Dr Liz Gordon: NZ Initiative runs faster than the speed of light from its Chief Editor


The NZ Initiative is an organisation born from the merger of two neo-liberal business agencies.  Its political position is full-on Adam Smith (hidden hand of the market etc) and the Act Party, although it works quite hard to appear neutral, a position generally accepted by the media.  Its members are 70, mainly large, NZ companies, making up about a quarter of the revenue of Aotearoa.

The organisation has quite a lot to say about social policy, housing and education.  Not surprisingly, education should be more like a business with far more control over teachers. Housing needs deregulation, not regulation. The poor need social investment, not handouts. And so on.  Nothing to see here, except right wing social policy.

Like the Act Party, the NZ Initiative is liberal on social issues. While the organisation is stacked with white males at senior levels (one senior women) and there is not a Māori in sight on the staff or board, this just reflects the world they reside in, not deliberate omission. I am sure there is plenty of what we nowadays refer to as unconscious bias in that world, but there is no ideology of discrimination.

Except…. The NZ Initiative employed Nathan Smith, formerly of NBR, as its Chief Editor.  And Nathan Smith, it was revealed last week, has some very non-liberal views on social issues.

Smith never hid his views.  They were accessible at his blog, Likebulb (good luck in finding it, I think it has been taken down).

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Mark Daadlar reported that Smith had interests in anti-Semitism (the Jews are to blame!), Islamaphobia (Muslims are to blame!) and debunking Covid. He also was, creepily, an Incel person. The Wikipedia definition is:

Incels, a portmanteau of “involuntary celibates“, are members of an online subculture who define themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one. Discussions in incel forums are often characterised by resentment, misogyny, misanthropy, self-pity and self-loathing, racism, a sense of entitlement to sex, and the endorsement of violence against sexually active people. 

Indeed, on several occasions he railed against ‘the rules’ that prevented him engaging in sexual exploitation such as rape and trafficking. Underlying this is also a deep-seated hatred of women for being sexual but not been freely available to him.  He was a damaged person, it seems.

Smith spent seven years at the NBR (which should be asking itself some questions) and has been with the NZ Initiative since February 2020.  Newsroom states that Oliver Hartwich, the CE, said that the organisation had no knowledge of Smith’s views. I think this raises three questions: why did it take so long for people to notice; does the Bill of Rights s.13 apply and what if he had not resigned?

Can I come right out and say that I bet the women who worked with him knew something was wrong with him.  I strongly doubt the Incel thing could be hidden from women. Further, misogynist behaviour is so institutionalised into NZ workplaces that it is almost expected, which offered Smith some protection.  As is racism in all its forms.  It is the extremism that only a small number would have picked up on.

The Bill of Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the right to adopt and to hold opinions without interference”. This includes in the workplace and everywhere. At the moment there are no hate speech laws, so while his views might be awful, creepy, scary, strange and sinister to you and me, they were not illegal (some of the Incel views bordered on pro-rape advocacy, perhaps).

But any decent employment lawyer would note that (a) he made no secret of his views (he wrote a blog, FFS), (b) he had the right to hold those views under the law, and (c) he carried out his work as required and his views did not interfere with this (the NZ Initiative is carrying out an audit of everything Smith touched to see whether in fact they were tainted by his ideology).

So Hartwich’s instant public repudiation, followed by Smith’s resignation (which he will no doubt argue was a constructive dismissal) will no doubt end up in the Employment Court, possibly as a test case of ideological requirements of workers. This may also collide with the subsequent adoption of any hate speech laws. Or Smith may just scarper overseas and cut his losses.

In principle I agree with Bomber that using laws to regulate thought and speech is slippery, dangerous and probably impossible. I do sympathise with the NZ Initiative – purporting to be a neutral think tank and harbouring a snake in one’s errr … bosom – but on the other hand, they should have done their due diligence on Mr Smith and his beliefs.

There remains the one great shock that someone with Smith’s views, hidden in plain sight, was able to hold a senior media position within the New Zealand establishment.  How many more of them are out there?


Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society.  She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.


  1. “I am sure there is plenty of what we nowadays refer to as unconscious bias in that world, but there is no ideology of discrimination.”

    I think if you’ve ever been on the recieving end of it, you’ll know it is deliberate and definitely a conscious culture. I would accept there may not be a manifesto printed and publicly available at the university bookshop. At some point, the reluctance, that borders on hysteria when pushed, of these “intelligent, scientific and logical” people to not examine their own actions and beliefs with the same intensity they examine the world of their victims has to be called into question. As soon as you do that, they display the same cognitive dissonance and logical fallacies. Which is not so much a red flag, as clear indication.

    • Hi Paul, Yes I agree with you entirely re the culture. And the dissonance. I did not mean to imply there is not everyday racism in every sphere of our society. Maori experience it all the time. The’ unconscious’ nature of it derives from its normalisation into our culture – people do not know that they are being racist, often.

  2. “Its members are 70, mainly large, NZ companies, making up about a quarter of the revenue of Aotearoa.”
    Ok? Who, and how are they?
    Because the last time I had breakfast the food on my table was from our agrarian PRIMARY industry.
    “…making up about a quarter of the revenue…”
    So? Literal money printing is a thing now?
    Well, of course not. Self legitimised money laundering is more the Kiwi way. Aye boys?
    Using race, religion, sexual identity, abortion rights, traffic accidents, housing issues, poverty, institutionalised ignorance and sport etc… OMG lets not forget sport to muddy the waters while old fat rich fucks trash our AO/NZ while creating an underclass of otherwise normal healthy people to muddy the waters so they can slither off with our money is as much a blood sport as dear stalking. Once we’re shot dead where we stand we’re dragged off and hung up and gutted, metaphorically speaking I hasten to add although I’m sure there are more than one or two ‘Titans of Industry ‘ who’d love to do that literally.
    Speaking of Titans, where’s ron brierly these days?
    Viagra Boys.

    • Hey
      I had forgotten about old Ron. He is still on bail and facing “eight more charges” – now 14 in total – as of November 2020. I hadn’t made the connection that you and Stefan made in your comments. Do you think the whole bloody neo-lib establishment, so liberal on social issues, are all skanky Incels (I only heard the term this week so will be looking further into this) and child porn merchants?

  3. ” How many more of them are out there?”.. That’s the $60,000 question… I would more than suspect that the number would be sobering, if it were possible to get an accurate measure…
    There has to be more than just financial gain that drove the “fourth estate” in NZ to go the full monty on protecting, and spruiking for John Key, while the party that acquiesced to the Americans on who their leader would be, got on with pillaging the economy, and attacked the safety and ambitions of the “proletariat” for the benefit of those who already had most of everything….

  4. Talk about 4 strikes for this guy…an Incel to boot.

    A mirror, and some reflection, pun intended, on past actions might be the place to look first to discover why women do not want anything to do with some men.

    The galling part is that the Taxpayers Union and reconstituted NZ Initiative get waved on through by most media pundits, rather than heavily scrutinised, as such liberal on the surface, but authoritarian in essence, groups deserve.

  5. New Zealand Initiative, Business Round Table, and the Taxpayers’ Union all seem(ed) to have similar “Proud Boys” approaches to politics in New Zealand, as their US counterparts do to Trumpo-the-Clown’s. Except NZI, ex-BRT and TU have maximum ties and suits, minimal female representation and not a brown face within cooee of their NZ lobby groups when compared to their US organisation counterpart, with its similar dearth of black faces, ties nor suits and not a lady in sight (sic.) in the ‘Proud Boys’.

    MAGA Caps in the ex-leader Muller’s National Party, and Judith’s silence on the issues seem to signal there’s little to be gained from expecting National to distance itself from NZI, BRT and TU. While ACT, will be looking for a basketball game, a ‘dancing with the stars 2021 version’, a baby-kissing contest, or a hangi for the ‘special needs’ kids’ to deflect media attention from Dr Smith who grows more and more each day closer to his counterpart in the iconic 1960’s “Lost in Space” series’ character.

    The ideals, belief systems and lack of values from Smith from the Jupiter II, seem to be still alive and well in the US’s “Proud Boys” and NZ’s NZI. Time to ACT on it and vote ACT out of power in 2023, leaving Billy TK and Jami-Lee Ross as the only viable right-wing party in New Zealand.

    Zeugma by name, Zeugma by nature.

  6. On a personal level incels scary the bejesus out of me, as they are prone to escalating levels of violence.

    Makes you wonder did he appear on any of our rather expensive security apparatus radars? Or did his position and association with the neo-cons protect him from such a viewing?

  7. This public crucifying of Nathan Smith is the sort of reason why speech laws are being enacted. Smith appears to be a very immature male- but so are many men, including several recent politicians. Smith appears to be misogynistic, as are many, or most New Zealand men, as borne out by this country’s shameful record of violence against women, which I experienced from my father and my husband, both well qualified white professional males. I have long acquaintance with it. I know what it is like to have a man try to kill me. I am a small woman.

    Smith’s interest in some specific things may be no more than the bravado of an inadequate juvenile male, but saying that he was “an incel person” is very heavy territory, if they are actually an organised online subculture, which I shall find out.

    Psychopaths are also very adept at presenting a charming plausible persona to the rest of the world, and not necessarily readily identifiable as the twisted creatures that they are; some are very clever, and clever at concealing their madness.

    When I initially researched misogyny, the first cause I encountered was “ mummy issues “, and thought this so applicable to my husband, and to the son of a member of my own family of origin, that I lost the appetite to proceed much further. These two males identified themselves as a superior breed, and regarded women en masse as persons to be disparaged. My husband was woefully sexually inadequate, and I too naive to realise this at the time. As an older woman, the only other openly misogynistic male I’ve known was a head of RNZ News, part of my social circle, and tiresome in his anti-femaleness.

    Many years ago I worked for Kordia then Broadcast Engineering, an SOE within Television NZ, when the men, engineers or engineering technicians, vastly outnumbered the women employees. They were like brothers to us, and in my four or five years there, there was not one issue of a man behaving badly. I, used to living in fear, identified one man to another woman as an abuser because he made such big overt physical effort to be a charmer. She looked astonished, and then confided that she had appeared as witness for his ex- wife, in a domestic violence court case. One out of one hundred odd, is a pretty good stat, and I must have been very lucky in that work place because the NZ general stats are considerably worse than that for bully boy Kiwi males.

    Chances are, Smith is a very sad person. The Business Round Table always contained shaggers, men with the time and the money to be nuisances; Roger Kerr distinguished himself unsuccessfully chasing DC over Parliament grounds; one of his ex- mistresses writes about Maori privilege, and I think, that climate change is a left-wing hoax. I thought her just a nutter, but don’t know what I don’t know.

    It is a big step from being an obnoxious privileged rich person, to being a paedophile, or one pro-actively advocating harming any sorts of others, and I would tread carefully before making assumptions about named persons.

    • Hey Snow White, Thanks for revealing this about your own experiences. I am also keen on researching Incels. Would you like to work with me on a bit of research? Contact bomber for my email address if you like.
      I don’t think my blog, or my response to Countryboy re Ron B, are unfair or potentially defamatory. In essence I gave Nathan some views about the Bill of Rights and employment law that might be helpful to him. The views I discussed were his own. And Brierley has been well outed by the Sydney police.

  8. Liz, Christmas is a bad time to be thinking about much. Coincidentally, another badly-behaved old friend, and once high profile Kiwi, worked for Brierley, and said that Brierley never employed anybody who hadn’t made a previous major mistake in their lives; what seemed enlightened then, now takes on a different dimension.

    I’d not heard of incels until earlier this year. I went researching misogyny trying to understand how a dear little boy could evolve into somebody so critical of “feminists” and other identity groups, and this is why I saw it as sad – it’s certainly life-crippling, or worse, if it is more than just a pose. Here in New Zealand it’s likely part of a bigger picture of males fairly well described by Jock Phillips – and who are often pretty damn hopeless.

    If Smith worked seven years at the NBR, he’ll be aware of Bill of Rights issues. Back when the NBR was located in Wellington, one of their journalists told me he had two libel or defamation suits on the boil; he seemed relaxed about it, possibly even proud – the papers carry insurance against law suits, I believe he said.

    The NZ Initiative may argue that their brand is being tainted by association with Smith, even if his work proves to be professionally impeccable. I first heard of the Business Round Table in 1991, as antagonistic towards working people, and as a powerful brand, and have zero sympathy for them when their influence may be societally worse than that of one questionable individual behind behind a keyboard – but have no sympathy for him either, maybe just wrong observations.

    • It’s ironic that Brierley, BRT, NZI, (and more recently, the Taxpayers Union sitting behind Trevor Mallard at a select committee, with a Lottery – sized cheque showing the cost of defamation expenses), took the economic and moral high ground and persuaded governments that “The Market-(incels) would morally look after state assets better than the state could. It was just arrogant rich-prick state-asset robbery and they should be tried for social safety net theft from the State.

      A couple of side-questions?
      Who pays the Taxpayer Union’s wage bill?
      Does the Taxpayer Union pay GST and income tax?
      Will there be a Swiss-Bank account somewhere, funding ‘Zippy’ Williams et al?
      And why? And who?

      On another line, New Zealand should claim compensation from the likes of Brierley et all, for their crimes against New Zealand …. after they have finished their other court cases, of course.


      Unfortunately, ACT’s leader has developed a winning smile, was a slightly better dancer than Rodney Hyde, and DS has 1.52% more charisma than Don Brash, and 1.57% more charm than Roger Douglas. He does have 1.82% more empathy than Dr Kavorkian and 1.97% less on the H. Index ( harmfulness index) than most incels with access to guns.

      So, ACT still has a long was to go to play with the humans in NZ, and Smith’s “outing” will be a New T=Year’s Resolution for David and quickly distanced by ACT, the MAGAs in National. Look to Chris Luxon and his dirty politics backers to find more dirt on Smith and the ACT Party, as the Luxonites look to kneecap National’s right-wing rival(s) before 2023.

      There will be countless emails on the dark web, Mission-Impossible carrier pigeons that will self-immolate after delivery, Blackberry Texts and dirty politics messages written in disappearing ink on edible paper relating to Smith et al.

      Marion, Sir Walter Scott said it best:
      ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave
      When first we practice to deceive’

      • Z – You may find a few answers about Jordan Williams, in Nicky Hager’s “ Dirty Politics”,
        Check under references to David Farrar too – I think he started the NZTU- and Whale Oil.

        There was almost certainly an agenda – wreck everything with incompetent ministers to justify privatising crucially important state functions.

        • Knowing how these types work, NZTU probably has a Registered Charity status?
          It’s all varying degrees of 2 degrees of not-so-covert separation from Dirty Politics, and I don’t know what the opposite of ‘polishing the turd’ is when it comes to ACT, NZTU, BRT, NZI.
          Hyde the skunk?
          Conceal the Boagie man?
          MAGA-Nationals working for Multi-Nationals?

          Walks like a skunk, looks like a skunk, smells like a skunk …. no, it’s deja-vu “dirty politics”

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