History with many zeros

In some places they measure the past in millennia.  In Athens, history emerges every time you dig a hole.

This year Greece marks the 2,500th anniversary of the battle of Plataea.  Less celebrated than the engagements a year earlier at Thermopylae and Salamis but more decisive in its outcome, it marks the end of the Persian attempt at dominance and the beginning of fifty immortal years for Athens, before the death of Pericles and the hubris of the Peloponnesian war.  

The funerary dedication to the Persian wars endures in marble fragments in the agora:

Continue reading “History with many zeros”

Oh dear – ECan has dug up a bad Bill (that was buried in 2019) to spare Ngai Tahu the bother of winning votes at the ballot box

Legislation to entrench Ngai Tahu representatives on Environment Canterbury – these would be  guaranteed appointments, to spare them the bother of pitching for popular support – failed to pass its first reading in Parliament in 2019.

On that occasion,  New Zealand First’s Shane Jones featured in scuttling a bill which would have entitled Ngai Tahu to appoint two representatives to sit with elected councillors after the local elections later that year.

It seemed that was the end of a bad Bill – but hey:  a few weeks ago the regional council announced it was again promoting a Bill that will provide “for mana whenua representation around the Council table”, by empowering Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu to appoint up to two members of the Council. This will be in addition to the elected members.

The aim – in other words – is not necessarily to bat for Maori generally.  It’s to guarantee two decision-making seats at the council table for “mana whenua”, or the local tribal elite. Continue reading “Oh dear – ECan has dug up a bad Bill (that was buried in 2019) to spare Ngai Tahu the bother of winning votes at the ballot box”

Graham Adams: The debate over the $55 million media fund erupts again

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RNZ’s Mediawatch and a video clip viewed 42,000 times keep the topic of the Public Interest Journalism Fund fizzing. Graham Adams reports…

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A week ago, the NZ Taxpayers’ Union posted a short video clip of the exchange in Parliament between Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins in which the National Party leader quizzed the Prime Minister about the $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund influencing political coverage.

Ardern seemed to find the exchange amusing until David Seymour stepped in to ask:

“What then would happen to a media outlet that received money under the fund and wanted to report a story deemed inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, which is one of the requirements to adhere to?”

Having recommended that Collins ask the media if they agreed they were under government influence, Ardern summarily dismissed Seymour’s suggestion that the fund’s mandatory guidelines for how to address the Treaty might present a problem.

The kicker to the whole exchange is that none of the mainstream media deemed it worthy of being reported. As the Taxpayers’ Union put it in its introduction to the video:

“If you’re worried about the independence of our media, this is a must-watch exchange in Parliament. Why do you think the media declined to cover it?”

Louis Houlbrooke, the union’s campaigns manager, says that with 42,000 views so far, “it is by far our most-watched video post of all time.”

Clearly, discussion of the topic is not only in the public interest but also of interest to the public.

Nevertheless, it is extremely difficult to persuade senior members of the media and those administering the fund to accept there might be a problem — even if it is only the public’s perception of bias. The latter, of course, can be as damaging in practice as actual bias, given the media’s primary asset is the trust its audiences place in it for independent, truthful and unbiased coverage. Continue reading “Graham Adams: The debate over the $55 million media fund erupts again”

Nats and ACT are riled by the suspension of Parliament – but has democracy been put on hold if select committees are sitting?

Our report on governance today is much the same as yesterday’s, reflecting a preoccupation with the Covid-19 lockdown.

But there’s a  big difference.

National and ACT leaders yesterday were urging the PM not to suspend Parliament – at least, not for more than one week, in National’s case.

Today they are expressing their dismay that their urging has gone unheeded.

National leader Judith Collins said:

“At a time when New Zealanders have the harshest lockdown in the world and have lost our freedoms because of the Government’s failure to vaccinate and secure the border, this move by Jacinda Ardern is unfathomable.” 

In the previous Level 4 lockdown, all parties agreed to closing Parliament in return for an Opposition-led Epidemic Response Committee to provide some accountability of the Government.

Won’t Ardern re-introduce this for involving  other parties in what transpires and to serve as some sort of check on executive power?

Apparently not. Continue reading “Nats and ACT are riled by the suspension of Parliament – but has democracy been put on hold if select committees are sitting?”

Waititi is championing a Treaty-based system of government – and we shouldn’t be surprised that democracy is not the objective

Democracy means government by the people, or a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.

It is a state of society characterised by formal equality of rights and privileges.

And (in this definition, at least) it features 

 … the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges

Right there we can see why democracy might be problematic for Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi, who would have surprised nobody when he outlined his vision for a ‘tiriti-centric Aotearoa’ where the majority doesn’t rule over Māori

In other words, he wants Maori to be politically privileged.   

When he said this, he drew attention to a reality which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her ministers won’t publicly acknowledge – that our democracy is being gradually debilitated by measures her government (and its predecessors) have introduced or may introduce, depending on the outcome of consultations with some “key” Maori tribes on the controversial governance proposals promoted in the He Puapua document.

This is a so-called “independent” report into how New Zealand could fulfil its obligations to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which the country signed up to in 2010. Continue reading “Waititi is championing a Treaty-based system of government – and we shouldn’t be surprised that democracy is not the objective”

Equal treatment for Kiwis? But that mightn’t square with the Treaty and let’s not forget Don Brash is calling for it, too

New Zealanders want a more cohesive society where everyone is treated equally and where freedom of speech is maintained.

So said National leader Judith Collins in a speech to her party’s northern division conference.  

“These are the things people care about. These are the things that support strong communities and will support New Zealand to recover from Covid-19.”

Hmm.

Meanwhile in Featherston, a Harry Potter quiz had been cancelled at a book festival which – would you believe it? – was set to examine modern “cancel culture”.

The reason is that organisers disagreed with something said by Harry Potter’s creator.

Featherston Booktown Karukatea organisers have chosen not to feature a popular Harry Potter quiz on this year’s programme because of alleged transphobic comments made by the beloved fictional series’ author, JK Rowling.

As for everyone being treated equally, Maori wards were being promoted in local government because a system whereby everyone could stand for office and vote for the candidates of their choice was deemed to be flawed.  And in health administration, two administrative bodies were being established, one of them on a race basis to ensure Maori health was the responsibility of Maori administrators.  Continue reading “Equal treatment for Kiwis? But that mightn’t square with the Treaty and let’s not forget Don Brash is calling for it, too”

Capital thinking on decolonisation – give voting rights to tribal appointees on council committees and mute the voice of non-Maori

Eight Wellington City Councillors – given the critical constitutional choice of Treaty partnership or democracy – yesterday voted in favour of further undermining the council’s democratic election and decision-making structures by granting voting rights to the representatives appointed by Maori tribes to sit on council committees.

Only six councillors voted against an arrangement to allow one representative from each of Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika and Ngāti Toa Rangatira to sit on most council committees and subcommittees with full voting rights from 1 July.

The council will reimburse each tribe by paying an annual fee, equivalent to the remuneration of a full time elected member, which is currently $111,225.

Some councillors egregiously magnified their anti-democratic instincts by rebuking the Mayor (as the Dominion-Post reports) for

“ … putting forward an amendment calling for the ‘significant’ change to be put out for public feedback before going to a council vote.”

Curiously, the words “significant” has been put in quotes.

Does the newspaper think otherwise?

Apparently yes, because its report of this governance vote (relegated to Page 4 this morning)  focused on Mayor Andy Foster being accused of “delay tactics” for suggesting the proposal be taken to the public for discussion.

One councillor, Jenny Condie, said the proposal did not require formal public feedback because it would be “rectifying an injustice”.

But shouldn’t the public be allowed to assess the nature of this injustice and influence the remedy? Continue reading “Capital thinking on decolonisation – give voting rights to tribal appointees on council committees and mute the voice of non-Maori”

Democracy or partnership – which do we want, because we can’t have both?

Guest Post

By Barrie Saunders

The departure of Donald Trump from the White House was a victory for the US democratic system, which only just succeeded.   If then Vice President Mike Pence had wavered under enormous pressure from President Trump and his cult-like supporters, Joe Biden might not be in the White House and there would have been serious civil disorder. 

The Republicans haven’t given up;  they are now trying to make voting more difficult in several states.  Democracy is a model under threat from many quarters, and it is losing around the world.

It is easy to forget how recently democracy has become mainstream.  In Britain women over the age of 21 only got the vote in 1928 and in the US, universal suffrage only became accessible to all Afro-Americans in the last 55 years because, prior to the 1960s voting reforms, there was serious voter suppression in parts of the country.  Some former East European countries like Hungary have retreated from the democratic model and others like Greece and Italy have struggled to deal with major economic challenges.

At present New Zealand has a quality democracy.   We have fairly-drawn electorates, an easy voting system, and a reasonable level of political literacy.  Money struggles to buy Government policy, which is all as it should be. 

However, we have no reason to be smug, because this democracy is under threat. Governments since 1987 and the Courts have been entrenching a modern view that the Treaty of Waitangi means there is an ongoing “partnership between the Government and Iwi”. Continue reading “Democracy or partnership – which do we want, because we can’t have both?”

Now that race-based wards can be introduced more easily, let’s brace for Auckland (and Parliament?) giving a stronger voice to Asians

An election has taken place and the democratic will of the people must be respected, Nanaia Mahuta proclaimed yesterday.

As Minister of Foreign Affairs she proceeded to declare:

“We confirm our support for Myanmar’s democratic institutions and the rule of law.”

But as Minister of Local Government, Mahuta recently sacked the democratically elected members of the Tauranga City Council.  

And yesterday, in the same ministerial job, she set about rewriting the rules enabling voters in that city –  or any other local body area – to challenge the introduction of race-based Māori wards.

The Tauranga proposal would have gone to a referendum after a petition calling for a community vote met a necessary threshold under the law

RNZ reported at the weekend –

In August last year, councillors voted to introduce wards in the district where nearly 20 percent of the population is Māori.

If 5 percent of electors opposed this, a community wide vote was to be called.

Local electoral officer Warwick Lampp confirmed a petition calling for a vote reached the threshold of 4742 signatures.

But it’s not going to happen. Continue reading “Now that race-based wards can be introduced more easily, let’s brace for Auckland (and Parliament?) giving a stronger voice to Asians”

Trumpian twitter catches on Down Under – our PM and Foreign Minister are tweeting to transmit their thoughts on the big issues

It looks like our government leaders have decided there’s one thing the disgraced US President Donald Trump can teach them.  It’s to turn to the Twitosphere  for communicating with their people.

Press statements have been spurned in recent days and they are tweeting to tell us what they think – for example – on mob rule in Washington and the dismantling of democracy in Hong Kong.

Their disapproval (as it happens) is disappointingly lacking in outrage.

On the positive side, their tweeting means they could dispense with the services of their press secretaries and trim the executive wage bill.

On the negative side, it means their official positions on the big issues of the day are not being recorded at Beehive.govt.nz, a website which claims to be and should be

… the best place to find Government initiatives, policies and Ministerial information

Not any more. Continue reading “Trumpian twitter catches on Down Under – our PM and Foreign Minister are tweeting to transmit their thoughts on the big issues”