grip of an ideology — corporatism. An ideology that denies and undermines the legitimacy of the individual as the citizen in a democracy.” – John Ralston Saul, The Unconscious Civilization, Penguin, 1997.

While the government has been pontificating on the coup d’etat in Fiji, and promoting the cause of democracy, that same government has been quietly brought to its knees by the anti-democratic forces at work in this country. There are no hostages, except that the whole country has been held hostage. The government has surrendered without a fight, and without negotiation.

This quiet coup in which democracy has been denied for at least another three years has been conducted by the business elites. The “business confidence” propaganda carried by the media controlled by those business elites has been the visible weapon they have used to defeat this government. Behind the scenes they have conducted a guerrilla war of muted threats and coercion to force the government to change almost any policy that will bring to an end the 16 year anti-democratic revolution that has taken power from the citizen and delivered it to the corporates, and their political allies.

Since the minority Labour / Alliance government came to power late last year it has spun the fable that it is the mandated government of the people, and that it is intent on closing gaps, promoting regional recovery, and building capacity. But it has all been political dissembling, cloaking reality in propaganda and rhetoric. What has actually happened is that they have given in to the business elites after six months of skirmishing, in the interests of holding on to the illusion of power. Power comes first, and democracy a poor last.

They have proclaimed themselves a policy driven government, and proclaimed their policy making prowess. When put to the test to prove their commitment to their own policy, they failed, and the policy became mere propaganda and rhetoric.


General Elections 2017

Anybody’s guess.

Maori Policy: Challenging the Status Quo. A Call to Reengage in the Struggle.

And let’s take a good look at ourselves while we’re at it.

    “It behoves politicians, bureaucrats, academics, researchers and activists to become not just economically literate but economically expert if they are to challenge the status quo. This is no short term quest”.“Draining the Swamp” the previous essay in this series on Maori policy.

I wrote in that essay that becoming economically literate and building economic expertise was a necessary step towards gaining access to the levers of New Zealand’s economic policy settings. The policy settings that must be changed in order to design and implement economic policy that would benefit all Maori, not just the Pakeha elites and to a much lesser extent the Maori elites.

But that comes later I now realise.

Before that can happen the authority and control of the power elites must be challenged and broken for they control and manipulate those economic levers to suit themselves. The power elites are by definition in Aotearoa New Zealand overwhelmingly Pakeha, and male, and they will not take their hands off the levers without a struggle. In an earlier struggle it was the unions and the Labour Party that led the way. Alas, the unions are no more and the Labour Party has turned away from its founding principles and has forsaken the poor and the downtrodden.

Power elite” is a term borrowed from American author C. Wright Mills and his 1959 book “The Power Elite”. It was about the structure of power in the United States focusing on the military, corporate and political elites and their control over the supposedly democratic processes of government. The idea in contemporary times is often expressed as the “deep state”, the “permanent government” or the “shadow government” and although a topic of serious research and commentary it is often adopted by conspiracy theorists. As a concept of power relationships however “power elite” fits the New Zealand context, certainly since the neo-liberal revolution of the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Power is the root of the long struggle we now politely label “Maori development”. The relationship between Maori and Pakeha, between Maori and government, has always been a relationship of unequal power and our struggle to regain lost power. We call it rangatiratanga.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s the late Bruce Jesson chronicled the rise of a new power elite in New Zealand; a power elite he described as the “New Right” and the “Libertarian Right”. The actors in that power elite were drawn from politics, the economic bureaucracy, corporations and academia. See “Pakeha Networks” in the September 1988 edition of “Te Putatara”. That 1988 analysis was drawn from Bruce Jesson’s “Behind the Mirror Glass” (Penguin, 1987).

In his posthumously published “Only Their Purpose is Mad, The Money Men Take Over NZ” (Dunmore, 1999) he described how the power elite, particularly the finance sector, had taken over the country. See here for a review. His analysis was prescient as nine years later in 2008 the finance sector had taken over the global economy and brought it to its knees.

Nowadays no-one seems to be keeping tabs on the elites but in the sixteen years since that last Jesson book a new generation of actors has joined the power elite, and their neo-liberal agenda has been firmly embedded as political and economic orthodoxy; the new status quo. A key aim of that agenda is to entrench itself so deeply that no future government will be able to reverse it. It has worked so far.

The four wings of the power elite are:

  • political;
  • bureaucratic;
  • security, intelligence and law enforcement; and
  • corporate.

The political wing of the neo-liberal power elite is today is led by John Key, Bill English, Stephen Joyce, Gerry Brownlee and the fast rising Paula Bennett. Judith Collins is the cheerleader for the extreme right of the power elite. Prior to them the political wing was pretty much dominated by Helen Clark, Heather Simpson and Michael Cullen. The underlying neo-liberal agenda was the same in both cases. Although on the surface and according to its propaganda Labour policies might have seemed somewhat progressive at a microeconomic level, at the macroeconomic level nothing had changed from previous governments. Indeed the Labour Party of today sits on the neo-liberal right of Robert Muldoon’s National Party of the early 1980’s.

Since 1984 the different shades of politician have cycled and recycled through government but the macroeconomic agenda has remained constant. Little change can be expected if Labour manages to unseat National again.

The powerful bureaucrats in the control ministries and the economic ministries remain in place throughout, totally committed to defending their neo-liberal agenda. They are from Prime Minister and Cabinet, State Services Commission, Treasury, the Reserve Bank, Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise, Ministry of Primary Industry and others. A formidable force they are in a very real sense a permanent government and defenders of the status quo.

The security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies have gained more and more power from gullible and compliant parliaments since 2002 and are part of the power elite. Their agenda is not primarily economic although the intelligence agencies do gather economic intelligence. They do however serve to reinforce the dominance of the power elite through ever increasing controls over the population. The NZ Police in particular over recent years have demonstrated their disposition to silence democratic dissent; to indulge in political intelligence and surveillance, in heavy handed suppression of protest and demonstration, and unlawful investigation in the service of the power elite.

Corporations are deeply embedded in the power elite with ready access to political and bureaucratic policy makers. They and those they serve are perhaps the main beneficiaries of the present political and economic paradigm. The access of Time Warner (Peter Jackson), Sky City and MediaWorks to this government are publicly revealed examples.

The most glaring example of access to and exercise of power was in the negotiations towards the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). In those negotiations politicians, bureaucrats and influential corporates acted together in secret on behalf of the people of Aotearoa New Zealand who were, with most of their elected representatives, totally excluded. The TPP negotiations were a blatant exercise of power by the elected and unelected elites acting together for their mutual benefit. Corporates from across all TPP countries actually wrote much of the agreement.

In Aotearoa New Zealand corporate membership of the power elite now includes the finance sector, energy, media, transport, telecommunications, the primary industries and others. Prior to 1984 large parts of those industries were publicly owned and controlled. Privatisation has meant much more than passing of ownership from public to private hands. It has resulted in those private hands now being part of the power elite; the ones in control of our lives. The neo-liberal agenda of the 1980s and 1990s was not just about economics and business and the transfer of capital; it was about a massive transfer of power from the people and their elected representatives to the unelected.

The main corporate umbrella is The New Zealand Initiative formed in 2012 from a merger of The New Zealand Business Roundtable and the New Zealand Institute. It is a neo-liberal think tank and membership organisation with about forty corporate members listed in its website which states:

    “Our members come from various backgrounds and represent the New Zealand economy in all its diversity”.

Which can only be so if you believe that those New Zealand businesses represent the New Zealand economy, which also quite surprisingly comprises about 4.5 million individuals, their civil society organisations, thousands of small and medium size businesses, as well as the forty or so business members of the NZ Institute and however many individual members they have. They actually represent the big end of New Zealand business.

It further states:

    “Together the members of the NZ Institute form a network of high profile individuals and firms united by their passion for good public policy”.

Good public policy” meaning of course what is good for big business and what is good for the power elite. Unless of course you really believe that what is good for them is good for everyone, all 4.5 million of us. The statistics put the lie to that.

Max Rashbrooke’s recent book “Wealth in New Zealand” (Bridget Williams Books, 2015) contains statistics that show just who benefits from this concentration of power in the hands of the few:

  • The wealthiest 1% of New Zealanders own 18.1% of the nation’s wealth;
  • The wealthiest 5% own 39.4%;
  • The wealthiest 10% own 53.5%;
  • The wealthiest 50% own 96.1%; and
  • The next 50% own under 4% of the nation’s wealth. Among them are the disenfranchised and the “disinherited ones to whom neither the past nor the future belongs”.

Ethnic statistics show that:

  • Pakeha (71% of the population) own 85% of the nation’s wealth;
  • Asians (10%) own 7%;
  • Maori (12%) own 5%; and
  • Pasifika (5%) own 1% of the nation’s wealth.

Those figures combined with the statistics in a previous essay “The Maori Worldview and Maori Policy” graphically illustrate that inequality and poverty are now accepted and quietly promoted by the power elite as the new status quo. It is a status quo that must be challenged and broken if Maori policy is to have any chance of bringing hope and dignity to most if not all Maori people; and to all of those who are the disenfranchised and the disinherited. The discarded.

Policy that would matter to the disenfranchised and disinherited never makes it onto the policy agenda. Poverty and inequality are dirty words. Policy that would matter is rarely if ever seriously discussed and debated in the halls of power. Politics and policy formation in this day and age are about mindless rhetoric, about avoiding the challenge of ideas, dumbing down policy debate, about discouraging the disenfranchised and disinherited from any engagement in the political process, and pushing through the agenda of the power elite in the guise of economic policy. In neo-liberal LalaLand the disenfranchised and disinherited are blamed for their own plight.

Policy that would matter to the disenfranchised and disinherited would be about people not just property and profit, about the dignity that all citizens are entitled to in a democratic society, and about the representation of their interests in the democratic process. About the mana of the people. But we are moving away from democracy and towards plutocracy; rule for the wealthy by the wealthy and those who serve them. The statistics in this case do not lie. We are becoming a plutocracy disguised in democratic form.

How can that status quo be challenged and reversed? It will not be without struggle. Who is up for the struggle? I fear that we are not up for it.

Kohanga Reo, Kura Kaupapa, iwi radio, Maori television, Maori health provision, Maori fisheries, the return of lands, Treaty settlements, corporate iwi, and much more besides; all of that was gained through struggle. It was gained through the activism of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and it did not come lightly. It was gained on the streets and in the courts. Many were arrested, some imprisoned for their activism. Many more put their own futures on the line. That activism built to such a crescendo that governments had to concede lest their imaginary “we are one people” pleasant and harmonious New Zealand society collapsed around them. Fear drove them to seek to co-opt us rather than to continue to ignore, suppress or even oppress.

They masked those political concessions as altruism and goodwill and bought us off. It was good politics. They bought our compliance and over time co-opted us to their neo-liberal agenda. They seem to have convinced us that the limited wealth they have transferred into a few Maori hands will eventually trickle down to the many. It hasn’t and it won’t.

It was the activists who made all of the gains possible and forced open the doors. Both Maori activists and conservative Maori walked through those doors and created the many initiatives, projects, programmes and organisations of the “Maori Renaissance”. Then in a short timeframe the activists were pushed aside and the conservatives took over governance and management of almost all of the new Maori development sector. But the original kaupapa of raising living conditions, reversing all of the negative social and economic indicators, and creating a measure of prosperity for all Maori had not been achieved. We were blinded by limited concessions and successes after decades of struggle.

And we gave up the struggle. We focused on the money, or fish, and how we would share it out, or not. The decade long battle over the capture and allocation of fishing assets illustrates just how we became totally diverted from the original kaupapa. We squabbled over the gold cast across our pathway. In fisheries and in other settlements we spent all our time and energy staking our claims at the Waitangi Tribunal, and afterwards turning ourselves into mandated recipients of the limited gains. It became the Grand Diversion. The government of the day even put a price on it – one billion dollars. But what of its value?

We have not achieved the aims of the long struggle but we seem to have convinced ourselves that we have. The present generation, the Maori elites who have taken over governance and management in the Maori development sector, are interested only in the benefits they accrue from the struggle of the previous generation. They seem to have convinced themselves that their management of those billions of dollars’ worth of communal Maori assets will do the job for all Maori; that the struggle is over. They have been co-opted to the neo-liberal agenda of the power elite. Some of them are delusional in their aspiration to become part of that power elite.

Not all of them of course. In my own many hapu from Heretaunga to Wairarapa and Te Tau Ihu dedicated people have laboured away for decades on behalf of all of us and we are now starting to gain mostly monetary settlements for past injustices. They are good people working on behalf of the hapu. It is no reflection on them or their mahi but the gains are really just a pittance.

The struggle is not over. Whilst a few benefit from those limited gains the people are still the disenfranchised and disinherited; the discarded of the neo-liberal agenda. Yet we have given up the struggle. And I don’t see a new generation of activists waiting in the wings. At this time the main political cause is the intent of the Maori elites to reframe Maori land legislation in the hope of creating more wealth in the Maori development sector. Whether or not it is justified, the fear of the many is that through new land legislation the Maori elites will disinherit their own; the already disenfranchised and disinherited.

We have lost our way.

In part however that was the result of faulty conceptualisation and design in the initiatives and programmes that theoretically aimed to reduce the social and economic disparities between Maori and Pakeha.

One of the main aims of the early activism was the revival of cultural identity and language. That resulted in successful Te Reo Maori educational and broadcasting initiatives but not a longer term widespread use of Te Reo and not, as many of its promoters thought, in the general lifting of Maori aspirations leading to a reversal of negative social and economic statistics. As a cultural identity initiative it has been moderately successful. It has not however led to overall social and economic success.

Hui Taumata 1984 (Maori Economic Summit) resulted in a primary focus in the Maori development sphere on economic development. However “economic development” then became narrowly defined as Maori business development rather than overall improvement of the economic status of all Maori. It shared with the neo-liberal agenda the belief and rhetoric of the now discredited “trickle down” theory. That narrow focus has resulted in a growing Maori business sector within a new Maori development sector of the New Zealand economy but not in any appreciable improvement in the social and economic status of Maori in general. It also resulted in the notion of the mythical “Maori Economy” and in the belief that the “Maori Economy” would trickle down and deliver for all Maori.

The Maori Party’s later “Whanau Ora” social development programme is aimed as its name suggests at working with individual whanau in need and not at dramatically changing the total social and economic environment in which those whanau struggle for survival. As I wrote in “Draining the Swamp” it aims to rescue a few whanau from the swamp rather than to drain the swamp. Within its narrow terms of reference “Whanau Ora” is not doomed to failure; neither will it be successful in achieving the aspirations of its programme designers.

Whether by design or happenstance or both we have lost our way.

Not entirely of course. The Mana Party tried to reengage in the struggle but a combination of tired old rhetoric from a collection of tired old minds, incredibly lousy strategy and poor leadership all but wiped them out at the last elections.

In a parallel domain, in academia, we have also lost much of the intellectual impetus behind Maori development policy and practice. Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s most Maori academics were actively involved in the struggle, some at the forefront of protest and demonstration. Indeed much of the activism was launched from within the universities with students and the newly graduated at the barricades. Almost all were politically engaged in challenging the status quo. Senior Maori scholars including Ranginui Walker, Patu Hohepa, Ngapare Hopa, Robert Mahuta, Tipene O’Regan, Hirini Mead, Api Mahuika, Katerina Mataira, Whatarangi Winiata and others provided intellectual frameworks and direction and were themselves actively involved.

The next generation of scholars were equally engaged and led by Graham and Linda Smith developed and entrenched a Maori specific domain within the universities across a number of disciplines, notably in education, perhaps the most important site of struggle within and beyond the university. Their “Kaupapa Maori” intellectual framework now informs most Maori specific scholarship. Wally Penetito also led the way in Maori education. Mason Durie developed intellectual frameworks across a number of areas notably in Maori health and Maori education. There are many others.

The next generation of Maori academics seems to be disengaged from the political process which is the only avenue to serious reduction of the poverty and inequality that afflict too many of our people. There are some who are active in the Maori Party but the Maori Party, despite its good intentions, serves only to legitimise the neoliberal agenda of the power elite in relation to Maori issues. The Maori Party is our only Maori party and it should lead the political struggle. But it expends its considerable Maori Development budget on standing still.

That $244 million serves mainly to buy its political support for another year. It maintains the status quo and doesn’t move us forward in any appreciable way.

The 2015 budget allocation for Vote Maori Development was about $244 million. $54 million of that was for the Whanau Ora programme, $82 million for the promotion of language and culture and $33 million to pay for the Maori development bureaucracy leaving about $75 million spread across a range of social and economic programmes. That and similar budget allocations throughout the seven years of the Maori Party’s alliance with the National Party has done little if anything to reduce Maori poverty and the unequal place of Maori in New Zealand society.

One would expect those academics involved in the Maori Party to develop new intellectual frameworks and strategies; to try something different. However it seems that the Maori Party is tied to the tired old policies and programmes that haven’t delivered and has no new ideas despite the evidence that new ideas are desperately needed. Not just new versions of old programmes.

“Ka pu te ruha, ka hao te rangatahi”

The Maori Party needs to seriously engage with academia and with the creatives. It needs to pull in some intellectual and creative heft and to reinvent itself.

There is also some evidence that Maori academics are increasingly disengaged not only from politics but also from their Maori communities. Some have become what Graham Smith has called “privatised academics”, engaged in scholarship for their own benefit rather than the benefit of Maori communities and Maori in general. Some co-opt the “struggle” to enhance their own mana. They talk about the wellbeing of the people but don’t walk the talk.

Has academia abdicated its Maori development leadership role? Perhaps the unintended consequence of success in creating a Maori specific space in the universities has been an increasingly inward focus by Maori academia.

There are of course many academics working in their own tribal communities. However most Maori are urbanised and detribalised. Who is advocating for them at a pan tribal and national level?

Perhaps a shift in the leadership of Maori development away from its intellectual platform in the universities and whare wananga towards the Maori business sector, corporate iwi and “iwi leaders”, towards bureaucracy and conservative governance and management, was causal in narrowing the intellectual capacity, the focus and direction of Maori development, and ultimately in sending us in the wrong direction.

It may be that the universities and whare wananga need to reset the compass and to reclaim Maori development leadership from “corporate iwi” and “iwi leaders” who are by definition motivated by a form of self-interest, albeit in the name of “iwi”. We are in need of a much broader and deeper perspective, a perspective that acknowledges modern realities rather than neo-tribal nostalgia.

Maori academia would begin by becoming deeply reengaged in the political process.

All of this is indicative of a failure of strategy, a failure to keep our gaze on the far horizon, becoming focused instead on near term gains. The great samurai strategist Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645) in “The Book of Five Rings” put it this way:

    “The gaze should be large and broad. This is the twofold gaze “Perception and Sight”. Perception is strong and sight weak. In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things”.

It is the role of the intellectual and the strategist to promote perception, to maintain our gaze on the far horizon, to keep the distant things close. We need a new generation of Maori public intellectuals, learned across a range of disciplines in both humanities and sciences, advocating for all Maori. But they need to bring new ideas into the public domain. The old ones have been around far too long.

In his 1967 essay “A Call to Celebration” (published in “Celebration of Awareness: A Call for Institutional Revolution”, Marion Boyars, London, 1971) the late Ivan Illich expressed this hope for the future of mankind:

    “I and many others, known and unknown to me, call upon you:

    • to celebrate our joint power to provide all human beings with the food, clothing, shelter they need to delight in living;
    • to discover, together with us what we must do to use mankind’s power to create the humanity, the dignity, and the joyfulness of each one of us”.

And this:

    “We are challenged to break the obsolete social and economic systems which divide our world between the overprivileged and the underprivileged. All of us whether government leader or protester, businessman or worker, professor or student share a common guilt. We have failed to discover how the necessary changes in our ideals and social structures can be made. Each of us therefore through our ineffectiveness and our lack of responsible awareness, causes the suffering around the world”.

    “The call is to live the future. Let us join together joyfully to celebrate our awareness that we can make our life today the shape of tomorrow’s future”.

Ivan Illich was one of the main intellectual influences in the work of Professor Ranginui Walker. Ranginui was and is the preeminent analyst of our own need for institutional revolution. His 1990 book “Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou” was subtitled “Struggle Without End“. In it Ranginui related the story of the long struggle from the very beginning up to 1990. He needs to be read again to remind ourselves of just what we were struggling for. In the Introduction he wrote:

    “As portended by the freedom fighters at Orakau that the struggle against an unjust social order would go on forever, the urban Maori have taken up where their forbears left off. This book is about the endless struggle of the Maori for social justice, equality and self-determination, whereby two people can live as coequals in the post-colonial era of the new nation state in the twenty-first century”.

Have we just taken a break or have we brought the struggle to a premature end?

Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou

The call then is for each of us personally, in our search for direction, policy and action that benefits all Maori, to admit our common guilt in wilfully falling short of the aims of the so called Maori Renaissance; in wilfully being distracted by the glint of gold. And to commit again to the struggle to challenge the status quo and to break the political, social and economic paradigm that consigns so many of our people to the serried ranks of the disenfranchised and disinherited.

Are we up for it?

Next Essay

He Tangata: Maori Policy, Economics and Moral Philosophy – The Moral Challenge to the Status Quo and to Neo-liberal Theology

Related Essays

Mai i Hawaiki ki Hawaiki: The Evolution of Maori Culture
The Evolution of Pakeha Culture
The Maori Worldview and Maori Policy
The Mythology of the Whanau-Hapu-Iwi Construct
The Origins of Corporate Iwi
The Maori Economy – A Fanciful Notion
The Myth of the Maori Entrepreneur
The Treaty of Waitangi Revisited
Te Ture Whenua Maori Review – Who Benefits? 
Perspectives of Time, Small Prophecy & Maori Policy
Draining the Swamp – Some Fundamentals for Maori Policy Makers

Terrorism: A Grownup Threat Analysis

This essay looks at the security and economic absurdities of the anti-terrorism crusade, a crusade that despite its high economic cost has had a negligible effect on mortality. If the policy objective is to save lives the money should be spent elsewhere.

The thing that strikes me about the focus of politicians and of  law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies on the threat of “terrorism”, and the need for a whole raft of new legislation designed to combat “terrorism”, is the total lack of a grownup public threat analysis. We are asked instead to trust those who lay claim to having the secret information necessary to quantify the threat, and to trust entirely in their secret threat analysis. That’s not good enough. And more to the point, it’s total humbug.

Security should be based entirely on threat or risk analysis, and the response to perceived and actual threat should be in relative proportion to the total level of threat to the safety and wellbeing of the society. The response to threat in a liberal democracy should also be balanced against the principles of democracy and against the level of threat or risk a liberal democracy should be able to accept without compromising or eroding the democracy itself.

It is a principle of democracy that governments, law enforcement agencies, and security and intelligence agencies should have their powers curtailed to the extent that those powers do not unnecessarily encroach upon the freedoms, liberties and rights of citizens. That’s supposedly why we have the New Zealand Bill of Rights. Unlawful police encroachment does occur, for instance in the Kim Dotcom case which has caused the present public outcry against the GCSB Bill. What is necessary or unnecessary encroachment should be determined by grownup public analysis of the threat or risk.

In threat analysis we should look at the balance between threat and security, and the level of threat that can be and is presently acceptable and accepted. Criminality in society is matched by a fairly large police presence enforcing the Crimes Act and other criminal legislation. The society accepts that level of encroachment as necessary except when the police exceed their lawful powers as they sometimes do. Even so the society accepts also that the police cannot prevent all crime and that we must all accept a level of criminality and risk to person and property. We must all also take primary responsibility for our own security, for the security of our families and for the security of our businesses. We live with a level of risk and threat without demanding that Government protect us from every possible risk and threat.

That approach forms the basis of the following outline threat analysis.

What is Terrorism?

Terror is not an enemy. Terror is a weapon. There can be no such thing as a “war on terrorism”.

Terror is a weapon used by the weak against the strong. By definition terror should not be able to prevail against the strong but in recent times it has. That is because less that 1% of terror represents a physical threat to the western liberal democracies and more than 99% of the threat is psychological. It has succeeded against the West because terror is primarily a psychological weapon and the western liberal democracies have succumbed to the psychological threat in trying to protect against a relatively minor physical threat. “Relativity” is the key word that will be expanded upon later.

The West has grossly over-estimated the relative threat to their own societies and they have introduced anti-terrorism and mass surveillance legislation and regulation that far outweighs the real relative threat to society. That was the strategy of Osama bin Laden in September 2001 and he succeeded beyond his own dreams, on a worldwide basis. His killing by Seal Team 6 has done nothing whatsoever to limit the success of his strategy.

The primary target of those who employ terror in the modern context is not the western liberal democracies at all. Their targets are their own people in their own countries. They aim to demonise secular and liberal Western society and to convince their own countrymen and women of the social and moral threat those societies and their systems of governance represent. They aim to corral the minds of their own people in order to impose their preferred version of religious governance, usually under Sharia Law, in their own countries.

They demonstrate their superior political power and morality to their own people by provoking the liberal democracies to go to war against them, to drag those democracies into unwinnable wars in foreign places, and in doing so to cause mass disruption, and civilian casualties. They are then able to convince their own people that the liberal and secular democracies are waging war against the civilians in the warzones and against Islam in general. They drag the armed forces of those liberal democracies into conflicts they cannot win and they demonstrate to their own people the vulnerability of those supposedly superior forces to the tactics of the weak, such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), suicide bombers, and the hit and run tactics of the guerilla and insurgent.

They join their highly mobile legions of international fighters into the wars of others in order to hijack those wars to serve their own cause, such as in Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. To achieve their aims they sacrifice countless thousands of their own heavily indoctrinated and religiously brainwashed foot soldiers. They know they are not going to defeat the West. But they know with complete certainty that they are going to win the war for the hearts and minds of their own people. “Allahu akbar” they cry all over the world. And behind every chant lies another captive mind.

The proper and mature response to psychological warfare is to ignore it. To have trust and confidence that our own liberal democratic and secular societies are strong and robust and well able to withstand the minimal physical threat the wielders of terror actually pose. The immature response is to succumb to the psychological threat and to vastly inflate the physical threat.

Who are these so-called “terrorists”

Who are the people who wield the weapon of terror?

The Terrorism Suppression Act empowers the Prime Minister to declare persons and organisations as terrorist. That latest list of “terrorist designated entities” can be downloaded here.

They are overwhelmingly Taliban and Al-Qaeda entities throughout Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East and Africa. They are also United Nations designated entities in Iran, Peru, Turkey, Bangladesh, Palestine, Columbia, Philippines, India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Ireland, Somalia, Spain and France (the Basques). They are all overseas, far from New Zealand’s shores.

What is obvious from the list of “terrorist designated entities” is that the real targets or enemies are Islamic extremists around the world, except that we cloak them in the mystique of “terrorism”. In doing so we magnify in the public mind the real threat that Islamic extremism poses to New Zealand, and broaden our security response far beyond what is necessary to combat the actual threat level of Islamic extremism. It is the immature response to psychological warfare.

Perhaps by focusing on “terrorism” we also seek to alleviate the concerns of the majority of peaceful Muslim people by not actually naming the threat as Islamic extremism. But in naming it as “terrorism” we achieve the opposite by creating in the public mind a belief that all Muslims are potential terrorists. We might all be better off calling a spade a spade. And by changing the language we would change the nature of the security debate as well.

How many Islamic extremists are there in New Zealand? Less than 1000? Less than 100? We don’t know because that’s a secret. Perhaps we can infer from Prime Minister John Key’s public statements that there are less than 10 a year. Whatever the number, real or imagined, in a population of 4 million plus it is a very low threat level.

We can safely assume that the SIS has infiltrated Muslim communities and has many Muslim informants. We can safely assume that the SIS has the names of real or potential Islamic extremists in New Zealand and has them under surveillance. Why therefore do we need to enact legislation that has the potential to bring the whole population under surveillance, whether intended or not. Why therefore do we impose security legislation and restrictions on the whole population? In the face of that level of threat why do we enact legislation that erodes democracy?

I know, they going to tell us that the level of threat is much much greater but they can’t tell us about it and publicly prove it. Humbug.

What are acts of terror?

“Terrorist Acts” are defined in the Suppression of Terrorism Act 2002.

(1) An act is a terrorist act for the purposes of this Act if—

(a) the act falls within subsection (2); or
(b) the act is an act against a specified terrorism convention (as defined in section 4(1)); or
(c) the act is a terrorist act in armed conflict (as defined in section 4(1)).

(2) An act falls within this subsection if it is intended to cause, in any 1 or more countries, 1 or more of the outcomes specified in subsection (3), and is carried out for the purpose of advancing an ideological, political, or religious cause, and with the following intention:

(a) to induce terror in a civilian population; or
(b) to unduly compel or to force a government or an international organisation to do or abstain from doing any act.

[Subsection (3) below contains the actual definition of terrorist acts].

(3) The outcomes referred to in subsection (2) are—

(a) the death of, or other serious bodily injury to, 1 or more persons (other than a person carrying out the act):
(b) a serious risk to the health or safety of a population:
(c) destruction of, or serious damage to, property of great value or importance, or major economic loss, or major environmental damage, if likely to result in 1 or more outcomes specified in paragraphs (a), (b), and (d):
(d) serious interference with, or serious disruption to, an infrastructure facility, if likely to endanger human life:
(e) introduction or release of a disease-bearing organism, if likely to devastate the national economy of a country.

(4) However, an act does not fall within subsection (2) if it occurs in a situation of armed conflict and is, at the time and in the place that it occurs, in accordance with rules of international law applicable to the conflict.

(5) To avoid doubt, the fact that a person engages in any protest, advocacy, or dissent, or engages in any strike, lockout, or other industrial action, is not, by itself, a sufficient basis for inferring that the person—

(a) is carrying out an act for a purpose, or with an intention, specified in subsection (2); or
(b) intends to cause an outcome specified in subsection (3).

The Act then goes on to detail a number of those offences including:

  • Bombing
  • Financing designated entities
  • Belonging to or dealing with designated entities
  • Recruiting
  • Participating
  • Harbouring or concealing
  • Plastic explosives and nuclear material
  • Radioactive material

That is a relatively small range of offences in relation to the criminal law in New Zealand. All of them are already contained in or could be added to the Crimes Act 1961 and other relevant legislation without the need for a separate terrorism act.

What seems to be obvious is that the criminal acts that are defined as “terrorist acts” in the Suppression of Terrorism Act are not that much different from the normal everyday criminality that we live with. What is different is the response, and the much greater powers the Act confers upon the Prime Minister, the Parliament and the response agencies. And that seems to be the real purpose of the Act.

If a comparison is made between those “terrorist” threats to society and the real everyday threat from the transnational criminal bikie gangs, and other transnational gangs and crime syndicates in the illegal drugs, weapons and slave prostitution markets, the threat is small. They don’t tell us much about those real threats either, from behind the veil of secrecy, security and intelligence.

The relativity of threat

We look now at the crime statistics reported by the NZ Police for the year ending 31st December 2012. A copy can be downloaded here. I summarise the statistics below in broad outline. The detail is in the downloadable file.

  • Murder – 42
  • Manslaughter – 14
  • Assault etc – 40,851
  • Sexual assault etc – 3,512
  • Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons – 1,022
  • Various offence against the person – 12,476
  • Robbery etc – 2,199
  • Unlawful entry etc – 52,031
  • Theft etc – 119,476
  • Fraud etc – 8.013
  • Drugs – 20,792
  • Weapons & explosives – 6,063
  • Property damage – 48,901
  • Public order – 42,522
  • Justice process, government security (5), government operations – 15,797
  • Miscellaneous – 1,384
  • Total – 376,013

I would add:

  • Acts of terror – NIL

What do we New Zealanders die of?

These are the major causes extracted from the Ministry of Health morbidity statistics for 2009.

  • Cancers – 8,437
  • Heart disease – 5,553
  • Strokes – 2,488
  • Diabetes – 869
  • Motor vehicle accidents – 420
  • Suicide – 510
  • Assault and murder – less than 100

To which I would add:

  • Acts of terror – NIL

So I conclude that:

From the crime and morbidity statistics it would seem that the chances of dying at the hands of Islamic extremists, or of being the victim of their criminality, are extremely remote. The likelihood of suffering at the hands of our own home grown criminals is much greater than at the hands of Islamic extremists yet it is still not so great that we cannot and do not accept and live with the threat of criminality on a daily basis.

At the age of 70 I am greatly assured that I will most likely die from one of the common medically defined conditions or simply of old age at some time within the next 30 years. I am greatly assured that I will probably not die at the hands of Islamic extremists. Although I stand a greater chance of being murdered or the victim of manslaughter at the hands of our own criminal class (or at the hands of my own family) I am assured that that too is only a remote possibility.

In fact if you were to analyse the detail of murder, manslaughter and assault in its various forms you would probably find that you are at much greater risk from members of your own family than you are from Islamic extremists. Just to put things into perspective.

I suspect that the Terrorism Suppression Act and the raft of other terrorism related and surveillance legislation does not and will not affect the level of risk and threat I face on a daily basis as a free citizen in a democratic society. For I suspect that the perception of threat from Islamic extremism in New Zealand is immature and inflated in response to psychological warfare launched from far away places, rather than in response to a real physical threat in New Zealand.

What New Zealand needs is a grownup risk and threat analysis conducted in public, and not conducted from within the secrecy confined, limited worldviews of gullible politicians and the law enforcement, security and intelligence establishment.

The Surveillance State

The GCSB Bill, surveillance legislation and debacle

I have never worked for the GCSB. But I did work in Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) in the early 1970s, a few years before the GCSB was established in 1977. I was an officer in the NZ Army at the time.

In those days before New Zealand gained its own full service SIGINT organisation (GCSB) we were seconded to Australia where all of the processing of intercepted communications was done. New Zealand contributed some intercept and received whatever processed intelligence it needed. We were part of what was then called the UKUSA Agreement between the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is now called the “Five Eyes Agreement” in the media at least.

It was very secret at the time, The UKUSA Agreement was a secret agreement and the SIGINT organisations in the five partner nations did not officially exist. The first public expose of NSA and the UKUSA Agreement was in Ramparts magazine in August 1972 (“US Electronic Espionage: A Mermoir”). James Bamford wrote the first full expose in “Puzzle Palace” in 1982. Their existence and their collaboration is no longer a secret as it was then. Our participation by working in and with Australia is also no longer secret. In his book “Secret Power” Nicky Hager has documented all of that history.

My involvement was in the early 1970s. What was different then compared to now was the World War II generation. I was trained by them and worked for them.

In the NZ Army the WW2 generation was still in command. In the Parliament then, until about 1984, many of the members and some cabinet ministers were WW2 generation. In the SIGINT organisation we few New Zealanders worked for in Australia it was still headed by the WW2 generation.

That generation and their predecessors in the WW1 generation had fought alongside England, Canada, Australia and the USA against Germany, Italy and Japan to protect democracy against various forms of totalitarianism. They had fought to preserve representative democracy, the rule of law, and the hard fought freedoms and rights that had been gained through centuries of struggle to break the hegemony of kings and bishops. In two brutal world wars those men and women had watched tens of thousands of their comrades die on battlefields and in hospitals in Europe and in the Pacific. Many more of their comrades were injured, physically and mentally, some of them debilitated for life. Almost every New Zealand family had lost someone.

During the Cold War from the end of World War II until about 1991 New Zealand was a member of the allied bloc that opposed the totalitarianism of the USSR and China. That too was a struggle to preserve representative democracy, the rule of law, freedom and rights from the encroachment of undemocratic forms of government.

Regardless of what one now thinks in hindsight about those 20th century hot and cold wars and New Zealand’s part in them, they were a continuation on a global scale of a struggle for liberty that began in the 16th century in Europe during the Reformation. The Reformation was a struggle for religious liberty and was followed across the centuries by struggles for political liberty, freedoms and rights. The rights and freedoms now codified in United Nations conventions and in our own Bill of Rights resulted from the allied victory in WW2 and the determination to preserve on a global scale what countless thousands of men and women had fought and died for with huge sacrifice.

The men I worked for carried the remembrance of that sacrifice with them. They rarely spoke of it and then only to those they knew would understand how they thought and felt, such as a young army officer who was a veteran of another more recent war. But in their every action and decision they demonstrated their total dedication to the democracy and rights and freedoms they had fought to preserve. Those were the men who trained me in signals intelligence.

In the political sphere some like war veteran Sir Robert Muldoon went overboard in their pursuit of the imagined enemies of democracy. He often chose to see his political enemies as enemies of democracy but he was the exception rather than the rule. The officer who commanded him in WW2, Sir Jack Marshall, and other war veterans in his Cabinet were more measured in their defence of democracy. The men I worked for in signals intelligence were politically conservative like a great many of their generation and were staunch in their commitment to democracy.

In the signals intelligence organisations in my time we would never have contemplated conducting surveillance of our own citizens, regardless of the perceived or actual threat they posed to society. That was the work of other agencies and we never assisted them in that work. Never. It was strictly forbidden and that restriction was honoured absolutely. We certainly had the means but we never ever used them against our own.

With the passing of the WW2 generation the dedication to democracy, the rule of law, freedoms, rights and privacy is weakening. The remembrance of threats to the democracy fades with the passage of time since the last external threat. But it has always been the internal threat that has had the most potential to erode democracy. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance we were told by one of the founders of the modern liberal democracy. The external threats in the form of wars have served to remind us from time to time that democracy is indeed exceedingly fragile and is always vulnerable.

Perhaps the erosion of democracy from within is exemplified by the attitude of the Facebook generation to privacy. It doesn’t seem to understand that in undervaluing and relinquishing privacy in the pursuit of identity, recognition and sometimes fame and celebrity, that generation is opening up a crack in democracy. Waiting outside to exploit that vulnerability are anti-democratic forces.

Those anti-democratic forces are the law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies that have convinced politicians of the two major political blocs in New Zealand to enact a raft of anti-democratic legislation since 9/11. The Parliament itself whilst being the protector of democracy, a bulwark against attack, is at the same time the most serious threat to democracy. It and it alone has the power to erode democracy if it so chooses. And it has chosen to do so, most recently in the GCSB Bill.

The parliamentarians of today are the Facebook generation of politicians who have no personal memory of the heavy cost of democracy. In their psychological distance from World War II and from the World War II generation most of them have an increasingly cavalier attitude to democratic rights. They take democracy for granted. They navigate to the “Democracy” page, click on “Like”, then pass legislation allowing the spooks to trawl through everyone’s Facebook details.

The world of secrets and secrecy is cult-like. Only the initiated are admitted. The price of admission is recruitment and selection to the fold, positive vetting (PV) or clearance by the SIS and the “need to know”. The more you are allowed to know the more important you are in that exclusive club.

Secrets and secrecy can be seductive, beguiling, even bewitching. When you are privy to highly secret information (or at least to information classified as highly secret) you begin to feel part of a powerful elite, one of the chosen few. The higher your security clearance the more beguiling it is. Unless you are a hard bitten down-to-earth war veteran like my mentors it could even give you a feeling of omnipotence, a wide-eyed all-knowing omnipotence.

That applies to politicians inducted into that exclusive world of secrets and secrecy by reason of political ambition and electoral chance. Politicians get themselves inducted and seduced.

Politicians may know some secret stuff but they don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t know about security.

Security is a trade off and there is no such thing as absolute security. Our politicians would serve the nation best by reading Bruce Schneier on security instead of mouthing meaningless inanities about national security. Schneier is a former NSA insider and acknowledged expert on security. The Parliament is forcing a whole nation to trade off elements of its democratic rights and freedoms to attain the unattainable without having any real say in the matter.

Politicians don’t know that our individual rights and freedoms are not theirs or the Parliament’s to trade off.

They don’t seem to know or understand that in a matter as fundamental as democratic rights and freedoms those rights and freedoms are not politicians’ or Parliament’s rights and freedoms to trade off in the pursuit of national security. Although Parliament is sovereign in our form of democracy the democratic rights and freedoms remain with the people. They are individual rights and freedoms. It says so in the United Nations conventions and in our own Bill of Rights.

Democracy is also a trade off. What we as individuals in a liberal democracy need to understand is that if we value democracy then we have to accept some trade offs. We cannot have absolute security if we are to have liberty. Democracy like life is a risky business and to have either we must accept the risk. In life for instance we accept that risk every time we drive on the roads, or eat a cream cake, or bungy jump. To live democracy we must do the same.

As a society we are being led to believe that risk can be averted by increasing the powers of the law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies. The risk of terrorism and organized crime has been vastly over-hyped and overrated. Whilst there is certainly some risk it is nowhere near as grave as we are being told, and much less than a liberal democracy can accept and sustain in order to preserve that democracy.

Politicians don’t know that we don’t need to trade off too many democratic rights and freedoms in order to sustain democracy.

We just need to accept the risk. Perhaps as I enter into my eighth decade of life I just have a better appreciation and understanding of risk and acceptance. Life is a risk.

In strategy as in life I have come to appreciate simplicity and elegance. They are two of the most important tools in life’s toolbox.

An elegant outcome is the one achieved with precision, cleanly and simply. It is the one achieved by focusing on what you really want to achieve, not just on what you can achieve with all the tools available to you. Even if you own a shipyard why would you build a ship when all you wanted to do was cross a river, and when a sleek and elegant canoe would do the job.

The elegant outcome seems to have been achieved easily with a minimum of fuss and effort. The elegant outcome is the one achieved by cutting through ambiguity and skillfully negotiating a way through a rapidly changing environment. It is not achieved by taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

There are simpler and more elegant ways to preserve national security without population wide surveillance. They can be found through the application of wisdom and intellect. Just because we can now use the tools of technology to know everything about everyone doesn’t mean that we should.

Politicians don’t know that there are many more tools in the box but that the agencies have handed them a sledgehammer and convinced them that there are only sledgehammers in the box.

They don’t know because they are naïve and gullible in matters of national security; babes in the woods in that world of secrets and secrecy and security. They are gullible because they have had their minds focused for them on national security by the purveyors of secrets. What we really want is democracy and all that entails. We need purveyors of democracy in our parliament. The preservation and protection of democracy is paramount. Any consideration of national security must come firstly from within the greater of the two competing ideas; from a consideration of democracy.

Being the Facebook generation the politicians are far removed from all memory of the struggle to protect democracy. They don’t know democracy. Not in their hearts they don’t. Just go to the Facebook page “Democracy”, click on “Like”, feel good and leave it at that.

I read in the overseas media that some of the old hands in NSA, the US surveillance agency, have been quitting in disgust at the lip service now being paid to democracy by their new masters in the world of spooks. Like me they were brought up to believe in democracy and to absolutely respect the privacy of our own citizens. They can only express their disgust by walking. Some of the old hands are speaking out.

That’s how I feel too. Viscerally disgusted.

NZ Parliament: Abolish the Pakeha Seats

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E hoa ma, I meant abolish the General seats but the sub-editor thought he’d grab your attention by calling them Pakeha seats. But you know what we mean don’t you. You know, maybe they should be called Pakeha seats. We have Maori people in the Maori electorates but very few Generals in the general electorates.

You may think this piece of light-hearted prophesy a bit far fetched; porangi even. Perhaps it is. But I have found that most people imagine a future pretty much like the present. Most people including politicians and policymakers seem blind to the influence of demography; population statistics and projections, and how demography will have a huge influence on the future.

I wrote about demography a few years ago here.

Four Maori seats were established by the Maori Representation Act of 1867 to “provide better protection for the native race”. They were made permanent in 1876. The Electoral Act 1993 brought in a new system to expand the Maori seats depending on numbers enrolled as Maori.

In 1867 there were probably less than 250,000 Pakeha people in Aotearoa New Zealand (115,462 at the 1858 census, and 344.984 at the 1874 census). There is still much conjecture about the size of the Maori population at that time but it was probably much less than 50% of the total population. Whatever it was there were probably enough Maori to significantly influence elections if they were to vote in general electorates. It probably suited Pakeha at that time to marginalize the Maori vote into just four electorates.

The Maori vote remained marginalized in those four seats until 1993, and at the moment in seven seats.

The constitutional advisory panel is considering among other matters the place of the Maori seats in the constitution of New Zealand. The questions that have arisen so far include:

  • Whether to retain or abolish the Māori seats.
  • Whether to entrench the Māori seats, making them more difficult to change in the future.
  • Whether there are ways of ensuring Māori views are represented in the business of Parliament, to replace or to complement Māori seats.

As usual I think we’re asking the wrong questions.

As long as I can remember we’ve had calls for the Maori seats to be abolished. The most strident in recent times was in 2004 when Don Brash promised that a National government would remove the Maori seats. However the two majority parties usually respond that the seats will remain until Maori people no longer want them.

I reckon that Labour and National have always been quite happy to retain them for different reasons. Until recent decades Labour had a guaranteed four seats in Parliament, expanding gradually to seven seats. National on the other hand would have been quite happy for mainly Labour voting Maori to be marginalized into a few seats rather than let loose into the general seats. At the moment of course National is the main beneficiary of the Maori seats and is not inclined to upset the status quo.

But like Don Brash I think its time to abolish some seats. I think it’s time to abolish the general seats. Here’s how we do it.

Step 1

Declare all Pacific Islanders to be Maori and urge them to join the Maori roll.  We should have done that decades ago when our Pasifika cousins started migrating to Aotearoa in numbers. That is our tikanga (ki te manaaki, ki te awhi) but we let other considerations guide our response. We ought to have absorbed them instead of pushing them away to eventually form their own numerous hapu in the cities and to establish their own separate presence in all manner of cultural, social, economic and political affairs. But it’s not too late to put things right.

According to Statistics NZ the nation’s population is expected to reach 5,55 million by 2026. Within that are the following ethnic projections:

  • Maori:       810,000;
  • Pasifika:  480,000; and
  • Asia:        790,000
  • Maori + Pasifika:                1.29 million or 23.3%
  • Maori + Pasifika + Asia:     2.08 million or 37.5%

What is obvious from the statistics but not obvious in public discourse is that people of Asia-Pacific origin are rapidly increasing as a percentage of the total population. Those are just 12 year projections. In a further 25 years, by 2050, I imagine the ethnic and cultural composition might be very scary for some people. Maori+Pasifika will most likely be 50% or over. The scary thing for some is that Maori+Pasifika+Asia will definitely be over 50%, probably well over.

So, if we join with our Pasifika cousins now, and get everyone onto the Maori roll, we could by about 2026 have up to 16 Maori seats out of the 70 electorate seats in the parliament. That will grow over time and might be over 35 seats by 2050, or getting close to it

Step 2

Then around 2050, or whenever it is that Maori+Pasifika+Asia becomes the absolute majority, we generously invite all of our Pakeha countrymen to enrol as Maori so then we have a Maori+Pasifika+Pakeha majority.

Those numbers might translate into something like 63 Maori electorate and 7 general electorates. Now there might be quite a few who wouldn’t enrol as Maori but perhaps the thought of being part of the minority might panic them to choose to join Maori and Pasifika rather than being dominated by a Maori+Pasifika+Asia majority.

This could ungenerously be called the Brash Memorial Strategy.

Step 3

Then we would abolish the General seats and keep just 70 Maori seats. Now I know that some of you might say we should keep the Asians marginalized in the General Seats but that’s not fair.

With 70 Maori seats Governor Hobson’s premature declaration, “He iwi tahi tatau” (we are all one people) would finally come to pass.

Fiendish isn’t it. And if you think I’m porangi take another look at the population projections. That’s the main point of this story.


PS – I don’t believe that Hobson actually said that, “We are all one people”. I reckon he said, “Te Kiwi kotahi ahau – I’m the Number 1 Kiwi”. And that began New Zealanders’ strange habit of calling themselves “Kiwis” – kiwi birds instead of tangata persons. Silly aren’t they – those “Kiwis”.

Previous essays on the NZ Constitutional Conversation:
Does a constitution protect and promote democracy.
Let’s talk Democracy


Let's Talk Democracy

A Permanent Royal Commission on the Protection & Promotion of Democracy
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“I’m not ready to talk about the constitution. I want to talk about liberty, and freedom, and rights, and privacy, and participation. I want to talk about democracy”. – Te Putatara.

Our representatives in Parliament don’t talk much about democracy although I’m sure all of them profess to value it. But actions speak louder than words. Left to their own devices they have legislated and regulated to diminish democracy in the name of security and law enforcement. And for nearly thirty years the Parliament has meekly subscribed to the harsher anti-democratic aspects of the New Economy, pandering to the rich and to the corporates, granting more and more tax relief to those who can afford to pay (and usually don’t). Parliament has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the plight of the poor, both the working poor and the unemployed.

The organs of the Fourth Estate value the benefit they gain from democracy, their freedom of expression, but have stood by and uncritically watched and accepted the anti-democratic slide. Few media outlets, if any, have stood back from the 24-hour media cycle and critically analysed where it is all heading and what it means for democracy. They have abdicated their role in democracy, the reason they enjoy their freedom of expression, which is to act as the watchdog of democracy on behalf of us all. Now it seems the dog meekly watches only the interests and profits of the corporate proprietors.

We citizens have also abdicated our role in democracy through low voter turnouts and through our apathy and mute compliance. Politicians court our votes but rely on our apathy and mute compliance to pursue their own agendas, invariably these days the agendas of the elites.

“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it”. – Thomas Paine.

“But you must remember, my fellow-citizens, that eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty, and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing”. – Andrew Jackson.

These were men who were there at the birth of the modern liberal democracy and who knew the price that countless thousands had paid to achieve it. They knew its value and understood its fragility. In our terms democracy is a priceless and fragile taonga; hei kuru kahurangi. If we want to keep it in the whanau for generations to come then we must actively protect it, for it will surely be stolen from us.

“If a nation values anything more than its freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is if it is comfort and money that it values more, it will lose that too.” – Somerset Maugham.

“Democracy is a device that ensures that we shall be governed no better than we deserve”. – George Bernard Shaw.

So how do we exercise our vigilance, make our voices heard, and encourage others to speak up for their democratic rights and freedoms. How do we make ourselves as a nation deserving of good democratic government.

Reliance on parliament and the media, the first and fourth estates, hasn’t worked for us. Many or most liberal democracies have two estates or houses in parliament, the one to watch over the other. New Zealand’s upper house was abolished in 1950. However bi-cameral parliaments in other democracies haven’t been all that effective in modern times in protecting democracy from the avalanche of post 9/11 anti-democratic legislation, regulation and practice.

What did work for a time in New Zealand was a single dedicated constitutional lawyer in a position of power and influence in Cabinet. Sir Geoffrey Palmer was responsible for the Constitution Act, the New Zealand Bill of Rights, the Imperial Laws Application Act, and the State Sector Act. He was also responsible for establishing the Royal Commission on the Electoral System (1985-86). The Commission’s recommendation to adopt an MMP electoral system changed the face of politics and made the parliament more representative, less liable to capture by vested interests, and less vulnerable to extremism from both ends of the political spectrum.

Sir Geoffrey’s constitutional initiatives made us more democratic but did not put in place any mechanism to actively protect and promote democracy, to foster participation and vigilance. Even his Bill of Rights has not been able to put a brake on anti-democratic legislation. Something is still missing.

I start from the premise that despite present public opposition to the granting of increasing powers to the regulatory, law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies they will continue to exist and operate. The opposition is not widespread and in exercising democratic vigilance the public is still mostly mute and apathetic. I assume that over time those regulatory, law enforcement,  security and intelligence agencies will probably gain even more powers in direct proportion to the rate of development of communication and data storage technologies.

Given that somewhat cynical view of political reality what I think would best fill the gap is a Permanent Royal Commission on the Protection and Promotion of Democracy.

It would have some executive functions but none that would encroach upon the powers of the democratically elected government. It would act as watchdog on behalf of the people. It would be empowered to investigate, report and recommend. It would report and recommend to the people of New Zealand through the Governor General, who would of course refer its reports and recommendations to the Parliament. The Commission would however be legislatively required to make all of its reports and recommendations public, without exception. It would be empowered to refer matters to the relevant investigation and prosecution agencies if its own investigations uncovered unlawful activity. The Commission would also have the responsibility to consult, receive submissions and complaints, and to educate and promote.

Many of the components of a permanent Royal Commission are already permanently in place. What is needed in an umbrella structure with more standing to focus their myriad roles on the central purpose of all of them, the protection and promotion of democracy. Those that have a direct impact on democracy are:

  • The Ombudsmen
  • The Privacy Commissioner
  • The Human Rights Commission
  • The Law Commission
  • The Electoral Commission
  • The Local Government Commission
  • The Independent Police Conduct Authority
  • The Inspector General of Intelligence and Security
  • The Commissioner of Security Warrants
  • The Remuneration Authority
  • The Commerce Commission

The last of them raises some interesting issues. The regulation of commerce to curtail its excesses and any behaviour that is not in the best interests of the nation is a key function in a democracy. The free market does not mean that commerce is able to do whatever it wants to do in order to further its own interests. The freedoms and rights inherent in liberal democracy are the freedoms and rights of individual citizens and not the freedoms and rights of corporations. Therefore nothing that is done in commerce ought to impinge on those individual freedoms and rights. The regulation of commerce is essential in a democracy.

I would also add a new Commissioner of Warrants, which might be the same person as the present Commissioner of Security Warrants with expanded responsibilities.

The Commissioner of Warrants would receive requests for review from members of the public, or from their legal representatives, who wish to challenge the legality or reasonableness of any warrant obtained by any investigative or enforcement agency including the police. Given the recent history of unlawful warrants, and anecdotal evidence from within the judicial community of police laxity in obtaining warrants, there would undoubtedly be an initial heavy workload for the Commissioner of Warrants. However once the police and district courts realise that they should no longer pay lip service to the law concerning warrants the workload would decrease markedly. It might also encourage the Police Commissioner to pay more attention to his democratic responsibilities as far as warrants are concerned.

There would need to be new law concerning the swearing of affidavits to obtain warrants. Anyone, including police officers, who deliberately, negligently or incompetently swore false, inaccurate or misleading evidence would be liable to legal sanction including reprimand, dismissal, prosecution and imprisonment. The violation of citizens’ rights through the unlawful, negligent or incompetent use of warrants is a serious crime against democracy. It is not just the misdemeanor that police and politicians think it is.

And perhaps in there we might add a Commissioner for the Constitution.

Other agencies that have an impact on democracy and whose functions might be transferred to a Royal Commission include:

  • The Commissioner for the Environment
  • The Families Commission
  • The Children’s Commissioner
  • The Health & Disabilities Commissioner
  • The Retirement Commissioner

And so, hopefully, to a national conversation on democracy.

The Royal Commission would engage with the public on any and all issues concerning the protection and promotion of democracy, and would periodically report on that conversation. Engaging with the public is what Royal Commissions do well. Outstanding examples include the Royal Commission on the Electoral System and the Royal Commission on Social Policy in the 1980s. As a permanent royal commission it would not be under any time constraint as most other consultative bodies are. It would also have wide terms of reference to enable it and the public to explore all corners of democracy.

Engagement with the public to encourage and empower them to take up their democratic responsibility to participate and to exercise vigilance would take years, but years is what a permanent royal commission would have.

Right now I want to talk about liberty, and freedom, and rights, and privacy, and participation. I want to talk about democracy; and about a Permanent Royal Commission on the Protection & Promotion of Democracy.

Previously: The Constitutional Review & Democracy

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The Constitutional Review

putataraDoes a constitution protect and promote democracy?

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A constitutional advisory panel is considering a range of matters and seeking views and opinions regarding the New Zealand Constitution. The matters under consideration are electoral matters, Crown-Maori relationship matters, the Bill of Rights and whether there is a need for a written constitution. The unwritten New Zealand constitution has evolved organically based on British, New Zealand and United Nations convention, and piecemeal legislation. It has never really been ratified by gaining the informed consent of the people of New Zealand to the whole constitution as a complete body of convention and law.

This constitutional conversation is long overdue. But is it the most important conversation we should be having.

The foundations of the constitution are said by the panel to be the rule of law, representative democracy, responsible government, and the separation of powers. A written or unwritten constitution for a liberal democracy should indeed embody those ideas of democracy. But should we not have a conversation about democracy itself before the conversation about the constitution. Should we not explore what is that we require of our democracy before we consider how to define it or to enshrine it.

The basic idea of democracy is “majority rule” tempered by the need to protect the interests of minorities against what is sometimes called the “tyranny of the majority”. That idea underlies the system of electing representative governments and having checks and balances to ensure responsible government. The rule of law encompasses respect and protection for civil liberties and human rights, due process, and the freedom for civil society to organize to represent their own interests and to meet their own needs.

The modern liberal democracies of Europe, North America and Australasia arose out of five centuries of struggle for liberty and rights. The first step was the breaking of the hegemony of the church over the minds and lives of individuals, followed by the replacement of absolute monarchies by representative government and citizen participation. That alone took place over centuries and many hundreds of thousands of people died in the struggle. Advances following the achievement of freedom from church and kings included freedom from slavery, universal education, rights for working people, the enfranchisement of women and the codification of human rights.

The concept of rights has become the central organizing concept of those nations where constitutionality, democracy and the rule of law prevail. The seminal writings of theoretician John Locke (Two Treatises of Government, 1690) form the foundation principles underlying documents such as England’s Bill of Rights (1689), America’s Declaration of Independence (1776), France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789), the US Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution, 1791), the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and New Zealand’s Bill of Rights (1990).

The rights and freedoms we now enjoy as citizens equal in democracy are the rights and freedoms once enjoyed only by the aristocracy of 16th century Europe, and by the hereditary chiefs of 17th century Aotearoa. In that sense we are all now princes or chiefs, at least in the eyes of the law if not in practice.

Most people would be completely unaware of that 500 year struggle, or what life was like before democracy. Many Maori wrongly believe that traditional society before colonization was democratic and egalitarian. The reality for Maori was much the same harsh and often brutal existence as that experienced by Europeans before democracy. In ignorance and amnesia we consequently take our democratic freedoms and liberties for granted and value them less than we should. The World War II generation was perhaps the last to fully appreciate the fragility of democracy and to truly value it. Our modern politicians certainly do not, often treating the core tenets of democracy as inconvenient and as subservient to the needs of security and law enforcement.

Philosopher A.C.Grayling wrote, “A condition of genuine and effective democracy is a thoughtful and informed electorate, and one that actually bothers to vote” (2009, Ideas the Matter – a personal guide for the 21st century, Orion Books). He might have added “and one that actively protects and promotes the democracy it has”.

Which leads me to the central question of this essay, does a constitution written or unwritten guarantee the protection and promotion of democracy?

This question is especially pertinent in these post 9/11 times when in all of the modern liberal democracies including New Zealand there has been a marked erosion of liberty, freedom, privacy and rights in the form of anti-terrorism law, electronic crimes law, and search and surveillance law. This body of law has been adopted without an informed national discussion about democracy. Added to that have been the recent revelations about the previously unimaginable secret population-level electronic surveillance in some of those democracies; unimaginable in a true democracy that is. New Zealand is presently debating the granting of new surveillance powers to its own GCSB.

“An important feature of liberal democracy is that government should be transparent, because it is accountable to the people; the people cannot hold it to account unless they can see what it is doing”, (A.C.Grayling, 2007, Towards the Light – The Story of the Struggles for Liberty & Rights That Made the Modern West, Bloomsbury. London).

However we now rely on whistleblowers, criminal lawyers and a German entrepreneur to reveal to us some of what our supposedly accountable governments are up to. Widespread secrecy has crept upon us to become another organizing principle of democracy. The mantra of the new secretive democracy is “If you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to be afraid of” – except for a slow slide out of democracy, or at the flick of a switch, a very rapid slide.

All of the liberal democracies are constitutionally established with the UK and New Zealand the two with unwritten constitutions. Yet in none of those democracies has the constitution prevented the serious erosion of democracy by politicians, police, security and intelligence agencies and a compliant media. In none of those democracies has the electorate been sufficiently informed and concerned in sufficient numbers to challenge and perhaps halt the anti-democratic tendencies of the establishment.

In New Zealand in recent years we have learned of repeated instances of illegal warrants, illegal surveillance, illegal search and seizure, and illegal detention and arrest by the New Zealand Police. That has become a consistent assault on the democratic freedoms of the people by the police yet government has not taken measures to protect the democracy and has instead legislated to extend the powers of police. Through their actions as opposed to their rhetoric the New Zealand Police have openly become an anti-democratic force in society, and politicians seem to be encouraging rather than restraining.

It was Benjamin Franklin, one of the founders of the much vaunted American democracy, who said that “he who would trade liberty for some temporary security deserves neither” (or something similar).

Do we not urgently need as a society to begin a conversation about how much freedom we are willing to forego in the name of security and law enforcement, lest by default we lose more than we collectively agree, before we realise it.

Following the great depression of the 1930s and on into the post World War II era the government and people of New Zealand entered into an unwritten compact that defined our democracy for a time. That compact put the well being of the people at the centre of government policy, with full employment, universal education and healthcare, and a welfare safety net the means to the fulfillment of that policy. During that period the greed of the wealthy was constrained, and the need of the nation as a whole given priority. In the years immediately after 1984 that compact was discarded as part of a new economic paradigm. In the nearly thirty years since 1984 the gap between the wealthy and the rest has widened enormously to the point that a massive inequality of wealth now also defines our democracy.

New Zealand lies at 10th on the list of income inequality in developed countries, just behind Australia.

We are in the process of replacing the princes and chiefs of old with an aristocracy of the rich. They are served by a compliant political, bureaucratic, economic and corporate priesthood of the Church of the New Economy. In these modern times rather than using brute force they maintain their hegemony over the people and over their minds through political and corporate propaganda (public relations and advertising), and a shallow and compliant media. Those of us who have the means have become mindless consumers and smart phone addicts, apathetic slaves to the consumer economy, rather than active and vigilant participants in a democracy. Those who do not have the means remain out of sight and unheard, both politically and economically distant from participation in the supposed benefits of a democratic society.

Should not the economic direction of the nation and the division of national wealth also be part of the conversation about democracy for reasons of fairness and concern for all of our citizens. And surely the lesson of history is that the greater the inequality of wealth (and power) the greater the discontent and propensity for political upheaval. Is this not a matter of democracy rather than economy.

For those who think that I am being alarmist about these matters of government surveillance and secrecy, and economic inequality, witness what is happening around the world as people express their discontent about those and other matters. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Turkey, Brazil, Greece, the UK and many other places we have seen the trend towards mobilisation of the people through crowd media. The flash protest that is quickly organized through social media, and that sometimes escalates into a series of flash protests then violent confrontation, is becoming the primary means of citizen participation, given the deaf ear of governments.

The liberal democracies are not immune to this rapidly evolving trend. The Occupy movement in the liberal democracies was not a short lived aberration; it was just the beginning. It was a trial run if you will, as new ways of political participation and activism are developed around new ways of communicating. It can’t happen in New Zealand I hear you say. Well it did happen in the anti-apartheid anti-Muldoon civil uprising of 1981 and that was without the multiplying effect of social media.

Are the agencies of the Peeping Tom society routinely monitoring all social media and other electronic communication to detect terrorists, or is it to guard against civil activism and flash protest. In New Zealand we have ample proof that the police have placed civil activism high on their list of potential threats to society, or at least to the political and corporate elites, which is not quite the same thing.

I’m not ready to talk about the constitution. I want to talk about liberty, and freedom, and rights, and privacy, and participation. I want to talk about democracy.

Coming Next:
A proposal to protect and promote democracy.
NZ Parliament: Abolish the Pakeha Seats
The Treaty of Waitangi

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