A ban too far: Don Brash’s Massey University ban

I will call it from the outset. Dr Don Brash’s speaking ban at Massey University was a ban too far.

Given that we never got to hear what Dr Brash was going to say, though we could make a reasonably good guess as to the subject matter, the decision by the Massey Vice Chancellor was not only a gross over reaction it was premature.

The other day the controversial Canadian activists Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux were stopped from an event they were to talk about their opposition to immigration and their activism on the right of the political spectrum. Coming days after Ms Southern and Mr Molyneux’s controversial speaking engagement being cancelled, perhaps the Vice Chancellor of Massey University thought it was just not the time. Perhaps she thought, as she apparently did, that there would be a security threat or some other problem.

To ban Dr Brash, however divisive whatever he had to say might have been, from speaking at Massey speaks of a University that is scared to champion freedom of speech. It speaks of a University unable to tolerate something thousands of New Zealanders laid their lives down for in two world wars.

Do we actually know if what he was going to say is even divisive or not? Suspicions are one thing, facts are quite another – we do not know for fact that he actually had something divisive in mind.

I know a few people on the right. I disagree with them on most things, but not this. Not when the right to freedom of speech however horrible, wrong and improper whatever the speaker/s of the day might have to say is being challenged. That is not okay.

But my real beef is with Massey University. What on earth was the Vice Chancellor thinking? This will be damaging for the university as one of New Zealand’s tertiary institutions. People will look at Massey and wonder if it is going the same way that Berkeley University in California has gone – a place rocked by division and now loaded with tension, split along sharply partisan lines. I do not believe that the V.C. should resign, as others are calling for her to do, but to have a cold hard look at ones professional self in the mirror would be a very good idea.

I do not want to see any New Zealand institution, tertiary or otherwise go the direction that Berkeley has gone in California. For a land that prides itself on civility and a fair go, that would be a dreadful state of affairs to find ourselves in. But it is a direction we might be going if incidents like what happened at Massey with Dr Brash play out elsewhere in New Zealand.

Why the lack of confidence in New Zealand economy?

Stuff reporter Tracy Watkins wrote in The Press that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has five major problems upon her return to work. One of those problems is dealing with an apparent elephant in the room called business confidence.

Apparently it is at a ten year low. Supposedly the economy is somehow at risk, which I find a bit rich, given that this Government has:

  • Not even been in office a year and has not had time to undo the social consequences of the previous Government
  • Is addressing socio-economic concerns that have seen more and more New Zealanders at risk of falling through the cracks caused by unsustainable increases in the costs of living

Contrary to what National and A.C.T. would have one believe, many of the problems assailing the New Zealand economy at the moment are actually not of the Governments making. As a relatively minor, albeit respected player in the global economy, New Zealand’s ability to influence the likes of larger nations such as the United States, Russia, China and so forth is limited.

New Zealand did not ask for the trade wars that have been starting up, or which threaten to start up. It did not ask to be a victim of large nations slapping tariffs on each others products – the decisions by United States President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping were always going to have a negative flow on effect.

New Zealand did not ask for the high level of political tension in the Middle East that has seen frequent threats of war being bandied about between the United States, Israel and Iran. The very high petrol prices at the moment are a reflection of the fact that fiery rhetoric is starting to be matched, ominously, by military movements in form of U.S. and Iranian military assets being moved into the Gulf region.

Nor have we asked for the winding back of necessary checks put in place after the 2007-09 Global Financial Crisis to make sure that the banking system cannot destroy itself. The Dodd-Frank Act of the United States has been challenged by Republicans trying to assure their place in the 2018 midterm results. The Act was passed by President Barak Obama to end the notion of “too big to fail” which had seen large banks such as Lehman collapse, and ensure fiscal stability and accountability. With concerns mounting that the banking sector may be on the edge of another failure there is little sense in removing these checks and balances.

As for New Zealand economic symptoms, significant reinvestment in health, education, the social welfare system as well as transport and other sectors can only be a good thing. After years of relentlessly chipping away at these sectors, gaps are showing in mental health, housing, affordability of every day necessities. Such investment will help to keep many people who are at the lower end of the wealth spectrum in a position where they do not become destitute, and pay for itself in the longer term by enabling them to find work.

The significant investment in railways and public transport will help to reduce congestion on major routes, but also take more freight off roads and enable it to be moved in bulk. Some roads in New Zealand, such as the State Highway 1 coastal section south of Kaikoura are simply not meant to take the large trucks that are driven along a twisty, narrow route that have tunnels with low ceilings.

Nor should there be concerns about changes to labour legislation to ensure that the exploitation of workers cannot go unchallenged. As a nation that prides itself on giving everyone a fair go, that means giving workers fair working conditions. Common sense, really.

Winston Peters ignites flag debate

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters has reignited the flag debate, two years after a national referendum rejected the idea of a new flag. The restarting of the flag debate came after he called on Australia for reasons I am not yet clear on, to change their own flag – imagine that, a(n acting) New Zealand Prime Minister telling Australia to change its flag – because New Zealand had apparently had its flag longer and the Australians had merely copied us.

I actually support changing the flag. There is however a simple reason why I refused to support the referendum in 2016 – it was too sudden for many New Zealanders and raised a bright red flag: why now? What was the then Prime Minister John Key trying to hide or divert our attention from? It just all seemed suspicious.

But also, this is the flag that thousands of New Zealanders fought and died for. This is the flag that my Grandmother’s brother Lance Corporal Eric Dennis Green died for. Whilst the wartime generation is still alive, this is not the time to change that flag.

However, the correct procedures I believe were followed for having a flag referendum. The referendum was to happen in two stages:

  1. Ask whether the public want a flag change or not – this would be a simple YES/NO referendum. It would be binding, meaning whatever outcome would have to be respected and acted on by the Government
  2. ASSUMING the answer is YES, then ask from the two most popular designs, which flag should be our new one

None of the designs in the 2015 competition, or the two that were shortlisted should New Zealand have said yes, were inspiring in the least. In fact Red Fern looked more like a corporate logo than anything else.

I have had thoughts about what a flag could look like. One idea that I have had would be the outline of a Kea (nestor notabilis), New Zealand’s cheeky and inquisitive alpine parrot whose behavioural characteristics I think nicely sum up how New Zealanders aspire to be – social, inquisitive about the world around them and perhaps a tad cheeky.

It will however have to happen at an appropriate time. The earliest such occasion that I can think of would be the death of Queen Elizabeth II, our reigning sovereign. At that point it would be appropriate to go through the full rigarmole – seeing if the people of New Zealand wish to set about overhauling the constitutional arrangements, changing the flag, and then adhering to their wishes, whatever they may be.

So, the day of a new flag is coming. It was a premature dawn on the idea in 2016 and New Zealanders knew and understood it then. But that dawn is coming – it just might be another several years.



Greens need to learn the art of compromise to survive

The time has come for the Green Party have a reality check on reconciling the expectations of its grass roots with the cold hard reality of holding ministerial power. This will anger many in the Green Party. And has.

However knowledge of the art of compromise is necessary in politics for a party to be seen as one that can work with other parties. All parties in an M.M.P. environment know that the days of having an absolute majority even if it has come very close to happening, on a couple of occasions – and might yet do so – appear to be gone. With the departure of that absolute majority, goes the ability to make policy as one sees fit without having to find allies who will assist in policies in which they share common ground becoming real.

Golriz Ghahraman, Green spokesperson for Foreign Affairs is one such case. Perhaps, having been a refugee fleeing a country that was tipped on its head by the fall of the Shah, she wants nothing to do with American foreign policy or the United States at large. However she must understand two things:

  1. New Zealand, like every other self respecting country will have a defence force
  2. For practical reasons among others, the vast majority of our Defence Force equipment will come from Europe or the United States – the LAVIII’s armoured vehicles being a notable exception (coming from Canada)

The Poseidon aircraft – whilst we should have probably replaced the P-3K Orion’s plane for plane – were an informed choice. The decision was also an acknowledgement that the planes need to be replaced as soon as possible, and certainly before one crashes. They are too old for further upgrades and are based on an original air frame designed in the 1950’s.

Ms Ghahraman also needs to understand as do a lot of others on the left that when the Government announced plans for $15-20 billion of expenditure, this was not a lump sum expense, but actually presenting expenditure plans for the next 15-20 years, noting New Zealand typically spends about N.Z.$1 billion on defence per annum. The Orion replacements were the first of a series of major expenditure announcements that will be coming out over the next several years.

Eugenie Sage, Associate Minister for the Environment is another. Ms Sage found out first hand recently that even core ideals sometimes have to be compromised on for the greater good of the country. Whilst the Nongfu water bottling decision was one that might seem like a betrayal of the party principles, and certainly stoked anger, the reality is that Ms Sage and her fellow Ministers were constrained by the Overseas Investment Act which forbade any environmental consideration in granting permission.

However Ms Sage still has a great chance to to make a distinctly Green mark on the environmental policy of this Government. New Zealand has a burgeoning e-waste problem demanding a solution. No national policy specific to e-waste reduction exists and 72,000 tons of it is generated each year, including 600 kilogrammes of waste gold and 600 tons of copper with a valuable on the market of millions of dollars. If the grant given to a company to develop a recycling scheme for said waste minerals – among others – if fruitful the means to doing so may be closer to reality than people think.

Mining, as Regional Development Minister Shane Jones acknowledges, has been a significant part of the back bone of the West Coast economy. Whether it was gold mining or more recently coal mining, since European settlement there has long been a mining presence on the West Coast. The potential for small scale locally owned and operated alluvial gold mining operations does exist. It had been shot down by the Labour led Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark, under whose watch resource consent was shot down for several applications to set up small dredging operations taking gold from rivers.

Andrew Little correct to stand up to Peter Dutton

Yesterday, reacting to the deportation of New Zealanders who had lived their entire lives in Australia, Minister of Justice Andrew Little sharply criticized Australian Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton for the breach of human rights.

I applaud Mr Little for standing up to Mr Dutton. Mr Dutton has made it his mission in office to wage full on war against anyone who is seeking asylum, is a refugee or  otherwise in a vulnerable category of residency. Mr Dutton, who is reported to enjoy his work, was a detective in the Queensland Police force before he became a politician in 2001.

One method Mr Dutton employs is the use of offshore detention centres on tropical islands such as Manus, Christmas and Nauru. People who get sent there stay in centres and have been found to be severely wanting both in terms of their management, and a severe lack of basic amenities. Violence including riots, hunger strikes and so forth have been commonplace.

Another is the deportation to New Zealand or to other countries of people found to have committed a crime, whether they were born in that country or not. In the case of New Zealand, people who left New Zealand very young as children and have spent their entire adult lives in Australia have found themselves deported back to a country where they have nothing, know no one or any support.

Obviously I do not condone whatever crimes they committed. But the ethics of deporting a person to a country that they have no connections whatsoever to and are in danger of just committing further offences raises significant moral issues. They also serve to strain ties with those nations who have not had to deal with these people before and now find themselves with no choice but to take them in.

His policies have inspired United States President Donald Trump’s attempt to build a wall on the Mexican border, to wage the war he has been against illegal immigrants. Whilst many of the immigrants whose citizenship status is questionable in the United States, the vast majority were fleeing from countries where diplomatic relations with other countries are weak and seeking legal avenues for emergency protection signals to the Government that one is fleeing.

Mr Dutton wields considerable power. Aside from being Minister of Immigration, he is also in charge of the Australian Border Force, which are equivalent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the United States. The A.B.F., like I.C.E. in the United States have had considerable controversy in their time in existence, including the two examples I have mentioned above.

Mr Dutton was wrong to say New Zealand does little for defence. The South Pacific is a largely peaceful region, which very much how New Zealand wishes to keep it. Mr Little understands this perfectly. Mr Little also understands something Mr Dutton does not – if a nation does not want to have large numbers of asylum seekers arriving then it should not be interfering in that nations affairs. A lot of the asylum seekers arriving in Australia are from nations where Australia has joined the United States and other western powers – on occasion New Zealand too – in interfering for reasons of “national security”.