• 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



  • he Christchurch Slaughter

    The immediate response of most Kiwis to the Christchurch slaughter will have been shock and incredulity. But as the full dimensions and implications of the outrage become clearer, we need to reach a longer-term understanding.

    Yes, it is unthinkable that our peaceable country should have borne witness to such barbarity. It is hard to overstate the sheer inhuman callousness that could lead anyone to fire an automatic weapon into a crowd of unarmed people.

    But, throwing up our hands in horror will not be enough. We must understand, on several levels, how it came about and why it was not stopped. We need to understand, first, what it was that prompted anyone, claiming to be part of human society, and our society in particular, to commit such an atrocity.

    We are, sadly, accustomed to events of this kind when the perpetrators seem to be motivated by what they see as the wishes or commands of their God. In those cases, there is at least – however misguidedly – some semblance of a reason for what would otherwise be a purposeless act of destruction.

    What is at issue here, however, is not some misinterpreted instruction from a supernatural being but rather a distorted belief system – formed and designed by fellow-humans – which the perpetrators seem to have created and adopted for themselves.

    What is remarkable about that belief system is that its well-springs are not religious fervour or a quest for salvation but anger and hate directed against our fellow-human beings – against acquaintances and neighbours and workmates, the people we live and work with every day – against, in other words, “us”.

    What is further remarkable is the shocking arrogance on the part of the misguided converts – to the point that they believed that their distorted perceptions entitled them to kill and maim those who were unwittingly the targets of their hate and anger.

    We can glean something of their state of mind from the fact that they seemed happy to parade the contents of their sick minds. The publication, in advance of the atrocity, of a “manifesto” and the posting on social media of footage of the crime as it was being carried out show beyond doubt that they saw nothing to apologise for – that they expected instead to be celebrated and congratulated.

    There are shades here of the attitudes displayed by the Norwegian killer, Anders Breivik, who killed 77 teenagers some years back in a similarly senseless way. He, too, expected to be treated as a hero and seems still to regard himself as such.

    We cannot afford to let ourselves off the hook by labelling behaviours such as these as “beyond comprehension”. We need to ask ourselves how it is that someone living in our midst could so grievously misread our own society as to believe that an act of this sheer malevolence could somehow be supported. We cannot dismiss it as an aberration when the evidence suggests so clearly that these attitudes were allowed to take root in our own soil – and we don’t escape that reality and responsibility by dismissing one of the perpetrators as an Australian.

    We must accept that the tragedy was the product of a home-grown sickness. Only then will we achieve a society that does not provide a potting mix for such poisonous growths.

    We might also register the significance of a Donald Trump (identified by the shooter as an inspiration for his views) in creating a climate in which such attitudes might prosper. A society where fear, anger and hatred are encouraged as responses to those of different ethnicity or religion cannot expect to live at peace with itself.

    As well as identifying the underlying causes, we will also have to learn practical lessons about how similar calamities can be forestalled in future. There are clearly lessons of gun control (how did such guns pass into such hands?) and of intelligence (why did the warnings of what was afoot on social media not get taken seriously?) and concerning the role of the social media themselves in providing a transmission medium for such violent and dangerous views.

    Terrorism comes in many guises and with various excuses. Whatever mask it wears, we must be clear that it – and the forces that produce it – will not be tolerated in any form. We do that best by just learning to be kind to each other.

    Bryan Gould
    !6 March 2019

  • Trade Should Be Between Equals

    A couple of developments in the past week or so have cast a fresh light on a familiar question – should we be worried about the possibility that agents of foreign governments can buy influence in our politics and government?

    The first such development was the news that the Serious Fraud Office is investigating Simon Bridges and the National party over Jami-Lee Ross’s allegations that they were guilty of election law fraud and corruption in their handling of a large donation from a Chinese businessman which they wanted to remain secret.

    Whatever the findings may be on that issue (and we can surely rely on the SFO to get to the truth of the matter), the real question arises from what we have learned about the role played by anonymous donations in funding our political parties – and whether that practice (whether handled in accordance with the law or not) allows foreign interests to exert an influence of which we – the New Zealand public – are unaware.

    The second development drew the Labour Party into the same morass. A Select Committee asked by the Justice Minister, Andrew Little, to investigate the possibilities of untoward foreign influence in our politics decided that it would not hear a submission from Anne-Marie Brady, a Canterbury University academic who has made the running, both at home and internationally, in warning of the dangers of just such possibilities.

    Some readers may recall that Ms Brady has already hit the headlines – not only because of her whistle-blowing – but because of the suspicion that, as a response to her warnings, her house has been burgled, her e-mails hacked, and even that her car has been criminally tampered with by parties unknown.

    All the more surprising, then, that an acknowledged expert on the subject should not have been heard by the Select Committee set up for the precise purpose of examining the risks of foreign interference. The Chair of the Select Committee, the Labour MP, Dr Raymond Huo, explained the decision not to hear Ms Brady on “procedural” grounds – she had apparently been out of time – but a Select Committee worth its salt would surely have overcome such a difficulty if it had been focused on collecting the most relevant evidence.

    Dr Huo was supported by the Labour members of the Committee, leaving in the air the question of whether the government MPs were fully committed to their task – and the further awkward question as to whether the loyalty of members of the Chinese diaspora in New Zealand is owed to their country of origin or adoption.

    What is worrying is that both of these developments surfaced against a backdrop when anxiety is expressed in many quarters about the blow to New Zealand-China trade relations delivered by the security service’s recommendation that the Chinese telecom giant, Hua Wei, should not be involved in the roll-out of our new G5 network.

    It cannot be emphasised too often that a trading relationship is best regarded as conducted between two sovereign countries and not between a powerful economy on the one hand and a country on the other hand that is treated as its satellite or colony.

    Our trade with China, in other words, does not and should not preclude us from standing up for ourselves, whether on security matters or on issues of internal political interference. Indeed, the reverse is the case; every time we give ground on such issues, we encourage our trading partners to believe that pressure works and to demand that we yield further to that pressure.

    And if our trade with China is, as it should be, a trade between equals, we should not only be entitled to maintain our stance on issues that are important to us, but should also be able to ask for changes in the policies of our trading partner. The difficulty we face in respect of Hua Wei is not of our making but is the direct consequence of the Chinese practice of establishing major Chinese companies as arms of the Chinese state.

    The supposed disturbance to our relationship occasioned by our decision on Hua Wei could, in other words, be removed by a change in the way China and its agencies do business. The ball is largely in their court – and we should never forget that the ball bounces both sides of the net.

    Bryan Gould
    13March 2019

  • The Health of the Public Debate

    In a Westminster-style, parliamentary democracy such as ours – and one that, despite MMP, remains essentially a two-party contest – it is inevitable that many of us will choose a side and then see nothing but good in our preferred party and nothing but bad in their opponents – rather like supporters of a football team.

    Such allegiances are often more tribal than individual. My own family, for example, saw themselves as naturally National supporters – it was in their DNA – and they were shocked when I chose not to follow suit.

    Political commentators are no different – it would be surprising to find many who had not taken sides and were genuinely free from preconception and prejudice. But, for those who want to be taken seriously, it is important that they are seen to be balanced in their comments and ready to acknowledge merit, when they see it, in the views and policies of the party they don’t support, as well as errors and deficiencies in those of the party they favour.

    A political commentator who recognises no such duty and prefers to take on the role of an “attack dog” for a preferred party is in danger of not only losing credibility – on the ground that every statement and opinion is potentially invalidated by bias and must therefore be disregarded – but also runs the risk of doing a disservice to the party whose cause he is trying to serve by linking it to his own unappealing exhibition of inaccuracy, prejudice, bile and aggression.

    Why do I make this point? Because I think we currently have instances of precisely this phenomenon in the pages of some of our leading papers and in our broadcast media.

    I have in mind one or two commentators whose keenness to promote the cause of a particular party and to denigrate other parties leads them to express themselves with scant regard for differing views or recognition of constraints (such as the law) under which politicians operate, and who exhibit over-the-top and unpleasant attitudes – derision for those who disagree, a lack of compassion for those who look to government or society for help, a readiness to bad-mouth those of our fellow-citizens who are doing it tough.

    Not only is the quality of our democracy damaged by the display of such attitudes, (since we should be able to handle our differences without impugning the competence or good faith of those with whom we disagree); but we all suffer if we can no longer trust the accuracy of what we are told and conclude accordingly that no one in public life can be trusted.

    The Americans, saddled as they are with a Trump presidency, are in course of discovering just how damaging to a functioning democracy a constant diet of lies and loss of trust in the media can be.

    In the New Zealand context, the irony is that it is not just our pubic life in general that will be the casualty; the fortunes of the party favoured by the commentator can also be adversely affected. Many readers and listeners will conclude that the distasteful views and opinions expressed do not just spring unbidden from the mind of the commentator, but faithfully reflect those of the party being supported; and, accordingly, an unfavourable reaction will inevitably rub off on the party which is the intended beneficiary of the “attack dog’s” supposed help.

    It may be that the party supposedly “favoured” in this way may have very little to do with what is essentially just a piece of “free enterprise” and self-promotion on the part of a self-appointed champion. The lesson is that political parties should take even more care in selecting their supposed friends than they do in identifying and opposing their enemies.

    The proprietors of our media are also in obvious danger of being tarred with the same brush as the commentators to whom they give a platform – a decision that they alone take and for which they must take responsibility. They, too, need to recognise their duty to maintain the health of the public debate. If that debate is damaged, they – as well as their readers, viewers and listeners – will be the losers.

    Bryan Gould
    12 March 2019