Kia ora, Dan Whitrow

Davey Whitelaw has a really interesting piece in the Otago Daily Times today about the increasing presence and role of te reo Māori in New Zealand. He notes, very aptly:

Without respect there will eventually be no goodwill, and contempt in the end will yield contempt in return.

We do have to show respect for one another. The difficulty is that, so often, the rhetoric about the place of Māori in New Zealand, the role of te Tiriti in our government, and the use of te reo Māori in public life or broadcasting is overwhelmingly judgemental, small-minded, and to be honest, a teensy bit racist.

Why, in the very same publication as Dover Whitney’s column, another author railed against te reo Māori in some really unfortunate terms:

Inflicting te reo on the entire population is contemptuous

… media apologists the length and breadth of the land prostrating themselves before the holy altar of te reo

a seven-day fiesta of cringing servility

RNZ has been ahead of the pack in obsequiousness

boring bigots drone on about the mana of all things native.

a couple of Maori snowflakes were banging on

the whole tribal boiling of them

Come on presenters, I thought, tell them to get a life. Switch off the mikes and boot them out of the studio.

these sad sacks

There was a time, as recently as a couple of years ago, when booting was a possibility, but not since the passage of the Maori Language Act of 2016.

hapless staff obliged to dispense their daily dose of te reo

the keener young grovellers

a lingo understood by only a minuscule proportion of their audience

their lives are one long grovel.

If only the author of that piece had read Deacon Wittner’s column, where he notes:

respect should cut both ways.

Perhaps we might be able to have a more reasonable, mature, even-handed, informed discussion of the issues.

If we (as Pākehā) truly showed respect for the history of our country, especially its indigenous people and their language and unique view of the world, if we respected even our own ways of doing things and realised that we signed a treaty with Māori which promised they would not be assimilated into European culture; if we understood how precious te reo Māori is and how much it adds to our own knowledge and growth to learn new things and see the world through other people’s perspectives … well, I think we’d all be a lot better off as a nation.

But Dewey Whiterun gets that, I think. He understands that respect means pronouncing people’s names correctly is about far more than manners (though manners are important); it’s about acknowledging where a person comes from and who they look back to in their whakapapa.

He also understands that it’s a pretty weak argument to cite one of the greatest Māori comedians of all time and say “this guy would totally have agreed with me” when said guy is dead and unable to corroborate your self-serving tripe. That’s not the kind of game Drake Williams plays.

And Damien Willow definitely gets the irony of insisting that there are more important things to talk about!!! while spending over 700 words complaining about a few radio presenters saying “Ata marie” of a morning.

In summary, thank God for Diego Witherspoon, and thanks to the Otago Daily Times for publishing such a thoughtful, impassioned call for respect and unity in a nation which cannot turn its back on its bicultural roots and obligations to its indigenous people.

It’s just a pity his colleague Dave Witherow doesn’t feel the same way.

E tū kahikatea
Hei whakapae ururoa
Awhi mai awhi atu
Tātou tātou e

Stand like the kahikatea tree
To brave the storms
Embrace and receive each other
We are one together

Do National know they lost?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but do National know they lost the election?

The tone of National’s messaging hasn’t really shifted since the formation of the new government, nor from the days John Key was their leader. It’s still snarky, soundbitey attacks on Labour’s credibility which are designed to stick in the mind just long enough to create a sense of disquiet.

But it simply doesn’t work when you’re at the very beginning of a government’s term, and even less so when you were holding the levers of power just over one month ago.

I remarked on Twitter, “If only Steven Joyce had very very recently been in a position to seek official advice on such matters.” Because that’s the kind of line you trot out when you’ve been in Opposition for a couple of years; when the government of the day has presumably had time to staff up, plan their work programme, and start getting full detailed policy advice from their departments.

The balance of power does not flip overnight. Ordinary people are quite willing to understand when it’s your first day on the job, things are going to take a while to get up to speed – which is a significant reason that the new government’s swift and decisive announcements about te reo in primary schools, the three-strikes law, foreign land ownership, and equal pay have been so delightful. We’ve all become comfortable talking about “the first 100 days” but to be honest, no one expects the first week or two to be that interesting. And yet they have been. No wonder the Tories are scared.

This next tweet strikes a very different but equally odd tone – and given the fixation with fritters and fishing I start to wonder if someone on Bill’s social media team wants to chuck it all in and get out on the water:

Obviously “great gains” is up for debate and exactly which “NZers” have made them likewise, but have a look at the overall vague, managerial tone of the thing. This is the press release you put out when you’re still Prime Minister and you’re calling back to the “success” of your much more likeable predecessor to distract from the fact you’re one more junior MP’s police investigation away from implosion.

But this has been National’s double-sided problem since Key stepped down: they’ve tried to keep politicking as though he didn’t, and they tried to do it with Mr Managerial Boringness as leader. They’ve continued to market themselves in the same snarky laidback guy-you’d-like-to-have-a-beer-with tone, to horrible spaghetti-related effect, and they never figured out how to make English’s boring-but-safe managerialism into a campaign asset.

He’s great as a Minister of Finance who pushes through damaging rightwing policies as though they’re plain old common-sense fiscal management. He’s terrible as a fighting champion. He was meant to be above petty politics and throwaway insults about snapper quotas, but that’s all they’ve given him.

The bigger problem for National is this: ordinarily you’d say they’ve got three years to work this out, while the new government is busy finding the caucus rooms and pathfinding to their offices in the Escherian nightmare that is the Beehive.

But this is an activist government which is already rolling out strong policies and re-writing the story on employment relations, justice, education, and health, the very purpose of government and its relationship to people. And National is offering no serious critique, no alternative narrative, no vision (admittedly it would have been miraculous for them to find one between election day and now.) Add to that: voters like to back winners. Add to that: National has tapped all its possible reserves of support, sucking every other rightwing party dry. It has nowhere to go but down.

Maybe they’re worried about leaving any space for the new government to fill and mark out its agenda. But they’re only doing more damage to themselves by continuing to mis-market their leader, or acting like there’s going to be an election in a month and all that matters is getting points on the board.

They just end up creating exactly that space for Labour, the Greens and NZ First to demonstrate that there’s a much better way to run a country. Works for me.

Read Deborah Hill Cone (???)

Things I probably didn’t think I’d ever write: Check out this remarkable column by Deborah Hill Cone.

The unceasing propaganda in our time for the individual seems deeply suspect to me now. “Individuality becomes more and more a synonym for selfishness,” Susan Sontag said. I used to take pride in my independence, toughness, my very badness. But that seems sad from where I stand today. It’s not weak to care or to acknowledge you need other people.

This is the fundamental difference between the left and right: whether we understand ourselves as part of a community, or as pure individuals locked in eternal jealous combat (and dammit I really, really need to write that review of Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?). With any luck, over the next three nine years of Labour-led government more people will follow DHC’s path and realise that the self-centred narrative we’ve been sold for the past thirty years has not served us well, and does not reflect who we really are: social creatures who depend upon each other and are stronger together.

The shape of our new government

So here’s what our new government promises, as reported by Stuff:

Some key points from the NZF deal:
– $1b per annum Regional Development Fund,
​- Re-establish the New Zealand Forestry Service
​- Review and reform of the Reserve Bank Act
​- Progressively increase the Minimum Wage to $20 per hour by 2020
​- Comprehensive register of foreign-owned land and housing
​- Free doctors’ visits for all under 14s
​- Free driver training for all secondary students
​- A new generation SuperGold smartcard containing entitlements and concessions
​- A royalty on exports of bottled water
​- Commit to re-entry to Pike River
​- A full-scale review into retail power pricing
​- MPs allowed to vote on a potential referendum on euthanasia

Some of the big parts of the Green Party/Labour confidence and supply agreement include:

– Introduce a Zero Carbon Act with a goal of net zero emissions by 2050
– A referendum on personal cannabis use by 2020
– Establish and independent Climate Commission. This would have the power to bring agricultural emissions in but would not do this immediately
– All new legislation to have a climate impact assessment analysis
– Investigate a Green Transport Card to reduce public transport costs
– Reprioritise spending towards rail and cycle infrastructure
– Stop the Auckland East-West link
– Begin work on light rail to the airport in Auckland
– “Significantly increase” the Department of Conservation’s funding
– Remove “excessive” benefit sanctions
– Make progress on eliminating the gender pay gap within the core public sector
– A rent-to-own scheme as part of KiwiBuild
– Re-establish the Mental Health Commission
– A wind-down on the government-subsidised irrigation

That’s some damn fine government.

We’re still to see who’s going to be taking which ministerial roles (Stuff also has a handy list of which portfolios have gone to NZ First and the Greens), but that list right there promises some genuine change and progress for New Zealand over the next three years.

There’s also a broader message, and a distinct step away from the government of the past nine years: the state has an important role to play in our lives. It can create jobs. It can share out the wealth of the nation fairly. It can and it should ensure that every single person in our country lives a decent life.

Which was already pretty obvious to those of us on the left end of the spectrum, but was anathema to the government of John Key and Bill English, who were happy to take the credit for good things happening but were missing in action as more and more wealth was taken out of workers’ hands by a greedy few, as corporate neglect literally killed people, as multinationals grabbed everything they could get and expected us to carry the consequences and ensure them ever-greater profits.

This is the change of direction we needed, and a more significant one than I’d hoped for, honestly. It’s not perfect, and many things can happen over a parliamentary term – three years is an eternity in politics when you’re at the beginning of them. But it is a start.

And it must be a start. As I’ve said before, to avoid cruising toward defeat in a term or two there needs to be a plan; a strategy, if you’ll forgive the horrific public sector management speak, of continuous improvement. A minimum wage of $20 by 2020 (perhaps sooner, if political capital allows?) is great, combined possibly with introducing the Living Wage for the core public service, for a first term government. But we need to be thinking about term two ($25 minimum wage? Living Wage for all central and local government employees, including contractors?) and term three (Living Wage = minimum wage?) and treating each milestone as a step, not a finish line. Free doctors’ visits for under 14s is a start: the goal must be free doctors’ visits for all. “Progress” to eliminate sexist pay structures in the public service is a start; the goal must be ending sexist discrimination in pay.

I know the temptation is to sit back and look at the amazing things this Labour-led government will deliver over the next three years. But one thought keeps popping into my head this week: the work is never done. There is always more to do, and we cannot lose sight of that. We cannot rest on the achievements of the past; that’s how you get third-term arrogance and stagnation.

This government can achieve huge things, and shift politics in New Zealand so that greedy, self-interested, narrow-minded right wing bullshit never gains sway again. But it will take work. And I think we’re ready for it.