Archive for ‘February, 2009’

Framing fires

datePosted on 16:03, February 10th, 2009 by Lew

Parliament is sitting today, and the 2009 session rightly opened with a unanimous motion of support for those affected by the Victoria bushfires. The events themselves have been very thoroughly covered on NZ media and internationally, but what I’m interested in is the way in which our politicians have been speaking about them. So, a quick look at each party’s contribution to the debate of the motion this afternoon.

John Key, National: Emphasised close cultural, economic and military relationship – “like no other”, and history of mutual support in times of need. Strong sporting rivalry means strong cultural ties. Firefighters as heroes who care not for borders and are an example to us all. Top-level links between himself and Rudd. Closed with “kia kaha”. Focused on the magnitude of the events on Australia, though a questionable choice of words with “the enormity of what is happening has burned into our consciousness”. Strongly-worded, statesmanlike, decisive.

Phil Goff, Labour: Spoke for “all New Zealanders”, focusing on impact on families of victims and the “human tragedy” and loss of property. Used family and sport metaphors for the strength of the relationship, like Key. The offer of 100 firefighters “was a good first step”. Generally somewhat procedural, lacked the bite of Key’s speech.

Russel Norman, Green: Very brief. Ticks off main points re support for the motion and assistance, and “respectfully note” the debate on climate change in Australia – but perhaps wisely doesn’t make too much of this.

Rodney Hide, ACT: “All New Zealanders” and “brothers and sisters”, again. Moved quickly to Rudd’s “hell on earth”, then to the possible criminal element behind the fires, hoping that those who committed the “evil” of the arson receive their “just desserts”. He’s angry, first and foremost.

Tariana Turia, māori party: Expressed sympathies in the first place to “the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd” and then to those “families and communities” who have suffered – formally, she’s speaking as ariki ki te ariki, I think. Rather than using family as a metaphor, highlighted the fact that many New Zealanders actually have relatives in Victoria. Fire is “merciless”, families are “scarred’. Said her party would “support the role that this government and this country will play” as if she’s not involved or hasn’t been consulted about it.

Jim Anderton, Progressive: “Brothers and sisters” again, emphasising global and historical magnitude of the fires. NZ being “compelled to share [victims’] grief”. Focused on rebuilding and the resilience and “Aussie dauntlessness”. Firefighters as heroes. Amazingly, he compared the fires to September 11 2001, rationalising it on the basis that the same proportion of population have supposedly been killed. Irony of flooding in Queensland at the same time. Generally a strong speech, but – September 11, WTF! At least he didn’t refer to the supposed arsonists as “terrorists”.

Peter Dunne, United Future: “Kith and kin”. Enormity of the events – “Australia’s worst peacetime tragedy”, which is rhetoric reminiscent of post-9/11. Warns that life will take a long time to return to normal. Talks about media imagery a lot. Encourages people to be “as generous with their resources as they are with their sentiments”.

I see a few true colours there, I think.


Propaganda is everywhere

datePosted on 13:42, February 10th, 2009 by Lew

Hi folks. I’ve been invited to join the other posters here, and I’ll put up things which occur to me from time to time. To start the ball rolling, here’s an image I think has some pretty interesting meanings:


(Image sourced from here.)



NGO advocacy: it’s all right with me!

datePosted on 06:00, February 10th, 2009 by Anita

Idiot/Savant has been wading through OIAs in an attempt to figure out which government agencies joined SOE Solid Energy in paying for a report to undermine government climate change policies. Solid Energy has paid nearly a quarter of a million dollars of our money to lobby against the government addressing climate change.

Yet at the same time NGOs are rigourously banned from using any state funding to advocate for legislative or policy change. Small volunteer run organisations are forced to segregate their government funding from any funding used for advocacy.

This causes all kinds of administrative and compliance overhead – if a social worker’s salary is paid by a government contract for service, can they discuss difficulties caused by Housing NZ policy when they meet HNZ staff to organise emergency housing for clients? If someone producing information material’s salary is 60% funded how can we prove that the time they spent putting together material for the CE’s meeting with the incoming Minister was in their other 40%?

On the one hand we give the most ethically dubious state owned enterprise the right to use as much of our money as they like to lobby, hire spies, breach the Conservation Act and pay private investigators to summarise Indymedia.

On the other we load such compliance cost on small NGOs that using their own money to lobby becomes impractical.

As well as tightening the leash on Solid Energy, we need to give NGOs their freedom. NGOs provide richness and diversity, they advocate for people whose voices are lost in our majoritarian culture – a little government funding would be worth every dollar.

The deserving poor

datePosted on 06:00, February 9th, 2009 by Anita

A few weeks ago I was reading about the way refugees are talked about and ran across an article by Vanessa Pupavac in which she talks about the way refugee advocacy groups have fought the negative xenophobic framing of refugees that has become so attractive to politicians across the world.

One of her findings is that advocates have built stories about exceptionally talented refugees and middle class professionals to build a picture of deservingness. Somehow we have come to believe that being a human being who is homeless due to persecution is not enough in itself to deserve help, we need to be told that they’re special.

The problem, of course, is that most refugees aren’t special, refugees are a mix of people just like our communities. To quote Pupavac

Asylum rights are thereby implicitly made conditional on qualifying as nice, talented, sensitive individuals. But where does this leave any unappealing, untalented, unskilled asylum seeker with culturally repellent views and habits? A well-founded fear of persecution is not confined to nice people.

This pattern of needing people to prove their deservingness before we give them basic human support and kindness is seen again and again in the rhetoric of the new right: there are deserving beneficiaries and the others that don’t deserve help, there are deserving families that deserve state help and those that don’t … .

When did we become a society where people have to prove that they deserve to be able to buy food for their children? Or live in a country where they won’t be killed?

Hat tip to Julie’s post at The Hand Mirror

Paying the “true cost”

datePosted on 06:00, February 8th, 2009 by Anita

Over at The Hand Mirror Anna has a post up about the anti-worker sentiment expressed by the 15% holiday surcharge, and I totally agree. But … :)

One of the things about the holiday surcharge is that it passes on to me the cost of disrupting someone else’s holiday. I am asking for someone to work on their holiday, shouldn’t I pay for my convenience? Penal rates are designed, in part, to be a disincentive to employers making people work on public holidays, so it makes a certain amount of sense that is is passed on to act as a disincentive to me.

In a free market economy ideal where nothing is to be banned, price signals take the place of regulation, and price signals are only effective when the cost is paid by the decision maker. So if we have accepted the free market approach, the question in this case is who the decision maker is; the cafe owner who opens the doors, or the cafe patron who comes through them?

This illustrates one of the many downsides of relying on price signals to define acceptable behaviour: some of us can pay  and some cannot; some can afford to turn down the money, some cannot. Secondly price signals very quickly turn into a price for everything and a value for nothing. if it’s worth it to your business you can open on a public holiday and pay the price, if it’s worth it to your business you can stick to the dangerous work practice and just pay the price of the deaths you cause.

So, paying 15% on a public holiday. It probably succeeds as a disincentive to some, but for many people all it does it prove that public holidays of the poor can be bought by the wealthy.

Principled or Pragmatic?

datePosted on 14:23, February 7th, 2009 by Pablo

New Zealand is said to have a “principled and pragmatic” foreign policy. In fact, it is considered a model for small state participation in world affairs. Its support for UN peacekeeping, its role in the non-proliferation regime, its pursuit of open trade, its championing of international human rights and its advocacy of environmental protection are considered exemplary forms of small state behaviour on the global scene. But is New Zealand really following principles when it engages the world?

In spite of its human rights rhetoric, New Zealand actively trades with a host of authoritarian regimes without preconditions or qualifiers. Such trade partners include Iran, Kuwait, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Brunei, Singapore and of course the PRC. Its FTAs with the PRC and the authoritarian partners of the P4 trade bloc have no “after entry” provisions regarding labour rights, working conditions, child labor restrictions etc. That is the general rule. Rather than upholding international labor standards and other human rights baselines when promoting trade relationships, it appears that New Zealand abandons them entirely because it is seen as “bad for business.”

A similar situation holds true in the security field. Although New Zealand publicly trumpets its “blue-helmet” deployments in conflicts zones such as South Lebanon, the Sinai and Bosnia,  it quietly operates with a range of foreign security agencies whose records are less than clean. That includes close cooperation with French intelligence, the perpetrators of the Rainbow Warrior bombing and manufacturers of  false intelligence against Ahmed Zaoui; close military-to-military contact with Singapore; development of military-to-military contacts with the PRC, and ongoing intelligence cooperation on and service with US, Australian and UK military units in conflict zones in which NZ has publicly opposed the stance of its larger partners.

As for the NPT, climate change regime and international peacekeeping, perhaps the reasons for participation are less due to principle than to self-interest. Reducing the amount of WMD in the world reduces the potential for catastrophic confrontations and incidental fall-out, contamination and the like. From a self-interested perspective, the less the possibility of adversaries resorting to WMD, the more the possibility of conflict resolution short of total war. Likewise, if one subscribes to the view that climate change is dangerous to humanity, and that humans are major contributors to climate change, that is, climate change is a universal bad caused by people, then it is in New Zealand’s interest to help lead the charge against global warming, CFCs, rising sea levels etc.  In parallel, participation in international peacekeeping can be seen as a form of insurance policy should NZ ever come under attack and its traditional allies are either involved or unwilling to come to its defence. Small states have a vested interest in multinational peacekeeping and defense simply because they are unilaterally vulnerable to the depredations of larger states. In the fluid international environment that is the post-Cold War era, where new powers are emerging, old powers are in decline, and pre-modern ideological conflicts have re-surfaced with a post-modern vengeance (and high tech weaponry), deploying on UN or regional multinational security missions is a self-interested hedge against the uncertainties of the moment. This includes participation in peacekeeping and policing within the southwestern Pacific, as instability and the threat of state failure in places like the Solomons and New Guinea (and further afield, Samoa and Tonga) are believed to invite the unwanted attention of outside powers and criminal organisations as well as spark refugee flows, cross-border tensions and increased levels of violence region-wide. Rather than principle, it could be that pragmatic assessments of longer-term consequences are what drives New Zealand’s approach to these issue-areas.

Labour is believed to be more idealist-principled in its foreign policy approach, whereas National is believed to be more realist-pragmatic. The irony is that other than the (now resolved) disputes over the antinuclear policy, Iraq invasion and dismantling of the tactical air wing, both major parties have, since the late 1990s, tacitly agreed on the overall thrust of New Zealand’s foreign affairs. The bottom line is that pragmatism governs approaches to self-perceived “core” interests, while principle is left to “peripheral” (rhetorical?)interests not essential to national survival and prosperity. Put anther way, the tacit bargain between Labour and National on foreign policy is to never let principle get in the way of pragmatic opportunity or necessity when it comes to international relations.

Families: picking favourites

datePosted on 06:00, February 7th, 2009 by Anita

Many of you will have already seen this beauty doing the rounds, but if you haven’t it’s worth a viewing

“Fidelity”: Don’t Divorce… from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

It reminded me a little about the power we give the state by allowing it to make the rules about our relationships. But far more strongly it made me think of the way the moral right wants to pick favourites amongst our families; it wants to say those families in the video are less good than het families.

Why does a lobby that argues so strongly against state interference in families simultaneously argue that the state should get to pick which families are better than others?

Waitangi 2009. Do we need a national identity anyway?

datePosted on 19:52, February 6th, 2009 by Jafapete

Today’s the day that we tend to reflect on New Zealand/Aotearoa as a nation: its foundations, its continuing tensions, and the possibilities and threats that lie in its future.

So I was interested in the “Waitangi Eve” discussion at the War Memorial Museum last night, featuring Sir Paul Reeves, Moana Maniapoto and others as part of a must-attend series featuring music and debate.

Because, you see, I’m not entirely convinced that we need a “national identity”, except maybe to inspire creative endeavours. After all, don’t we live in a globalised world? Arguably, the concept of the nation state dates from the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, and now it seems so twentieth century. And just look at all the trouble nationalism has caused. Wouldn’t we be better off without it? (Who wants to be like the hyper-nationalistic Aussies, anyway?)

I should admit that for many years I was ambivalent about my “New Zealandness.” Hardly surprising, since I was born in London, and my Waikato farming cousins gave me a hard time as I was growing up in the 1970s for being a “whinging Pom.”

Never mind that our mutual ancestors had mostly arrived here in the 19th century, as far back as 1842. Never mind that, having no memories of Merrie Olde England, I could hardly make any comparisons with NZ. Who’d want to belong to such a dull, narrow-minded, backwater?

But it shaped me, too. When I eventually got to London, I discovered that I am a stranger in the city of my birth. Like so many in this century, I am not entirely at home anywhere. But I am most at home at the bottom of the South Pacific. I have come to think of myself as an “Anglo-Kiwi.”

Back to the museum. Sir Paul noted, I think, how apt was the location of the discussion: in the magnificent Maori Hall, encased as it is in the Grecian-Roman colonial monstrosity that is the Museum. Moana Maniapoto provided one of the real insights of the evening. This quest for national identity, she said, is a Pakeha thing. True, how true.

For the past decade, the quest has been led by Helen Clark, who made it a very personal quest, with pilgrimages to Gallipoli and so on. The linkages with creative endeavours are clear, especially to those in the arts community. And a shared national identity may help us to find a way to get along as “one nation, many peoples.” The putative linkages with economic progress I’m less than convinced about.

I’m more concerned that national identity is often used to conceal the very real differences between the haves and the have nots in society. Look at the U.S.A. And gives way to mindless patriotism, all too easily exploited, especially by the right. Look at the Patriot Act.

If we are going to forge a national identity, let it be considered and thoughtful, not like some others. And let it be based on that traditional value that marked our shared (Pakeha, at least) value of the past that deserves to be reprised: a concern for other New Zealanders.

Kiwipolitico’s January

datePosted on 14:44, February 6th, 2009 by Jafapete

Kiwipolitico readers and commenters will know that this blog has quickly established itself as a platform for considered debate about issues of concern to informed kiwis. This is what it’s all about, and it has been very gratifying for those of us posting to see the generally very positive response and constructive tone of discussion.

For a more precise picture, we have some stats. The wordpress blog stats tell us that we had 23,502 views in January. It took jafapete’s weblog months to reach that level of traffic, when it got into the Tumeke top 20.
We didn’t have a proper stat counter operating until 16 January, and can report that over the period 16—31 January unique visits averaged 293. According to the wordpress stat counter, the number of views in the second half of January was about the same as the second half, so the figure is close to what we would have seen for the month as a whole.
Calculating Tumeke’s score most probably places us in the top 20 for January!

290 + 19 + 14.5 + 80 = 403.5
Average daily unique visits = 290
Technorati “Authority” = 19
Average posts per week: 58 ÷ 4 = 14.5
Average comments of top 4 commented posts (96 + 84 + 75 + 66) = 80

Section 71 of the Coroner’s Act prevents the media using the phrase “the death is suspected to be suicide” and instead requires the media to use euphemisms. I have heard two explanations for the restriction – preventing additional suicides and respect for the family – neither hold water because we permit overt reporting of suicides providing that the conventional euphemisms are used. It’s not even necessary to canvas the dubious argument that reporting cases of suicide may inspire other suicides, because the reality is that suicide cases are reported on and everyone knows it. 

Media organisations have argued against the restriction for years on the grounds that it unnecessarily restricts press freedom. I’d also like to add the argument that it reinforces a culture of shame and secrecy for families dealing with the pain of suicide – a truly awful experience only compounded by the message from society that we must not speak of it.

Suicide must be reported on respectfully, it must not be sensationalised and the media must respect the pain of the family and friends. The Coroners Act does not require any of those, all is asks is that media use well recognised euphemisms.