Leaked report (by the looks of things) led to professor being unhired from post in the PM’s war against terrorism, violence and hate

Buzz from the Beehive

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Yes, the Government today made a big announcement about measures to tackle COVID-19 and flu. But we are confident the mainstream news media will give that an appropriate airing.

Point of Order instead found cause to revisit a Beehive press statement which we buzzed about on June 4.  We have done so because we fear the country’s state-subsidised and Treaty-committed mainstream media (apart from the New Zealand Herald) will not be bothering to inform their audiences of what has transpired.  

The press statement from the Prime Minister in early June announced the launch of the Centre of Research Excellence for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism, He Whenua Taurikura.

One of the centre’s two directors is Professor Joanna Kidman.

Martyn Bradbury at that time raised questions about her fitness for the job in an article on his blog  headed Ummmm, isn’t Professor Joanne Kidman the worst person to appoint to an extremism taskforce?

This week we are hearing about someone who wasn’t appointed.  

The disturbing story was reported by the New Zealand Herald under the heading PM’s terrorism, extremism expert Prof Richard Jackson hired then dropped.

Senior writer David Fisher, describing Jackson as a top-flight academic, said he had been selected for the national security appointment but was quietly let go weeks after he was meant to start in the job after an unrelated story was published in the Otago Daily Times.

The Otago Daily Times story reported the findings of a leaked review of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago, headed by Professor Jackson.  The review found the centre had a culture which it described as “toxic,” “paralysing,” “isolating” and “divisive.”

The leak turns out to have been toxic for Jackson’s prospects of taking up his post as a director of the PM’s brand-new Centre of Research Excellence for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism.

Based on the New Zealand Herald’s account of what happened, 

  • Chris Trotter asks: was Professor Jackson insufficiently woke?
  • Karl du Fresne insists Jackson – “for all his woke credentials” – failed to clear the biculturalism hurdle.

Chris Trotter writes: 

It is difficult to read the leaked review which sank Professor Richard Jackson’s bid to become a co-director of the Centre for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism as anything other than evidence of the ongoing and destructive conflict between the Professor and the Tiriti-centred, iwi-directed, bi-culturally-driven commissars of the University of Otago.

Trotter says Fisher’s excellent article raises a number of disturbing questions.

Not the least of these is: Why did the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet (DPMC) allow its professional judgement to be overturned by a single leaked document, the contents of which damaged the reputation of the man it was on the point of appointing to a sensitive government position?

Professor Jackson had led the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago since 2017.

In November 2021 he had applied for – and was about to be appointed – co-director of the National Centre of Research Excellence for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (CPCVE).

The establishment of this centre had been recommended by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch Mosque Shootings.

Jackson’s strong academic record in conflict research made him an excellent choice to be a director, Trotter contends – but on 1 March 2022, just before Jackson’s contract was signed, the content of a confidential internal review of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies was leaked to The Otago Daily Times.

Trotter notes: 

The content of the leaked report was unsparing in its criticism of the Centre. What is most noteworthy about the criticisms quoted in the ODT, however, is that they appeared to be focused, almost exclusively, on its alleged failings to meet the University of Otago’s bi-cultural expectations.

The ODT reported that the review “recommended Māori staff be employed, but not until the Centre’s culture was ‘considerably improved’ because at present it would be a culturally unsafe environment for new Māori staff.’”

Some hint of the ideological leanings of the review’s author/s may be gleaned from the ODT’s reference to their remarks concerning the Centre’s interest in the histories of Parihaka and Rekohu (Chatham Islands):

“The centre was also criticised for a tokenistic commitment to biculturalism.

“While it received praise for its efforts in starting relationships with the Māori and Moriori communities of Parihaka and Rekohu, it was called out for the narrowness of its approach and for having a poor grasp of appropriate indigenous protocols.

“The strategic inclusion of indigenous groups was a ‘well-known divisive settler colonial practise’, which the centre needed to avoid.”

Trotter insists it is hard to read those comments without concluding that the review was

“… part of a much larger and even more destructive conflict between the Centre and those elements within the University of Otago charged with ensuring there is no deviation from the te Tiriti-centred, iwi-directed, bi-culturally-driven partnership protocols mandated by the University authorities.”

Trotter then looks at the role of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s strategic coordinator for counter terrorism in the National Security Group, Andy George, and National Security senior policy adviser, Julia Macdonald, who sat on the selection panel. 

He is puzzled by why they appeared  to have allowed a document “positively reeking of academic rancour” to derail Jackson’s appointment.  

“Did it not occur to these public servants that somebody, somewhere, might have it in for the man they were about to appoint, and that the leaking of the “confidential” internal review might have been intended to bring the appointment process to a shuddering halt? As persons closely bound up with this nation’s security, did they not feel obliged to dig deeper into the whole affair? Were they not struck by the near perfect timing of the leak? Were they not in the least bit curious about how the leaker knew when to make the document public? Wouldn’t they like to know who passed-on that presumably confidential information?”

Trotter considers the work to be undertaken by CPCVE in its mission to prevent and counter violent extremism in New Zealand.  

Let’s suppose Joanna Kidman and her fellow director, Paul Spoonley, choose to focus on the threat from white supremacist groups and Islamophobes. Might they miss the emergence of other potentially violent extremists?

Trotter envisions this scenario:

In the event that a National/Act Government emerges from the 2023 General Election, and within the first 100 days of coming to office abolishes the Three Waters Reform and the Māori Health Authority, is it not likely that the country’s political temperature will rise? And if David Seymour’s proposal to enshrine the meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi in law becomes law, and then progresses towards a national referendum, would not the nation’s fever rise even higher? Can the National Security Group, in need of all the help it can get to prevent and counter violent extremist acts, have confidence that CPCVE will be bringing its attention to bear equally on furious groups of Māori ethno-nationalists?

In  short, the identification of potential violent extremists by CPCVE must not be influenced by ideological factors, and the New Zealand public who are footing the bill for its investigations must be absolutely certain that the people charged with preventing and countering extremism are not themselves extremists.

 Surely, that would have constituted a key aspect of the National Security Group’s brief from DPMC? 

And yet, the disturbing question remains: Was the person, or persons, responsible for leaking the “confidential” internal review of the Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies worried that if Professor Richard Jackson became Co-Director of CPCVE, he might feel obligated to investigate all potential threats to the peace and tranquillity of New Zealand?

Is that why it was so vitally important that his appointment should not proceed?

Karl du Fresne was intrigued, too, by the government’s about-face over the appointment of Professor Jackson as director of the National Centre of Research Excellence for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism.

He notes that Joanna Kidman was one of the members of the panel charged with selecting an appointee.  She ended up being appointed to the job as a co-director alongside Professor Paul Spoonley.  

Du Fresne muses:  how did that happen?

He observes:

The way the Herald tells it, Jackson was originally chosen by the panel from a short list of six and interviewed twice. Then a decision was made to appoint two co-directors, and Kidman clearly decided she was eminently qualified for one of the roles herself (“Pick me! Pick me!”), at which point she withdrew from the selection panel and took no further part in any decisions. (Well, she could hardly do otherwise without making an even bigger mockery of what already looked like a grandiose display of government virtue-signalling.)

A new panel was formed, and – hey presto! They chose Kidman. But we’re assured her appointment was subject to the same rigorous assessment as other applicants. (Of course, it was; who could be so mean-spirited as to suspect otherwise?)

But instead of Kidman being appointed alongside Jackson, the latter was told he “wasn’t suitable.”

 That’s apparently when Spoonley became the second co-director.

Du Fresne recalls that the internal review leaked to the ODT had criticised the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in Dunedin for making only a tokenistic commitment to biculturalism and having a “poor grasp of appropriate indigenous protocols”.

He ventures: 

That’s kiss-of-death stuff, especially when the appointment guide for the NCREPCVE “placed significant weight”, to quote the Herald, “on incorporating a Māori world view.” There’s your explanation: Jackson, for all his woke credentials, failed to clear the biculturalism hurdle.

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