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Welcome To The Wasteland

By   /  March 22, 2013  /  22 Comments

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“The left-wing historian, Bill Sutch, described the New Zealand of 1949-1957 as a “wasteland”. Writing about that first National Government in The Quest for Security in New Zealand 1840-1966, he says: “The National Government in 1949 wanted New Zealand to be brought back to the nineteen twenties and free trade, and took it for granted that this was in accordance with some higher law. Not only had they no sympathy with what the Labour Party had done to improve the workings of the economy, they did not understand it.””

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IF THERE’S ONE THING the National Party really hates it’s left-wing, tertiary-educated, urban professionals (LTUPs). Such people are an affront to everything the National Party stands for. Where the National Party sees only simplicity, the LTUP sees only complexity. Where the National Party argues from “common sense”, the LTUP insists upon looking for and evaluating the hard evidence. Where the National Party joins Henry Ford in dismissing history as “bunk”, the LTUP recognises the past as prelude.

It’s not hard to see why, the LTUP drives the National Party to distraction. And if the LTUP also happens to be a public servant, then that animosity is immediately ratcheted up several notches.

This National Party hatred of LTUP public servants is by no means a recent thing. J.C. Beaglehole, writing in 1961 about the first National Government (1949-57) observed:

“The naïve, the almost childish brutality, with which the chiefs of the National Party fell upon power may be seem quite surprising, until one remembers how famished for power they were, and with what an innocency of experience they faced the world about them … One does not mean that Mr Holland [the first National Prime Minister] and his subordinates (lieutenants? – most of them looked like subordinates) went down personally to Government Buildings and kicked the bodies of public servants. Some of them were obviously not as bad as their leader … Yet the insensitiveness to administrative delicacies, the conviction that all you had to do with exchange controls was to end them, that all you had to do to make the pound go ‘further’ was to take your hands off, that the main thing needed in education was to insult the Education Department, was quite appalling.”

The scary thing about Beaglehole’s quotation is the awful sense of familiarity. Even after the passage of sixty-four years, the defects he identifies in the National Party Cabinet Ministers of 1949 are readily identifiable in the National Cabinet Ministers of 2013.

The left-wing historian, Bill Sutch, described the New Zealand of 1949-1957 as a “wasteland”. Writing about that first National Government in The Quest for Security in New Zealand 1840-1966, he says: “The National Government in 1949 wanted New Zealand to be brought back to the nineteen twenties and free trade, and took it for granted that this was in accordance with some higher law. Not only had they no sympathy with what the Labour Party had done to improve the workings of the economy, they did not understand it.”

Substitute the nineteen nineties for the nineteen twenties and he could have been talking about John Key’s National-led Government.

Except not only is the present National Party out of sympathy with and ignorant of the principles guiding the last Labour Government’s management of the New Zealand economy, they are even more at odds with its approach to social policy – most especially its strengthening of the institutions responsible for advocating and defending human rights.

The Human Rights Commission under Rosslyn Noonan worked tirelessly to make the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights Act available to ordinary New Zealanders. On matters of racial and gender discrimination the Commission was unashamedly outspoken.

This “official” determination to take discrimination seriously rankled with conservatives of every description: to them it was “political correctness gone mad”. And while it would be unfair to overlook the fact that there were in the ranks of both the National caucus, and the wider party organisation, a number of genuine liberals who supported the Commission’s work unreservedly, the overwhelming majority of National Party members and voters resented both its pronouncements and its legal powers of enforcement.

No one epitomised this politically-correct “interference” in the lives of “ordinary, decent, New Zealanders” more forcefully than New Zealand’s Race Relations Commissioner from 2002 to 2012, Joris de Bres.

The office of Race Relations Conciliator (later to be renamed the Commissioner) had been established by the National Party in 1971 as a bureaucratic means of taking some of the heat out of the increasing tensions between Maori and Pakeha that characterised the late 1960s and the early 1970s. For the most part these “conciliators” were conservative apologists for New Zealand’s “excellent” record on race relations. With Helen Clark’s appointment of De Bres all that changed.

De Bres was anything but an apologist for Pakeha smugness over race relations. On the contrary, he was an intelligent, articulate and highly assertive representative of the Left’s bi-cultural vision for New Zealand’s future. De Bres was not afraid to call out Pakeha New Zealanders in general, and provincial Pakeha in particular, on their racism – both personal and institutional.

The National Party never liked De Bres, but they reasoned that his term was only five years long, and that, hopefully, by the time it expired they would be back in office. Imagine their fury, then, when, in 2007, Helen Clark reappointed De Bres for another five year term.

As far as the National Party was concerned, the Labour Government had stepped away from the political convention that, if it looks pretty certain you’re going to lose the next election, you don’t appoint, or re-appoint, individuals you know the incoming administration will find it very difficult to tolerate.

Those looking for some sort of explanation for the appointment of Dame Susan Devoy as New Zealand’s next Race Relations Commissioner need look no further than Helen Clark’s decision to re-appoint De Bres.

Justice Minister Judith Collins is no Sid Holland, but she does harbour prime-ministerial ambitions, and she knows how embittered and hostile National’s core constituency has become, not only toward De Bres and all his LTUP ilk, but also with the whole, radical bi-cultural ideology which he both represented and expressed.

Dame Susan is, in political terms, Collins’s sop to National’s unreconstructed racist Cerberus. A symbolic choice guaranteed to resonate powerfully with the conservative creatures of the barbecue pit and the sports bar. Not only on account of her sporting prowess, but, more particularly, because she shows every sign of sharing their deeply held beliefs about the status of Maori in New Zealand and the extent to which Non-Maori should be expected to acknowledge and resource that status.

Dame Susan, like all those National Party backwoodsmen so eloquently described by Beaglehole, neither sympathises with nor, one suspects, understands the purposes of Labour’s Human Rights policies. She will rely much more upon simple “common sense” than complicated evidence to inform her judgements. And the “bunk” of history will not be permitted to dictate the thinking of a Race Relations Commissioner singularly equipped with what the Minister of Justice calls “spine”.

For left-wing, tertiary-educated urban professionals, the next five years promise to be, in Bill Sutch’s grim phrase: “a wasteland”.

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22 Comments

  1. Maori LTUP says:

    … If it’s a 5 year wasteland devoid of logic, analysis and empathy it will become known as the Susan Devoid era in NZ/Aotearoa race relations. Pun intended.

  2. National’s dislike of left-wing, tertiary-educated, urban professionals (LTUPs) seems to extend also to professional teachers. It explains why National/ACT is not only permitting – but welcoming – untrained ‘teachers’ to be employed in Charter Schools.

    As for Ms Devoy’s appointment… I predict the Nats have created a rod for their backs on this issue, Chris. As you pointed out,

    “The office of Race Relations Conciliator (later to be renamed the Commissioner) had been established by the National Party in 1971 as a bureaucratic means of taking some of the heat out of the increasing tensions between Maori and Pakeha that characterised the late 1960s and the early 1970s. ”

    By appointing Ms Devoy, they’ve undone the mechanism to take the heat out – and instead affixed a brand new true-blue touch-paper fuse to race relations.

    Collin’s decision may come back to bite the Nats firmly on their neo-lib backsides.

    • Harriet says:

      “…..It explains why National/ACT is not only permitting – but welcoming – untrained ‘teachers’ to be employed in Charter Schools….”

      But Frankie:

      It is amazing how many people who are “pro-choice” when it comes to abortion are against a mother’s choice when it comes to education! 😎

      Indeed Frankie, that is the official position of the Labour Party!

      The NZ Teachers Union has complained that teachers in charter schools will not have the “protection” of labor unions.
      But the whole point of having alternative schools is to get away from the things that are dragging down the regular public schools: Iron-clad tenure for incompetent teachers, and paying good and bad teachers the same, are among the handicaps created by teachers’ unions that perpetuates further ‘disadvantage’ amongst the ‘marginalised’.

      The only justification for these excursions into weirdness by labour, is that it allows intellectual losers in schools to feel important as “agents of change” by taking advantage of other people’s children behind their parents’ backs.

      Teachers and teachers’ unions talk a great game about their concern for children, but their actions reveal their over-riding concern for their own egos and their own jobs.

      So Frankie… will the voters wake up to this before the election…or will us Conservatives need to keep pointing it out? 😎

      • Paora says:

        This is the sort of parrot repetition of neo liberal thinking in education one would expect from a national party sycophant. Boring. Don’t let the facts get in the way of your prejudices will you Harriet

      • Tom says:

        To argue that we need unqualified teachers to fix problems allegedly caused by the teachers union is a non sequitur.

        Devoy is utterly unqualified to work on race relations. It’s a gesture of contempt towards minorities.

      • Draco T Bastard says:

        But the whole point of having alternative schools is to get away from the things that are dragging down the regular public schools:

        The only thing dragging our schools down is National and their sycophantic supporters.

        Despite Nationals running down of our schools they’re still among the best in the world. Far better than the model of schooling that National and their sycophantic supporters could ever bring about. Leave it to National and schools will become worse.

      • mpledger says:

        America has had 20 years or more of charter school and it’s turning into an expensive catostrophe –

        A brand new study out of Ohio shows that…
        “Charter schools cost the state more than twice as much per student as traditional schools do. And with a handful of exceptions, their academic performance is worse.”

        http://www.toledoblade.com/Opinion/2013/03/10/Ohio-s-charter-schools-Costlier-and-worse.html

    • Northshoreguynz says:

      But isn’t that what they actually want? Tapping into the dark racist psyche a lot of NZers have. Remember the Orewa speech, and Winston’s plank.

  3. Northshoreguynz says:

    As s left-wing, tertiary-educated, urban professional, who happens to love sport, owns a BBQ, and has been known to patronise a sports bar, I am prepared to give Dame Susan a chance. That b..ch Judith Collins deserves a good kicking though.

  4. kingi says:

    Excellent historical perspective there Chris. I agree that Devoy’s appointment is purely political. Is it too much to hope that perhaps, just maybe, in her work as race relations commisioner, she becomes educated about our colonial past? She may learn to appreciate that its long shadow still hangs over us, and may even begin to understand why Waitangi Day is important, THE most important day for us as a nation. I’m hoping for some positives here. The alternative is too depressing to contemplate.

  5. Harriet says:

    “….LTUP….”

    Well of course, if its peer reviewed we must obey it. – What crap!

    “….Where the National Party joins Henry Ford in dismissing history as “bunk”, the LTUP recognises the past as prelude…..”

    Or like Hemingway said when he left NZ – “communist” !

    “…..Dame Susan is, in political terms,…… A symbolic choice guaranteed to resonate powerfully with the conservative creatures of the barbecue pit and the sports bar…..’

    Yeh Ha….I’m one of those……Maori culture like every other culture that has predated it, has to take on certain values, knowledge and wisdom of other cultures to survive……it’s rather basic stuff Chris….like Greek maths and astrology…Latin….French….Judism….Christianity……Westminster governance…the Privy Council….did I just mention the Law….. !

    Maori arn’t political prisoners Chris – as the ones who reside in HM Prisons stole stuff! 😎

  6. Another David says:

    Thanks for the enlightening column. Whatever happens, Susan Devoy is definitely in the hot seat now.

    One thing the present government is doing is getting people politically motivated who were quite complacent before. While the government is placating its right wing constituents it is actually radicalising more liberal New Zealanders to engage in political thought who have never done so before.

  7. ghostrider888 says:

    Excellent Article, indeed, it is arguable that the wasteland had not been entered some time past.

  8. Procrastinator says:

    Insightful column. Susan Devoy – “political pin-up” for “Waitakere Man”?

  9. Me says:

    You know the National party are just expressing their huge historic inferiority complex. To bad for Maoridom.

  10. peterlepaysan says:

    That Sutch quote is SO apposite.

    This government is still trying to take us back to the 1920’s as a launching pad back to the mid 19th Century.

    Will it all end with a bang or a whimper?

  11. the pigman says:

    “the conservative creatures of the barbecue pit and the sports bar”

    I love this image but I am also uncomfortable with it. Just remember Chris, some of these “Waitakere Men” you love to hate also work as stevedores at the Ports of Auckland and the like. It is not enough to smugly identify oneself as an LTUP and dismiss the conservative left. (I am not advocating the Josie Pagani-lowest-common-denominator kind of politics, however.)

  12. adam white says:

    Thanks Chris, good read again.

    I can hear the banjos plucking on the wind tonight. I wonder if the dame can give a dam. Who knows we might get lucky, Devoy might just explore her Whakapapa and become a real person.

  13. Pete ChCh says:

    Interesting piece and historical context Chris.
    A bit over bbq’ed on the stereotypes though! If only the world was ‘rare’ or ‘well done’ life would be easy…
    Lets cut to the chase and forget left and right for a minute – Susans nice and that, and she could play a mean game of squash but I dont think shes the smartest and shes most definately unqualified for this particular gig- thats the real issue here.
    Shes sure to be a liability for National of Parataesk proportions… roll on Waitangi day…Harawera inc will have a field day! Treaty ground-hog big day out.

  14. Afewknowthetruth says:

    The National Party largely consists of scientifically and financially illiterate looters, polluters and opportunists who have developed a superb propaganda machine over many decades and know how to mislead and manipulate a substantial portion the general populace into believing their dysfunctional ideology equates with sound governance and progress.

    The Labour Party largely consists of scientifically and financially illiterate looters, polluters and opportunists who have had several chances to implement socialistic policies and have failed every time, so the bulk of the populace no longer has any faith in them

    Since the Green Party stands for and promotes greenwash, and other smaller parties stands for nothing in particular, well informed tertiary educated professions have no party they can logically vote for. Indeed, tertiary educated of not, no informed person can possibly vote for any of the mainstream parties, which probably accounts for the ever declining voter turn-out.

    A choice between self-serving mendacious moron A and self-serving mendacious moron B is no choice at all.

  15. jenny says:

    I thought ex sport heroes got a job as a beer salesperson or brought out a range of clothing or bought into retirement villages… but a top government position in a controversial area that requires tact diplomacy and a deep understanding of AlLL the issues??? Hello

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