August 20, 2007

The Gun Debate


The Firearms Debate Reignites

In the wake of the Virginia Tech killings, fresh questions are being asked about gun control. The answers, however, may surprise you when we put New Zealand’s crime rate up against Virginia’s. IAN WISHART runs the numbers

It’s the names we remember. Not of the people, but the places. Columbine. Dunblane. Port Arthur. Aramoana. Raurimu. Paerata. Virginia Tech. Each synonymous with carnage, terror and emotional trauma. Each with one thing in common: guns...

As news coverage broke of the Virginia Tech massacre last month, it took only hours before the news media worldwide were seeking out the opinions of anti-gun lobbyists like former Fair Go host Philip Alpers, who runs the website Alpers told TV3’s John Campbell that while people would try and blame mental illness, drugs or violent videos, the real issue was guns.

Everywhere you looked, daily media editorials were calling for an end to America’s affinity with guns; the right to bear arms contained in the second amendment. On Newstalk ZB, callers talked of America’s “sick culture of violence”, with many of the hosts nodding in agreement.

“You’ll call me a wussy liberal,” media commentator Deborah Hill-Cone told ZB’s drive host Larry Williams, “but I can’t see why they need guns.”

At one level, you can understand the sentiment. At another, though, it reveals the kneejerk mental conditioning we’ve all been subjected to. America has been awash with guns for more than a hundred years. For the vast majority of that time, school massacres were unheard of. Likewise New Zealand. Apart from Stanley Graham’s rampage 60 years ago, gun massacres were unknown in modern New Zealand until the mentally-deranged David Gray picked up an assault rifle and gunned down 13 people in Aramoana, a remote community on the tip of the Otago Peninsula where few people had guns and critics accused police of letting victims bleed to death over a 24 hour period while they followed a policy of “containment”.

The “wussy liberal” sentiment also overlooks a very fundamental reason for the right to bear arms being enshrined in the US Constitution. In every case in world history, totalitarian regimes have only been able to arise and cement control in the absence of any ability by citizens to fight back. The total disarmament of a civilian population in favour of state police and military may be tolerable in a democratic state today, but it does increase the risk of abuse of power by a future regime.

The question then, is not so much whether a total ban on gun ownership is justified, but whether tighter controls on gun ownership are justified to make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to obtain them.

Do guns kill people, or do people kill people? As well as being a bumper sticker, it’s a hot topic of debate right now. Virginia is one of the most liberal states in the US when it comes to gun laws, but the killings actually took place in a gun-free zone, a place where guns are banned. While all Virginians are permitted by law to carry pistols and handguns concealed on their person, Virginia Tech University voted to ban students from bringing their guns to campus several years ago. Administrators told students they wanted people to “feel safe”, and banning all guns would achieve that.

Now, with 32 innocent lives lost during a killer’s two hour slaughterfest, the big question is being asked: if other students had been armed that day, how many people would Cho Seung-Hui have been able to kill?

Ironically, Virginians can point to a similar incident only five years ago, when a gunman burst into a law school and opened fire. He managed to kill three people, but was himself brought to heel by two armed students and an ex-Marine who’d raced to retrieve guns from their cars when the shooting broke out.

The death toll would undoubtedly have been higher, but for their quick intervention. You’d think the trio would be hailed as heroes but, instead, of the 280 news stories about the 2002 shooting, only four mentioned that the gunman had been overpowered by armed students.

Gun advocate John Lott, writing in the New York Post a week after the tragedy, cited “the liberal, anti-gun Washington Post, which reported that the heroes had simply ‘helped subdue’ the killer. The leftist, anti-gun New York Times, not surprisingly, noted only that the attacker was ‘tackled by fellow students’.

"Most in the media who discussed how the attack was stopped said: 'students overpowered a gunman,' 'students ended the rampage by tackling him,' 'the gunman was tackled by four male students before being arrested,' or 'Students ended the rampage by confronting and then tackling the gunman, who dropped his weapon’.”

Media coverage in New Zealand has been decidedly “anti-gun” in its tone, so we decided to put the presumption that guns cause an increase in violence to the test.

Investigate surveyed US violent crime rates between the years 1960 to 2005. The figures are taken from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, or UCRs, which are a respected yardstick used by criminologists and researchers the world over. Is it true, we wondered, that states like Virginia with the most liberal gun laws were also the most crime-ridden?

Here’s what we found. Overall, the US violent crime rate in 2005 was 469.2 offences per 100,000 population (469/100,000). That’s the average for violent crime across the entire 50 states. Given that much has been made of the US being a “sick...violent” society, we wondered how that compared with the New Zealand figures.

In contrast, New Zealand’s violent crime rate as measured in the official government publication, Crime in New Zealand: 1996 – 2005, was 1,180/100,000 in 2005.

That’s right. Gun-shy New Zealand has a violent crime rate 250% higher than the US! But the comparison gets even worse when compared to the American state of Vermont, which has the most liberal gun laws in the US.

Vermont’s violent crime rate in 2005, as measured by the FBI’s UCR, was only 119/100,000, just a quarter of the US average. In comparison, New Zealand’s violent crime rate is 1,000% - ten times - higher than Vermont’s, where citizens can own as many handguns as they like and carry them as concealed weapons in public places.

And what about Virginia, scene of America’s worst ever civilian gun massacre? The UCR records a violent crime rate of only 282/100,000, a little over half the US average.

When we put these figures to ex-pat gun control advocate Philip Alpers, he simply refused to believe it:

INVESTIGATE: The states in the US that have the liberal guns laws are the ones that have the lowest crime rates. What’s the response to that?

ALPERS: That’s only the gun lobby that claim that. Those studies have been universally critiqued by much more established outfits like Harvard and so on, and there’s not much credibility to those papers. None of them, or the majority, have not been published in peer reviewed journals.

INVESTIGATE: I’m just looking at some stats on state crime rates from the FBI, and in Vermont for example the FBI lists for 2005 a violent crime rate of 119/100,000, New Zealand’s is 1,180/100,000 – that’s ten times higher.

ALPERS: Well, that’s a statistical anomaly I’m sure nobody can account for. If anybody thinks that NZ has a violent crime rate – what was it, a hundred and ten times higher?

INVESTIGATE: No, ten times higher.

ALPERS: Ten times higher than Vermont. That’s statistically questionable I would say. I haven’t seen those figures.

INVESTIGATE: I’m looking at the violent crime rate for Virginia -

ALPERS: I’ve never seen anything like that published in a reputable journal. Statistics can be wildly exaggerated and distorted by anyone who wants to and I can’t be expected to comment on something I’ve never seen.

But the statistics, of course, are not gun lobby figures but FBI and NZ Police figures. Then there’s the inconvenient truth about Kennesaw, Georgia. In 1982, Kennesaw passed a bylaw requiring all households to maintain and keep a firearm in the house. Since then, reported WorldNetDaily on the back of a Reuters story just after the Virginia Tech massacre, “despite dire predictions of ‘Wild West’ showdowns and increased violence and accidents, not a single resident has been involved in a fatal shooting – as a victim, attacker or defender.

“The crime rate initially plummeted for several years after the passage of the ordinance, with the 2005 per capita crime rate actually significantly lower than it was in 1981, the year before passage of the law.

“Prior to enactment of the law, Kennesaw had a population of just 5,242 but a crime rate significantly higher (4,332 per 100,000) than the national average (3,899 per 100,000). The latest statistics available – for the year 2005 – show the rate at 2,027 per 100,000. Meanwhile, the population has skyrocketed to 28,189,” says the WorldNetDaily report.

Now, just to put those overall, total reported crime per capita figures in context, New Zealand’s overall crime rate in 2005 was 9,940/100,000 – admittedly down from its peak of more than 13,200/100,000 in 1992, but still nearly five times higher than gun-toting Kennesaw.

How could it be that New Zealand’s crime rates are much worse than gun-friendly states and cities in the US? Again, we continued to press for an alternative rational explanation from Philip Alpers.

INVESTIGATE: Well you’ve got the case of the town of Kennesaw in Georgia –

ALPERS: Oh, look, that has been so thoroughly rebutted, and completely discredited. Utterly discredited.

INVESTIGATE: Yeah, but Reuters have just done an interview with the local police chief, 2005 stats show the crime rate has halved. In 25 years since the town required homeowners to have a gun in each house, there has not been one single incident where a resident has been involved in a fatal shooting as either a victim, attacker or a defender.

ALPERS: OK, well I think it’s clear where you are going Ian, and I don’t want to buy into this. I’m standing on a cellphone, I’m not in front of the statistics.

INVESTIGATE: But you said it had been debunked, Philip?

ALPERS: I have read the papers that completely discredit that Kennesaw Georgia stuff! It’s one of the oldest myths in the gun industry arsenal and it is completely nutty for you to suggest that Kennesaw Georgia proves that point.

INVESTIGATE: But I’ve just quoted you the statistics –

ALPERS: So thoroughly and completely rebutted by very reputable peer reviewed journal articles, not Reuters, not a police officer who’s trying to justify his tiny little town’s policy, but these have been completely rebutted by very reputable studies.

INVESTIGATE: Well, name one?

ALPERS: OK, Webster and...give me your email and I’ll email it to you.

INVESTIGATE: If I can see some figures that actually show what you are saying is correct I’m more than happy –

ALPERS: No, I know exactly what you’re going to do because I read your magazine. You’re going to take your own point of view and twist everything to that. Now you can accuse me of that as well, and I can accuse the gun lobby of that – but that’s what you’re doing and it’s clear you’re not going to listen to the other side.

INVESTIGATE: Philip, I listened to you on John Campbell and listened to John Campbell not ask you any hard questions at all. All I’m doing is asking some hard questions because having looked at the stats – and I’m happy to be persuaded otherwise, I really am – but having looked at the stats –

ALPERS: OK, well why don’t you ask me, not on the United States, no, OK, look, you can ask me whatever question you like, fire away.

INVESTIGATE: NZ’s violent crime stats are three to ten times higher than the violent crime stats of American states where concealed weapons are allowed to be carried. Why is that?

ALPERS: I am not going to allow comparison between apples and pears. If you start talking about violent crime rate, that includes people poking each other in the eye in pubs with their fingers.

INVESTIGATE: Yeah, but statistically that’s the same everywhere.

ALPERS: But why are you saying that guns have something to do with people poking each other in the eye with their fingers?

INVESTIGATE: You and I both know that most violent crime is not eye poking in pubs.

ALPERS: They’re certainly not, and neither are gun crimes. Gun crimes are a very, very small proportion of violent crime, so when you talk about violent crime you’re not talking about guns.

INVESTIGATE: Yes, but what the gun lobby will say is that in those states where people are allowed to carry guns, the crime rate overall is lower because criminals don’t like to take their chances on whether a victim or potential victim is going to shoot them. So therefore the violent crime rate in those states, on the FBI’s own figures, is showing a huge difference in crime rates between those where guns are banned and those where guns are allowed. And NZ’s violent crime rate far exceeds the crime rate of the US overall, so I’m kind of curious how this is if your logic is correct?

ALPERS: I’m not going to compare violent crime rates with anything that suggests guns affect violent crime rates.


ALPERS: Because it’s like saying that pedestrians somehow affect – no, I’m not going to draw analogies. It’s not logical to say that a tiny, tiny, tiny proportion of crime, in other words, gun crime, affects all violent crime. The gun lobby regularly use this as a tactic, it’s apples and pears. Violent crime is not the same as gun homicide or gun suicide. They are subcategories of each other and if you want me to compare stuff you have to stick to gun related crime and gun related results. There’s no point in saying that the road toll somehow affects the infant mortality rate.

INVESTIGATE: No, but the speed limit might affect the road toll?

ALPERS: What you’re saying is what you are going to print. I’m happy for you to say that, you go ahead and print it. Don’t expect me to jump into and just swallow what you’re saying.

INVESTIGATE: Then rebut it, rebut it with some science.

ALPERS: I’m happy to send you that. For instance, in America all these small studies came out, then the Yales and Harvards and so on brought out their studies, and then all of it went right up the line to the National Academy of Science in the US, and the NAS brought out their report so I’ll send you that and hopefully that’ll bring you down a bit.

INVESTIGATE: I’m not working from any obscure statistics, these are FBI and NZ police figures.

ALPERS: I’m not interested in violent crime, if you’re going to ring up and talk to me about gun deaths, that’s fine.

INVESTIGATE: So you would be suggesting to me there is a difference between criminals having guns, and householders possessing guns for self defence.

ALPERS: There seems to be very little relation between a gun crime rate and a violent crime rate. A good example is Japan where guns are virtually unused, they’re very, very rare. But Japan has much the same VCR as everywhere else, just as NZ has much the same VCR rate as the US.

INVESTIGATE: But on the FBI figures, NZ has a VCR more than double the US overall.

ALPERS: Print that, that’s fine.

INVESTIGATE: But you have no response to it?

ALPERS: I haven’t seen those figures. This is insane. Absurd. I can see now how you get your articles, your technique is pretty, unusual.

INVESTIGATE: Philip, you make your living from being a gun policy advocate. You are a PR person who is putting this case every single day. I am simply asking some hard questions and you can’t answer them.

ALPERS: I’m happy for you to give me questions, and I’ll send you an email.

INVESTIGATE: I will email you, and explain why these figures are relevant. To me it is patently obvious, and it is a simple thing. If there is some rational argument as to why they are not relevant then I’m happy to hear it. If the gun debate is being discussed by media types and being restricted to this narrow little area you’ve got it restricted to, and is not looking at the wider issue – that guns defend people from crime – and you say ‘I’m not willing to look at that because it doesn’t fit my analysis’, then there’s no intelligent debate going on.

ALPERS: I don’t say – you’re putting words in my mouth and I’m not going to accept that.

INVESTIGATE: Fine, then correct me.

ALPERS: I don’t need to. You’re going to print what you want to print, and who cares, really.

INVESTIGATE: A hundred thousand readers, perhaps.

ALPERS: Up to you.

Investigate did email the full statistics across to Alpers, and in return he sent back links to studies that he had suggested would “debunk” our line of questioning. Unfortunately, they didn’t. The reason for that was their focus. Alpers did not want to discuss the proven facts that states with higher gun ownership have lower violent crime rates. As you saw above, he wanted to focus only on gun crimes as the basis for comparison.

In this regard, Alpers and other gun control advocates are entirely correct, the evidence clearly shows that states with higher gun ownership have a higher level of gun-related incidents (not necessarily crimes – we’ll return to that point later). But as Alpers also admits, gun crime actually makes up only “a tiny, tiny, tiny proportion of crime”. Alpers wants people to be sufficiently outraged about “a tiny, tiny, tiny proportion of crime” to the extent that all guns are banned, or at least tightly controlled by the government.
The Webster study he offered to send, for example, found that: “In homes with guns, the homicide of a household member is about 3 times more likely to occur than in homes without guns. The risk of suicide of a household member is increased by approximately 5 times in homes with guns.”

But the gun lobby argues, with some backing based on the FBI figures, that a high level of civilian gun ownership actually deters a much larger proportion of criminals than just the “tiny, tiny, tiny proportion” who specifically misuse guns. If there’s an increased risk that burgling a house will get you shot, will a criminal take that risk? If there’s an increased risk that a potential mugging victim will grab a concealed gun and shoot his or her attackers, will a criminal take that risk? In Vermont, where there are virtually no restrictions on the ownership of Glock semi-automatic pistols and other handguns, the figures appear to speak for themselves: a violent crime rate of 119/100,000 compared to California’s gun-restricted 524/100,000.

The most tightly gun-controlled area in the whole United States is Washington DC, with a virtual total ban. You’d expect its violent crime rate to be low, right? In 2005, it was 1,459/100,000. Remember, New Zealand’s violent crime rate at 1,180/100,000 is only marginally less than the mean streets of Washington DC.

Auckland city’s rate is 1,236/100,000. Counties/Manukau police district’s violent crime rate is 1,621/100,000. In other words, for the vast majority of people in terms of their crime experiences, Manukau city is actually a more dangerous place than Washington DC. Neither Manukau nor Washington DC allows you to carry a concealed handgun, whereas Virginia, where concealed weapons are common – except on the University campus – has a violent crime rate of only 282/100,000, which is roughly only 1/6th the rate of Manukau city.

Expressed another way, you are between six and 14 times more likely to be mugged in Manukau, than you are in gun-happy Virginia or Vermont, USA.

Are New Zealanders inherently more badly behaved than Americans? Is New Zealand society six times sicker than the state that produced America’s worst-ever gun massacre?

Perhaps, we wondered, the prevalence of guns in Vermont might result in a higher number of murders than New Zealand. We checked. For 2005, the most recent year we seem to be able to get comparable figures for, New Zealand’s murder rate was 2.7 per 100,000 people. Vermont’s was only 1.3, less than half NZ’s murder rate.

In Washington DC, where no one is allowed to carry a gun at all except police and criminals, the murder rate was a staggering 35/100,000 that year.

New Zealand’s rate of sexual attacks, at 53/100,000, compares unfavourably with Washington DC on 34/100,000, the US national average of 32/100,000, or gun-happy Virginia and Vermont which are both on 23/100,000.

For robbery, New Zealand’s rate is 54/100,000, while Vermont’s is just 12/100,000. Virginia has a robbery rate of 99/100,000 – very similar to Manukau city’s 95/100,000. It is worth noting however that the just-released figures for 2006 show Manukau’s robbery rate has shot to 149/100,000.

New York, where guns are also banned however, has a robbery rate of 184/100,000. Washington DC’s is – wait for it – 672/100,000.

In the interview with Alpers, he suggested a National Academies of Science overview had taken account of all the gun research to date:

“All of it went right up the line to the National Academies of Science in the US, and the NAS brought out their report so I’ll send you that and hopefully that’ll bring you down a bit.”

So what does the NAS report actually say?

“Research linking firearms to criminal violence and suicide is seriously limited by a lack of credible information on who owns firearms and on individuals’ encounters with violence...Moreover, many studies have methodological flaws or provide contradictory evidence; others do not determine whether gun ownership itself causes certain outcomes.”

Hardly a ringing endorsement of the gun control position.

“Research has found associations between gun availability and suicide with guns,” noted the NAS, “but it does not show whether such associations reveal genuine patterns of cause and effect.”

In other words, did owning the gun cause a suicide or would they have killed themselves by another method anyway? Or did they simply buy a gun, rather than a rope, because they were already suicidal?

Alpers told Investigate that Harvard and other institutions had thoroughly rebutted and debunked the idea that gun ownership reduces violent crime rates, but the National Academies of Science report he sent us doesn’t support his claim at all.

“Current research and data on firearms and violent crime are too weak to support strong conclusions about the effects of various measures to prevent and control gun violence...there is no credible evidence that right-to-carry laws, which allow qualified adults to carry concealed handguns, either decrease or increase violent crime,” says the NAS.

In other words, the studies specifically cited as “debunking” the idea are not regarded as “credible” by the National Academies of Science, even though they have been carried out by Harvard or Yale.

Despite this, Alpers says:

“I’ve sent you a bunch of studies which were published in peer-reviewed journals. The hypothesis you cite, that “states with liberal gun laws are enjoying much lower crime rates overall,” is by and large not to be found in literature which survived standard academic scrutiny. Instead, your theory is roundly discounted in the scientific literature, including the National Academies of Science report. That’s the peak of US scientific consideration.”

As you’ve seen however, we’ve quoted the NAS report, which says none of the studies to date can be trusted. Which is why Investigate largely ignored the studies and just went straight to the bottom line – comparing raw FBI crime data and ignoring the spin from both the gun lobby and the gun control lobby.

It is often said that higher gun-ownership equates to higher gun related incidents. But that statement doesn’t tell the whole story. When you compare gun homicides (murders committed by gun), you find the states with the highest gun ownership generally have the lowest rates of gun homicides.

STATE % of households w/guns Gun homicide rate
Wyoming 59.7% 1/100,000
Alaska 57.8% 3/100,000
Montana 57.7% 1/100,000
South Dakota 56.6% 0.9/100,000
West Virginia 55.4% 3/100,000

In comparison, the states with the lowest gun ownership:
STATE % of households w/guns Gun homicide rate
Washington DC 3.8% 25/100,000
Hawaii 8.7% 0.7/100,000
New Jersey 12.3% 3/100,000
Massachusetts 12.6% 2/100,000
Rhode Island 12.8% 2/100,000

On those figures, it is impossible to argue that gun ownership is directly related to gun homicide. For the record, the figures were taken from the CDC’s WISQARS data for 2004, used in the anti-gun Miller & Hemenway study published earlier this year by Harvard.
In a stinging critique of Miller & Hemenway, US blogger Jeff Soyer wrote:

“Buried within the study, Miller and Hemenway finally admit at their ‘study’ doesn't prove a causal relationship between homicide and guns in the home but that's not what their press release says and it's not how the liberal media is reporting the study results.

“Naturally, all media need do is compare Massachusetts (2/100,000) and New Hampshire (30% ownership, 0.8/100,000) to see that the percentage of homes with firearms has nothing to do with the rate of homicide by firearms.

“The problem isn't guns. It might be demographics, it might be a failure to lock up criminals or keep them locked up but it isn't households with guns. That dog don't hunt,” says Soyer.

Alpers however insists that we should pay no attention to the lower crime rates in states where guns are allowed, and instead focus on firearms deaths. He quotes firearms death rates for Virginia of 11/100,000, compared with New Zealand’s 1.3/100,000. But when homicides only are counted, the rate drops to 3.9/100,000. Vermont’s overall rate was 9/100,000. Again, when homicides only are selected, Vermont’s rate drops to an incredibly low 0.3/100,000. The vast bulk of Vermont’s gun deaths are suicide.

It is true that a large number of American suicides involve guns, and when lobbyists like Philip Alpers talk about “firearm death rates” in media interviews they are usually including the suicide figures in there. So how do we compare on the suicide front?

In 2003, according to Ministry of Health figures, New Zealand’s suicide rate was 11.5/100,000. In the United States, it was 10.8/100,000. Despite the guns in the US, more New Zealanders are killing themselves than Americans. Virginia’s suicide rate, at 11.1/100,000, is slightly lower than New Zealand’s.

It is true that easy access to guns makes it easier for someone bent on murder-suicide to take a whole lot more people with him. But it is also true, as real incidents have shown, that armed members of the public can and have foiled mass murders in recent years by intervening.

Philip Alpers disagrees, citing the Iraq war zone as proof.

“No such effect seems apparent in the favelas of Rio or in Baghdad. To wish only for escalation, and to always discount prevention, seems to be a hallmark of the gunfight fantasist.”

Perhaps. But 32 American students were gunned down in an area where firearms prevention was already in place. It is likely that many of them, in their dying moments, wished that somebody had been able to shoot back.

Footnote: Because of space limitations caused by our major lead story this month, we could not include all of the material for or against that has been provided to us. Readers interested in hearing the full interview with Philip Alpers on MP3 can find it at, along with the studies emailed to us by Philip, and other research links we perused as well.

For the record, Investigate believes there is strong merit in tightening gun ownership laws to restrict undesirables, but that ideology – “guns are always good” or “guns are always bad” has no place in intelligent debate on the issue. The statistics we have quoted here are genuine. They have not been “debunked”, and they require explanation. One final point: we absolutely reject Alpers’ assertion in his interview that he “didn’t have the figures” and we were being unfair. Alpers was not provided with questions in advance by TV3’s CampbellLive, but was perfectly happy with the question line. The figures we quoted from were standard FBI crime rate figures which Alpers, as a paid gun control lobbyist for a decade, should have been familiar with.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 11:00 PM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2007

The Boy Racer Problem: March 05



Horrific road smashes involving young drivers are increasingly dominating news coverage on both sides of the Tasman. In New Zealand, we’ve introduced ‘boy racer’ laws and extensive restrictions on young drivers, prompting calls for similar tough measures in Australia. But as PAUL HAM explains, the real cause of the problem may actually be the feminization of society.

The nannyish, knee-jerk campaign by the New South Wales government and Sydney’s Daily Telegraph to introduce new laws for P-plate drivers to stop them killing themselves is not only a bleak manifestation of the infantile element in modern Australian political thought, but a sad symptom of a society that fails to grasp the fact that laws will not stop young men from doing blindingly stupid, terrifyingly dangerous, or amazingly heroic things.

The problem is – as the sad case of Emile Dousset (more on this in a moment) and other young drivers’ shows – laws cannot stop the intrinsic anarchy of youth. The experience of history, which we seem to be in the process of rapidly forgetting, teaches that adults need to channel the male instincts, rather than throttle them with laws, if we are to have any hope of generating something worthwhile from our sons.

Strict schooling, parental discipline and national service were once the traditional conduits for controlling the errant young male. None is likely to return. The relentless surge of progressive education, which has destroyed a generation of young people’s minds, marches on. The reintroduction of national service is clearly unlikely – it would be electoral suicide, and too expensive. And there is barely a flicker of life in the old family punishment regime – crushed by the anti-spanking campaign and other lobbies that criminalize or socially stigmatise any form of effective parental child discipline.

So politicians have spotted a vote winning opportunity: we’ll do the job of the parents.

Encouraged by the supine complicity – or, in the weird case of some publications, a cheerleading press – the ruling political class has seen fit to barge into our homes and tell our children how to behave without ever asking us.

“If parents can’t control their kids, we’ll have to do it for them,” runs the thinking; cue the busy bodies in government, who are parking their tanks on the parental patch with bossy impunity.

And yet the politician who demands parental as well as political power is a tiny symptom of a profound delusion in the western body politic: Governments actually think they can play mum or dad in outlawing the oldest, most creative and destructive urge in the human species: a young man’s propensity to behave recklessly.

In this process, parents have become the mere finger-wagging appendages of a society that increasingly relies on the crudest form of dissuasion: the law. The punishment of our kiddies is being appropriated by state legislators who cynically applaud the introduction of laws to control youth because they suppose them to be “voter friendly”.

Hence the proposed shiny new proposals in Oz for curbs on P-Plate drivers, which go hand-in hand with our mania for age limits, anti-spanking laws, anti-drinking laws, anti-smoking laws, bicycle helmet laws, and prohibitions of all kinds of behaviours perceived to be dangerous.

PHOTO: NZ Herald

In this light the tragic case of Emile Dousset is instructive. His father Graeme is, by all accounts, a responsible, decent man who made it very clear to his son that the Nissan Skyline R34 GTR parked in the garage – a machine powered by a 2.6-litre, six-cylinder engine with a top speed of 251km/h - was off limits. Graeme repeatedly warned Emile that the car was not to be driven; he tried to educate his son about the dangers of speeding, and the importance of responsible driving.

Emile listened, but disobeyed his father, and set aside his dad’s reasoned appeal to good sense – the flight of any ordinary young man’s desire for a thrill. One night, while his father was overseas, Emile took the vehicle out for a spin in the town of Wyoming, NSW, where a 50km/h limit applies. The P-plater drove first to a service station and picked up two passengers, Carl Homer, 33, and Natasha Schyf, Homer’s pregnant 15-year old girlfriend. Both were impressed by the gleaming vehicle, and curious to see how young Emile would handle it.

At this point it is worth interceding to remark on the manner in which virtually every commentator chose to ignore the really disturbing story here: in impregnating a child, the 33-year old Homer was manifestly guilty at the very least of carnal knowledge – and possibly child abuse – a more insidious force in society than reckless driving. Few saw fit to remark on this rather unfortunate fact; one report nauseously praised the girl’s courage in rising to the challenge of pregnancy at so young an age. (Even as the Telegraph was studiously ignoring the details of Homer and Schyf’s relationship, it still managed to run – with a straight face – a story about a 37-year-old man accused of bedding a 15-year-old girl he met online. The headline? “Jailed for preying on girl.”)

But back to Emile. Perhaps in an effort to impress his passengers, he sped to a residential street popular amongst rev-heads. He then accelerated to somewhere between 180 and 200 km/h, struck a dip in the road, went airborne for 40m, and smashed into a telegraph pole. Stunned residents emerged from their homes to find the dead bodies of Emile and Carl flung on the nature strip; trapped in the split car was Natasha, who died with her unborn baby (whom she’d named William).

Emile has become another tragic statistic in the supposed “epidemic” of P-plate road victims. His case fed the portrayal of male youth of today as, at the very least, disobedient and reckless.

At worst, if the government and the media are correct, a spawn of half-formed, testosterone-fuelled yahoos are at this very moment rampaging across our fair land, smashing up their dads’ cars and their lives in brazen high-speed rallies; drinking themselves legless; or drugging themselves to the hilt.

That impression is plain wrong, of course; in the midst of the media hysteria over the epidemic of teen driver deaths came news that, rather than spiking skywards, fatal accidents involving P-plate drivers have fallen to their lowest levels in history, falling 30 percent from 1992 to 2002. And it’s not just young drivers who are getting safer: NSW closed 2004 with the lowest number of road fatalities overall since 1949, with a total of 522 deaths. To put these numbers it in context, NSW Health estimates that roughly a dozen times that figure die in the state every year due to smoking.

But the NSW government is not put off, and is instead trying to legislate against stupidity. For example, young people must now stay on their P-plates three times longer now than their parents were: they must progress from L plates to red beginners’ P plates to a P2 licence (green P plate) before they get their full licence – a three-year process, involving several tough hazard perception tests. No wonder P-plate drivers are in the spotlight for road accidents. If that regime doesn’t work, what will?

But the government wants to extend the regime, and Roads Minister Carl Scully has drawn up a paper of options to reduce P-plate driver fatalities: they include a proposed ban on fast or dangerous cars and raising the age limit for licence-holders. To be fair, even as he pursued this course, he recognized an insurmountable problem: only by banning cars will crashes be avoided, said a helpless Scully spokesman last November.

Never mind that this doomed experiment will be ignored: no self-respecting young larrikin will care much about a distant government bureaucrat droning on about the “P-Plate driver menace”; a curb on young drivers may even encourage speedsters onto the roads.

In earlier times, fathers were proud of the motive, if not the occasionally disastrous consequences, behind any healthy young son’s desire to show-off, or embrace dangerous situations. It is a biological inevitability. That is why young men volunteer for war: they, unlike women or older men, have an idea of themselves as bullet-proof. In a word, many young men reckon they’re unbreakable.

But this fact seems beyond the realm of comprehension of the legions of precious counselors, bossy journalists, government busy-bodies and tut-tutting feminists who are wheeled out with weary inevitability to bemoan the “youth of today” and their predilection to do very dangerous things every time a young person is killed or hurt.

If Lord Byron had lived today, no doubt swimming the Hellespont by “Club-footed Persons” would have been banned soon after he drowned. Sadly for the cosy modern world of health inspectors and safety first, the dashing young man who defies order and authority to express his peculiarly male urge to be the fastest or the strongest or a hero will always be with us – if in a suppressed or warped form.

That’s because we live in an age in which the female is in the ascendant, and manhood is seen as something awkward, smelly, yobbish or plain embarrassing. The male virtues of courage, mateship, loyalty and do-or-die heroism are either dead, or dying, stamped out by a fusillade of laws, restrictions, codes and feminist-driven contempt.

Indeed, this blokish larrikinism is regularly portrayed as a kind of mental illness and something to be ashamed of; the “male” in us is not quite “human”, rather something abnormal, even bestial. Men are inured to being presented as the buffoon or the idiot in endless films and TV shows; they seem to have swallowed the nonsense that they’re less intelligent than women.

Melbourne psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg reckons young males “do not have the neurological wiring that gives girls pause to think,” as he told journalist Kate Legge in the Australian recently. Having accepted this as a self-evident truth, Legge added: “This biological handicap is exacerbated by a lethal mixture of sloppy parenting and unprecedented commercial and peer pressure”.

It is worth weighing the meaning behind this extraordinary statement: young men are no longer merely stupid or loutish; they are actually biologically inferior to girls. “New research” or “experts” say so.

But surely a biological handicap must be qualified in terms of its effect on human behaviour? If the male “biological handicap” only results in rev-heads crashing their cars, or picking fights, then perhaps it is a handicap; if, however the male “handicap” produces young men willing to sacrifice their lives for their country at a time of war; or rush in fearlessly to save the life of someone in danger; or embark on daunting expeditions of discovery, then surely it is a gift?

Today’s society denies young men that accolade. They are simply mentally-challenged louts. One wonders how the nation would respond if we were invaded (as we nearly were in 1942) – perhaps we’d introduce a new law banning war?

Setting aside the absurd claim that the “commercial and peer pressure” on boys of today is “unprecedented” (e.g., how does one calculate this new precedent?), Carr-Gregg’s fundamental concern is that parents seem surprised when their boys misbehave: "I sit in my office gobsmacked at tales not out of place at a Roman orgy," he observes. "Parents don't seem to have a clue. One couple allowed their teenage son free range at home while they went to Noosa. He had a party. The house was trashed and the parents were astonished. These are intelligent professional people.”

Yet Carr-Gregg contradicts this admirable portrait of the modern young man’s party-organising abilities by claiming that today’s generation of boys “is the most vulnerable…we have ever seen”. On the one hand the little darlings are holding Roman orgies, the next they’re the vulnerable victims of a conspiracy of bad parenting, bad schools and ferocious marketing that “short-circuit”, in Legge’s phrase, a boy’s path to manhood.

In response, Carr-Gregg and legions of other psychologists, most of the media, and even feminist-mums are pressing for a return to more authoritarian styles of parenting and schooling. (Though, tellingly, they draw the line at anything possibly effective – like corporal punishment. They want carrots without sticks; they plead for the imposition of discipline without any disciplining force.)

But their plea, however welcome, is a little late. One groans wearily at this belated recognition of the failure of 30 years of progressive “liberal” education, whose seeds lay in the barren soil of the 1960s baby boomer era. It is now awfully clear that a child will not find his or her “inner creativity” without some instruction in the method of expressing it: i.e. lessons in grammar, ordered thinking, reason, logic, the rules of syntax etc.

Another fascinating reversal for these New Authoritarians is that they now acknowledge “gender difference”. “Risk-taking behaviour is unquestionably a gender issue on Australian roads,” writes Kate Legge, for example. “Young men have been found to score significantly higher than females when tested for impulsiveness and sensation-seeking,” she adds.

And research by Peter Palamara of the University of Western Australia's Injury Research Centre has found that young men are more likely to engage in risky driving when carrying a same-aged, same gender passenger. In other words, young men like showing off to their mates…what an extraordinary thing.

This identification of “gender difference” is an intriguing break with the past: throughout the 1970s, feminists were telling us that there is no such thing as gender difference. Men and women were the same, at least psychologically. (No wonder so many women burnt their bras in that wretched era, the high watermark of idiocy, during which the greatest insight of feminism was that “manhood” was a cultural phenomenon imposed on children; a little girl would naturally choose Ken over Barbie if only she was given the chance. Any parent knew – and knows - this to be utter rubbish.)

One consolation from the wreckage of the past – and of poor young Emile - is that at least many people are talking a similar language. Many people seem to have noticed that men and women are, er, different; and most people seem to agree that the progressive education and parenting models of the last 20-30 years have failed to produce well-adjusted young men. This seems an auspicious place to begin finding ways to channel male recklessness, aggression and risk-taking into something constructive.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 09:41 PM | Comments (0)

August 03, 2007

The Rise of the Neo-Coms

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The Socialists Are Back

New Zealand’s new communists wear designer jeans, frequent Ponsonby and Thorndon, are hypocrites-extraordinaire, and have far more influence than Karl Marx ever fantasised. IAN WISHART discovers the links between radical socialism and radical Islam in New Zealand

A major investigative article in this magazine exposing radical Islam’s growing stranglehold on New Zealand mosques has flushed out an unlikely bunch of bedfellows, and the return of some old favourites. As you will have seen in this month’s Letters pages, more than 150 people have now signed a hate-letter to Investigate for daring to delve into visits by Islamic terror-fundraisers to New Zealand...

But the letter is surprising for one big reason: the huge number of socialists and local “moderate” Muslims prepared to condone the most extreme form of Islamofascism: the Wahhabi Salafist strain followed by the al Qa’ida terror group.

Here’s what the signatories wrote in a preface to their letter published on the Scoop website:

“The March 2007 edition of Investigate magazine carried a lengthy article by Ian Wishart which claimed that the New Zealand Muslim community is being infected by ‘Islamic extremism’. Mr Wishart's 18-page rant is New Zealand's first full-on example of Islamophobic gutter journalism,’ said Grant Morgan, organiser of RAM ­ Residents Action Movement.

"The most basic fact is that nobody in the New Zealand Muslim community has ever been charged with any act of 'terrorism', let alone convicted. That puts the lie to his propaganda of fear, suspicion and hate."

Morgan deliberately overlooks the Saudi men discovered in Hamilton trying to photocopy flight manuals for Boeing 757 jetliners – the same aircraft that were used in the 9/11 attacks just a few months later. Morgan also ignores the discovery that a roommate of the 9/11 hijackers at the time was later found living in New Zealand. Morgan ignores the plans for Sydney’s Lucas Heights nuclear reactor found in an Auckland house used by former members of the Afghan mujihadeen.

Most of all however, Morgan and the 160 or so “useful idiots” who signed his letter deliberately ignore that the local Muslim community have been inviting Islamic clerics with documented links to terrorism, to come to New Zealand and run youth camps and lectures.

Morgan’s letter talks of “our Muslim community” and “peaceful Muslims”, yet those same people invited guests here whose published literature, DVDs and comments include such gems as:

• “The clash of civilisations is a reality. Western culture an enemy of Islam.” – Bilal Philips • “We know the Prophet Muhammed practiced it [marrying a 9 year old girl], it wasn’t abuse or exploitation” – Bilal Philips • “There is no such thing as a Muslim having a non-Muslim friend” – Khalid Yasin • “This whole delusion of the equality of women is a bunch of foolishness...there’s no such thing” – Khalid Yasin • “If you prefer the clothing of the [infidels] over the clothing of the Muslims, most of those names that’s on most of those clothings [sic] is faggots, homosexuals and lesbians” – Khalid Yasin • “Tried, convicted...punishable by death” – Khalid Yasin on the penalty for being gay • “Are you ready to die?” – essay by Siraj Wahhaj on jihad martyrdom • “The blessing of death” – essay by Siraj Wahhaj on the need for jihad • “The easy way to Paradise – how to get there” – essay by Siraj Wahhaj on the benefits of becoming an Islamic jihadi • “Kill Jews and worshippers of the well as Hindus” – book worked on by Yahya Ibrahim • “Islam is a religion of peace” – Siraj Wahhaj talking to Western reporters

On the strength of those claims, all documented in our March article (now available online) from firebrand Wahhabi fanatics who’ve been teaching New Zealand Muslims for at least seven years, Investigate can only conclude that the list of signatories to Grant Morgan’s letter not only endorse such Islamic hatespeech, they also welcome it in New Zealand and believe local “peaceful” Muslims should bring more of these preachers out here.

In their letter, the signatories accuse Investigate of suggesting “that all Muslims adhere to the same ideas, and from this absurd generalisation he attempts to link peaceful Muslims to violent extremists.”

Investigate did not have to “attempt” to link anything: local peaceful Muslims invited the scum of Islam to New Zealand for lecture tours every year, while encouraging followers to read their books and watch their DVDs.

Are the invited guests “violent extremists”? Some were conspirators in terror plots to blow up New York landmarks. Others frequently talk of a coming battle between Islam and the West:

“It is abundantly clear that the big battle is inevitably coming,” said invited guest Yahya Ibrahim, “and that the Word of Tawheed (Islam) will be victorious without a doubt.”

Siraj Wahhaj told journalists that America and the West “will be crushed” unless they “accept the Islamic agenda”.

But no, the fact that men with opinions like these are the star attraction in peaceful New Zealand mosques is merely – according to Morgan in a Three-Wise-Monkeys impersonation – an attempt at “negative transference”.

Morgan wants “all New Zealand communities, including our Muslim sisters and brothers, to unite for peace,” but it seems that could be difficult if local Muslims take the advice of the hate preachers listed above.

According to the signatories, they are ordinary New Zealanders extending the hand of friendship to local Muslims and fighting Islamophobia on their behalf. But as you’re about to discover, many of the signatories are far from ordinary, and the groups they affiliate with are linked to support of extremist Islam in Britain as well. They are, in fact, a 21st century manifestation of an old Western foe – Soviet-style communism.

In a stunning display of dishonest hypocrisy and chutzpah, the Neo-Coms last year shot their mouths off about the Exclusive Brethren failing to list their religion on an election pamphlet, yet as you’ll see from the letter to Investigate, few of the most interesting signatories to us told anywhere near the full truth about who they are and what they represent.

Of the 163 signatures listed randomly in the letter, only two – Vaughan Gunson and Warren Brewer, declared themselves openly to be socialists. But an Investigate inquiry, coupled with revelations posted on Act party member Trevor Loudon’s blog, has shown a full 40 – at minimum, are socialists or communists, with potentially a further 20 falling into those categories as well.

Why would organisations so vocal about the apparent failure of the Brethren to be open, themselves be involved in a much larger covert exercise to disguise the political organisations they represent behind a series of entities with misleading names?

Take Grant Morgan, for instance, who organised the hate-letter. Morgan lists himself merely as “the organiser of RAM, Residents Action Movement”, which gained nearly 10% of the vote at the last Auckland Regional Council election in 2004. RAM portrays itself as standing up for the rights of Auckland residents in fighting rates hikes and the like. It arguably should be forced to stand at this year’s local body elections under its real name: Socialist Worker. RAM, you see, is merely a front organisation for the New Zealand branch of the radical British communist organisation, Socialist Worker.

Robyn Hughes, listed as the second signatory to the hate-letter, is a RAM member elected to the ARC. She just happens to be Grant Morgan’s partner, although this point, like the socialist background of both of them, is deliberately not declared.

But if you think this article is going to be an earnest hunt for “Reds under the Beds”, forget it, this hunt is hilarious in what it discloses about Neo-Coms. Did you know, for instance, that they still talk like party apparatchiks from a bad Cold War spy movie?

“I joined Socialist Worker,” David Colyer told an international socialist paper three years ago, “in 1997, my first year of university. I’d been a Marxist, in theory, for several years before that. The comrades, none of whom were students of the university, encouraged me to help build a movement.”

Did he just use the word “Comrades” in 2004?

“We want to replace the Labour Party with a new mass workers’ party, one in which...Marxists participate fully,” Colyer continued, veering onto his plans for a “broad left” newspaper, “which will include contributions from Socialist Worker [and] may well become the most important vehicle for spreading socialist ideas...We are still going to need some kind of Socialist Worker publication, around which to organise a Marxist current within the workers’ movement.”

And you thought Communism’s wombles had given up the ghost with the collapse of the Berlin Wall? Apparently not. They fever away to this very moment plotting the “revolution”.

“Here in Aotearoa,” notes a recent post on Socialist Worker’s blogsite,, “there are a number of events to remobilise the Anti War Movement. This Saturday will be an Anti-Imperialist St Patricks Day.”

Internationally, some members of the socialist groups organising “peace” marches have taken to wearing tinfoil hats in the hope of avoiding CIA “mindscans”. The CIA, however, takes the much simpler route of reading their online posts, some of which will have you rolling on the floor in hoots of laughter.

“If more decisive measures on global warming aren’t taken,” panted communist ARC councilor Robyn Hughes breathlessly during an Auckland protest last November, “Queen St may be under water in a generation...and then we will be swimming, not obeying road rules.”

Oh really? Even in Al Gore’s rib-tickling Inconvenient Truth it isn’t suggested that sea levels will rise by 3 to 4 metres in 25 years. Or even a hundred years. Sixty centimetres, at most, 10 centimetres more likely.

Regardless of how you rate their chances, the tinfoil hat brigade are still intent on world domination, however, with Peter Boyle – the editor of socialist magazine Links - citing “a new climate of collaboration in the international left. This is a project involving the left from the Communist Party, the Trotskyist, Maoist, ex-Social Democratic, independent left and liberation theology (‘Christian’ Marxism) traditions.”

A guest speaker at these international communist gatherings is New Zealand’s own Matt McCarten, the telegenic former advisor to the Alliance and Maori parties who’s now behind Socialist Worker and its plans to introduce a new hard left political party before the next election.

As Trevor Loudon notes:

“He began building a movement called the Workers Charter Movement, as the basis for a new mass-based political movement. The WCM was based around the Socialist Workers Organisation (and its front, the Residents Action Movement), elements of the Greens and Maori Party, the ‘Unite’ trade union, the late Bill Andersen’s Socialist Party of Aotearoa, and John Minto and Mike Treen’s Global Peace and Justice Aotearoa.”

The activities of the “comrades” wouldn’t normally be an issue, except for the fact that they have friends in high places.
Prime Minister Helen Clark, for example, has been a card-carrying member of Socialist International for most of her political career, and was a keynote speaker at Socialist International’s world conference in Wellington seven years ago. The organisation’s website lists the NZ Prime Minister as a member of its ruling “Presidium”, in the capacity as “co-chair, Asia Pacific Committee”.

Clark has appointed other key socialists to commanding positions in New Zealand’s bureaucratic infrastructure. They include Human Rights Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan, and Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres.

Of de Bres, Trevor Loudon records:

“While studying German at Auckland University (1965-68) de Bres became active in the Student Christian Movement. Like many Marxist groups, the SCM hid it's real emphasis behind an innocuous name. Far from being a bunch of clean cut spiritual seekers, the SCM was and is a "Christian-Marxist" organisation.

“ ‘I studied Marx, Engels and Lenin, Marcuse, Rosa Luxemburg, Frantz Fanon, and modern German writers of the revolutionary left. Students saw their hope for revolutionary change in an alliance with the working classes, through radicalised trade unions. They had nearly pulled it off in Paris in 1968,’ [said de Bres].”

De Bres, among many incarnations, once ran the CORSO ‘charity’, which was a front organisation for the Maoist Chinese brand of communism, and later joined some of his old CORSO colleagues in setting up OXFAM New Zealand.

“OXFAM NZ tends to focus its aid into countries that have active revolutionary movements,” writes Loudon. “This is not surprising as its staff, trustees and patrons include a significant proportion of socialists and Marxist-Leninists.”

It is de Bres’ Human Rights Commission, with Helen Clark, that is ramming through the “National Religious Diversity Statement” in time for a declaration at Waitangi on May 29 that New Zealand is no longer a Christian country, and that New Zealand is adopting as Government policy the highly controversial “Alliance of Civilisations” programme commanded by the United Nations.

Unlike those who value Western civilisation and its traditions based on Judeo-Christian laws and institutions, the “Alliance of Civilisations” project rules that all cultures, from Stone-Age and recently cannibalistic Papua New Guinea through to the US, are equal.

“There is no hierarchy among cultures, as each has contributed to the evolution of humanity.”

The Alliance of Civilisations, incidentally, was the brainchild of Turkey’s Islamic Party Prime Minister – whose party is currently at the centre of riots in Turkey over suspicions of a plot to turn the country into an Islamic state – and also the socialist Prime Minister of Spain, whose Socialist Workers party swept to power after the al Qa’ida Madrid bombings. Under his stewardship, Spain pulled out of Iraq and legalised gay marriage.

Unlikely bedfellows, the socialist and the Islamic conservative? Perhaps, but it reflects a fascinating development worldwide.
As the hate-letter to Investigate magazine reveals, a huge number of Neo-Coms are swinging in behind Muslim groups and individuals in a PR jihad against Investigate. But it is not just New Zealand. Socialist Worker’s sister parties in Britain and Australia are doing exactly the same thing:

“The Australian media, working hand in hand with the Howard government and the opposition Labor Party, has seized upon a sermon delivered last month by a Sydney-based Islamic cleric to escalate its hysterical campaign against Muslims,” begins one report earlier this year in a socialist publication across the ditch.

“Last Thursday, the Australian published translated excerpts from a sermon delivered by Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali last month, in which the Muslim cleric appeared to blame rape victims for their plight. ‘She is the one wearing a short dress, lifting it up, lowering it down, then a look, then a smile, then a word, then a greeting, then a chat, then a date, then a meeting, then a crime, then Long Bay Jail, then comes a merciless judge who gives you 65 years,’ he said. This was an apparent reference to the extraordinarily harsh sentence imposed on 20-year-old Bilal Skaf for gang rape convictions in Sydney six years ago.”

Pause for just a moment: the Socialist movement in Australia is describing the prison sentences handed down to a group of Lebanese men who gang-raped an Australian girl just because she was an “infidel” as “extraordinarily harsh”?

Nice to know where the tinfoil socialists really stand on women’s rights.

“There is now an inescapable necessity for all those opposed to militarism and war, and committed to the defence of democratic rights, to develop an independent political opposition to the xenophobic campaign being directed against Muslims,” the report continued.

And from Socialist Worker’s New Zealand blog:

“Even amongst revolutionary socialists, there is...Socialist Worker proudly on the side of Muslim people fighting Islamophobia in countries like Aotearoa and Britain.”

In other words, if you think the hate-letter to Investigate is anything more than part of a worldwide political stunt, think again.
NZ Labour list candidate, Anjum Rahmun of the Islamic Women’s Council, told a rally in Auckland two years ago that Muslims need to wage jihad against “those in our society who will use race and religion to divide us.”

This is the same Anjum Rahmun who signed the hate-letter, but left off the bit about being a Labour list candidate. A bigger question though is why Rahmun is not urging her fellow local Muslims to wage jihad against their guests Yahya Ibrahim, Khalid Yasin, Bilal Philips and Siraj Wahhaj for commanding that Muslims cannot be friendly with non-Muslims. If that jihad notice went out from the local “peaceful” mosques, Investigate missed it.

It is hard to work out which group is playing the role of “Useful Idiots” – the puppet of the other. Is radical Wahhabi Islam using atheistic socialists to help get a toehold in New Zealand? Or are the socialists simply taking gullible Muslims for a ride as part of their own schemes? The evidence strongly suggests the latter.

The Alliance of Civilisations document, for example, is 90% socialist ideology, and continues the aim originally spelt out by Karl Marx of abolishing national borders as part of a unified world, and encouraging greater immigration from the third world to the first.

“The solution is not to build walls around nations,” says the report. “Migrants make important contributions...Indeed, Muslim immigrants to the US, on average, have higher levels of education and are more affluent than non-Muslim Americans.

“Political, civil society and religious leadership in the West can help set the tone within which debates regarding immigration take place by speaking forcefully and publicly in defense of the rights of immigrants.

“American and European universities and research centres...should promote publications coming from the Muslim world on a range of subjects related to Islam and the Muslim world.”

The Alliance of Civilisations report, whilst stopping short of recommending outright censorship of the news, nonetheless recommends that sympathetic media outlets be identified to promote the goals of greater immigration and integration, and be encouraged to produce good-news stories about Islam whilst downplaying the negative.

“The Alliance of Civilisations should take advantage of major media, cultural and sports events for the promotion of its objectives.”

The report, due to be adopted by the New Zealand Government later this month, is a public propaganda campaign almost without precedent outside Nazi Germany. David Benson-Pope’s Ministry of Social Development is working on it, and a briefing document released this month explains some of it:

“The Waitangi Dialogue will focus on the broad themes of peace, development, security and education, and aims to develop a plan of action with proposals for practical projects in these areas. The overall emphasis of the Waitangi meeting will be on developing relations – or building bridges – between faith communities.

“High Level Symposium on the Alliance of Civilisations Report: Auckland, New Zealand, 24 May 2007 The New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark, with co-sponsorship by the government of Norway, will host a high level symposium in Auckland on 24 May 2007 to discuss the report of the Alliance of Civilisations High Level Group.

“Prime Minister Clark wishes to ensure that the report receives full consideration including in the Asia-Pacific region. The symposium, which will be by invitation only, will bring together a small group of leaders, community representatives and experts to discuss the implications of the report for the region. Norway’s involvement will bring to the event the benefit of its considerable expertise as a leader in peace and reconciliation processes.”

As the letter-writer to Investigate put it:

“Basically the Alliance of Civilisations is a UN strategy whereby the secularism of the West can accommodate Islam peacefully - the focus appears to be on reconciliation of secularism with Islam with isolation of evangelicalism. Helen Clark has recently stated that NZ is no longer a Christian country. - meaning that Evangelical Christianity no longer has a place in NZ. It will be interesting to see who attends (‘by invitation only’) the coming meetings in NZ on the AoC, which Helen states she is going to personally facilitate, and who is not going to be invited - this may tell a story in itself.”

Which brings us back to the Socialists and Muslims’ Letter of Hate. Suddenly, with the revelation that die-hard tinfoil-hat wearing communists are using Muslims as “useful idiots”, the socialist-inspired Alliance of Civilisations document starts to make sense, especially with Helen Clark listed as the Asia-Pacific chair of Socialist International on their website,, in its report of the 2004 Socialist International World Council meeting held in Madrid that February.

“New Zealand is hosting the first symposium on the Alliance of Civilisations’ report in the Asia-Pacific region next month,” Clark said in an April 2007 speech in Valencia attended by the Spanish Prime Minister.

“It will be followed by a meeting in our country of the regional interfaith dialogue which brings together multi- faith delegations from South East Asian and South Pacific nations.

“The Asia Pacific region is at the intersection of many of the world’s great faiths. Peace and security in our region, as throughout the world, are dependent on us breaking down the artificial barriers we human beings have built between ourselves, so that we can celebrate our common humanity.

“We applaud Spain, together with Turkey, co-sponsoring the Alliance of Civilisations initiative at the United Nations. That has led to an important report on how to overcome the distressing polarisation we have seen between the Western and Islamic worlds...I believe that New Zealand’s close involvement in the affairs of the Asia Pacific make us of much greater interest to Spain at this time.”

Little wonder then, that New Zealand socialists are moving swiftly to try and prevent Investigate’s revelations from gaining wider traction or interfering with the implementation of the Alliance of Civilisations here.

Independent media, like Investigate, who dare to expose the arrival of extremist Wahhabism in New Zealand are targeted in the hope we’ll be intimidated into backing away from publishing further details.

But don’t expect other local media to report this. Socialist groups have also managed to buy the silence of most of the New Zealand news media, by offering inducements via the Media Peace Awards. The awards were set up in 1984, at the height of anti-nuclear protests worldwide, with the aim of encouraging reporting favourable to Peace Foundation causes. The Peace Foundation is another socialist front agency (see sidebar story). For the record, Investigate magazine has never entered them, but regular entries are received each year from:

North & South
The Listener
Radio NZ

North & South’s Jenny Chamberlain took the premier award in 2006. A year earlier it was her editor Robyn Langwell. The year before that it was North & South again, with both Metro and the Listener “highly commended”.

This is not to say that winners and finalists have not done good work, but as with any “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” arrangement it is journalistically ethically questionable whether any media should take part in a Media Peace Awards requiring them to give favourable coverage to a particular socio-political view. For example, would Investigate’s expose on Wahhabi Islam win a prize?

Journalism should only be judged on its news value, not its propaganda value. The obvious answer shows how the media can be bought and paid for with a few crumbs and a pat on the head.

The Media Peace Awards encourage slanted reporting. If you see a media outlet crowing about winning a Media Peace Award, you can judge their journalistic credibility for yourself.

Indeed, the close relationship between the Peace Foundation and NZ media may explain why neither TV3 nor TVNZ picked up the rights to the internationally acclaimed Channel 4 Dispatches documentary on radical Islam infiltrating British mosques this year. The documentary features many of the same people in the Investigate article, but it is arguably possible that neither TV channel wants to mess up its chances of winning a “peace” award by screening it.

The Peace Foundation, thanks to its close links with Labour, is also responsible for Ministry of Education policy on “peace studies”:

“From the outset,” records the Foundation’s website, “the Foundation concentrated on providing resources and stimulus for peace education in educational institutions, as well as servicing community groups. It also acted as a catalyst for the formation and/or maintenance of a number of groups including Students and Teachers Educating for Peace (STEP), Media Aware and the World Court Project. It also participated in a series of conferences arranged by Russell Marshall, during his term as Minister of Education from 1987-1990, and made a major contribution to the development of the Peace Studies Guidelines for schools.”

“In collaboration with the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF), and in consultation with the Curriculum Development Unit of the former Department of Education, the Foundation published a resource book for teachers at the primary/intermediate level entitled Learning Peaceful Relationships. This has become almost a standard resource and some 12,000 copies have been sold both in New Zealand and overseas.

“In 1989 the Foundation produced a pamphlet to provide all Boards of Trustee members with specific information about the implementation of peace education, when the School Charters were being drawn up. In 2000 the Foundation published Thanks not Spanks, a book designed to give parents and caregivers ideas on how to raise children with out resorting to violence.”

Peace Foundation director Marion Hancock is one of those who signed the letter against Investigate.

But perhaps the final word as to the credibility of Grant Morgan’s list should go to some of the signatories themselves. When we first received the letter via email, we doubted that Morgan had either properly obtained all the signatures or properly set out Investigate’s case when seeking comment.

Morgan refused to provide a copy of the email he had sent to prospective signatories, so we decided to ring a few signatories at random. Rosemary Arnoux, a lecturer in French at Auckland University, admitted in a hilarious phone exchange ( that she had not even read the Investigate article she was “complaining” about, until after we’d queried Morgan’s bona fides.

INVESTIGATE: I’m just double checking that you have in fact seen it?
ARNOUX: What, your article? I scanned it rapidly on my computer this morning.
INVESTIGATE: You scanned it rapidly –
ARNOUX: [interrupting] I read it fast, very fast!
INVESTIGATE: You read it –
ARNOUX: [interrupting] Oh look! [click, hangs up]

Another was Mua Strickson-Pua, who told Investigate he actually quite liked the article, but needed to be staunch.

“I had a quick browse through. Ian, I felt it wasn’t too bad, I felt it was middle of the road, but I thought I would get in behind in terms of the people who had their concerns. I said I was happy to be a co-signatory, but at the same time I thought your article wasn’t too bad!”

A similar sentiment was echoed by Waitakere mayor Bob Harvey, who said he had to take a public stand regardless of what he privately thought.

“If I was you I’d probably do it the same, but I’m not doing that I’m being the mayor of a city and I actually care about some harmony before bloody car bombs start going off in Henderson.”

Quite. But if local Muslims keep mixing with al Qa’ida terror fundraisers and local communists spoiling to “bring on the revolution”, Harvey may not get his wish.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 01:00 AM | Comments (0)

July 29, 2007

Keynglish, Part 1



They say New Zealand politicians can’t be bought, but tell that to the person who, just before Christmas, shelled out more than $4,000 to have lunch with new National Party leader John Key after a charity auction on the Zillion website. All we can tell you is the mystery buyer wasn’t us. Instead, IAN WISHART caught up with John Key and his deputy Bill English for their most in-depth media interview yet on their vision for New Zealand.


KEY: My view is that this brand is in incredibly strong shape, these are values and principles that go back 70 years. And if you really look at the sort of things that, say, for instance Holyoake was saying and you apply them to what I've been saying in the last three weeks, then I think you'll find there's a pretty strong match there. I think the reason that the party has endured for so long is that those values are very very durable. Now of course individual policies come and go, what worked for Holyoake and others won't necessarily work for me in terms of absolute policies, because the environment is different, but I think one of the aims of that speech is to really spell out that while I've used a slightly softer tone in the last few weeks, than maybe Don did, that fundamentally we are still going in exactly the same direction with values that line up with where we think New Zealand is heading.

INVESTIGATE: It's been an interesting time in politics, particularly since Labour took over in 1999, and I guess the period up to the 2002 election, where it had its vicious electoral defeat was marked, I think, by National still trying to establish what it actually stood for. Is there a danger in the slightly softer tone that the clear delineation between National and Labour won't be kept?

KEY: Well, yeah, look, there are always risks as, in a sense, I don't think beneath the surface, Labour has truly moved towards the centre, and I think the language they want to use and the spin they want to put on things is that they've got a tinge of blue in them, if you like, and they are hunting in the centre ground. Inevitably that's where most New Zealanders inhabit and if we don't try and win that space then by definition, it pushes us out to a much smaller audience. And clearly we want to win the bulk of the party vote come Election 2008. So in a sense, we don't make any apologies for hunting in that ground but I think there will be very different outcomes. Fundamentally, we trust the private sector and we trust New Zealanders to make good judgement calls for themselves and their families, and we don't think Labour does and we think that their response is always one of the sort of Nanny State where Wellington knows best. When you see the results of the last few years, I mean, health is just a classic example, no one can say that Labour hasn't thrown enormous amounts of money at it - they've taken the spending up annually from $6 billion to about $10.5 billion a year, but the results are at best pathetic. And why is that? Well, because they're hiring as many bureaucrats as they are nurses. So I think you'll see a very different approach from us, but one that the public will buy into, and I don't think it's one where they will be intimidated by it. I mean, my view is that if someone is looking for a hip operation or a knee operation, they care about the quality and the timing of that operation; in the end, the hospital that carries it out is probably irrelevant.

INVESTIGATE: I see the suggestion that women in Nelson/Marlborough will be without epidural services, because the government has rundown the health system to that extent, in what is a major provincial city.

KEY: That’s an example of where their priorities are wrong. I think you can argue the same case with Pharmac – I mean, Pharmac’s funding has been static for the last four years, in nominal terms it’s been around half a billion dollars. In the last election campaign our policy was to increase their funding reasonably dramatically, and of course we were going to do that by not rolling out a subsidy in another area, but we thought that was a better allocation of funds. Now, that doesn’t mean it’ll be our policy in 2008 but what it shows is, I think, that we are prepared to tackle – you can’t just look at these incredibly large portfolios and just argue that there’s one solution, throw a bit of money at it and you’ll get the right outcome at the other end. I think you really do have to demand productivity and performance and have the right allocation of resources.

INVESTIGATE: From my own time in Government working for Mike Moore in 1986, one of the key things in that first Lange administration was the perception, the hangover from the Muldoon years, of “bureaucracy capture”, whereupon a lot of the civil servants at the time had been with a National administration for years and were used to dealing with National and were very suspicious of the incoming Labour people. The reverse is now the case, you have bureaucracy capture with Labour – Tamihere touched on it in his interview with Investigate last year about the networks that now exist in the civil service. How seriously do you treat that as a problem?

KEY: I think the winds of political change drift pretty rapidly in Wellington, it’s a world that revolves around the Beehive and Parliament, and my sense of the anecdotal stories and approaches below the radar screen that we’re getting at the moment is that the core bureaucrats in Wellington can sense pretty rapidly a change.
So while, superficially, they may have nailed their colours to Labour’s mast for a while I think they can see that the time of this government is rapidly coming to an end and they’re making pretty clear and overt signals that they want to work with us. Of course, we’ll have to demonstrate through our policies and our people that we’ve got the goods, but I think we very much do.

INVESTIGATE: One of the issues, with the State Sector reform of the 80s, and it’s been a bit of a bugbear for parties in Opposition when they want accountability out of Ministers – is that Ministers now say “well, we can’t touch these civil servants because it’s all independent…” – Is there room for more political control of the senior departments and so forth so that you can get accountability back into the political system?

KEY: Well I think you do need accountability. My guess is that the public will be looking aghast at the Liam Ashley case, and asking why a Labour party in opposition were so quickly calling for heads on the National side when we had Cave Creek, and yet when it comes to Liam Ashley they’ve been pretty quick to accept that they are politically accountable but not responsible, and therefore they don’t intend to do anything about it. So I think the public is entitled to accountability, and across a wide range: accountability even just for value for money – I think New Zealanders know they are paying a hell of a lot in tax, that the government expenditure has increased dramatically and in part that’s putting pressure on inflation in New Zealand, yet coming out the other end is something that even the incoming briefing to ministers confirms – to describe it as “sub-optimal” would be gilding the lily. It’s really a very low level of productivity. Yet every quarter for the last 20 quarters we’ve seen the state sector wages rising faster than the private sector, so there’s a real imbalance here. Government is a big beast now, and we need to have that beast performing if New Zealand’s economic growth and productivity levels are going to get us back into the top half of the OECD.

INVESTIGATE: Well that gets me back to the question about bureaucracy capture, because there is this perception that we have an elected political system, but it has been disconnected legislatively from the civil service that it operates –

KEY: Well I think that’s been a deliberate political ploy by Labour, I think you’ve seen that through the DHBs – that was a level put in place to ensure, again, that they were responsible but directly not accountable. Every time you ask a question they can simply say ‘Well that’s a matter for the DHB, take it up with them’, and when you try and take it up with them you get a blank response. I don’t think any of us should underestimate that Helen Clark is a cunning woman who understands the systems well and has worked them to her best advantage.

INVESTIGATE: So is a Key government likely to be brave enough to figure out some way to bring that accountability back in legislatively so that it can control the public sector?

KEY: We’ll certainly take a look at it. I think it is important when money is spent – and we’re talking about very large sums of money – that people feel there is a process of accountability. It’ll probably never be at the level that every journalist and lobby group would want, but I think nevertheless there are improvements that can be made.

INVESTIGATE: In other words the pendulum has swung too far?

KEY: That’s my sense of it. Like it has in so many things with Labour, it never self corrects until it’s exposed.

INVESTIGATE: If you had to describe the Labour years, and taking the good with the bad, what would you say their biggest achievements are?

KEY: Arguably they’ve been in the social policy area, you know, whether it's banning smoking or changes that they've made in areas like civil unions - I'm not arguing whether they are good or bad, I'm just saying that they've achieved a result. If you look on the other side, economically, while I think they would point to the fact that there’s been reasonably strong levels of economic growth and job creation, I think if you really look at their policies they've just been riding a wave that they did very little to create. And I think when you really look back on the Clark years she won't be remembered for what she's achieved. I think she'll be remembered for the way that she managed her caucus. There's a big difference.

INVESTIGATE: On the flipside of the same coin. What are their biggest weaknesses?

KEY: Well, their weaknesses are, I think, they have very low levels of aspiration. Fundamentally, Michael Cullen and Helen Clark are deeply conservative people who doubt Kiwis ability to really make it on the world stage, so they don't invest in things like infrastructure heavily, because they're just not quite sure whether we'll make it or not. Everything is done incrementally, everything is sort of second-guessed and micro-managed, and my sense of it is that New Zealand is sitting on a huge opportunity, which if it doesn't capture in the next 20 or 30 years, will really set us back, because for the first time in our history we are probably in the fastest growing time zone.

We've got a world around us that’s rapidly going to start buying the kinds of products that we want, but equally we're facing competition that most Kiwis haven't really focused on, coming out of countries like Latin America, for some of our core areas like agriculture and forestry and wine, and ultimately the same thing could be true of tourism. And so I think you've got this sort of interesting world where on the one hand, there is this great opportunity – and the Internet is the same thing: all of a sudden people can tap into a billion people worldwide, have a niche product that they can sell from New Zealand and from their home (which may not necessarily be located in downtown Wellington or Christchurch), so the opportunities are limitless, and the tyranny of distance has been removed. But on the other side of the coin, the competition is coming from people that we are not solely focused on, and it's coming on stream pretty quickly.

So it is not a scenario where New Zealand is doomed if it doesn't get its policies right, but it's a scenario where we don't achieve what we are capable of achieving. I think that would be hugely frustrating for Kiwis, and it's also, I might add, extremely dangerous, because we're sitting on the border of a country which is pretty aggressively focused on building its competitiveness - in the form of Australia - and we're already seeing that: 685 Kiwis leaving a week. We’ve got a brain drain that the OECD is starting to mention as our number one issue, given that it is the highest in the developed world. So I think we really have to worry about those competitive threats and the only way to fix that is to come up with a set of policies under a timeframe, and with a commitment, that are world-class, that do sort of challenge where New Zealand could be if it wants to achieve the kinds of outcomes that it is capable of achieving.

INVESTIGATE: Catch-22 for National: under the new Brash leadership when he came on board, his Orewa 1 speech, catapulted the party back from the political doldrums to the point where it almost won the last election. He touched a nerve quite clearly on this whole issue of race and multiculturalism and everything that went with it. How difficult is it to you as a new leader to keep that support there and yet find a way of navigating a softer line?

KEY: Well I think firstly, that obviously it’s critical that you maintain your core support, and I'd say National's core support is in the mid-30s. I think that's sort of where it sits, and that's probably fundamentally true of Labour - we probably both have core support of around about 30 odd percent. But we had a particularly bad year in 2002, partly because MMP is very cruel to you when you are doing badly because they don't necessarily jump to the centre-left, but they just go off to a party on the centre-right, and we saw that in 2002. The good news is its kind to you when they think you're going to win and you're doing well, you pick up a whole lot of people who vote for a winner even if they are a little unsure. So we obviously need to maintain our core support, which is critically important.

The future of New Zealand is changing and we need to change with it. If we don't, then ultimately there is no long-term future for the National party. Political parties represent the populace if you like, and we need to be part of that. If you really look at the policies, as I've said, fundamentally our policies on race have not changed: we believe absolutely in all New Zealanders being treated equally before the law, we believe in a speedy settlement process of historical claims and we believe in the abolishment of the Maori seats - if there's a change, then it is over the timetabling of when that abolition will take place. It's likely that our first caucus in February will come up with something that will reflect, arguably, a more conciliatory timetable around the abolition of those seats.

So really, in a sense, all I changed is probably the tone. I make no apologies for wanting to talk about the language of development, not the language of grievance. But I do that for a number of reasons: firstly, of course as a political leader I could spend my life absolutely honing in on everything that separates us, and these days we are a pretty multicultural society and there are lots of differences. But equally, I believe that we've got to focus on what unites us and sort of have enough maturity as a country to say ‘there's a lot that binds us together’, and even though there are many voices singing the same song, we've also grown up enough to recognize there are some differences as well.

INVESTIGATE: We are heading into a world that is increasingly turbulent, and I raise the example of Investigate columnist Mark Steyn-

KEY: I know him, yes.

INVESTIGATE: -and Steyn has just published a book called America Alone where he makes a very telling case that, for example, Europe as we know it with its various different European cultures, will effectively cease to exist within one generation because of the huge influx of immigration from overseas. I think Muhammad is now the most popular name for baby boys in Belgium, and I think running at number two in France, so you are getting this huge cultural tidal shift. And that's part of the reason they've had these riots over there. But what he is basically saying is, the world is a very changeable place and the demographics are changing - in the West our birth rates are falling and our populations are becoming older. What does this mean in the next 15 to 20 years for New Zealand?

KEY: I think we know that there will be a changing ethnic mix in New Zealand - most of the forecasting indicates that this is likely for the reasons that you pointed out, that we have a birth rate that is below replacement and unless we want to see our population fall then it is likely there will be some [ethnic] change.

I think our position is slightly different in Europe. Europe's had fairly open immigration for lots of different reasons, New Zealand's been a country largely based on immigration. So I don't think we need to be fearful of that. But I think we should just apply sound tests, which are: it's our country, we should choose who we want to come here and who doesn't come, and in choosing that we should pick people who we think can make a contribution, that can ultimately settle in and become New Zealanders. My sense is that we've achieved that pretty well so far. There's always a process of digestion if you like, but I feel pretty confident we can manage that process.

INVESTIGATE: Is there a need as part of that process increasingly to have some sort of national written constitution so that everyone who is a citizen of New Zealand understands what our basic principles are and we swear allegiance to that?

KEY: A written constitution, not necessarily, but one of the things you've seen in Australia, and I have some sympathy for, is that through the curriculum and through the education system they promote very heavily to young Australians, wherever they come from, a deep understanding of Australia's history, of its natural fauna and flora, all the historical icons of Australia. I think that's something that can be looked at in New Zealand, because I think it is very important that when people come - not that they forget their historical roots - but the thing that will make any country work is not that we have differences, because clearly we will have some, but we also have something that we feel binds us together. What it means to be a New Zealander.

At the moment, I would argue that we are best at expressing that when we are not in New Zealand, when we see each other on the tube in London or we are somewhere else. I think, increasingly, Australia has done quite a good job of that, you've seen this sort outpouring of nationalistic pride on Australia Day, my sense is New Zealand will evolve with the right political leadership to that. In other words, a sort of coming together of what it means to be a New Zealander, and there are certain pathways we can do to help achieve that in a world which, as you say, is likely to have greater immigration as a feeder of its population.

INVESTIGATE: In terms of the rise of yourself and Bill English to leadership, I was reading the blogs for the next few days afterwards, and the reaction from some of the right-wing blogs was, “Oh heck, it's Labour lite!”. What's your reaction to that, have they got reason to be fearful or do you think you'll be able to persuade them and keep them on board for the next couple of years?

KEY: I think we will absolutely keep them on board. Look, there will always be a wide range of views. Again, if you go back to Holyoake, I think, he said if the party agreed with him 60% of the time he was doing pretty well. You are never going to get somebody who is going to agree with absolutely everything you say, and every policy you take as a leader, even as a political party.

So in the end it comes down to a kind of theme, and values and the way you handle the decision-making process. Of course there will be some on the extreme right, who will want to have policies that we are not likely to be advocating, and again some on the extreme left, who will want policies that we are not likely to be advocating.

Again, I make no real apologies for saying I take a relatively pragmatic view of things. In the end I want policies that work, but pragmatism should not be mistaken for not being decisive. I think we proved in the early weeks of the leadership that we are certainly prepared to make decisions, even hard ones, and we will make them pretty rapidly. I think even in my political career in the last 4 1/2 years, I've proven that through things like the tax plan, which was the biggest tax cutting plan that New Zealand has seen in its history. So I don't think people can say that I'm not prepared to make hard decisions or decisions that when I believe in them I'll back them.

INVESTIGATE: Is this a sign of how you will treat your responsibility in government - as Helensville MP, you were personally not worried about civil unions but you had a large amount of lobbying going on in your electorate that suggested the people in your electorate who had voted for you did not want that passed. Still in a conscience vote, you opted to recognize the will of your electorate. Is that something you see as being fundamental to being a politician?

KEY: Yeah, and you can take two views on conscience issues, one is to say that you vote on your own conscience, only what you think matters and to hell with the people that you represent; the other thing you can say is that you operate in the House of Representatives as their representative. I've chosen to take the latter view. Often the latter view coincides with my view, I mean, I voted against the Prostitution Law Reform Bill, because in the end I thought it was bad legislation as much as I got intense lobbying about it. It's not that I'm too gutless to make a decision, because I will certainly make them and I make them all the time, but I kind of feel like the people of Helensville, who put me there, expect me to represent their views in Parliament, and I do. Behind the scenes you'll see me doing that quite aggressively on a number of issues, one or two that I won't bother sharing with you, but I can tell you from a local perspective that it's been slightly different view from views others might have held and I'll strongly advocate for that as well. In those instances, if the party has a different position, then I'll be bound by the party's position as I expect all of my MPs to be. But I'm not afraid to stand up to the people that put me there, and I think any politician that forgets who put them in Parliament will rapidly find themselves on civvy street.

INVESTIGATE: What about citizens initiated referenda on conscience issues, is that something you'd support?

KEY: Yeah, I think there is some room. You can't overdo referendums - where you get to a point where the vote is on everything - because it becomes really difficult. And one of the really difficult parts about referendums as well is that you ask really simplistic questions for what are really complex issues. But, nevertheless, conscience issues are largely about the kind of society that we want, and some things, at a pace that people feel comfortable with. And I don't think there is anything wrong with having that kind of view.

You wouldn't apply it to everything, and there are certainly times when political leadership is required. You can take a simple example, where there are certain things around race for instance, where you couldn't have - even if there was a majority - them inappropriately flexing their muscles on a minority. We are a better society for having politicians and leaders who, in the past, have stood up to that. And you can sort of quote Martin Luther King down. But I think that, in certain instances, there is a place for binding referenda and we should not be afraid to use them.

INVESTIGATE: The Hager book that has attracted so much attention in the media, perhaps undeservedly, the general mutterings continuing behind the scenes would suggest that there were no leaks, that somehow somebody has hacked into National's computer system - is that a concern to you?

KEY: It is a deep concern and I think all New Zealanders should be very concerned if that's the case, because really we are talking about something very sinister, if that's occurred. We are meeting with the police, we need to get to the bottom of it. We know they are taking it very seriously. One of the reasons that we certainly hold the view that it is likely our systems have been either hacked into, or there has been something occurring, is simply the sheer volume of information they have. It is just not credible that it was just a bunch of e-mails that someone left on a plane.

INVESTIGATE: Your deputy Bill English is a conservative Catholic boy, do you believe in God?

KEY: What I have always said to that question in its many iterations, is, look, I have lived my life by Christian principles. I don't go to church, I was never brought up in any major way in a terribly religious household. My mother was Jewish, which under Jewish faith makes me Jewish. I do go to church a hell of a lot with the kids, but I don't want to hold myself out to be something that I'm not. I'm not Bill, I accept that, but I kind of try and live my life as best I can by a set of rules that I think works.

INVESTIGATE: In terms of the votes that you're out to capture by 2008, who are you after, what is your target market?

KEY: It's got to be women. Women are the clear audience - not that they don't like what we've said in the past - I think it is adding on to the message that we've had. So that's the first one, and I think the second is urban liberals and young people. But right across the board, I think there is room for improvement.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 01:07 AM | Comments (0)

Keynglish, Part 2



INVESTIGATE: In terms of what you see as the biggest issues for National over the next two years, what would they be?

ENGLISH: As the finance spokesman, the biggest issue for me is taking the economy forward in a way that rewards people who take risks, and shares the benefits and growth with New Zealand families, and it doesn't all end up in the government surplus.

INVESTIGATE: There has been an issue for several years now about the red tape, the compliance costs, and even the negative incentives that go on, how are you looking to tackle some of this?

ENGLISH: Look, I think that's really important, because we’ve gone down the track where the bureaucrats have set out to eliminate every risk. Now, you cannot have economic growth and success in business without risks, so New Zealanders want to work in a team but they want an entrepreneurial, and aspirational culture. And that is gradually being mothballed by continuous unnecessary regulation that is designed to get rid of every risk - and you can't.

INVESTIGATE: You see it not just in the business sector though. With this particular administration, you are seeing that same attitude applied right across the social sector, and protection for everything. Is that a problem overall?

ENGLISH: Yes, it is a problem. It's a problem because of the kind of attitudes it creates. Because if the government says that it's got the answer to everything, and if there's any problem they will fix it, people lose a sense of responsibility and consequences. National's view is, the government is there to underpin what people do, not dominate it.

INVESTIGATE: I asked John Key this, about bureaucracy capture in the civil service. Given that many of the people in senior positions were liberals appointed by the original Lange administration in the 80s, an incoming National government has to deal with that. How do you deal with a civil service that is possibly inimical to what National stands for?

ENGLISH: Well I don't believe all of them are, I mean, this is a public service who want the opportunity to serve the public instead of the Labour Party. I meet civil servants regularly, who are frustrated with the way that Labour thinks that putting together a list of things to do is the same as doing them. And that putting out a strategy to deal with some issue amounts to fixing it. What they want is the chance to be treated with respect, regarded as professionals. They don't want bucketloads more money, because they know that that's leading to a soft spending and low quality government. So I'm reasonably optimistic that the civil service is as tired of the Labour government as everybody else is.

INVESTIGATE: Is there enough accountability in the public service at the moment in your opinion?

ENGLISH: Not at the moment, no. And where there is, it is the wrong sort of accountability - I'll give you an example, this is Labour's definition of accountability: you remember a guy named Kit Richards? He wrote an e-mail the government didn't like. The guy loses his job, and can never be employed in the civil service again, while Labour are in power. Liam Ashley dies, brutally murdered, while he is in the custodial care of the state. No one has resigned, no one is responsible, no one is accountable. And that stinks. So Labour focuses on accountability for meeting Labour's political objectives, and if you get in the way of that you get dealt to. But accountability in the public service? That's long gone.

INVESTIGATE: Looking at the Brash years that followed on from your own leadership of National, why do you think National bottomed out, then bounced back up - what do you see, having had the advantage of being there at the helm, what was the thing that turned it for National?

ENGLISH: When National came out of government, it had a bad dose of low morale. I had some views about where it should go, that amounted to a longer term strategy, and I didn't articulate that very well. They wanted quicker results that got them back in the game and rebuilt the confidence of the party. Don Brash came in as a bit of a punt at the time, he only just got across the line to the leadership, but it turned out the public responded to him better, I think, than most people expected. It also meant that with a small caucus after the 2002 election, once the leadership changed it did settle down, because we stopped arguing about the leadership and got on and did a bit of work. What Brash did was gather up - in the 2002 election a whole lot of centre-right voters knew National didn't have a chance and Prebble and Peters picked a lot of them up, and Peter Dunne, with some pretty simple messages, and Brash gathered them all up. The job now is to extend beyond that group of voters.

INVESTIGATE: Jane Clifton in the Listener called John Key “Helen lite”, there is a perception that by sounding softer that National might abandon some of the ground that it has won. Is there any danger of that happening, or does the party have a cunning plan?

ENGLISH: No, there is no danger of abandoning core positions that have been hard-won and are good for the country. Some of this is just about the man for the times, and I think John Key has had a great start to the leadership because he is seen as the man for the times. Don was suffering a bit, just from being seen as a guy who had outstanding public service in the 90s, but might not be able to carry that through. So we are not going to be abandoning core positions. Look, our view of the world is fundamentally different from Labour's and I don't agree with this “Labour lite” stuff. We have to work within the constraints of MMP, which means you need to have 51% support in the Parliament for what you do - you used to be able to do it on 35%. So, of course, our job is to convince the public that we can manage the politics on their behalf, and at the same time achieve our direction, because increasingly we are moving to wanting a direction that is about aspiration, responsibility, risk-taking, and getting ahead.

INVESTIGATE: Just on the MMP point, you've seen over selective governments the damage that MMP actually does to the minor parties, every time a party enters into a formal coalition with a major one they get eaten. How will that affect politics long-term?

ENGLISH: I think it would be a mistake to judge MMP on what has happened so far to the small parties, because a number of the small parties are personality cults. So there's no particular reason for New Zealand First to exist except Winston Peters, you saw what happened to the Alliance, and then Progressives because that was dominated by one guy, Jim Anderton. United Future are going to find it hard to live past Peter Dunne's life in politics.

Now you are getting the emergence of parties that have a much stronger base, and that is the Greens and the Maori party. They've got a stronger base because they can exist regardless of the leadership - and the Greens have shown that, without Rod Donald they are still polling pretty well. They have learnt from watching all the variations that Clark has put in place, that they can get the right amounts of independence and influence, so I would see MMP in the future reflecting this. Those parties will be much more resilient than the ones who've been at the centre of MMP so far.

INVESTIGATE: One of the things that the Greens and the Maori party have done is to try and steer clear of formal coalitions.

ENGLISH: Yeah, that's one of the lessons! Don't let them swallow you up, and don't spend too much time around the Cabinet table because then you become responsible for everything instead of just your own brand. And the second thing is, that you have to have a strong clear brand that is about issues, not personalities - and that's where Act have a challenge because Act have lost their way on issues, they've become a personality party. And if they stay that way then they might get through a few more elections but they are not a permanent part of the system.

INVESTIGATE: In terms of her Majesty's loyal government, Helen Clark and team, how daunting are they, heading into a potential fourth term, for you and John Key?

ENGLISH: We are not daunted at all. This is a government that has done what it came to do, they are now looking tired and scratchy. I can see the signs, because I've been there, the signs of a fading government. They think the process is much more important than the result, so you just get endless strategies and collaborations and partnerships but no results.

They are getting scratchy and bad tempered and trying to bully the media, the past results of their personal and political judgements are catching up with them. That's what happens to third term governments, and we are not daunted by them at all. They got a long way in the past by talking their own book about what competent political managers they are, but in the end you get judged on results, not political management.

INVESTIGATE: During the Brash years, what would you say are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of National coming out of that time?

ENGLISH: I think the biggest strengths would be the hard work that's gone into building some strong positions with the New Zealand public around lower taxes, around the way government should deal with Maori - we're not going to give those things away. I think also Don's temperament and professionalism had a big impact on how the National party operates, it's a hidden effect, but a very important one. The party became more professional and better at making decisions under Brash. Coming out of it I don't see too many weaknesses really, John and I would be the first to acknowledge that we have a terrific platform of 40 plus percent of solid public support to build on.

INVESTIGATE: The Nicky Hager book, as the dust settles from that, there seems to be a growing suspicion that there was no leak out of National, but instead somebody hacked into the Parliamentary servers and stole your e-mails. What are your views on that?

ENGLISH: Yeah, look, what you are seeing here is years of spying and burglary and theft at the highest levels of New Zealand politics. Watergate was one burglary, this is much more extensive than that. So it is really important that the police focus on getting to the bottom of how all that material came into the hands of Nicky Hager and his book. Hacking is one option, I think theft and burglary is another, and I think the rash of political stories we've had about politicians in the last 12 months indicate that there's been fairly extensive private investigator or other spying activity on senior politicians, and who knows who's next.

INVESTIGATE: I have covered governments for something like 25 years now and in my view this administration would have to rank as one of the most corrupt - at an objective level, just in terms of all the stuff coming up around them - what's your view?

ENGLISH: This is an administration that has corrupted the whole political process. I have seen good, strong, experienced civil servants, reduced to gibbering idiots, because of the arbitrary control and punishment systems run by the government. I have seen all sorts of interest groups who have strong views, and in the past had advocated them aggressively in the public arena, bought off by the current government, with threats and promises. And then we've seen the straight out corrupt use of the taxpayers’ money and Parliamentary privileges, just this year, in the pledge card and Taito Phillip Field. That comes on top of a record that stretches back four or five years - no Prime Minister has been interviewed more often by the police than Helen Clark.

INVESTIGATE: What do you think of Helen as a leader?

ENGLISH: She's a ruthless and clinical leader, she's respected for her political competence, and not loved for anything else, except perhaps in the arts world. She has set a benchmark for MMP management that future governments have to reach for stability, because she has had a stable team. She is focused very much on her own stretching power, and that is shown by the fact that she has failed to renew the Labour Party. She has gone for making sure that her prime ministership is stable and not contested. She hasn't tried to ensure that the Labour Party can keep on governing, and they are about to pay the price for that.

INVESTIGATE: In light of your own political career, do you regret the Brash years in any way?

ENGLISH: No not at all. Politics comes and goes, timing is everything in politics, some of the things I was trying to do were just before their time. But the time is right now. Don Brash added much to the National party that I could not have added, even if I had been more experienced than I was. So, no, I have no regrets. I think we are in great shape now for a long and stable period in government, and that's what we are working to achieve over the next 18 months.

INVESTIGATE: Your relationship with John Key appears to be good, people were speculating that Bill might put ambition before the task at hand but you seem to have a good relationship.

ENGLISH: Yeah, we do. And that's because we think the same way about a lot of political issues, so that helps, we can make decisions quickly, because we are not arguing the point, and I think that's been demonstrated recently. The other reason it works is that we complement each other. John is a terrific marketer, a very appealing media presence, and I've got the experience of government and policy. I think we have a strong professional respect for what each can do it, and that's why it is working so well.

INVESTIGATE: Labour has made such an issue out of social engineering, its social policy programmes and the like, how does National achieve its new focus without being seen to be slipping towards what Labour has made such an issue of?

ENGLISH: Look, I think that's a real challenge. When you look at Labour's track record, the things they really cared about were those things where they were telling other people how to live their lives, and doing their social engineering. On the economy, and their delivery of services to the public, there's been a lot of talk - billions of dollars - but they are not really that focused on it, so they haven't got anywhere. One of National's core principles is freedom, we need to make sure that we don't get sucked along, in the environment that Labour has created, into accepting things that unnecessarily take people's freedom away or that have the government telling people they can't take risks that any consenting adults would think they should be able to take.

INVESTIGATE: On the whole global warming scenario, which I know Nick Smith has done some work on, there is, it appears, emerging with the National a belief that global warming is human caused. Yet there is a lot of scientific argument to the contrary. Is National wedded to the idea that it is human caused? Because if it's not human caused, then there is nothing we can do about it.

ENGLISH: We are open to the science, there's got to be good science, and not hysteria, driving the policy. We've become quite worried that policies are going to be driven by this Armageddon mentality that the world has far too many people and far too much carbon, and it's all going to unwind within the next 20 years. So we want to make sure, we've got an open ear to the science, we don't go along with this idea that Labour do that you're either - what do they say? - Helen Clark calls you a ‘climate change denier’, and it sounds like something out of the Inquisition – ‘how dare you!’. In fact, the science is complex, in our view it has moved in the direction of human causation, if more and better science says that's not the case we are open to it. In the meantime, we do believe that the risks are great enough that we need some insurance.

INVESTIGATE: What about the United Nations report suggesting cattle are a bigger contributor to global warming than cars? I would have thought, if you go back 8000 years, there would be millions more bison, elephants and antelope roaming the planet, than we have cattle now.

ENGLISH: The difficulty with climate change is going to be untangling the political agendas from the real science. It is going to suit a whole lot of people to believe that cars are not as polluting with climate change, because it would be very unpopular to curb people's capacity to drive their cars around. In New Zealand, that is a very dangerous idea, because our biggest single exporter is based entirely on cows, and that's Fonterra. Our job as a political party is to come up with sensible and reasonable policies that don't put our economic growth at risk, that don't put people's freedom to make their own decisions at risk because of some hysteria. That is a real danger, we are going to see Labour casting around trying to rebuild credibility on the environment, and look like a government with some vision, and there's a risk we'll get some pretty stupid policies as a result.

INVESTIGATE: Mark Steyn's new book, America Alone, is warning that the world is about to become a whole lot more unstable as Western civilisation heads into an unprecedented death spiral, caused by falling birth rates, rising abortions and rapidly ageing populations, while Islam is set to take over Europe within a generation. That's a pretty grim picture, if National becomes the government, how do you prepare for that kind of future?

ENGLISH: Demography is destiny, I am absolutely convinced of that. A community that stops breeding, which the Western - particularly European - countries have, is going to get swamped by those who do breed. It's a pretty fundamental fact of life on Earth. And we, in some respects, are not a lot different in New Zealand. There's a couple of points that matter: firstly, societies that can adapt to it I going to do well, and societies that really struggle with the demographic changes are going to be riven with conflict. And we've seen how nasty and brutal as conflicts can be. You've seen it in Iraq, you're seeing it in Africa, you are starting to see signs of it in the Pacific. I'm optimistic about New Zealand, though, because we have had our own reasonably intensive internal debate about history and who belongs where, and actually we have managed it pretty well by any international standard. So I think one of our advantages is going to be our ability to adapt to these demographic changes. The hard bit is going to be sorting out our role in the Pacific, where you've got the Chinese and the Taiwanese competing for influence, you've got ethnic strife in a number of places we hadn't expected before, you've got political instability in the Solomons, Fiji and Tonga. We've got a number of those communities heavily represented in New Zealand, and I don’t think we've got a clue what to do - New Zealanders are so used to having the moral high ground, where we can preach about foreign policy and cultural difference to everyone else, that we're just a bit bemused at the moment about what to do when we actually have to deal with the ugly reality of these issues. National has started already this year, on really trying to get its head around what is going to be quite a different world than the one that National was attached to, which actually ended around about 1985.

INVESTIGATE: One of Steyn's points in his book is that countries like New Zealand and Australia, because of the distance from world trouble spots may end up becoming immigration magnets for cultures fleeing Europe as those societies continue to break down.

ENGLISH: We are going to look a lot more stable, just because we don't have the geographical pressures, we don't have these populations on our borders, but I think that flight won't just be English-speaking for European - it will also include the middle-class of every country from Indonesia through to Zimbabwe. In fact, the arrival of the Zimbabwe migrants here is perhaps the shape of things to come, but they certainly won't be all European or English-speaking. So our ability to adapt to it is still going to be really quite important.

INVESTIGATE: With an incoming National government, is the anything in terms of Labour's - particularly their social agenda - policies that you would tweak?

ENGLISH: It depends what you mean by social agenda. The one thing that you can be sure of is that National is not going to carry on down the road of social engineering. When Labour had got through the prostitution bill and the civil union Bill, in 2005 the public said ‘enough!’ and every politician got that signal. What I find out is that the public are much more worried about the breakdown of fundamental social order, particularly around families, than they are about creating ever more rights and responsibilities that lead to that breakdown.

INVESTIGATE: As education spokesman, you'd be where of the tensions that exist within the education ministry and the teaching profession, whereby a lot of them are what you would call urban liberal Labour supporters and have a particular worldview that they have brought to the education portfolio themselves. Does National have any plans to look long and hard at where some of these things are ingrained in the public service?

ENGLISH: With respect to education, we've got one definite plan about teaching kids how to read, write, and do maths - and that is a private members bill of mine that got drawn last month to set national standards for literacy and numeracy which will focus schools on making sure kids can read and write and do maths, regardless of the political leanings or the educational theories of the people who are teaching them. They'll have a job to do, it will be clear what is, and they'll have to get on and do it. I think there is scope a stronger focus on schools on citizenship and a proper understanding of New Zealand's history. The problem is that too many people in the education establishment believe the same thing at the Labour Party: that the history of New Zealand is the history of the Labour movement, and that is wrong, and that's been one of the things that got us into trouble about Maori issues - that whole left-wing view of history. The third thing that I'm interested in - and these last two are not policy yet - is getting an ethos of enterprise and entrepreneurialism into our schools. Traditionally our state system has been anti-business, and anti-private enterprise, because of the political backgrounds of a lot of the staff. I see some very good things going on in schools now, through things like the Young Enterprise Scheme, but in the future I'd like to see business, in particular, take a really strong interest in their local schools. Get trades and business right into the heart of the education system and show our kids that there is a pathway for aspiration that is about self-reliance, about initiative and about reward for risk. There's not near enough of that in our schools now.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 01:05 AM | Comments (0)

July 01, 2007

Media intrusion into private lives: Jan 07 issue


How far should the media go into the lives of public figures?

A few days ago Investigate Online posted a restricted access story on its website making fresh and serious allegations about Social Development Minister David Benson-Pope. The story was published online because its content is R18 in nature, and by requiring a credit card purchase for a nominal one dollar fee children can be prevented from accessing it.
The decision to publish the story was not taken lightly, nor was it taken because of any prurient interest in the subject matter. Our journalistic colleagues in Washington, London or Sydney would make exactly the same call – on the grounds that a Minister’s private life becomes public when he makes it relevant.
The full reasons are contained in the online edition, but what follows is a summary of the international debate on media ethics, and how far it is appropriate to go when investigating public figures seeking public office. IAN WISHART REPORTS

In a story like the Benson-Pope case, perhaps the biggest question any news organization faces is an ethical one: is this sufficiently relevant to be in the public interest? Contrary to popular misconception, the news media knows far more about most public figures than it ever publishes, because it correctly deems that much of that information has no bearing on how the person does their job.
For example, the fact that a politician may be gay is irrelevant to whether they’re a good Minister of Transport or Minister of Finance. The fact that another politician is a strong Christian is irrelevant to their performance as Minister of Health. It is only where one’s private life intersects with their public one that issues of relevance and/or the voters’ right to know surface.

Take those two previous examples: that same gay politician chooses to champion a bill favouring gay adoption of children, but without disclosing his own sexual preferences. Voters should be able to see whether he has a personal, rather than professional, interest in the subject matter. By choosing to become involved in a political issue dear to his heart and which challenges the normative situation, the politician makes his private life relevant. Likewise, a strong Christian appointed as Minister of Censorship might make decisions that many agree with, but his beliefs are indeed relevant to how he performs in that particular portfolio and should be disclosed. On the flip side of that coin, the same applies to raging social liberals occupying powerful positions.

In the essay, “Can Public Figures Have Private Lives?”, Harvard University’s Frederick Schauer has contributed significantly to the debate.

“In most of the debates about the issue of disclosing facts about the lives of candidates or office holders that those candidates or office holders would wish to keep secret, the issue is framed around the question of the relevance of the fact at issue. “Typically, as with the debates about the extramarital sexual activities of President Clinton or about past drug use or other allegedly “minor” crimes that took place in the distant past, it is alleged that the facts ought not be disclosed because they are irrelevant to the performance of the job. Regardless of whether people want the information, the argument goes, information that is not relevant to job performance has no place in the public electoral discussion.

“Such claims of irrelevance mask a host of deeper and more difficult issues. Chief among these are contestable issues about what the job actually is, and equally contestable empirical issues about the relationship of some fact to that job.”

Illustrating that point, Schauer raises the example of US judge Douglas Ginsberg whose nomination to the US Supreme Court was spiked in 1987 after reporters, using unnamed sources, disclosed that Ginsberg had been a frequent user of marijuana in the past. Leaving aside the medical argument over whether marijuana would have dulled his wits sufficiently to make him a liability on the Supreme Court bench, Schauer concentrates more on the fact that as a person supposed to uphold the law in one of the supreme positions available under the US constitution, Ginsberg simply couldn’t measure up: “The fact of past disobedience to law was material to Ginsberg’s qualifications”.

Just as it was, of course, in the fall from grace of New Zealand’s Attorney-General David Parker, after he was caught by Investigate filing false returns to the Companies Office.

“My point here,” Schauer continues, “is that a claim of ‘irrelevance’ presupposes some standard of relevance...denials of relevance often mask narrow conceptions of the positions and its responsibilities, conceptions with which others might reasonably disagree.”

This is one of Professor Schauer’s central themes: that even if a majority of voters might believe something is “irrelevant” or out-of-bounds, a functioning democracy requires that the interests of a minority who might want to hear that information be protected.

“When such disagreement does exist, however, the issue becomes more difficult, because there is now the question of when it is appropriate to make widely available a piece of information that some voters might think relevant to their voting decision, under circumstances in which the information is indeed relevant to their voting decision based on criteria that they take to be relevant.”

Schauer draws on the Monica Lewinsky affair to illustrate the tensions at play:

“The claim that marital infidelity is irrelevant to the office of President of the United States presupposes that the role of President should not include the role of being an exemplar of marital fidelity. For many people it should not, but for many others it should, and debates about relevance to the job are commonly smokescreens for debates about just what it is that the job really entails.

“It is widely known that President Clinton cheats at golf. Although it is clear that playing golf is not part of the job description of President…many people believe that maintaining certain high standards of veracity are indeed part of that job description. And if that is the case, then the empirical question is presented whether evidence of cheating at golf is some evidence of (or relevant to) a likely failure to maintain high standards of veracity in public pronouncements.”

And if New Zealand readers are suddenly sensing a merging of Paintergate, Speedogate, Doonegate and Pledgegate, read on:

“It is possible that the answer is no,” continues Schauer, “and that there is neither a causal relationship or even a correlation between the existence of the trait of cheating at golf and the existence of the trait of being abnormally dishonest in one’s public and political dealings. But it is also possible that the answer is yes, and that a cheater at golf, holding everything else constant, is more likely to be dishonest in public statements. And if this latter alternative is in fact the case, then the argument that golf behaviour is ‘private’ or none of the public’s business becomes a somewhat more difficult one to maintain.”

Cheating, however, is a personality trait that many people can agree is relevant. What about the grey areas of sexuality? After all, we all have sex lives.

“No less real is the example of the disclosure, against the presumed wishes of the candidate, of the sexual orientation of a candidate for public office. Although many of us believe that sexual orientation is both immaterial and irrelevant to job performance in all or virtually all public sector and private sector settings, it is unfortunately (from my perspective) the case that not everyone agrees.

“For a not insignificant proportion of the population in most countries in the world, having a gay, lesbian or bisexual orientation is immoral, and having a heterosexual orientation is not only morally commanded, but is also a necessary qualification for holding public office.”

Schauer’s view is that like it or not, you can’t have a meaningful public debate on these issues in a general sense but only on a case by case basis – the circumstances of each politician being different. Voters may decide that sexual behaviour is irrelevant in one case but exceedingly relevant in another, because of the different personalities or responsibilities of the politicians in question.

“It may turn out that disclosure of traits that some deliberators believe to be morally immaterial or empirically irrelevant will nevertheless properly be part of the process by which [the public] decides collectively…what its moral criteria will be.”

And again, the Harvard professor returns to the checks and balances necessary in a democracy. Even if only ten percent of the electorate believe the private life information should be disclosed, he says, and the other 90% believe it shouldn’t be, publication is justified.

“Under these circumstances, it is tempting to conclude that the majority should prevail, and that disclosure should be deemed inappropriate. But given that we are discussing the topic of the information necessary for exercising [the vote]…there is something deeply problematic about majorities deciding that information relevant to the voting decisions of a minority ought in some formal or informal way be made unavailable to that minority.”

Although Schauer hears the argument often used in New Zealand politics – that raking over the coals of politicians’ private lives will discourage good people from standing for election – he disagrees with it.

“There are moral arguments on the other side as well,” he acknowledges. “Chief among those is the argument that control over the information about one’s life is itself a central part of what is sometimes referred to as personal autonomy, and that there is no good reason why a person should be required to relinquish that right simply to enter the public domain.

“Yet if personal autonomy is the basis for the countervailing right of non-disclosure, it may be hard to distinguish this right from all of the other autonomy rights that one must forgo to enter the public arena.

“One has the right to speak or to remain silent, to live where one pleases, sometimes to work where one pleases, and a host of other rights that are commonly and properly thought relinquishable by one’s voluntary decision to stand for public office or to operate in the public domain more generally.”

In other words, what makes a public figure’s right to privacy sacrosanct when they may give up a whole lot of other rights as part of standing for office?

Naturally, Professor Schauer is not alone in his assessments of the reduced right to privacy of public figures. In a major editorial two years ago this month, Britain’s Guardian newspaper tackled the issue in the wake of the David Blunkett affair.

“The awkward truth is that the way people live their private lives does tell us things that can help to make judgments about them as public people…this is not the same as saying that the world will only be put to rights if it is run by certified saints. This country was seen through two world wars by leaders who would certainly not qualify on that score; but whatever the human failings of a Lloyd George or a Churchill, they did not include an inability to get the job done.”

It’s a comment that echoes the earlier ones on relevance. Are the personal failings relevant to the particular job they have?

The San Francisco Chronicle’s test in regard to public figures is this: “Personal conduct may have a bearing on public roles and public responsibilities. The degree to which a public figure voluntarily conducts his or her life in public or the degree to which private conduct bears on the discharge of public responsibility should guide the publication of personal information.”

Journalist turned lawyer Hal Fuson, now the chief legal officer at America’s Copley Newspaper Group, told a panel discussion journalists should not pull back from disclosing facts about elected officials just because of their own worldviews.

“Worry about the facts, folks, and let the truth take care of itself. Truth is like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder. And facts depend on verifiability. Verifiability depends upon being able to get your hands on lots of information that people don’t want you to have, because they want to shape their stories to suit themselves, not to suit the interests of society, and certainly not to suit your desire to inform your communities.”

The American Press Institute has published an ethics “checklist” for journalists weighing up publishing private information on public figures. They include:

Does this matter affect the person’s ability to do his job?

Does this matter reflect on the person’s conduct in office?

Does this matter reflect on the person’s character?

Does the matter reveal hypocrisy?

“Character matters for public officials,” says the Press Institute. “They publish family pictures on campaign brochures and proudly reveal private matters that reflect positively on their character. Private matters that reflect negatively on their character matter to readers as well.”

The Institute concludes:

“Don’t look for easy answers. Many stories involve consideration of more than one of these questions. However you decide, you can’t ensure that you will please all your readers. If you write the story, some readers will say you are prying into matters that should be private. If you don’t, some readers will say you are covering up for people in power…Sometimes the proper decision is to publish the story along with an explanation of your reasons for publishing and your consideration of various factors. Most readers understand that these are not black and white decisions.

“You might decide that a long-ago consensual affair between adults is no one’s business, and some readers will decide that you’re covering up. Or you might decide that criminal conduct is newsworthy whenever it occurred and some readers will think you are dredging up mud about youthful mistakes because your editorial page opposes the candidate.”

Australian political reporter Peter Cole-Adams was quoted in one ethics discussion this way:

“Elected parliamentarians were, he said, the paradigm of the public figure: each chose to enter politics; was paid by the public; spent public money; lived by publicity; enjoyed perks; and had the right to defame anyone he chose from the sanctity of the parliamentary privilege…in this sense, the public, as the hirer and firer, has a right to know what its representatives are up to. ‘If they are not going to be honest…they should be careful’. The questions the press has to ask are: is it true? Is it interesting? Is it in the public interest to disclose? He noted Lord Northcote’s dictum: ‘News is what someone wants to suppress. Everything else is advertising.”

Posted by Ian Wishart at 01:50 AM | Comments (0)

March 09, 2007

BIAS: does the media play fair? INVESTIGATE: JAN 03

IAN WISHART hunts for subtle slants in our daily news coverage

Back in the late 1980s, as AIDS hysteria swept New Zealand and the world, and virtually every second newspaper headline screamed warnings that "on current estimates" AIDS will have killed every person in New Zealand by the year 2005, a journalist who shall remain nameless awoke one morning, took a huge whiff of the steaming vapour from a cup of the finest Arabica beans, and went in search of the most politically-incorrect story of the decade: proof that AIDS wasn’t going to be the decimator of all human life as we knew it.

For sure, it wasn’t going to be easy. The media were constantly bombarding the public with figures showing a burgeoning number of heterosexual women coming down with HIV. But the journalist wasn’t convinced. He knew there was some serious spin on the story, generated largely by health workers sympathetic to the plight of the gay community and concerned that public interest in finding a cure would wane if "straights" - heterosexuals - felt they were not at risk. No references to "the gay plague" here, thank you very much.

But the journalist had some nagging doubts. Having been a party to some of the scare stories, he’d seen by now a lot of hot air but very little substance. Yes, there were big increases in the number of women developing HIV, and even men catching it from infected women, but was there more to it?

As we now all know, there was. But this journalist was the first in New Zealand to write a story laying out the hard evidence as to why AIDS would not make the jump from the homosexual or I/V drug-using communities to heterosexuals. The evidence lay in some new research showing that HIV was only being transmitted from women to men if both partners had open sores or pre-existing sexually transmitted diseases. And even then, it was something like a 1 in 300 chance of catching the virus.

The journalist interviewed a string of medical experts both in New Zealand and overseas, confirming his data and suspicions, then presented it as a freelance article to Auckland’s Metro magazine.

Editor Warwick Roger, not noted for his political correctness, nonetheless sent the feature back with a letter saying he wasn’t interested, that it wasn’t the kind of article that Metro would run. It wasn’t "an Auckland story".

Nor would the Listener accept it. Six months later, however, Metro did run it. They assigned their own journalist but came up with exactly the same story, and trumpeted to the nation about their findings.

Yeah well, at least the truth finally emerged. But how much can the ordinary person trust the news media in this country? How many stories don’t get run because of an attitudinal block that has nothing to do with the facts of the story?

Investigate’s coverage of the Intelligent Design debate is one example of an issue finally getting some exposure despite a mental block in the liberal media, but if you turn your television on almost any night there are subtle examples of bias in news coverage.

Take the immigration debate. In the last week of November and first week of December, we ran the video recorders over One News and 3 News. One of the biggest news stories in this time concerned Winston Peters’ comments on immigration.

On One’s Late Edition, anchor Peter Williams opened with this:

"Winston Peters is unrepentant in the wake of a new poll which suggests many New Zealanders think he’s increasing division in the community."

Let’s pause there for a moment and search for liberal-loaded newspeak. We’re told Peters is "unrepentant". Unrepentant for what? Who elected One News to be judge and jury on what politicians should be repentant for? If One News wants to editorialise, it should broadcast editorials and state clearly that’s what they are.

But it gets better. Late Edition then tells us there’s a new poll suggesting many New Zealanders think he’s increasing division in the community.

"The One News Colmar-Brunton poll," continues Williams, "shows the majority believe his comments on Asian immigration raise tensions."

"Auckland," begins the reporter, "is home to one in three people born in another country. It’s often portrayed as the start of what will be an increasingly changing face of New Zealand. Changes Winston Peters warns will lead to a divided and mutually exclusive society.

"But in a One News Colmar-Brunton poll, it’s Winston Peters who’s being called divisive. Seventy-one percent of those polled say his views increase tension between Asian immigrants and the rest of New Zealand. Only 23% disagree."

The facts were presented as if Moses had just held up stone tablets and read from them, and on the face of it they appeared damning of Peters.

But, again, was it really that simple? Once again, no.

You see, opinion polling is an art form. I know. I worked in the industry for a year. The answer you get in a poll is almost 100% dependent on what question you ask and how you tilt it. In a truly objective poll, questions are phrased as neutrally as possible so as not to skew the results. But in polls designed by news organisations, the questions are often far more obtuse.

The value of this One News poll on immigration was about to be defined by whether or not its questions were horribly biased. Let’s take a look:

Question 1: "Winston Peters’ views and statements increase tension and division between Asian immigrants and the rest of New Zealand... Agree...Disagree...Don’t Know."

As you can see, it’s not a question. It’s a political statement and it could have been drafted by the Prime Minister’s office for all the objectivity it displayed.

One News is telling survey respondents that Peters is being divisive. In polling terms, One News has loaded the dice for what some may believe are political reasons. By making a firm statement portraying a negative image, One News is inviting respondents to see it that way before they’ve even opened their mouths to respond.

Question 2: "Asian immigration is a good thing. It makes the country more multicultural and the economy stronger...Agree...Disagree...Don’t know."

Again, a political statement rather than a polling question. One News is telling those surveyed that they should believe immigration is a good thing. The final ‘question’ in the poll asked whether the Government should stop any further Asian immigration (given that we’ve now established Peters is being unkind to Asians and that Asian immigration is good for our economy and good for multiculturalism), to which 71% disagreed and said the Government should not stop Asian immigration.

Having set up their straw-man, One News then tries to set him alight.

"The Government," continues the report, "says the poll is proof Winston Peters has read it wrong."

"I think this is a very telling poll indeed," Labour’s Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel is quoted as saying.

The liberal prejudice running through the report - that Peters is being divisive and causing tension by daring to comment on the issue, that he should shut up because immigration is a good thing and multiculturalism is a good thing - these are the prejudices of staff in the news organisation, not scientifically-tested facts.

Ironically, the reporter and producers who worked on the story, and the person who dreamt up the poll ‘questions’, may not even realise they have the biases - the attitudes are so ingrained they are accepted as "the way it is".

But One News hadn’t finished the hatchet-job. Anchor Peter Williams came back after the break to interview sociologist Paul Spoonley from Massey University.

"Is Winston Peters’ reading of the issue all wrong? Is he the one actually out of touch with what New Zealand is thinking? Are you surprised Paul that New Zealanders, at least according to this poll, appear to have a pretty liberal attitude towards Asian immigration?"

"No, not really," replied Spoonley. "I think what they’re beginning to realise is that our economic future is very much with Asia, and we’re beginning to accept that Asians coming here is part of that future."

What One News never declared in their coverage was that Paul Spoonley has been highly critical of NZ First leader Winston Peters on his immigration stand in the past, and that Spoonley is funded by the United Nations to help the UN plan for immigration.

"Embracing cultural diversity and demonstrating a tolerance of others is surely one of the most significant challenges of this period of our history," Spoonley told an audience in 1996, before getting stuck into people whipping up hysteria about migrants.

"Some national politicians, notably Winston Peters of the New Zealand First party, have articulated these concerns. These politics reflect the beliefs held by significant numbers that ‘at the economic level, the nation-state is threatened by globalisation; at the cultural level (so it is thought), it is threatened by immigration’. Racist politics are one result.

"Peters has always denied any racist intent…but, inevitably, his rhetoric is seen as an endorsement of certain racist views in the wider community. It is reinforced by an increased and declared interest by the New Zealand police in the involvement of Asians in various criminal activities, and especially the possibility that Triad gangs are operating in New Zealand.

"This is an irony because one of the post-war myths was that Chinese migrants were law-abiding and had a strong work ethic. In fact, the statistics for those charged with drug offences in 1965 show that 103 of the 113 involved were Chinese. Few knew about the statistics and the popular mythology that prevailed in a post-war era meant that Chinese were viewed benignly. But with the racialisation of Asian migrants in the 1990s, the mythology has been discarded and one of the stereotypes which sustains this racialisation of Asian involvement is organised crime. It contributes to the generally negative perceptions held towards Asians by New Zealanders.

"These negative and hostile reactions have been articulated in a variety of ways. In its most extreme form, they result in racist and neo-fascist politics as expressed by skinhead and motorbike gangs…The most significant expression of the anti-Asian sentiments are provided by New Zealand First, and specifically its leader Winston Peters, whose statements encapsulate the guarded racism of middle (and typically elderly) New Zealand."

In other words, Paul Spoonley is hardly an "independent" academic in the immigration debate. Politically, from his speeches at least, he appears to be a globalist and is certainly happy to take funding from UNESCO whilst pushing multiculturalism as a cure-all for the world. In addition, he’s not a Peters fan.

Meanwhile, across on 3 News they were running this:

"Proof today that Winston Peters has been mining a very popular prejudice. A TV3/NFO poll has surveyed feelings about levels of immigration, and Asian migrants stand out.

"Asians were the only ethnic grouping to attract a majority disapproval rating among those surveyed.

"53% said they felt too many Asians were coming here."

Different TV channels, different polling companies, and diametrically-opposed poll results. TV1 saying 71% favour Asian immigration. TV3 saying 53% disapprove of Asian immigration. Both polls had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4%.

Even so, TV3 still labelled Peters’ comments as prejudiced. Who says so? How can one possibly "pre-judge" the immigration issue? Surely it’s a simple question of whether New Zealanders want new immigrants or not, end of story. How can there be a moral side to this that one could pass pre-judgement on?

Yet both news organisations pitched the story as if to say that people who questioned immigration levels were "prejudiced".

For the record, as those who’ve listened to me on Radio Pacific will know, I’m in favour of even higher immigration levels than we currently have - maybe 100 to 150,000 a year. But that doesn’t mean that I would label opponents of immigration as "prejudiced" or "racist".

But news bias in New Zealand doesn’t stop at immigration. Try the fluoride debate.

Health is an area that few of the mainstream news outlets cover objec-tively, probably because the health system is state-run, collegial and orthodox in its approach. Dissent in our health system is not tolerated. Subsequently, journalists charged with covering health stories often end up ‘captured’ by so-called health ‘experts’ who, provided they front up in a white coat, could go on camera and declare the Moon was made of green cheese and they’d still be taken seriously.

"The region with the worst rates of dental decay among its children has voted not to add fluoride to its water," began another One News report during our survey period. "The people of Whangarei have voted against joining the 60% of the country that already has fluoridated tap water.."

Again, the bias inherent in the introduction was almost overwhelming. The reporter was linking tooth decay to the absence of fluoride, and implying that voters were idiots for not seeing the link.

While the reporter’s moralistic and disapproving tone was clear, she did strive for some balance by quoting a man described on screen as a "fluoride opponent":

"Definitely a victory for common sense here," said Lawrie Brett, fluoride opponent. "As a category A poison we just don’t want it in the system."

What One News failed to make clear is that Lawrie Brett is a dentist. Not just any old tree-hugging greenie. He’s a dentist who opposed fluoridation.

Instead, One News moved from quoting "fluoride opponent" to some comments from "health authorities", with all the implicit bias that such a title carries.

"Health authorities though say after almost 50 years there are no proven illnesses from adding [fluoride to drinking water]."

Of course, had One News bothered to do an internet search, the reporter could have called up any one of 461,000 pages of information on the alleged harm caused by fluoride, a known toxic chemical.

Which is illustrative perhaps of one of the most dangerous biases of all in our media - a blind belief that authority figures tell the truth.

Contrast One News’ reliance on pro-fluoride "health authorities" with this comment from renowned US cancer researcher Dr Ludwik Gross back in 1957:

"The plain fact that fluorine is an insidious poison, harmful, toxic and cumulative in its effects, even when ingested in minimal amount, will remain unchanged no matter how many times it will be repeated in print that fluoridation of water supply is ‘safe’."

Is NZ television lending itself to Government propaganda?

"Fluoride does occur naturally in water," reported the journalist earnestly. But again, had she moved beyond the assumption she would have found that only calcium fluoride occurs naturally in water, which has never been used for fluoridation.

Bias is inherent in New Zealand’s daily media not because of a grand conspiracy but because of a lack of general knowledge, a willingness to be politically-correct and a reluctance to challenge powerful figures.

Here’s a challenge: start watching the news and reading the papers and looking for the hidden socio-liberal biases. You’ll be surprised how many you find.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 01:38 AM | Comments (0)

March 06, 2007


Political-correctness, just a mild nerdy aberration or the new face of socialist mind control? HAMISH CARNACHAN talks to British expert Frank Ellis

Cricket is a simple game. The object is to score more runs than your opposition. There is no grey area. The game has been around for centuries yet it has remained largely unchanged. The rules are clearly recorded in black and white in the hallowed halls of Lords, where the game originated. On the rare occasions that the laws are amended, it is generally to cover an ambiguity, like the underarm ball, and requires little more than the inclusion of a minor clause.

Part of the reason the sport has become ingrained in the New Zealand psyche is possibly because of its uncluttered simplicity – indeed, it must be so because history shows we’re not that good at it.

And the recent revival of cricket in this country may also have had something to do with the fact that sport is one topic people can still talk about candidly. Some subjects are simply no longer discussed in polite company today.

These days it seems you have to be particularly careful what you say and a growing list of issues can’t be discussed in certain circles. You can’t joke about the poor driving habits of immigrants; nor can you chat about Maori and crime or the preferential treatment of indigenous peoples; and associating sexual orientation with the spread of STDs is certainly a social faux pas.

The old laughs we used to enjoy about a short person being vertically challenged and the balding man being follicly-impaired are no longer tolerated either. None of the characters on Shortland Street smoke and those who enjoy the odd drink are portrayed as having an alcohol dependency problem.

It goes on. Nowadays, Pacific Islanders can refer to themselves as the product of a tropical palm tree but "Palagis" are vilified for coining the same turn of phrase. Seventh generation New Zealanders still can’t find a box to tick on their census form that they feel comfortable with – European/Pakeha? Manuhiri? Every government department is now subtitled with its Maori language equivalent, despite the fact that the number of fluent speakers registers nothing more than an insignificant blip on the demographic chart.

Even if you think you might be statistically correct, poking fun at minorities is clearly no longer tolerated in today’s New Zealand. That may not be such a bad thing, especially if you happen to be among those being ridiculed. But when seemingly legitimate public debate or concern is stifled for fear of being branded racist, homophobic, or even redneck, to name a few of the trendy new phrases, some commentators say a dangerous precedent is being set.

When New Zealand First leader Winston Peters late last year attacked the government’s immigration policy over migrants’ nationalities, Labour immediately labelled his party "racist". Then, Peters accused the government of being "mad" for allegedly allowing people into this country under a "homosexual family member" category. Again, Labour jumped on the defensive, saying he had moved from attacking foreigners, to bashing gays.

And the woeful plight of Maori in New Zealand society is a debate that has all but been snuffed out today too. Few dare to query, yet alone criticise, what statistics clearly show as Maori under-achievement. But now, even Maori who slate their own are condemned.

This was clearly illustrated in last month’s outburst when Dame Kiri Te Kanawa pointed out that Maori in Australia seemed to be doing a lot better than Maori in New Zealand, and suggested that a change in attitude might make a difference. The inference was that Maori in Australia are different because they have to work.

Back in New Zealand, Maori attacked her for being "out of touch", and said she had clearly been living overseas for too long. Even Labour advised that important Maori role models, such as Dame Kiri, should encourage, not criticise, Maori.

Peters, who most will acknowledge as one person not afraid of speaking his mind, said in a recently presented speech that New Zealand has now become the home of the politically correct (PC) state of mind – "one of the worst curses that can be inflicted on any nation."

Peters isn’t the only public figure to cry foul of a seemingly concerted push by the Labour Government to push New Zealand down a PC path. Newstalk ZB host Leighton Smith has been outspoken on the issue and talkback shows around the country run hot whenever the subject is broached.

Bill English has also taken a swing at PC. In his first political speech of the year the National Party leader asserted that, "the culture of cringing political correctness must end".

So what exactly is this PC business about and why are there a growing num-ber of vocal critics con-centrating their efforts on putting a halt to it? Quite simply, many see the political correctness movement as a serious danger. In fact, PC is worse than a curse, it is a cancer that slowly, but surely, eats away at society and all established societal values, warns a visiting expert on the subject.

Dr Frank Ellis, a lecturer in Russian studies at the University of Leeds in England, has written a number of essays on political correctness and has published widely on matters involving the Soviet Union and Marxism. His books include From Glasnost to the Internet: Russia’s New Infosphere, The MacPherson Report: Antiracist Hysteria and the Sovietisation of the United Kingdom, and he is currently writing a manuscript on Soviet war-literature.

Before taking up an academic career Ellis was a professional soldier serving in the parachute regiment in the Special Air Service. To some it may seem a peculiar transition to go from one of the world’s elite military units into academia, however, for Ellis, his army background made it a logical step.

During his last few years in the service he worked as a military analyst and Russian and German interpreter in West Berlin, working under the auspices of the Four Power Agreement – the WWII pact whereby France, Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union administered Berlin.

Ellis’s brief during that time ranged from some "very sensitive" work to understanding the Soviet military stationed in East Germany, which would have provided the main armed force to attack NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) in the event of a war. This role brought him into contact with a large number of senior Soviet officers and diplomats – an experience he describes as "fascinating".

Having the Russian speaking background, courtesy of the British army’s interpreter school, Ellis says he reached a stage in his life where he wanted to saturate himself in Russian. Essentially that meant a university application so after leaving the army he obtained his first degree and then went on to complete a doctorate.

Ellis first stumbled across the term ‘political correctness’ whilst he was building up what has become an extensive knowledge of socialist Russia. But before diving into this communist link, what exactly does the term PC mean?

"Political correctness is intended as a term of orthodoxy with regard to certain issues," Ellis explains. "It is inextricably linked with multiculturalism and a whole range of ‘isms that go with it such as feminism, antiracism, environmentalism, attitudes towards homosexuality and so on."

To that extent, Ellis suggests political correctness means adopting a position on any one of those issues that is consistent with the various orthodoxies on those subjects.

"For example, feminism has adopted over the years a hostile approach to the nuclear family. It regards the nuclear family as a prison, which ensnares and traps women, and does not allow them to develop their full potential. That would be a politically correct position to take on that issue. A politically incorrect position to take on that issue would be to say, ‘that’s complete nonsense – all societies everywhere have demonstrated marriage and the nuclear family and we are dealing with one of the fundamental building blocks of all societies wherever you find them," he says.

While the term PC has been around in our society for some years now, and political debate over it has been highlighted in the media over recent months, the earliest reference Ellis has been able to discover goes back more than 80 years - to the Soviet Union in 1921.

At that time the notion of political correctness became an important tool for Lenin who was trying to consolidate his control over his party, and used it to impose orthodoxy on almost every facet of society – education, politics, literature, law, ideology and even citizens’ reading habits.

"You can see that where it comes from it has rather unpleasant origins in view of Lenin’s contribution to the twentieth century."

That is precisely why we should be concerned about PC appearing in our society, says Ellis, because it directly threatens civil liberties.

He made this connection in 1997 when the incoming British Labour Government set up an inquiry to look at how the police conducted their investigation into the murder of a black teenager in London in 1993. No convictions were ever brought for the crime and the Labour party argued that the police did not pursue the inquiry as sufficiently as they should have done because the victim was black.

The inquest, headed by retired Scottish Judge William MacPherson, concluded that the British police force, specifically the metropolitan police in London, was institutionally racist. Subsequently, some 70 recommendations were made in the report in order to change police operational activities.

"In my opinion, many of these recommendations are a direct assault on many British freedoms. One of the most draconian of these was the proposal to consider the prosecution of racist incidences otherwise done in a public place. That, really, is referring to the privacy of your own home and the only way that can be policed is by bugging people’s houses."

And herein lies the link to socialism, according to Ellis. A totalitarian state is one in which every aspect of social and political life is controlled by the state. Although the British government did not accept all the recommendations, Ellis concludes that the MacPherson report represented a form of "Sovietisation" of Britain – a step whereby too much power was being handed over to the government.

One of the recommendations in the report, which has since been ruled an operational requirement, redefines how the British police judge a "racist incident". It states that a racist incident is any incident that is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.

"Straight away, from that definition, you have a charter for lots of malicious people to make all kinds of false accusations. The most innocent, offhand, remark in the work place could be used as the basis of a police investigation into you. It’s quite threatening," says Ellis.

The MacPherson report also made reference to the importance of introducing multiculturalism into public sector institutions, bureaucracies and the police force. Underlying this push is the assumption that multiculturalism is desirable. Ellis says there are some good aspects of having a diverse society with different ethnic groups, but he believes that this theory does not stand up to critical scrutiny.

"Historically there is plenty of evidence that shows multicultural societies have certain fault lines in them and when the conditions are right they can tear themselves to pieces. The most recent examples are Yugoslavia and Rwanda. I think we’re entitled to be suspicious about claims that diversity is the same as good inner strength."

While few would suggest that New Zealand is anywhere near such internal turmoil, some argue that there is already a strong sense of inequality that stems from a view that Maori are receiving preferential treatment to non-Maori.

Ellis suggests divisiveness is a key product of a politically correct, multicultural environment.

That is what prompted Bill English to indicate, earlier in the year, that his party might withdraw its support for Maori seats in Parliament. This move is in line with National’s premise of one standard of citizenship for all New Zealanders, and the party’s opposition to policies that give Maori special treatment, creating segregation.

In the same speech, English criticised a "taniwha clause" in the Local Government Act legislating that every decision made by local councils has to take into account the special relationship Maori have with land, air, water and other ‘toanga’.

He said the Government was risking throwing away gains by continuing down the path of division.

From a foreign perspective, Ellis suggests that those behind the politically correct movement have given up Marxism and conceded the economic side to the capitalists. However, he says they now seek to advance their agenda by concentrating on the commanding heights of culture, essentially "the universities; the public sector bureaucracies; the social services; the judiciary and the legal system, and also the media."

"Over the last 20 years they’ve done this very successfully," he says.

Winston Peters would probably agree with Ellis on that stance. He recently attacked the University of Otago’s new policy, whereby students can write assessments and exams in Maori, as "absurd political correctness".

He called the university’s plan, intended to encourage the use of Maori language, a waste of time and money.

In his New Year speech English acknowledged that speaking out on issues, like those also raised by Peters, risked being labelled a racist or a Maori-basher by the beehive. According to Ellis, this is one of the most "insidious" aspects of political correctness – the way in which advocates pull out "hate words" to scare their critics. He says this ploy creates a "wall of silence" behind which they "advance their agenda".

Tariana Turia’s highly publicised "holocaust" reference to the treatment of Maori people by Pakeha colonisation would arguably make many people wonder if Ellis has hit the nail on the head.

But he goes further, saying proponents of political correctness turn the world into language and culture by controlling the words we use - by defining the limits of acceptability of the meanings of certain words and ideas that we use.

"The term institutional racism strikes me as being very nebulous and deeply threatening because calling someone a racist is like calling someone a witch in seventeenth century Massachusetts. It inspires fear and dread and loathing and otherwise sensible people collapse and wilt when you accuse them of being a racist. The onus is never on the accuser to prove it. The onus is always on the accused to show that he is not. It overturns the presumption of innocent until proven guilty.

"Today there are various words to replace words that are now deemed unacceptable. People think there is something wrong with this – why it’s wrong to use this word in a way which we have always used it – but they are unable to articulate a response to why it is wrong. They are vulnerable to being outmanoeuvred by the people who concern themselves with this sort of thing in universities.

"Going back to the fear thing, human beings, even in western democracies don’t like standing out. Many people don’t like being made to feel as if they are the only person who holds certain views regarded as odd or strange. This is a measure of the achievement of these people in that views, which 20 years ago were regarded as quite normal and reasonable, are now regarded as bizarre and on the verge of making you a neo-Nazi."

Ellis says taking away freedom of speech is yet another example of how the PC set infringes on citizens’ civil rights and why political correctness should not be taken lightly, yet alone tolerated.

"All societies, that I have ever studied, that imposed censorship have ultimately collapsed. We are talking here about a form of intellectual censorship. Certain things need to be said sometimes and certain problems need to be faced up to. One of the problems we have to face up to in Britain is that immigration, legal and illegal is a major issue. It is causing terrible problems and is starting to cause a very extreme right-wing backlash.

"All societies and countries are occupied within certain physical infrastructure constraints. There is no doubt in my mind that Britain has reached those limits now. Our national health service simply cannot cope. The infrastructure in the southeast of England in London can’t cope. We have a massive housing crisis.

"Also there are problems in the way we do things. Not all cultures do things in the same way. Here you have a source for friction. How do you solve that friction? One way is to start killing your neighbours. The other way is to give extra power to the judiciary and the public sector bureaucracies to police our lives. So the more people you let in from different cultures or backgrounds, the more complicated a society becomes and the greater the need is for public sector bureaucracies to interfere in our lives."

The February 2003 issue of Investigate highlighted a growing concern about the Attorney General’s capacity to stack the bench of the new Supreme Court with judges sympathetic to Labour’s social and political agenda.

"Despite having failed to get any electoral endorsement from the public, [Margaret] Wilson nonetheless finds herself, as an un-elected MMP member, very much the power behind Clark’s throne," growls one commentator in the ‘Power Games’ article.

New Zealanders should take this as a warning that the ballot box is being bypassed, says Ellis. He also warns that when the PC proponents have stamped their mark on the judiciary, bureaucracies, the civil service, the universities, the public sector, and so on, then voting could almost be seen as a "meaningless gesture".

So how do supposedly ‘democratic’ societies relinquish power to their political leaders and let them get away with pushing their own agendas?

"When people are comfortable and prosperous they’re prepared to concede to feminists and all the rest of them – let them get on with their silly, stupid games. In times of economic hardship though, they are more likely to say, ‘I’m not letting my tax dollars go to fund whole-food feminist collectives, no chance. You want to play those games then you fund them with your own money and good luck to you.’ In times of economic downturn I think people are far more likely to object," says Ellis.

If he is right, then presumably, when the economy starts to falter, voters would put an end to what National calls "TPK (Te Puni Kokiri Maori development ministry) officials [driving] around the country writing out cheques at will…grants for break-dancing and family reunions".

To date almost 2500 grants, ranging in value from $500 to over $100,000, have been handed out under the Labour Government’s programme formerly known as Closing the Gaps. New Zealand also has numerous other policies that now parallel the Americans’ Affirmative Action dictum – a means of rectifying the wrongs of their past.

Ellis believes that if the PC movement is allowed to role on unchecked then race relations will collapse and he highlights the United States as an example of where racial tolerance, primarily between blacks and whites, is probably as bad now and perhaps even worse than it was during the 1960s.

For some time American universities have had strict quotas that set aside places for black students. Now though, several students are filing lawsuits against some higher education institutions because, though they have high enough marks, they are being denied a place in their chosen university because the quotas have been met for white students.

Affirmative Action was never supposed to be a permanent institution, but speaking from his experience of lecturing in the US, Ellis says it has now become deeply rooted in the American cultural sphere.

He says Affirmative Action is intellectually incoherent and fundamentally immoral - it persecutes talented, hardworking people and all admission processes for universities should be absolutely colour-blind.

In some instances it has backfired because, he says, particularly successful and hardworking black individuals are automatically suspected of being Affirmative Action beneficiaries.

This is exactly the type of divisiveness and inequality that some in this country, most vocally English and Peters, are trying to advise New Zealanders about. And though Ellis has an unapologetic right-wing (some would argue hard-line) stance, the warnings he brings from overseas appear to fly in the face of this government’s current direction.

Even the Governor General, Dame Silvia Cartwright, drifted into political territory in her last Waitangi Day speech. She advised New Zealanders not to try to become "one people…because we do not need to be".

"What we need to do is live together and play together as fellow human beings, recognising that we are a nation of a variety of races."

That is certainly a cordial notion but some critics wonder how we are supposed to "play together" when the playing field is not particularly even. Just ask Martin Crowe. He retired battered and bruised after commenting that not many Maori play cricket because they don’t have the temperament for the game. It was a bit naive of him to think he could play such a straight shot these days and not consider that the delivery would jag back so viciously.

Apparently, we were told in the ensuing row, it is the fault of the Pakeha for not making the game more attractive and accessible to Maori.

No, it just isn’t cricket anymore. Some say that Team PC have not only changed the rules, but they’ve doctored the ball too.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 02:04 AM | Comments (1)