• The Parting of the Ways

    Perhaps it’s because of the sheer size – and therefore enormous potential – of their country, but Australians have always demonstrated a harder-edged nationalism than have Kiwis. And that tendency has become even more apparent in recent years, when they have begun to flex their muscles as, potentially, a regional, if not global, power.

    The consequence of this growing sense of importance on a wider stage has been bad news for the traditional trans-Tasman, Anzac-based, camaraderie. The relationship with New Zealand matters less than it did (something that can be established by numerous examples) and is one increasingly of big brother to little brother, with New Zealanders being tolerated only as a kind of Australian sub-species.

    This increasingly apparent nationalism – and the sense of “Australia first” and the dismissal of anything that is not “dinkum Aussie” that one sees today, and every day, most obviously on the sports field – is all the more surprising for a country that has been built on immigration and the welcoming (other than by the indigenous people) of people from distant lands.

    There is a strongly entrenched narrative that reinforcing the Australian identity is the route to an even brighter future and greater influence – and it is at least arguable that the unexpected election victory for the incumbent government was a further expression of the sentiment that electing that government was a further test of one’s “Australian-ness”.

    There was some speculation, prior to the election, that the death of Bob Hawke, the quintessential Aussie and former Labour premier, would work in favour of the Labour opposition; but the reverse may have been the case. The publicity surrounding Bob Hawke’s death may have redounded to the benefit of the party most clearly seen as “representing” (in the sense of being pat of the fabric of) today’s Australia.

    “Dinkum Aussies”, and perhaps especially, non-political ones, in other words, are expected to stick by their government, through thick and thin, just as they do with their sportsmen and sportswomen in times of adversity. Nationalism, in its various forms, has, after all, always been a characteristic of right-wing politics, so it should come as no surprise that a heightened sense of the Australian national identity should work in favour of an incumbent government of the right.

    The direction of travel and causation may not, either, have been entirely from nationalistic attitudes leading to right-wing political views, but rather in the reverse direction. Australians have always been less socially aware and responsive than Kiwis; it is no accident that the great New World advances in social policy were achieved in New Zealand, rather than across the Tasman.

    A fundamentally right-wing view of society may, in other words, have both generated and then benefited from a rising tide of nationalism. Whatever the truth of such speculation, the re-election of a National /Liberal government in Australia looks sure to be bad news for Kiwis, particularly for those who were unwise enough to cross the Tasman in search of a new start.

    The re-elected government is unlikely to change its unfair treatment of, and its withholding of the normal rights of citizenship from, those Kiwis, and Scott Morrison is himself closely identified with the shameful treatment of refugees for which Australia has become notorious – though Australians seem to find it perfectly acceptable.

    A further deterioration in trans-Tasman relations may be in store, but we should not blame any difficulties on political differences between the governments that have been elected most recently in the two countries. Both sides have become adept over the decades at managing and accommodating such differences in the wake of general elections producing governments of different colours on the two sides of the Tasman.

    The parting of the ways that has begun to emerge is more a function of changes in Australian attitudes – changes that are not, sadly, helpful to the Anzac spirit. We’ll just have to get used to the new normal – and to regret what we have lost.

    Bryan Gould
    20 May 2019

     

  • Defending Privilege

    “Business as usual” is always the catch-cry of those who are happy with the way things are. “Let’s not change anything” makes sense to those who are doing well and see no reason to run any risks in case that might disturb their care-free existence.

    That is precisely why the right-wing party in Britain calls itself the Conservatives – they have plenty to conserve and they don’t want anyone rocking the boat – especially if it’s a luxury yacht. The corollary is that they have little interest in, or sympathy for, those whose vessels are a little less seaworthy.

    The preservation of the status quo and resistance to change are the hallmarks of those who are fearful that their privileged status might be challenged – and, if it is challenged, they will respond with any weapon they can lay their hands on.

    The usual response is to assert that the privilege or advantage they enjoy has been earned and is a just reward for their superior abilities and efforts; it has not, they say, been gained at the expense of others, so any attempt to redress the imbalance between them and those others would not only be misplaced but unfair.

    The difficulty with this line of argument is that we know that privilege breeds privilege – and inequality. We know that it is not just a slogan but an economic fact. Research by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz shows conclusively that one’s best chance of becoming well-off is to be born to rich parents.

    He also shows that we can choose, as a society, whether or not to tolerate a high degree of inequality. If we allow our politics to be dominated by defenders of the status quo (or, in other words, by “conservatives”) we will end up with a society in which privilege is endemic and entrenched and feeds on itself.

    It will also be a society that functions less well, that is riven by discontent and division, and that fails to use its resources (particularly human resources) fully and efficiently.

    The inefficient use of human resources in such a society arises in two ways and for two reasons. First, if privilege is the determining factor, then incompetent people will be promoted, by virtue of privilege, to positions for which they are not fitted – and our economic leaders will make a worse job of making important decisions that affect all of us.

    Secondly, if privilege is allowed free rein, then able people, with plenty to offer, will be held back and denied opportunities so that the rest of us are denied the full benefits of what they can contribute.

    If, however, we are disturbed by a growing disparity between the well-being of some parts of society and others, we might prefer political leaders who seek change and try to find better and fairer ways of cutting the cake – and making the cake bigger as well.

    Change will alway be uncomfortable for those for whom the status quo is acceptable and desirable. They will always reach for arguments that those seeking change are on the wrong track, or that the change is misconceived or won’t or can’t work, or that, even if it is brought about, it will produce outcomes that are not those intended.

    Those who see change as threatening their privilege will, in other words, always seek to defend that privilege, usually by attacking those who seek change – what else do you expect them to do?

    So, the next time you read or hear someone resisting change, pause to question their motives. Are they really opposed to change in general, and across the board, or are they really just defending privilege?

    And you should really be on your guard if you are told that those who are less privileged have missed out because they are lazy or greedy and can’t be bothered to get up in the morning – or that the fat cats got that way because of their inborn qualities and by thinking of others and working hard.

    Another tell-tale sign is when it is not change itself but those proposing change – change in the general interest and not for personal gain – who are attacked, for facing up to difficulties inevitably encountered in bringing that change about; the message seems to be that if change can’t be achieved painlessly or smoothly it should not be attempted.

    No one pretends that change is painless or that remedying past deficiencies does not carry a cost. But we should always be on our guard against those who, as a matter of course, attack proposed change on the ground that it is misconceived and that disturbing the status quo should always, and as a matter of principle, be resisted.

    Change can only be resisted by those who are satisfied that everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds – and guess who thinks like that?

    Bryan Gould
    15 May 2019

  • New Zealand’s World Leader

    When Jacinda Ardern went to China last week, she had a major task before her – the repair of a relationship that mattered greatly to New Zealand but one that had been threatened by the concerns of our security services about the involvement of the Chinese telecoms giant, Huawei, in the roll-out of our new G5 network

    Fortunately for us and for that relationship, the Prime Minister took with her an unparalleled advantage that was hers alone. She took with her the international mana and prestige that had accrued to her by virtue of the leadership she has shown over the Christchurch shootings. The warmth of her reception and the respect she was shown when she was received in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing was testament to the regard in which she is now held worldwide.

    In New Zealand, we are becoming somewhat blasé about her achievements – but it is worth recalling just what has happened over the last year or two. A young woman with no previous experience of government has been elected, by virtue of a somewhat unexpected election victory, to the top position in our government.

    She has had to form a coalition government, bringing together two other parties, and has set that government on course to achieve major reforms in hitherto neglected areas – affordable housing, mental health and child poverty, amongst others, and she took this on while at the same time giving birth to her first-born – an experience that by itself tests the mettle and absorbs all the time of most first-time mothers.

    Not content with focusing on domestic issues, she has also undertaken extensive overseas commitments, representing New Zealand to general acclaim at the United Nations and at gatherings like Davos, leading discussions with world authorities and making important contributions on issues like climate change and mental health.

    Then came New Zealand’s “darkest day” in Christchurch, and the world marvelled at her capacity to respond to the victims and their communities with love and compassion – to heal a bleeding country, but at the same time to take decisive action on the things that demanded attention – better gun control, more responsibility to be shown by the social media, an inquiry as to whether our intelligence services had done their job properly.

    Did the self-styled spokesperson for the “gun lobby”, who described her as “dumb as a plank”, realise when he appeared on television a day or two ago with that remark what a plonker he made himself seem?

    Our Prime Minister is now seen as a world leader. She is a fresh voice, that is listened to with respect and attention. She is seen to embody the virtues of youth and femininity. She has forced us all to re-consider what qualities we can legitimately expect from our leaders. New Zealand’s standing in the world has been enormously enhanced. The country’s image, reflecting the persona of our Prime Minister, has achieved a new definition in the world’s eyes.

    So, when the Prime Minister was welcomed in Beijing, it came as no surprise that she was not treated as a supplicant, but as an equal. New Zealand may be a minnow by comparison with the new super-power, but she was recognised as a leader whose message had to be heard. New Zealand is immeasurably advantaged by that kind of stature.

    It is an essential part of a constructive relationship with China that, as the Chinese President said, we should “trust each other”. The Chinese know that, in Jacinda Ardern, they have a friend they can trust – but also a friend who is ready to stand up for what, on issues like human rights, she knows to be right – as she was ready to stand up to Donald Trump over the threat posed by “white supremacists” and the need to show love and compassion to our Muslim communities. More power to her elbow!

    Bryan Gould
    2 April 2019

     

  • What Does It Mean to Be A New Zealander?

    When, in 1962, as a 23 year-old, I boarded the Northern Star to sail to Britain where I was to study as a Rhodes Scholar for a post-graduate law degree at Balliol College, Oxford, I took with me an LP (yes, we had those funny bits of vinyl in those days). It was a recording of the St Joseph’s Maori Girls Choir, singing Maori love songs and starring their lead singer Wiki Baker.

    Over the next few years, as I completed my degree and stayed on in the UK for a decade or three, I was surprised to discover that nothing made me feel more homesick, or more like a New Zealander, than listening to those beautifully sung Maori melodies. The only comparable emotional charge came from watching the All Blacks do the haka.

    I had a similar rush of affection for my homeland a few days ago, in the midst of the media coverage of the terrible events in Christchurch. The television news was showing a gathering of London-based Kiwis who were seeking comfort from each other at that dark time; I wasn’t really watching but I suddenly heard the strains of E Papa Waiari and Whakaaria Mai being sung.

    I was suddenly transported to be there with them – my compatriots – and once again I realised that the music had powerfully stirred me and I was again struck by the fact that it was Maori music that had reinforced for me my sense of my own identity. I recall being similarly moved by the performance of E Papa Waiari by Fiji at the One Love Concert in Tauranga in 2018, when the crowd joined in and would not let the music end.

    These experiences lead me to reflect on my cultural heritage and on what makes me a New Zealander. I am of mixed Scottish, Welsh and English descent and proud of it. My forefathers came to New Zealand in the very earliest days of European settlement. But I realise that I am, today, not just a Brit who has been transplanted 12,000 miles away. I am proudly from the Pacific and I am the product of a unique cultural environment. I feel that I understand and share the concepts of both tangata and whenua.

    My heritage is a doubly rich one, drawing not only on my British antecedents but also on the cultural environment into which I was born and in which I grew up and still live. Although, as far as I know, I have no Maori blood, I feel that, perhaps through osmosis, I have a special response to Maori culture – that I am a man of my time and place. It is that unique cultural hinterland that makes us Kiwis different.

    I would like to think that other pakeha New Zealanders may feel similarly. We are all entitled to feel that we are building something unique here in Aotearoa/New Zealand; we are not talking about integrating two cultures (that would do justice to neither of them), but recognising the debt that is owed by each to the other. The acknowledgement of that debt can, in my experience, produce a sense of enrichment and an aid to identifying exactly who we are.

    At a moment in our history when we are compelled to ask ourselves who we are, and how we should respond to those of different cultures in our midst, we should not only reinforce our commitment to welcoming diversity and treating each other with respect, whatever our cultural, ethnic and religious identities, but we should also think a little more deeply as to the answer we should give when we are asked “Who are you?” And “what is the future for New Zealand?”

    My answer is that a New Zealand identity should illustrate the truth of the Maori whakatauki or proverb, that “with your basket and my basket, the people will prosper” and that “we are all in the same canoe”.

    Bryan Gould
    19 March 2019

     

     

  • What Do We Do About Hate Speech?

    I usually disagree with Mike Hosking because I do not share his fundamental social attitudes and beliefs. But, as to what he had to say in today’s Herald about the Christchurch massacre, I recognise that his motivations, in warning against closing down views with which we might disagree, were positive.

    But, I still believe that he was simply wrong when he said, “Now, just to be clear, so no one misconstrues any of this, there is a massive gap between this sort of rhetoric or policy, and mad men with guns.”

    The “rhetoric and policy” he refers to were those of people, like some Australian politicians, who set out to exacerbate division and thereby fanned the flames of hate against those who might be different. It is sadly, clear, that there is a similar stream of thought and language flowing in New Zealand – in social media in particular.

    I agree with Hosking that we should be very careful about closing down opinions, simply because “we” don’t like them. But he is wrong to suggest that there is no link between the peddling of what might be called “hate language” and the kind of violence we saw in Christchurch.

    Nor is it the case that hate language is always as extreme and clear as it has been, so it seems, on some New Zealand-based websites. There is a range of subtle ways in which hate-filled attitudes can be disseminated; some Australian politicians became adept at what were called “dog whistle” politics – the use of certain words and phrases that were not themselves offensive but signalled, to those with a mind and ear to interpret them as intended, that the speaker shared with them their extreme views.

    One of the significant aspects of the alleged shooter’s actions in Christchurch was his keenness to advertise his views and more particularly his actions. He clearly expected to be greeted as a hero, at least by some sections of opinion, and in that he was following in the footsteps of Anders Breivik, the Norwegian extremist, who killed 77 teenagers for no apparent reason some years ago.

    What seems to have been at work in both of these cases – in Norway and Christchurch – was a tragic misreading of the state of opinion in the host community. Somehow or another, these killers misinterpreted the fundamental beliefs that prevailed in the society in which they carried out their murderous intents.

    How did they make such a fatal mistake? Because they listened to the “dog whistles” – and often these noises were not difficult to interpret, but were deliberately expressive of overtly hate-filled attitudes – or at least attitudes that regarded some of our fellow-citizens, by virtue of their differences in culture, religion or ethnicity, as deserving of responses based on fear, anger and hate.

    So, sorry Mike. The “massive gap” you see between hate-filled rhetoric and policy on the one hand and “mad men with guns” is no gap at all – the two go hand in hand, and – if we are to avoid future tragedies – we have no option but to forestall and frustrate the peddling of “hate speech”. It has already done enough to propagate a shocking violence in the society in which we all live.

    Bryan Gould
    19 March 2019