Wednesday, 26 February 2014

27 February 2014
The tactic is not new. It is as old as humanity, and has been tried many times before, sometimes with monstrous and chilling effect.
It is consistently roundly condemned and reviled as unacceptable in a civilised society, yet it persistently rears its head from time to time, and no matter the moral outrage it engenders, finds a small, but dogged, audience to lap it up.
No, I am not referring to the shadowy and dubious tactics of intelligence services, although, heaven knows, they deserve opprobrium, but to the even more sinister practice of isolating one group in the community – invariably migrants – and blaming all society’s ills upon them.
In New Zealand, this despicable space has been consistently occupied by small, ultra-right wing white supremacist groups that have been around the political fringes for some time. While they have had no influence whatsoever, their cause is given a cloak of dubious respectability every time New Zealand First launches an attack on migrant communities. Divisive and racist, the moves are no more than cynical political tactics designed to appeal to fears and uncertainties for short-term gain. But their impact goes far beyond that. Racial intolerance is given a veneer of credibility because of the way it is treated by an established political party, and many people who have come to this country, both seeking to contribute their skills and enjoy a better standard of living for themselves and their families are denigrated and stigmatised as a consequence.
The mainstream reaction has been sadly too effete. Liberal opinion, while deeply offended, has opted for silence, lest it give the cause too much oxygen. Conservatives have similarly preferred to let the sleeping dog lie, lest they be forced to confront it directly. And so, the cancer spreads quietly and perniciously.
It is time to stop letting things just slip by.
My view is that New Zealand’s future rests on the opportunity the mix of cultures we have today gives us to become one of the world’s truly harmonious multi-ethnic societies. Our Māori and Pacific heritage, the strong background of European migration, and the more recent influx of new migrants from Asia and Africa provide that near unique opportunity for us. This is what we should be celebrating and embracing, rather than resisting and resiling from. This generation has the chance to shape the destiny of the New Zealanders of the future, perhaps like no other. It is the opportunity to develop a people as at home in the worlds of Māori and Pasifika, and Africa and Asia, as they are with more traditional European roots.
Promoting this positive vision for our future, and standing up the racists, will be a key part of UnitedFuture’s campaign this year.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

20 February 2014
For the uninitiated, and Americans, cricket is one of the great unexplained mysteries of our time.
But it is all so simple. Cricket is a game for two teams, which can last for several days. One side goes in to bat, and stays in, until it is all out. Then the other side goes in, until it, in turn, is also all out. This can happen twice for each in a game, although in some instances, a team that was in and has gone out can be made to go in again to follow on to see if it beat the runs made by the team that was in first before it was all out. As I say, quite simple really.
Quite often the joy of cricket is not so much in winning, but in not losing by drawing. Teams often play for a draw, if they know they cannot win. In some instances, they will even invoke the assistance of the deities for it to rain, because cricket cannot be played in the rain, and a timely downpour might be just the thing needed to stave off defeat. There was even the case of the famous Timeless Test played in Durban in 1938 between England and South Africa which was abandoned after eight days, without a result, only because the English team’s boat was about to sail.
Inevitably, the mysteries of cricket create their own allure, and a marvellous compendium of quirky facts, amazing exhibitions of skill and courage, and even political divisions and intrigue has been built over the years. New Zealand has been swept up in its own form of mania over the last week because of the stoic efforts of the Black Caps, and Brendan McCallum’s becoming the first New Zealander to pass 300 runs in a single test innings.
Now what has all this to do with politics, you might ask. Aside from David Cunliffe’s hurried motion in the House congratulating the New Zealand team and the Prime Minister’s cheery, tieless photo with the heroic McCallum, absolutely nothing. But after a week of Labour suffering more poll misery from the Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll results topped by the revelations that TVNZ was being used as a party cell; the absurdity of the Greens’ and New Zealand First’s selective memories over secret visits to the Dotcom mansion; and the legal trigger happy Colin Craig, New Zealanders were more than ready for the diversion.
While the cricket season may now be over, the need for diversions from the inanities of what has so far been a most extraordinary political year will continue for some time yet. It is just as well the Super Rugby season starts this weekend, and runs through to the middle of the year. And what is even better, most people, even Americans, understand the broad rules of rugby. It is just the referees they do not like. But that is a whole blogpost in itself, which can wait for another day.
 


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

I know it is election year, and that that always generates a certain amount of frenetic silliness, as parties jockey for first mover advantage, but this year’s various efforts are probably the best yet.
From chemtrails, to non-launches of new parties, to the series of disconnected announcements from across the spectrum on areas as diverse as education, support for families, political overrides of the judicial process, they all smack of a peculiarly New Zealand version of the theatre of the absurd. The pace has been fast and furious with all the finesse of a Parisian traffic jam. In short, a series of symptoms desperately looking for a cause. The one possible exception is the Salvation Army’s State of the Nation Report, although its particular understandable focus discounts its impartiality somewhat.
Such policy making in a vacuum, or to put it more colloquially scratching every apparent itch (one party has made this a shabby art form over many years) might be fun in election year, but is no way to run a credible government.
Some years ago the Irish government adopted making Ireland the best place to raise a family as a key policy objective, and then geared its social and economic policies, including what the required economic growth rate to achieve those would be (around 6% from memory) towards meeting that goal. Such an approach might be far too organised for New Zealand in its current frame of mind. But it would certainly be a death-blow to the spraying around of expensive, unco-ordinated wish lists that seem to pass for serious policy these days.
What all this points to is the need for governments to have thorough and coherent information on which to base their policies and is why the annual Families Status Report the Families Commission is now required to produce is so important. This initiative was promoted by UnitedFuture in its 2011 confidence and supply agreement with National and was implemented last year. The 2014 Families Status Report will be released in June.
It will provide good baseline information on the status of New Zealand families and whānau today, their issues and concerns, and will be the ideal platform on which to build viable policies for the future. That of itself is probably a major reason why Opposition parties keep promising to abolish the Commission. However, spite over substance never wins the day.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

5 February 2014
A sunny day in Wellington and the line-up of floats for the annual parade marking the start of the madcap Wellington Sevens event is a great reminder of all that is good in our country, and a welcome relief to many of the daily pressures we face.
So too is the opportunity to debate the design of our national flag, to make sure it more accurately reflects the spirit and “vibe” of modern New Zealand. It is not the superficial distraction some dismiss it as, but a chance to think afresh about the New Zealand face of the future. It is an occasion we should relish as bold and confident people.
Another part of that consideration ought to be our stubborn adherence to relics of our colonial past. The Queen’s Birthday holiday is an obvious example. At a time when we healthily debate the issues around our National Day what possible relevance is the commemoration of the birthday, months after the actual event, of a distant hereditary sovereign we seldom see, and who has no impact on our daily lives?
I am no killjoy seeking to deprive people of a welcome mid-winter long weekend, but I seriously doubt its continued relevance to current and future generations of New Zealanders.
All of which brings me back to the theme of positive nationhood with which I began. We should welcome the flag debate and the wider constitutional discussion it will lead to, with its hoped for outcome of the New Zealand Republic, as positive occasions for our country to shape its destiny. And then the meaningless Queen’s Birthday weekend could be put out of its misery and replaced with a weekend that celebrates the New Zealand of the future, in all its richness and diversity.
As the Wellington Sevens events shows each year, nothing beats a celebration, even at the coldest time of year, to light up the national mood and lift public spirits.