Category Archives: In the News

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.

Fishing for Prawns – Maori TV & Mihi Forbes

After a recent allegation, aired in the media and provoking outrage on social media, that former Maori TV presenter Mihingarangi Forbes had without permission taken her employer provided wardrobe with her when she left the job, I penned a few words of disbelief about the whole controversy, including:

“The Indonesians have a pepeha “Ada udang dibelakang batu” which means literally “There’s a prawn behind the rock” or “There’s more to this than meets the eye“. And a long time ago, long long before TV and the Internet my grandmother taught me never to believe anything I read in the newspaper or heard on the radio, and to believe only half of what I saw and heard for myself. She might well have said don’t believe anything you read on Facebook or Twitter. Suspending judgement and waiting for the full story to reveal itself, sometimes digging for the full story myself, always works for me. I suspect there’s two sides to the real story and we haven’t heard either of them yet”.

“My advice to those who are upset by the allegation, even outraged, is to take a deep breath, to abide by the wisdom of my grandmother and don’t believe any of it; from either side. This wardrobe stuff is just a ripple on the surface of the pond. There’s a prawn behind the rock and we haven’t seen it yet”.

Thinking on it for a few days I decided to go fishing for prawns. It’s a small pond and it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a prawn behind a rock somewhere.

It all starts in 2013, I think, with the decision by former MTS CEO Jim Mather to move on. The media hints that his decision to seek new challenges might have been assisted by a difference of opinion with the chair of MTS, Hon Georgina te Heuheu. Whether or not that is the case he resigned and the board set about advertising for and appointing a replacement. Jim Mather had in his eight years as CEO stabilised the channel, installed sound management practices and built competent production and news teams. Maori TV was thriving.

Maori TV had also reached out to new audiences and it was reported from time to time that its Pakeha audiences at times outnumbered its Maori audiences. There has always been tension at Maori TV between those who would privilege its founding kaupapa of language retention and revival above all else, and those who would reach out to a broader audience; some of those with a more commercial bent. That tension has always been present at staff and board level. Under Jim Mather and his core team some saw Maori TV moving away from the original kaupapa, becoming “more Pakeha” even.

The truth of that position depends entirely on your own preferences and perceptions and not on any objective measurement. Maori TV is Maori TV still by Maori mostly for Maori regardless of its editorial direction. However perceptions are infinitely more powerful than substance. But whatever management and the public might think, it is the prerogative of the Board of Directors to set the strategic direction of the organisation including its editorial direction, without of course interfering in day to day editorial matters. Boards have that in mind when they select CEOs.

The Board of Directors set about the recruitment and appointment of a new CEO. There were quite a few applicants and four were shortlisted by a committee led by Deputy Chairperson Tahu Potiki. Chairperson Georgina te HeuHeu had, so it later transpired, declared a conflict of interest because of friendship with one of the leading applicants, and left the process to her deputy. The shortlisting of her friend Paora Maxwell, and the elimination of MTS executive Carol Hisrchfeld, kicked off a long running controversy in the media and in Parliament. Additionally in some quarters Maxwell was not a popular choice, especially among MTS staff.

The four on the shortlist were Paora Maxwell, Carol Hirschfeld, Richard Jefferies and Mike Rehu. After Hirschfeld and Rehu were eliminated it became obvious to most that Maxwell would get the job.

The only real contenders were Maxwell and Hirschfeld. Regardless of their likeability and professionalism they represented two entirely different philosophies regarding the future direction of Maori Television. It was those philosophies that clashed and broke out into a public controversy. The real issue of the future direction of Maori Television was never publicly canvassed and debated but was buried in the controversy that erupted about whether or not Georgina te Heuheu had acted improperly and promoted her friend onto the shortlist of four, into the shorter list of two, and then into the job.

In retrospect the MTS Board was making a controversial decision to change the direction of MTS as much as it was making a decision about who should lead it in that direction.

Some on the MTS Board did not agree with the decision. Ian Taylor resigned from the Board and it was reported that Rikirangi Gage had disagreed as well. But the real opposition came from MTS staff. And there is some evidence that the whole public controversy, in the media and in Parliament, was generated from within MTS itself. MTS staff organised a petition in opposition to Maxwell and it was reported that 68 of the 170 staff had signed it. Apparently it was never presented to the Board but mainstream media certainly knew about it. Someone was certainly feeding the media and stoking the controversy. The media also reported that Jim Mather had sent an email to Georgina te Heuheu warning her that if Maxwell was appointed several staff would resign.

Fuelled by leaks from within MTS it turned into a public controversy about Georgina te Heuheu’s (declared) conflict of interest and about accusations of editorial interference. The content of that public controversy was heavily influenced by MTS staff. The real issues were ignored.

The core staff that Mather had built into his news team and who were leading MTS in a certain direction were Carol Hirschfeld, Julian Wilcox, Annabelle Lee Harris and Joanna Mihingarangi Forbes. The media reported that Hirschfeld had presented a written proposal about the direction she thought MTS should take. It was obviously not accepted by the Board.

The media team had also been in a legal battle with Te Kohanga Reo National Trust (TKRNT) about its intention to air a Native Affairs programme alleging impropriety in TKTNT financial affairs. MTS won in court and the “scandal” went to air in two episodes. Lee Harris and Forbes were the public faces of that campaign. It caused considerable public controversy and some accused Native Affairs of becoming too Pakeha in attacking establishment figures in Te Ao Maori. The substance of the MTS allegations was later proven to be largely unfounded although based on minor impropriety within a subsidiary company. But the allegation against MTS about being too Pakeha was also way over the top.

Some saw it as an intergenerational thing with a stroppy young generation attacking and disrespecting their elders. I just saw it at the time as a group of journalists trying to make their mark but employing bad and biased journalistic practice. Their allegations were taken at face value and no-one bothered to look behind the story to the real story.

In my commentary on that controversy I found the journalistic professionalism of the Native Affairs team to be lacking.

However, that controversy was linked to the other controversy over the appointment of the new CEO with allegations of political interference and editorial interference. This is how it was reported in the NZ Herald on March 21st 2014:

“Native Affairs uncovered a scandal over mis-spending of Kohanga Reo funding, which led to the whitewash report from EY (Ernst & Young), commissioned by Education Minister Hekia Parata. Subsequently, the Government did a turnaround and asked for a Serious Fraud Office investigation, saying more information had come to light – though many failings had already been identified by the show.

“It was gutsy coverage and the Maori TV board has been troubled by this story. Sources say the board came under intense pressure from figures in the Maori establishment, unhappy with the allegations against high-profile Maori leaders.

“Supporters of Native Affairs and its assertive approach to the Kohanga Reo story are dismissive of the criticism, saying elements within Maoridom – including some on the Maori TV Board – are resisting modernity. In my opinion that is understandable, given the Herculean effort many people put in to get Maori TV established.

“Some people achieved that through activism, and those activists are now part of the establishment. They do not like the stroppy team at Maori TV who are not afraid to question authority and have their own definition of deferring to elders. The question now is whether the old school stomps on the new breed of Maori broadcaster”.

The real goings on in Te Ao Maori are more often than not quite nuanced and unstated, and often concealed behind the public manifestation of a disagreement or argument. More often than not journalists, politicians and commentators are easily misled and totally miss the nuance. So it was in this controversy.

Underneath it all this controversy was also about the cult of celebrity that now dominates mainstream media most noticeably mainstream TV. TV journalists/front persons and radio shock jocks (and some bloggers) build their visibility and salaries on celebrity and not always on journalistic substance. Two of the most successful in the celebrity stakes were the late Paul Holmes and the ever present John Campbell who did both bring substance to the screen as well as celebrity. There are now many minor celebrities of varying degrees of substance surfing the airwaves in their wake.

Maori Television was built from the beginning on an entirely different platform; a Te Reo revitalisation platform. At least four of the MTS Board members were long time proponents of and activists for that Te Reo platform. As Native Affairs developed under Jim Mather and his team Native Affairs became the face of MTS and MTS became more and more a platform for the minor celebrity of Ms Forbes. The Kohanga Reo story, apart from being poor journalism in that it concealed more than it revealed, did openly reveal Native Affairs as celebrity platform.

And that would have been the nail in the coffin for Native Affairs and those who had promoted it as the face of Maori Television. Intentional or not it directly challenged the primacy of the original platform or kaupapa based solely on Te Reo revitalisation, and would have directly challenged the governing philosophy of a majority on the MTS board.

“Political interference” and “editorial interference” became their war cry, shorthand obfuscation in the battle for control of the Maori Television kaupapa. They lost of course.

When Maxwell subsequently reorganised MTS and reorganised some of the senior staff out of a job it was portrayed as “political interference” and “editorial interference”. Given their fierce public opposition to his appointment and to the new direction the Board hired him to take, Maxwell was never going to retain Mather’s core news team. He would have been mad to try to work with them. Which is not a reflection on their competence but on their kaupapa.

I should point out that I don’t know Maxwell and have no opinion about his competence or suitability for the job.

It is his job to appoint staff who will implement the strategic direction of the Board and the CEO, then let them get on with it. It is his job to sideline or remove staff who might be opposed to that direction and to appoint staff who would implement that direction. The real underlying issues were the intrusion of the cult of celebrity, the amount of English language programming, and the future direction of MTS which is entirely the prerogative of the Board to decide.

Carol Hirschfeld, Julian Wilcox, Annabelle Lee Harris, Mihingarangi Forbes, Semiramis Holland and Jodi Ihaka all eventually moved on. They were replaced by Maramena Roderick, Ward Kamo, Billie-Jo Hohepa Ropiha, Matai Smith, Maiki Sherman, Rewa Harriman and Wena Harawira. And that should have been that. Just one team replaced by another with MTS heading off in a new direction. End of story.

Except of course for lingering personal animosities. In amongst that broader conflict over control of the MTS kaupapa some personal stuff developed. Given that the recent target of some of that animosity was Mihingarangi Forbes, and given that there are always two sides to a dispute, I would tend to believe a media report that it revolves around her and Maramena Roderick who replaced Carol Hirschfeld as head of news, and that neither side is blameless or free of conflicts of interest. An article in “Scout” on 13th April 2016 says in part:

“There is no love lost between Roderick and Forbes, who said she quit Maori Television last year amid concerns about editorial interference.

“Scout understands there is bitter bad blood between the two women, and Forbes had hoped she would get the role of news boss herself. Sources have said Mihi and her camp sought several OIA requests about Maramena’s appointment at the time”.

In the change of strategic and editorial direction Ms Forbes also lost her celebrity pulpit.

Whoever was responsible for airing the allegation about Forbes’ wardrobe was certainly stooping low; it was a low blow, way below the pito. On the other hand, whilst I accept completely that Ms Forbes did not steal or otherwise misappropriate her wardrobe, I am not at all convinced of her innocence in the unseemly dispute the tip of which became public in a most unfortunate manner this week. Whatever did she do or say to provoke such a low blow?

And whoever did decide to give it an airing the day before Ms Forbes new TV programme was to launch, in direct opposition to MTS’ Native Affairs, is an absolutely lousy strategist. It backfired badly and gave Forbes loads of sympathy and enormous free publicity. If Forbes were Machiavelli she might have organised the leak herself. Nah. She’s not that smart.

The Indonesians were right. I found a prawn behind a rock. I followed the smell and it was right off.

Maori Television, Mihingarangi Forbes & Her Wardrobe

Once again what seems to be a dispute between past and present executives and news staff at Maori Television hits the news. This time supposedly about an allegation that Ms Forbes misappropriated her employer provided wardrobe when she left MTS. See the news report here.

Most commentators are linking this revelation back to the Native Affairs series of exposes about Te Kohanga Reo National Trust (TKRNT) and its subsidiary Te Pataka Ohanga Ltd, commented on by Te Putatara here. The Twitterati and Facebook crowd have also linked the removal of several news executives and presenters from Maori TV to the same TKRNT episode, and have assumed an ongoing feud between them and MTS, caused by the Native Affairs team taking on the Maori Establishment.

It all seems too simple to me. One thing I’ve learnt from decades of Maori politics is that nothing is ever what it seems to be.

The Indonesians have a pepeha “Ada udang dibelakang batu” which means literally “There’s a prawn behind the rock” or “There’s more to this than meets the eye“. And a long time ago, long long before TV and the Internet my grandmother taught me never to believe anything I read in the newspaper or heard on the radio, and to believe only half of what I saw and heard for myself. She might well have said don’t believe anything you read on Facebook or Twitter. Suspending judgement and waiting for the full story to reveal itself, sometimes digging for the full story myself, always works for me. I suspect there’s two sides to the real story and we haven’t heard either of them yet.

What we’ve heard is what they want us to hear. What’s more important and ultimately far more interesting is what they don’t want us to hear.

But is it really important, this spat between a minor Maori celebrity and her supporters, and some unknown and therefore unimportant detractors, presumably associated with MTS?

My advice to those who are upset by the allegation, even outraged, is to take a deep breath, to abide by the wisdom of my grandmother and don’t believe any of it; from either side. This wardrobe stuff is just a ripple on the surface of the pond. There’s a prawn behind the rock and we haven’t seen it yet.

Silly Bugger Kiwi

A few days ago I watched a You Tube video of the 2015 Kea World Class New Zealander Awards where Helen Clark won the supreme award. Right from the beginning some of these “world class” New Zealanders were calling themselves “Kiwis”, over and over and over again. To me it sounded absolutely ridiculous. World class silly buggers more like it.

And at a wedding recently an Australian guest thought he had offended me when I told him I was a New Zealander, not a Kiwi. It was a conversation stopper but he was just being friendly. I suppose I ought to be kinder to Australians who don’t know better. New Zealanders though, world class or otherwise, deserve my opprobrium.

I’ve been doing it for years now. I do it all the time, regardless, just a gentle rebuke to those who compare me to a nocturnal, flightless and fat-arsed dumb little bird with a sticky beak. Or perhaps to an egg-shaped furry little greeny-brown fruit that used to be called a Chinese gooseberry back in the dark ages when I was a child.

I’m an oddity. One of a minority it seems who doesn’t appreciate being likened to a ridiculous bird, or to a minor ingredient in my breakfast smoothie (fruit, greenery, herbs, nuts, flaxseed oil, coconut yoghurt, spirulina, turmeric, ginger, lecithin, water and ice cubes – in case you’re interested). I’m a Maori vegan oddity as well. Or a vegan Maori oddity.

It’s probably the Maori heritage in me that gets me going on about being called Kiwi. I’m not so vegan that I object to being called Kiwi out of political correctness.

For me it’s about whakapapa or genealogy. You see, I’m tangata Maori, a Maori person. I’m not manu Maori, a Maori bird. Nowhere in my extensive whakapapa going back over thirty generations and across multiple lines into multiple hapu or tribes can I find a single bird let alone a kiwi bird. Try as I might, not one. There are a lot of distinguished rangatira or chiefs in that whakapapa and not one of them is a bird. Or even a foreign fruit. Strictly speaking my early ancestors were indeed foreigners who migrated here from Eastern Polynesia. But colloquially they would have been called coconuts perhaps, rather than Chinese gooseberries.

But I can see why most New Zealanders don’t mind being called Kiwi, and even describe themselves as Kiwi. It’s easy to understand. There’s a simple explanation. They’re silly buggers. New Zealanders are silly buggers. Except for me. And my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

On the other hand, in this highly urbanised society more and more divorced from the natural world where heaps of people don’t know that milk comes from a cow’s tit and bacon is pig’s bum, maybe they just don’t realise any more that a Kiwi is actually a flightless, nocturnal, fat-arsed and dumb little bird with a sticky beak. Mind you there seem to be a lot more fat-arsed dumb New Zealanders with sticky beaks around these days. Maybe the distinction between New Zealanders and Kiwis is not as great as when I was growing up and being taught the difference. Maybe there’s a genetic evolution in New Zealanders towards fat-arsed dumb bird-persons. I think I’d rather my descendants became intelligent fruit.

Nah. I agree with you. That’s all a bit far-fetched. I think I’ll stick with the silly bugger explanation.

Which sort of leads me to the inevitable conclusion that my forebears in the New Zealand military were silly buggers. Don’t get me wrong they were soldiers not bears, and there were a lot more than four of them (in case you’re getting confused) but they did originate this silly Kiwi stuff. In the Boer War and then in World War I a New Zealand regiment and then all New Zealand forces adopted the kiwi as their regimental then national logo.

Don’t ask me why. It defies logic. Who in their right mind would choose a nocturnal, flightless, fat-arsed and dumb little bird with a sticky beak to represent New Zealand’s finest? Some stupid bloody staff officer for sure. Or perhaps it just started as a joke in the workshops and a vehicle mechanic or a sign writer with a sense of humour painted a kiwi on the staff officer’s car. In these more liberal days it would be a likeness of the officer’s head shaped like another part of his anatomy.

Now I can vouch for the fact that military vehicle mechanics and sign writers have a sense of humour. All of the Australian vehicles in Vietnam had a small red kangaroo painted on the door. Overnight they all had white kiwis painted on them, mounted on the red kangaroo, in flagrante delicto. True story.

And you never know, that staff officer might have had style and a sense of humour himself. He might have turned a soldier’s mockery into a national symbol and had the last laugh. He’d still be laughing in his grave. Maybe the whole bloody New Zealand Expeditionary Force was in on the joke. Surely the flower of New Zealand’s manhood didn’t seriously compare themselves to nocturnal, flightless, fat-arsed and dumb little birds with sticky beaks. Or to a Chinese gooseberry.

Anyway, New Zealand soldiers used to be called Maorilanders, EnZedders, Fernleavers (after a badge they wore), Diggers and Pig Islanders, but by about 1917 they were being called Kiwis and were calling themselves Kiwis. The original silly buggers were our WW1 heroes. It didn’t take long to catch on and by the time the war ended in 1918 all New Zealand soldiers were being called Kiwis. I suppose it was better than Pig Islanders.

By the way did you notice that we used to be called “Diggers” too, until the Aussies stole it, like Pavlova and Phar Lap and Crowded House and Jo Bjelke-Petersen.

Then sports teams picked up on it and pretty soon all those silly New Zealanders were calling themselves Kiwis. Except for my grandfather, and my father, and me. In fact, growing up in Ngati Whatuiapiti I never once heard anyone refer to themselves as Kiwi. I guess we all knew we were tangata persons not manu birds. Either that or there were no silly buggers in Ngati Whatuiapiti. Which is stretching credulity a little. Believe me.

For me it’s about mana – dignity, self-respect, mutual respect, prestige even. In Ngati Whatuiapiti we all descend from our illustrious tipuna (ancestor) Te Whatuiapiti; the red-haired one who won many military and economic battles, regained the lands stolen from his father and grandfather, and held off marauders from the North trying to take them again, without doubt Hawke’s Bay’s most outstanding leader, warrior and statesman, ever. We bask in the inherited glow of his mana. None of us descend from Kiwi. Ours is mana tangata not mana manu. Ngati Kiwi is some other tribe, a tribe for silly buggers who think of themselves as nocturnal, flightless, fat-arsed dumb little birds with sticky beaks. Or Chinese gooseberries.

I didn’t get called Kiwi until I left school, took leave of Ngati Whatuiapiti, joined Ngati Tumatauenga (NZ Army), and went off to Australia for officer training. There we were called Kiwi and Pig Islander and a whole lot more besides, including “Shaky Islander” which I didn’t mind. We were also called “Sheepshagger” which I did mind of course, although I did quietly admire the sheer audacity of the pot calling the kettle black. The inventiveness of Australian nomenclature has never ceased to amaze me. Yet somehow they have avoided being called Kangaroos or Wallabies or Dingos or Wombats or Galahs or Cockatoos or Dingbats. Except for their sports teams and their politicians of course. “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” seems to satisfy their sense of nationality. “Oi, oi, oi” their finely tuned sense of the ridiculous.

Aussie. I suppose if I had to choose between “Newzie” and “Kiwi” I’d have to go with “Kiwi”, much as I hate to say it. “Newzie, Newzie, Newzie”? Nah. The bloody Australians would laugh us out of the stadium.

I served in the New Zealand Army for twenty years “Under the Kiwi” as it were. I have to admit it. I wore a hat badge with a kiwi on it for most of those twenty years, and I’ve still got my cravat that we wore when we deployed to Vietnam in 1967; a black cravat with a small white kiwi that I never wear any more, not for decades. And I’ve still got a very artistic kiwi lapel pin that I never wear any more, not for decades. I used to wear them once upon a while ago.

A sense of humour goes a long way in the military. A joke in the form of a nocturnal, flightless, fat-arsed dumb little bird with a sticky beak is the legacy of my military forebears.

What does it say about the Royal New Zealand Air Force that they still sport a kiwi in the middle of their RNZAF badge and in the middle of the roundels on their aircraft. Silly buggers. Or are they just perpetuating the joke. My beloved Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment still sports the kiwi in the badge. That’s OK though because they’re not silly buggers; they’re good jokers.

That’s all behind me now. But I suppose a film about my own life might be called “Once Were Silly Bugger”. Ah well. I’m definitely a New Zealander now; Ngati Whatuiapiti and New Zealander. I’ve returned to my roots and there ain’t no kiwi there. Just a few stray pukeko running across the road into the swamp.

So don’t you dare call me “Kiwi” you silly bugger you. Or “Pukeko”.

Whose side are we on in Iraq?

All you need to know about the chaos in the Middle East.

So. Whose side are we on in Iraq?

Well may you ask.

Let’s see. There’s Iraq (the Shi’a part) and we’re training the Iraqi army to fight ISIS which is sort of made up of other Iraqis (the Sunni part). Iran is also training and supplying the Iraqis (the Shi’a ones) so I suppose we’re on their side too. Except that Iran is supposed to be a rogue state and the declared enemy of two of America’s best friends, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

And President Obama has recently done a deal with Iran in spite of demands from the American Extreme Right for a war on Iran as well. So maybe Iran is now a friend.

We’re definitely on the side of the Shi’a part of Iraq and maybe some of their friends.

Syria, the bit still controlled by Bashar al Assad is the enemy too, except that our new friend Iran supports him because his part is the Shi’a part. There are other bits of Syria that we think are our friends but we don’t know who they are, and other bits that we think are our enemies but we don’t really know who they are either. ISIS is also in Syria and they’re definitely our enemy.

ISIS is really now a country of its own and is definitely our enemy until it isn’t, like when sometime in the future we need them to be our friends.

But they behead people!

Well so do our sheep eating Saudi friends. Maybe if we sold sheep to ISIS they’d be our friends too.

We wouldn’t do that would we?

Why not. Friendship has nothing to do with human rights. Trade trumps human rights every time.

Now in the north there’s Turkey and that’s a friend except that we don’t know which side Turkey is really on, except its own side. So we could be on Turkey’s side too.

And the Kurds. We’re on their side. But Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria and ISIS are all against them.

From Lebanon there is Hezbollah who are Shi’a supporting Bashar al Assad and are themselves supported by Iran. They’re sworn enemies of Israel so they are probably our enemies too.

The Saudis are on their own side, on our side, and probably on the side of some of the Sunnis involved in the chaos, including maybe ISIS. They’re definitely the sworn enemy of all the Shi’a. And they’re having their own little war with some Shi’a in Yemen. They just beheaded a Shi’a cleric and have set the place alight. Well their embassy in Tehran for starters.

Russia is in there too supporting Bashar al Assad so it might be an enemy except that none of us is game enough to say so except for Turkey when they shot down a Russian fighter plane.

Jordon is keeping its head down.

Israel is studiously keeping out of it (well maybe, and maybe not, you never can tell what they’re up to). For the moment they’re mainly just killing Palestinians and stealing their lands.

Egypt has kept out of it and has a peace treaty with Israel. The basis of that treaty might be a promise by Israel to nuke Egypt back into the dark ages if it tries to invade Israel again.

Libya fell apart after its own version of an Arab Spring and doesn’t look a threat to anyone for the moment.

So, whose side are we on?

That’s easy. America.

But, whose side is America on?


Let’s ask some different questions.

Why did America invade Iraq in 2003 and cause all of this chaos?

Good question. It definitely wasn’t for the reasons they gave at the time.

Well who benefits from all of this chaos, from the degradation and weakening of all of these countries?

Another good question.

Well then, who benefits from the fragmentation of all of Israel’s neighbours? Lebanon, Syria and Iraq?

Ah. I see where you’re going. Israel I suppose.

So who propelled America into Iraq in 2003 causing all of this fragmentation?

Well it wasn’t George W. Bush. It was Vice President Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the neo conservatives who drove that policy agenda. The Neo-cons. They wanted to invade Iran next.

Neo-cons? Who are they?

Ah. Good question. They’re ardent and committed American Zionists, all of them.

So whose side are we on?


And whose side is America on?

Um. Israel?

And who is New Zealand’s leading politician of Jewish descent?

Um. Prime Minister John Key?

Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

The genesis of a bogus free trade agreement

This TPP agreement has its origins in and after World War II. The war realigned global power relationships and those new relationships persist into these times, seventy years later.

The war marked the end of the old European empires and the beginning of the American Empire. In rapid succession in our region the Philippines gained independence from the USA, Indonesia from the Dutch, Indochina from the French and India, the present Malaysian states and Singapore from the British. Africa decolonised.

British influence worldwide was much reduced and by the end of the war Britain was hugely in debt to the USA for loans it had used to fund its war effort. The debt wasn’t paid off until the time of Prime Minister Tony Blair. Britain was firmly locked into the American Empire while pretending to still be an independent world power.

In the Anglo-American world the USA, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand entered into a number of parallel military and intelligence agreements signifying that the USA was now the undisputed leader of that world. These included the Signals Intelligence UKUSA Agreement now known as the Five Eyes Agreement, the ABCA which was a military standardisation agreement, and others.

The USA led in the Cold War against the USSR and China. That gave rise to other military agreements such as SEATO or the Manila Pact, signed in 1954 and designed to prevent the fall of domino states in Asia into the Communist sphere of influence. SEATO included the old colonial powers in the region, Britain and France. ANZUS, signed in 1951, was the US, Australian and New Zealand security pact. NATO signed much earlier in 1949 became the USA-led military relationship in Europe. The USA was the dominant partner in all of them.

Throughout the Cold War the USA was also trying to bring the former European colonies under its own umbrella. For instance with the rise of President Suharto and the Indonesian military after 1965 Indonesia fell into the American sphere of geopolitical, military and economic influence. Malaysia and Singapore remained aligned through Britain and their membership of the Commonwealth. The Philippines remained allied to the USA. India and Vietnam were two that got away.

US economic dominance went unchallenged, even by the behemoth that was the Russian Empire – the USSR. Japan became a major world economy within the ambit of US influence.  As other Asian economies such as South Korea and Taiwan developed they too aligned with the US. The US also embarked with mixed success on numerous covert operations in Central and South America to lock those countries into the new American Empire.

It was an undeclared American Empire and it effectively ruled the world until China adopted state capitalism and embarked on its rapid rise as an economic powerhouse. China now challenges the might of the Anglo / European / American economic bloc.

What has changed in recent times is the ability of the USA to project its military power across the globe. It still dominates the oceans, the air and space but it no longer has the ability to dominate on land, or indeed in the South China Sea. That started with the American defeat in Vietnam but was driven home by the recent defeats in the Middle East and Afghanistan. They are not acknowledged as military defeats but they are. The USA won some battles where it could concentrate and focus its military power but it has lost the wars it started.

America’s economy still dominates, for the moment.

From World War II onwards America’s corporate might has increased inexorably and in recent decades has spread its grasp over the whole globe; globalisation. In the 2008 Global Financial Crisis caused by corporates, the corporates were still the main beneficiaries of the recovery process through massive financial bailouts. Corporates have taken control of the US political process with the billionaire Koch brothers preparing to pour over a billion into the next elections. Both main political parties are beholden to their corporate donors.

Hollywood is trying to restore its dominance in entertainment through its political connections. Jeremy Malcolm writing at the Electronic Frontier Foundation has stated that in relation to the IP provisions in the TPPA the US Trade Representative is “utterly captured by Hollywood“. The drug companies are involved in negotiating the TPPA to their own benefit, as are many others. Corporates now go to war with the military, performing many logistic and even operational functions.

The USA has become a corporatist state in which corporations now have more power and influence than citizens (who are now called taxpayers) in both domestic and foreign affairs.

The rise of the corporatist state has been greatly assisted in recent times by judicial decisions in the United States, beginning over 100 years ago, in which corporations have been granted increasing corporate personhood and the ability to assume the rights of individual persons. This has been disputed, the argument against revolving around whether or not corporations qualify as “persons” under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Even though the original decision extending corporate personhood was highly questionable (Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 118 U.S. 394 (1886)) the precedent was set, is now fait accompli, and corporations are making increasing use of their “personhood”.

That American notion of corporate personhood is embodied in the TPPA and is behind much of the agreement including one of its contentious elements allowing corporations to sue sovereign governments.

Having lost its total military dominance and become a corporatist state, and facing the possibility of China becoming the premier world economic and therefore military superpower, America has few options. Its last weapon in the geopolitical power struggle with China is its corporate power.

And that is what the TPPA is about. The projection of American power through corporate power and through building that corporate power in “free trade” agreements that have nothing to do with free trade.

The choice for New Zealand is not about how much NZ will benfit from “free trade”. The choice is geopolitical and about sovereignty. Should NZ remain within the American sphere of influence? And what should the terms of that relationship be? Should New Zealand allow itself to become subject to American corporate rule? And what should be NZs relationship with its present major trading and investment partner China.

New Zealand’s political and business elites have made choices for us in secrecy without any democratic debate, and disguised it within their free trade rhetoric.

Regardless of whether we should or should not be part of TTPA we should first debate its real purpose. It seems that democracy is only about the small stuff.

So why is the USA now making a few concessions on trade when for decades it has maintained high trade barriers against its allies, and why were the negotiations so hard fought? Because it needs to lock 40% of the global economy into its geopolitical strategy at the least cost to its own economy.

The primary consideration in all geopolitical relationships is, and has always been, self interest. Since the end of World War II the primary beneficiary of all partnership agreements with the USA has been the USA.

Now, if you doubt my hypothesis about the USA’s grand geopolitical strategy through the medium of trade agreements consider this:

  • the TPPA includes USA, Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam (40% of the global economy); plus
  • the USA has existing agreements mostly concluded in the 2000’s with Israel, Canada, Mexico, Jordan, Australia, Chile, Singapore, Bahrain, Morocco, Oman, Peru, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Columbia and South Korea;
  • the USA is negotiating agreements with the European Union, Indonesia, Ghana, Kenya, Kuwait, Mauritius, Mozambique, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Ecuador and Qatar;
  • the agreement being negotiated between the USA and the European Union is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). It is the equivalent of the TTPA; and
  • the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), still in negotiation and involving 50 countries, covers about 70% of the global services economy. Its aim is privatizing the worldwide trade of services such as banking, healthcare and transport.

The big BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China) are missing of course but are being counter-balanced if not surrounded by the USA “free trade” strategy. Of course the BRIC economies are also agressively pursuing their own “free trade” strategies with many if not all of the same countries as the USA.

It’s like the nuclear arms race of the Cold War only its now a “free trade” race that we might come to know as the Trade Cold War. Trade wars have long been the genesis of empires.

The European empires lasted from the 15th Century to the 20th Century and used chartered trading companies in the vanguard of the colonisation of the known world. There were scores of them including British East India Company, British East Africa Company, British North Borneo Company, British South Africa Company, New Zealand Company, South Australian Company, South Sea Company, French East India Company, Dutch East India Company and Dutch West India Company. Portuguese chartered companies included Companhia de Mozambique and Companhia de Niassa. The chartered companies controlled the global economy.

The nascent American Empire of the 21st Century  has simply borrowed and adapted an old idea to its own geopolitical strategy as it paves the way, through multiple bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, for its transnational corporations to control the global economy. This time around they are sovereign unto themselves.

Film Review: The Price of Peace, Taame Iti & Operation 8

Read the complete analysis of alleged Maori terrorism in the Urewera

Director Kim Webby

The NZ Film Festival billed this film as an in-depth profile of Taame Iti and that it is not. But it is nevertheless a powerful and moving film about a defining chapter in his life and I do highly recommend it.

It is the story of Taame’s arrest on 15th October 2007 accused of terrorism, his subsequent trial in 2012 along with three others, and of events surrounding and subsequent to the arrest and trial. The film does traverse some of his life from his infancy and schooling in the Urewera, leaving home to become an apprenticed tradesman in Christchurch, and on into later life as an activist and Ngai Tuhoe nationalist.

Taame himself told me after he had viewed the film that it did not capture the essence of who he is; nor have any of the tens of thousands of words written about him over the years, or the many documentaries and TV news items made about him. That in-depth profile, one that does show who he really is, is yet to be made. He has plans afoot to ensure that it will be made.

As well as Taame’s story it also recounts the history of the blighted relationship between Ngai Tuhoe and the Crown, and documents the settlement Ngai Tuhoe has recently reached with the Crown. The two separate but closely related stories were unfolding in parallel as the film was made. Both stories are told in historical and contemporary contexts. On film Tamati Kruger relates that he and Taame agreed at the time that the events of the long drawn out court process would not be allowed to affect the settlement negotiations with the Crown. In the film however the two strands are interwoven, the one a reflection of the other.

A personal aside. I found a comment by Taame in the film quite amusing. It was in relation to the activists, mainly Wellington based, who came to the Urewera in 2006/2007 to support the Ngai Tuhoe cause and to attend the weekend “Rama” or wananga he was running, called military training camps by the Police. When I interviewed Taame recently he spoke quite fondly of the activists and of the pleasure he obtained from exchanging ideas with them. In the film he referred to them as “anarchists, vegetarians and fundamentalists” which may not exactly please them but I’m sure was not meant to offend. The funny bit is that I’m a vegan myself and before I interviewed him Taame shouted me a delicious vegan salad for lunch. I wonder if he lumps me in with the fundamentalists! I suppose in his eyes I might be a hard core dietary fundamentalist.

I like Taame Iti. He has a unique way of looking at the world and at events. He has an interesting and creative mind and is never boring. He presents ideas through artistic or theatrical metaphor and symbolism although he can be verbally adroit as well. It is reminiscent of old time Maori use of metaphor and symbolism in everyday speech as well as in formal oratory, through voice, movement and gesture; a style now largely lost to antiquity. His style shines through in the film if you can move beyond the preconceptions almost everyone has about him.

Part of Tamati Kruger’s evidence during the trial was shown. I was in court in 2012 when Tamati was in the witness box and I remember it well. In his evidence for the defence he explained that Taame was a leader among many leaders in Tuhoe and that his role was to explain the Tuhoe viewpoint. In doing so he often made people uncomfortable. In fact he often made Tuhoe people uncomfortable and he often made Tamati Kruger uncomfortable as well. I thought it was a great moment in the film. Perhaps because I like the way Taame Iti makes people uncomfortable. In my own way I try to do the same I suppose, without the theatricality.

In 2006 and 2007 he obviously made the Police and Helen Clark uncomfortable too.

At the screening I saw at Sky City Theatre in Auckland on Wednesday 22nd July 2015 the theatre was about three-quarters full. Kim Webby spoke briefly afterwards. She acknowledged her upbringing at Opotiki and her closeness to Ngai Tuhoe, and that her mentors in matters Tuhoe have been Tamati Kruger and Taame Iti. She also acknowledges that this film is intended to present a Tuhoe perspective. That does not detract at all from the quality of the film.

The earlier screening of the film on Sunday 19th July attracted a sell-out audience including, I am reliably informed,  the 2012 trial judge Justice Rodney Hansen and his wife. Taame Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Tamati Kruger and Taame’s trial lawyer Russell Fairbrother were also present.

In relation to Taame’s story there are other scenes from the trial in 2012 including the reading of the charges at the beginning, and at the end of the trial the haka led by Taame after Justice Hansen sentenced him and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara to two and a half years in prison on various arms charges after the jury had not been able to reach a verdict on criminal group charges. Urs Signer and Emily Bailey were not sentenced at that time and later received nine months’ home detention. The criminal group charge that the jury could not agree on had been substituted for the terrorism charges that the Solicitor General would not allow in 2007. Justice Hansen in his summing up, partly shown in the film, clearly believed the evidence presented to support that main charge, and gave great weight to that evidence when sentencing on the lesser arms charges. He believed that the activity in the Urewera was evidence of an “armed militia” intended to be used as “Plan B” if “Plan A”, the Tuhoe settlement negotiations, failed.

The film crew followed Taame during the trial and captured his thoughts and feelings as the trial unfolded. There were many thoughtful moments and some quite humorous. Throughout it all, and afterwards, Taame steadfastly maintained his innocence. The film did not delve into the evidence at all, other than to show parts of it as it was presented to the court.

I have been analysing the police intelligence operation for over three years now, and based on information I have been able to unearth and on interviews with some of the participants in the wananga including Taame Iti, I believe that he was innocent. I will be writing more about that in future essays. The film however does not show any evidence to support Taame’s assertion of innocence.

Intertwined with Taame’s travails was the history behind the Ngai Tuhoe claim against the Crown and the progress of that claim. The film concluded with apologies made in both of those strands.

Firstly there were apologies made by Police Commissioner Bush to the whanau affected by the police paramilitary operation on 15th October 2007, to the Ruatoki community and to Ngai Tuhoe. His welcome to Taame Iti’s home and his apology to Taame’s whanau was shown in full. The response of Maria Steen, Taame’s partner and a victim of the operation, was deeply moving. The Commissioner’s apology seemed to be heart felt and genuine. However it must be noted that no-one has yet been held to account for police behaviour on that day. During this scene in the Iti home Taame told Police Commissioner Mike Bush that if the Police had wanted to know what he was doing they could have simply knocked on his door.

Commissioner Bush later made it clear that he was not apologising for the arrests and that he believed the police were right to bring the charges against Taame and his co-accused.

The second apology was the official apology made by Treaty Minister Christopher Finlayson on behalf of the Crown as part of the settlement that was eventually reached. In that settlement Ngai Tuhoe effectively gained a measure of autonomy over Te Urewera after battling the Crown for generations. The denouement of the film came in the juxtaposition of those two separate apologies.

This was a powerful and moving telling of the two stories told as much through the feelings and emotions of the participants as through the facts of the events. It led us through the anger and the grief, through the prolonged physical and psychological resistance and the resilience of Ngai Tuhoe, to a touch of optimism after the settlement and a ray of hope for a different and perhaps a better future for Ngai Tuhoe people.

Taame seems content to focus now on his art and his art gallery in Taneatua as he contemplates life after the struggles. When I met with him he seemed at peace, accepting of the price he has personally paid.

“The Price of Peace”

Director: Kim Webby
Producers: Christina Milligan, Roger Grant & Kim Webby
Photography: Jos Wheeler
Editor: Cushla Dillon
Music: Joel Haines

“Price of Peace” on Facebook

Links: The Operation 8 Series

Government is Hiding the Truth Behind the Serco Debate

The State Operated Prisons are the Real Problem

The View from the Inside by Guest Blogger Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara

On 15th October 2007 I was one of the eighteen political activists arrested in the Urewera Terrorism Raids, or Operation 8. While waiting for the laying of terrorism charges, we were detained in various remand prisons around the country. Some of us spent up to 28 days inside before being released on bail awaiting trial.

Four of us, the so called Urewera Four, eventually went to trial. Taame Iti and I were convicted and sentenced to 2 years and 6 months in prison, while Emily Bailey and Urs Signer were sentenced to 9 months home detention.  On the grounds of exceptional behaviour Taame and I were both released after serving about ten months. I spent that ten months in the state run Spring Hill Corrections Facility while Taame was shifted to Waikeria Prison.

What I want to discuss here is my experience in Spring Hill and to some extent in the remand prisons in relation to the current public outcry about the standard of the Serco private run prison because the Serco debate is diverting attention from the atrocious standard of management in state run prisons.

Firstly some terminology

For the sake of this discussion, I will refer to the Mt Eden prison as Auckland Central Remand Centre (ACRP or A-Crap as it was known to us), and the privately operated Mt Eden Prison as Mount Eden Corrections Facility (MECF). I spent about three weeks in each of these prisons, not long, about six weeks in total, but long enough to see what was going on.

A Remand Prison is a prison where either people awaiting trial, or convicted and awaiting sentencing are held.

Sentenced Prison – once sentencing is completed, remand prisoners are sent off to any one of this country’s dozen or so prisons to begin their sentence. I spent ten months in one of these prisons called Spring Hill at the northern side of Waikato.

Prison Violence

Prior to my time in prison, I held a some views on the role of prisons, and on prison reform. Many of these views remain, but a few have changed – smashed and discarded due to my experience as a guest of the state.

  • Prisons are the way they are because the public is largely uninvolved, and is not actually interested in what goes on inside.
  • Most of the general public don’t actually care about what happens to prisoners – they get what they deserve … unless violence is put in the public face, as in the recent Serco revelations.
  • The Justice System is determined by politicians who are keener to get re-elected than fixing up a dysfunctional prison system.
  • Many of the groups that do engage with the Justice System to advocate for adjustments to the way prisons are run, are often self-serving and/or ideologically driven (i.e. Sensible Sentencing)

Prison violence has been around ever since there was a) violence, and b) prisons. These are the sources of violence that were observable during my time inside (from least to worst):

  1. Gang recruitment and on-going training (UV)
  2. Prison justice (UV)
  3. Understaffing (AV)
  4. Overcrowding (AV)

I also separate these into two categories in terms of what I believe prisons can do to stop violence – (AV) avoidable violence and (UV) unavoidable violence.

Unavoidable Violence. So for example, while there are ways for a society to mitigate the conditions that cause the proliferation of gangs and the black economy, for example through a fairer society and by undoing some of the prohibitions, these things cannot be solved by a prison system, so they constitute unavoidable violence (UV).

Gang Recruitment and on-going training (UV)

People might be surprised that I list this as the least of the sources of violence.  Firstly it is unavoidable violence that comes part and parcel with the society that generated the disparities that lead to the emergence and propagation of gangs.

While societies continue to create the conditions for street gangs, prisons will only perpetuate their longevity and ongoing recruitment. I saw this with my own eyes, to some extent in ACRP/MECF and in full bloom in Spring Hill Corrections Facility (SHCF).

In order for gangs to survive the onslaught of targeted policing decimating their numbers at large, they use your prison system and your tax money to recruit and train the next intake of manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and security (foot soldiers). The gangs regenerate themselves inside the prisons.

Whether by organised fight clubs to train foot soldiers to do the muscle work, or the more common method of one on one mentoring, your tax dollar is being put to good use by gangs for their objectives. Corrections in its history in this country has never been able to prevent this from occurring, whether under National or Labour, in either private or state run prisons.

This type of daily violence is what I would call Jail.

In prison it is normal, and works in some totally fucked way to make prison very uncomfortable for many, discouraging them from ever wanting to be there again. While I am not advocating for it, this is certainly one of the residuals from this constant level of physical biffo that goes on daily.

In most instances though, gang violence via recruiting and training was isolated to potential gang members, and to hardening the psyche of their current members while awaiting their inevitable release.

Prison Justice

People joke about it all the time. Yunno, ‘ha ha ha don’t slip on the soap’, in reference to the general public’s view of what is prison justice, i.e how easy it is to get raped in prison. But prison justice is a real component of all prisons around the world. And prison justice is no laughing matter. Prison justice = violence.

In this country it shows itself in that almost all child molesters end up in the segregated wings (Segs). As soon as it becomes known that someone is incarcerated for child related crimes, they are summarily beaten and that gives them grounds to complain and therefore be reassigned to Segs.

The general public are in two groups on this issue: Group 1 – those who have no clue and don’t really care anyway, and Group 2 – those that know and think it’s acceptable. So to some extent society tolerates prison violence. I myself also tolerated this without question when I saw it in prison.

Other ways prison justice is meted out though are not so palatable.

Prisoners who rat out one another or take a deal in some form or other, are also given the same treatment. Prisons actively encourage narking, so this form of violence is very common.

There is a third type of prison justice, and it is not well known until you have seen it or experienced it with your own eyes, and that is if a prisoner is rich, they will be tapped in every way shape or form for their resources. For the rich this is of course not justice, but to poorer prisoners who have no financial support outside of prison this is their form of prison justice to get one back on rich pricks.

Under staffing

Contrary to the popular misconception prison guards, or ‘Screws’ as they are known inside, cannot be everywhere all the time. This easily allows for what people saw in the so called ‘fight club’ videos that made sensational headlines in recent news.

These mock and semi controlled fights are usually over and done in a matter of minutes, the time it takes for the screws to do their rounds and come back around again. Sure some of the screws turn a blind eye, but mostly it’s just vigilant prisoners who learn the routines of these under staffed prisons.

Spring Hill prison is chronically understaffed by comparison to ACRP & MECF at Mt Eden, by a country mile!

This is in part due to overcrowding of prisons intended to have x amount of staff per y amount of prisoners. Most of the under staffing related violence rears its head during school holiday periods when prison staffing run at a skeleton level.

The only way Spring Hill prison coped with this during my time there was to employ long lockdown hours when staffing levels were low. In many wings this meant 23 hours a day locked down, and one hour outside. For lower security units this meant 20 hours locked down and 4 hours outside. Adding to the stress of these long lockdowns are the number one cause of violence in Spring Hill, and that being the following…


Spring Hill Corrections Facility was built by the Labour Government and completed in 2007 to house 650 sentenced prisoners. Its initial focus was on Pacific Island prisoners, hence it has a Pacific Island focus unit called Vaka, and a Pacific Island church.

With the change of the incoming National government in 2008, the government then embarked on putting more people in prison, 1000’s more than they had bed spaces for. The then Minister of Justice Judith Collins concocted this grand idea of replacing the single bed cells in Spring Hill (and other prisons to some extent) with bunk beds. I bet Collins thought this was a clever cost saving idea, but it however led to a massive and fatal rise in violence. Every prisoner I ever spoke to pointed without hesitation directly back to that one event as the principle catalyst – deliberate over crowding.

Spring Hill now has 1050 prisoners inside cells in facilities designed to be uncomfortable for 650 prisoners. This results directly in a new level of violence that is not isolated to the world of gangs and their training regime. Everyone is susceptible to the violence that ensues from Collins’ intentional overcrowding.

Whether waiting for the one unit telephone, or microwaves, or the two unit washing machines, the result is a daily high level of anxiety that is far above and beyond the intended stress levels prisoners were meant to be under while incarcerated. After weeks of these extended lockdowns, Spring Hill turns into a sort of war zone that makes those so called fight club videos look like child’s play.

In fact, for me, both Serco’s ACRP and MECF were holiday camps compared to the violence I saw daily in Spring Hill.

You have one hour outside, there are 88 of you in a unit, you have a pile of clothes that need washing, there’s two washing machines, which some of the time, at least one of them is broken. There are usually about 1 or 2 working microwaves if you want to cook some soup or porridge, and there is a single telephone for you to call loved ones. The 88 of you have one hour to bang your way to the front of the line to get your washing done.

Sound like fun?

Then once that one hour is over, you are back in your cell with another grown man for the next 23 hours, eating, showering and shitting together (the toilet is in your cell). This is the cause of the other overcrowding related violence where prisoners just get sick of seeing each other’s faces for 20-23 hours a day, and after a week or so of this even the best of mates are ready to scratch each other’s eyes out.

Further exacerbating this are weather conditions.

Spring Hill cells are not insulated and are mostly what you would call outside cells. So in winter temperatures drop to zero in cells overnight, and rise above 30 degrees during the day, over 40 degrees if the prison is on lockdown with 2 persons in a cell.

The air intake in each cell and air extraction were designed for a single prisoner in a cell where most of the daytime they would be outside. During summer’s long lockdowns we would be clawing at the air intake for fresh cooler air until temperatures dropped to a sleepable level at about 2am in the morning.

Winter was just as bad where the only place you could keep warm was on the floor in cells where the floor warmers actually worked. About half didn’t work so huddling under layers of clothes and blankets was the order of the day.

Overcrowding is also the cause of a lot of the medical mistreatment in Spring Hill. The medical centres are under staffed and struggling to cope with the extra 400 prisoners. Added to this is an attitude amongst some of the medical staff that providing crap medical is part of your punishment. This attitude extends to doctors as well who if they tried to pull that shit anywhere else would be had up for malpractice.

Medical do not attribute the stress they encounter in prisoners to overcrowding, but instead become immune to it, showing no concern for prisoners who sometimes have to wait for up to 3 months before receiving medical assistance. This leads to prisoners with preventable health issues ending up in hospitals with chronic health issues.

One such case was a young man in my unit who had breathing issues. His cell mate pressed the emergency button at about 2am to report this, and medical staff arrived at about 7am (as in, when they start in the morning) to find him in very bad shape.  He was taken away, like the others, in an ambulance.

He spent a few weeks in hospital then back into high risk/admin then back to our unit. The prison knew there had been a fuck up with him, so to buy his silence they offered him a room in the prison’s self-care unit. He took the deal, not realising that this broke an unspoken prison rule about taking prison deals. Prison justice kicked in and he was summarily beaten black and blue in self-care.

This is how overcrowding turned a simple asthma attack into black eyes and broken ribs. This was not the only case like this.

Life in these double bunked prison cells was so shit that some preferred to spend as much time as they could in the prison’s solitary confinement unit, or ‘The Pound’ as it is called, not because the pound is an easy place to spend your time, but rather because at least there during the long lock downs around the prison, you could have your own room, and did not have to endure the shit soaked air of another person’s excrement.

Now consider the conditions for which a prisoner is sent to the pound, this usually entails committing a serious violent action. Bash up a prisoner, knock out a screw, any form of violence will get you a spot in the pound. Because of this, the pound was usually full, and some of these prisoners ended up doing their pound time in their own double bunked cells.

From my talks with the long term prisoners in my unit, it was their opinion that the murder of one of Spring Hills prison guards in 2010 came from the extreme stress caused by these conditions.

There is no real means for prisoners to get the message out to the general public. They are forbidden internally from talking to journalists. The internal process of escalating these issues is nothing short of a whitewash and cover-up, and prisoners WILL experience prejudice for putting in official complaints.

For this reason, some prisoners in units higher up the hill from where I was began planning in January 2013 what is now known as the Spring Hill Riot which took place later that year. There haven’t been many full blown riots in NZ prisons. A couple of riots in the 1960s, one in 2004, and the one at Spring Hill in 2013.

Typically the cover up system kicked in with the then minister immediately calling it gang related, and the final report whitewashed the riot as being frivolous. But let me be clear, the initial report that this was gang related, and the final report putting the riot down to home-made alcohol was a total, utter, whitewash.

The intention of that riot was to raise the issue of overcrowding I have detailed, and a recent UN report confirmed.

This is the number one issue prisoners have in Spring Hill, it is the only issue they want fixed (even though I will provide what I believe are fixes for all of the above except prison justice), and I promised them that when I had completed my parole period, I would get this message out to you all.

Preventing Violence in Spring Hill and Other Prisons via the Justice System

Some of the violence is an inevitable part of being in prison. Prison Justice for example is case and point. There is not much that I can think of that can be done to reduce this. That aside lets tackle the other 3 issues I listed.

Gang recruitment and on-going training

A gang or club needs new members, and current members need up-skilling. What is no use to these clubs are members who receive prison sentences that exceed the sentences of trainers. These prisoners are looked upon as potential trainers, but they themselves are ignored in the training and recruiting.

Clubs are interested in new prisoners and prisoners with short sentences. Simply put, cut off the supply of this category of prisoner and you will severely impact on the gang related violence and regeneration using your tax dollars.

You won’t end gangs, because society, financial/ racial disparities, capitalism … creates that.

How to cut off the supply?

Well, two ways come to mind. Firstly, many of those poor and working class prisoners who are sentenced to short terms, especially the Maori prisoners, would probably not be in prison if they had proper representation. The government needs to provide a service for free to these and all prisoners actually, to have their cases reviewed with real representation, I’m talking Queens Council or similar level representational reviews.

From my own observation of the cases of the 88 men in the unit, I estimated that about 25% of them were wrongly imprisoned. Cases like cannabis possession – growing, driving without a license and more. Frivolous shit that should have resulted in a non-custodial sentence. These people should not be in a prison that subjects them to the onslaught of violence caused by gang recruiting, understaffing and overcrowding.

In this measure alone, you would see a massive drop in numbers of Maori prisoners in prison as well.

Secondly, find a non-custodial method of sentencing people who have been sentenced to 3 years or less for their crimes. If you take these people away from prison and successfully rehabilitate them without incarceration, then you cut the supply. No supply equals the end of the gang training regime on your tax dollars.

Under staffing (AV)

Self-explanatory. Provide a staffing level that meets the requirements and expectations the general public have for prisoner security in prisons.

Simple – up the staffing levels (and reduce the prison population).

Over-crowding (AV)

With 25% of your prison population now back out on the street due to the earlier discussed measures, you can then undo what National did to prisons around the country without even having to build another fucking prison. In fact you could take a bulldozer to at least one of the prisons by my estimate, as well as the following:

  • Single cells for all prisoners (get rid of the bunks!)
  • One telephone per unit for every 10 prisoners (imagine living in a house with 88 people and one phone)
  • Employ real medical staff rather than prison guards that know how to hand out pills

A note on Private Prisons

My one issue with Serco is that it is profiteering from misery. This in my view is almost as morally corrupt as purposeful overcrowding by government as a means of cost saving.


The UN Committee Against Torture actually identified these three areas I addressed in its latest report to the New Zealand Government, which the current minister of Corrections has soundly rejected.

Among other things, the report identified overcrowding, inadequate health services and over-representation of Maori in prisons.

Now you all have a better idea that all of that is true and have some ideas of how to fix this without building any new prisons.

These measures only address what the Justice System and Corrections can do to fix this issue.

You will always have high levels of crime and gangs while your society is so unfair to the less fortunate.

Get over it or do something about it.

Your call…

Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara
Former political prisoner of Spring Hill Corrections Facility

My Analysis of the Rawshark Hack of Cameron Slater’s Communications

By Guest Blogger @Te_Taipo

What I want to discuss here is the attack on the WhaleOil communications network which resulted in a large cache of emails and attachments becoming the centrepiece of Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics.

I hope that you the readers, bloggers and users of online services will learn from the mistakes Cameron Slater made, and harden your web applications to minimise the chances of this happening to you.

I will also try to keep this as non-techie and non-geeky as possible …


In January/February 2014 WhaleOil was hacked sometime after he posted a blog post with the headline Feral dies in Greymouth, did world a favour. We were later to find out that the hack was carried out by someone using the pseudonym Rawshark. What do we know about Rawshark from a technical perspective? He or she:

  • was very competent at secure, anonymous and private communications;
  • was very competent at protecting metadata that could lead to his or her identity being discovered;
  • understands the importance of good compartmentalisation of communications; and
  • does not show off, no hacking groups, no fanfare, just in and out.

The hack occurred around the same time that Slater’s website “Whale Oil Beef Hooked” was allegedly taken down by a denial-of-service (DoS) attack. It is not known if Rawshark carried out the alleged DoS attack, or if it was another group, or even if the attack took place, for it could well have been Slater taking his website down to fix it after being hacked by Rawshark. But for now we can only go by media reports that the site was indeed DoS attacked, and that Rawshark was somehow associated with it in some form.

According to Nicky Hager in his book Dirty Politics, some weeks after the hack Hager received an 8 gigabyte USB stick in the mail containing thousands of pages of emails hacked from Slater’s “website”. We have no clue about the extent of the data that came into Hager’s possession, but from all accounts, most of the leaked information was in the form of emails and file attachments, chat logs from GMAIL, and private chats from Facebook.

We do not know if there was other material in the leak, for example from Slater’s home or office computer, or to what extent his infrastructure was invaded. The only option then to form an analysis at any level is to go with what is publicly available and come to tentative conclusions by way of deduction.

The Herald has seen email records which appear to cover 2009 through to 2014

So if we start from the position that the bulk of the information was taken from Slater’s GMAIL account, and ‘possibly’ from his Facebook account, we can then start to discount a few of the possible attack vectors an attacker would use to pull off such an attack.

His Home or Office Computer as the Source of Documents

Firstly we should talk about the culture of bloggers to get a better idea about where potential repositories of private data might be stored. A good attacker would do this mental exercise before mounting any such attack.

Bloggers are not necessarily security experts when it comes to using the internet in a secure manner. Some security experts for all their talk are also crap at this. But what you will find with most bloggers are drafts of documents they might be working on. Drafts are stored on their home or office computers in Word docs, pdfs, and other formats; and drafts are on the website content management systems (CMS) they use, ready to go live (be published) at the appropriate time.

XSS Attack?

Well resourced attackers can take aim at their targets while they are surfing websites that do not enforce HTTPS. This can allow them to inject web browser exploits onto a user’s computer and essentially take over the computer by installing their stuff into hard drives and into the computer’s BIOS.

My guess is that Cameron Slater’s home or office computer at that time would have been a treasure trove of gathered dirt far beyond what was revealed in Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics.

However there do not appear to be any local hard drive sourced disclosures in the released material either from Nicky Hager in Dirty Politics or from Rawshark via the @whaledump and @whaledump2 Twitter accounts. The releases are all chat logs, emails and attachments, and drafts of press releases in emails and attachments etc.

For an example of this, check out the @hackingteam hack in which attackers appear to have snatched what appears to be ab entire cache of their network fileserver via a hack of their webserver.

An attacker would typically get their hands on hundreds of gigabytes of info, and not just emails, attachments and chats from online services.

So we can tentatively rule out a phishing attack or XSS attack on a home or office computer …

Smart Phone Hacked?

We also do not see in the released material any cellphone messages from a phone’s text repository. A lost or stolen smartphone is a treasure trove for an attacker because of the widespread habit of having GMAIL accounts, chats, Facebook, Twitter and more all logged in on smart phones purely for the convenience of it all.

Surely with all the text messaging between Slater, Collins and Key we would have seen those come to light. Yet the only text messages we see following the Rawshark disclosures are from non-Rawshark sources.

Now this could mean that Hager chose not to release this material, but of all the material released, there appears to be not one single document that originated from Slater’s home or office computer and not one cellphone text message. We will never know, but the conclusion I come to is that it is most likely that this attack was not aimed at his home or office computer or at his cellphone, but rather was restricted to wherever it was he stored his emails. 

GMAIL Email Repository

GMAIL is a web based email service that used to actively encourage its users to never delete their emails …

A user can also forward a copy of their emails in their GMAIL account to any of a range of other email accounts. In fact a user could forward all emails and never store any in their actual GMAIL account.

So we should not just assume that an attacker broke into Slater’s GMAIL account, even though this appears to be the likely entry point.

So how does an attacker break into someone’s GMAIL account?

There are some really easy ways, and some really hard ways.

The easiest first, in which the target (in this case Slater) has left his GMAIL account logged in on someone else’s computer (we will call that person Attacker/Friend or AF). AF would then have access to that GMAIL account. Even if Slater had logged out of his GMAIL account on AF’s computer, if AF had had the ‘Save Passwords’ feature enabled in his or her web browser, AF could then re-log back into that GMAIL account and siphon off all the emails. And using the most extreme method, AF could use a keylogger to record the username and password as Slater typed them and then later gain access.

This would be a rookie mistake on the part of Slater. Even though I do not rate his security precautions at that time as being anything of substance, this attack method is also rather opportunistic and not at all common when an attacker has decided to directly target someone, as it appears was the case with Rawshark.

How about breaking into a GMAIL login, can that be done?

Password Cracking

Password cracking in GMAIL is difficult because of the flood controls GMAIL uses. Even if Slater used a rather easy to guess password, it would not be easy to break it using the GMAIL login form.

Slater would had to have used a really obvious password like Wh@l3oil for it to be possible for an attacker to guess a password without employing a password cracking rig … but of course this is quite a common type of password structure for most security unaware users of the internet.

After all, bloggers are often just average internet users who happen to be bloggers.

Often it takes an attack like this one before web administrators realise that it is not enough just to know how to administer a content management system, and that in fact you need to learn some security basics as well.

But I am going to tentatively rule out a super easy to guess password…for now, ’cause, well, that would just be too sad … 

Password Reset ‘Feature’

Another possible way into a GMAIL account is through the password reset feature. Even if you enter fake information into this feature, GMAIL has on the odd occasion, emailed a password reset to an attacker’s designated email account, thus allowing them to take over a target’s GMAIL account.

Password reset attacks are not stealth attacks, are rather hit and miss, and this method does not fit the modus operandi of Rawshark who appears to be someone who knows how to research and take down her or his target without them seeing the attack coming.

Remote Exploits

Then there are these little devils called 0days. You can buy them on the so called {{{Darkweb}}}. They are exploits of vulnerabilities found in popular web services that have not been disclosed to the web service developers, and therefore remain unfixed. I do not get the sense that this was how this attack went down, but let’s look at an example. Let’s say someone discovered a way to circumvent GMAIL’s login CAPTCHA (those letters and numbers you have to enter when you get your password wrong), and instead of notifying Google, they could then go to one of these Darkweb sites and sell their knowledge to the highest buyer. An attacker could then use this 0day to password crack easy to break passwords because there would be no flood controls to prevent this.

But again, I do not see this as the approach that Rawshark took, with nothing more than a gut feeling more than any evidence pointing to this conclusion.

Jeremy Hammond Level Attacker

Lastly there is this being called an extremely talented IT exponent. The world is now gifted with a few of these individuals. In my books Jeremy Hammond is one of these people, there are more. Love him or hate him, Hammond was one of the more talented computer attackers I have ever read about – Rawshark could well be such a character.

It is possible although not probable that Rawshark, using her or his own pure talent, found a way in through GMAIL’s security into Slater’s email accounts without the assistance of social trickery or by tricking GMAIL’s password reset procedure. It is a rare thing, but it has happened before.

What other ways are there to get into the repository of emails?

Conveniently enough a GMAIL user can forward all their emails to another email account. I for example have my old GMAIL email forwarded to my Riseup email. So a successful attack on my Riseup email account would net an attacker both sets of emails.

In Slater’s case we do not know if he used any other emails but we do know that he owns a web space where his website was hosted. He also has a domain name and with that we can assume like so many other bloggers at that time, that he had his website hosted on a shared hosting platform that gave out free email accounts in his domain name. For example, if you own the domain name then it is a trivial matter to set up an email address like

These shared webspace services also allow for emails to be held in an account on the webserver, so it is possible (but not probable) for Slater to forward a copy of his GMAILs to one of these email accounts as a backup or for whatever reason he deemed necessary.

Unlike breaking into GMAIL, it is much much easier for an attacker to break into a shared webspace.

On a number of occasions people that have dealt directly with Rawshark have referred to the attack as being an attack on Slater’s website although this could well be misdirection.

So this is one potential set of conditions where an attacker, aiming to break into a website for nefarious purposes, cracks the control panel login, and then has access to not only all the website files, but also to the email accounts which may have been preconfigured within the control panel. Then upon digging around , they find Solomon’s Mines of dirt in an email account.

This … is … possible, and happens thousands of times a day on the internet.

So how does an attacker break into a web space, or “website”?

Well the most common method is via insecure code within a website.

Bloggers like Slater use precompiled blog scripts like Drupal, WordPress, Joomla, phpBB or vBulletin. These content management systems (CMS) often have security weaknesses or vulnerabilities that an attacker can exploit between the time the weakness is made known and the time when a blogger/user updates their CMS.

All of the above allow users to add plugins/addons which some of whom have file upload ‘features’ that are incorrectly coded. Even the core CMS itself could also have a vulnerable file upload feature as has been the case.

The attacker using free tools like Joomscan, WPScan, etc, can poke around, find and exploit one of these weaknesses or vulnerabilities and upload a file called a shell which allows them to get full access not just to the website and other websites on a shared webserver, but also to the webserver itself.

An attacker can also get access to your website files via rather simple misconfigurations of webservers that allow them for example to view the contents of a backup directory which contains website database backups.

Slater himself is alleged to have made such an attack on the Labour Party website via a misconfiguration. In that case it was a missing default index file and a misconfigured Apache <Directory> directive setting causing the server to issue a directory listing and allowing the attacker to see all the files in the website directories, and download website and database backups.

By exploiting these vulnerabilities an attacker can get access to at least the database, and in some cases, the login credentials for the CMS.

But so what, that does not get us any emails.

Well yes and no.

We should return again to blogger culture, and common password culture or the lack of it, on the internet. As I said earlier, bloggers are often average internet users who just happen to also have a blog.

Most people know one really good password. And they use that password everywhere – their email accounts, Windows login, Twitter, Facebook, etc . There is a good chance that people reading this themselves use one hard password for everything. It is unbelievably common.

An attacker would assume this, so it would go without saying that if the attacker has been able to bypass security on a website she or he would get access to at least the database password. In the afore-mentioned CMSs the database password can be found unencrypted in the configuration files. The attacker would then try this password on everything, from the CPANEL control panel login, to the CMS admin login, and even to the target’s GMAIL and social media accounts.

It really would not surprise me if this is how the attack went down … attackers will poke around in your stuff using a wide variety of tools and a good nose for misconfigurations, and most of the time  there are always misconfigurations, out of date applications, badly coded addons and more.

Then Things Just Get Worse.

Symlink Bypass Attack

Even with the best security in place, if a blogger or anyone else uses a shared webspace service to host a website that site will probably be vulnerable to what is called a Symlink Bypass Attack. This can be launched from any website hosted on a shared webserver onto any other website hosted on the same server. An attacker for example could register their own website on the same webserver as the target’s website, and thereby gain access.

As an aside, try to avoid shared web services for this reason alone. This attack is still viable even today. Use a dedicated server or at least a VPS … to increase your security.

Via a Symlink Bypass Attack Rawshark would have eventually gained access to the blog admin logins, passwords, database password, database content and even into any active email accounts in the control panel (especially if GMAILs had been redirected into one of these accounts). In fact successful Symlink Bypass Attacks often give the attacker access to even the entire webserver.

Passwords are often stored in databases in the form of a cryptographic hash of the password. If these are not correctly salted, then an attacker can brute force these hashes to find the original passwords. In many cases an administrators easy to guess, short password could be brute forced from the database hashes in a matter of minutes. Then the attacker would now have the raw database password, and an admin user’s password to try out against your other webservices.

If the lazy admin had used one or two passwords for everything Rawshark would have then also had access to Slater’s GMAIL account.

End of Game …

Now, originally I thought this web based attack was unlikely for the following reason. Most attackers that I have witnessed in the past, who had access to their target’s administration login, have defaced the websites homepage with some smart arsed, usually lowercase, uppercase jumbled message.

d3f@c3d bY k0mp3r5t0mp3r

This appears not to have happened in the WhaleOil hack, and that to me was a clue that perhaps the attack did not originate from the website, or there was something really peculiar about this attacker that was outside the norm, or both.

Then something weird happened during the @Whaledump2 disclosures on Twitter that changed my mind a little on that.

Rawshark, or some associate, was posting disclosures on Twitter following the release of Nicky Hager’s book. A court judge ruled that Rawshark should stop disclosing Slater’s private information, and to my utter amazement Rawshark complied. On the day of the ruling Rawshark’s Twitter account ceased posting, and that was that.

See the Radio New Zealand report here.

That was an infosec moment for me. For one thing, for my own amusement I had a list of possible suspects as to who Rawshark could be, but because of this reaction by Rawshark, that list got ripped up.

Why? Well because I do not know or know of ANYONE in that position, using the best methods of anonymity and privacy, who would not have told that judge where to stick the ruling! It occurred to me that who we were dealing with here was a serially good normally law abiding person.

But we are not here to discuss the potential identity of Rawshark, but rather to look at the potential methods used to capture the email and chat repositories of one Cameron Slater. But in those clues alone, my deductions lead me to believe that access to the emails may not have originated from a direct attack on Slater’s website.

So, if you have managed to make it this far, we have these three possibilities:

  • Attacker Friend (AF) who goes feral on Slater and hands Hager the cache;
  • Hit and miss, or gifted attack on GMAIL itself to get access to GMAIL emails; or
  • Attack on the website of a lazy admin where one password is used for both web stuff and emails.

What about the Facebook conversations?

Facebook like any other social media service, depends on the user owning the email account attached to the username. Unless the user has activated 2-factor authentication, an attacker who has control of the primary email account of the target can trigger a password reset on, for instance, a Facebook account and take over a target’s account for a brief time until Facebook is notified.

This is of course a very visible attack and Slater would have seen that coming and possibly stopped it from happening.

Facebook also allows for third party applications, many of which at that time were very insecure. It might have been possible for an attacker to exploit Slater’s Facebook account if he used one of the many vulnerable applications available to Facebook users.

But we need to also take into account the possibility that Slater used one password for all, so if an attacker had guessed the password to the GMAIL account, for example whal3oil or some other variant, then the attacker could have easily gotten into all of his stuff without being seen, and that to me is the clincher.


As it stands I am still not totally convinced about how Rawshark was able to gather Slater’s communications. What you see above are strong suspicions that do not pass the test in my view for me to form a solid conclusion without more information from either Rawshark or the journalists that interacted with him, or from Slater himself. None of those are likely to be forthcoming, nor should they be.

I said earlier “But I am going to tentatively rule out a super easy to guess password…for now, ’cause, well, that would just be too sad … “

But if Slater was using a master password for everything, then you now know with some certainty the various ways Rawshark could have obtained it. My best guess is that this is a master password issue and that Slater most likely used a really crappy password for his email, and social media, and that Rawshark simply guessed.

…and that really would just be too sad…

A word on Rawshark: Will the police catch Rawshark? Probably not. Most attackers do their attacks via another infected webspace, or VPS, and almost always over Tor.

Tips for Better Blog Security Check List

If you run a political service of any sort online, you may attract the ire of someone who disagrees with you. In Slater’s case he often offends people deliberately or otherwise. It would seem that he did not properly look after his security so that he could talk with impunity the big talk; and someone took offence and took his world apart.

Even if you are not a total prick online…it pays to use the best security methods available, that actually do not cost you the world, but do however take a little time to accomplish.

  1. Memorise at least two 7 word pass phrases using Diceware
  2.  Use a password manager (KeePass/KeePassX, Encryptr) for all your passwords. Use one of these 7 word pass phrases to lock the manager.
  3. Use the other as a pass phrase for your primary email account
  4. Using the password manager, generate a unique password of at least a 128bit password for EVERY web service you use (social media sites, email accounts, web admin logins, banking logins etc). When you use a password manager you are then able to use passwords that are the maximum length allowed. For example, I have tested Twitter passwords as long as 165 characters long.
  5. Host your website on a VPS or dedicated server and NEVER on shared web hosting.
  6. Install an SSL/TLS certificate on your website!
  7. Use 2-factor authentication on your web based services such as email and social media
  8. If you use WordPress, add Pareto Security plugin (since I wrote it), Wordfence and (if you do not have an SSL/TSL certificate) Chap Secure Login
  9. Keep all your web applications and plugins up to date
  10. Make sure there are no publicly accessible backups of your website
  11. Use as few plugins as necessary
  12. Install HTTPS Everywhere and NoScript Security Suite on your web browsers
  13. Encrypt and lock your cellphone.
  14. Encrypt your computer hard drive or use Veracrypt to create encrypted containers to store your files in
  15. Ditch GMAIL and go with secure email services such as Protonmail, Tutanota, and Openmailbox.
  16. For the more security conscious/tech advanced, use TAILS, Whonix or at the very least TorBrowser, as your means of accessing the internet



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