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Chris Trotter: Who? When? Why?

Chris Trotter,
Publish Date
Fri, 27 Oct 2023, 5:00am

Chris Trotter: Who? When? Why?

Chris Trotter,
Publish Date
Fri, 27 Oct 2023, 5:00am

Somewhere, in the digital memory of Radio New Zealand lies the electronic communication mandating the increased use of Te Reo. Whether in the form of an amendment to the state broadcaster’s style-book, as in – henceforth the name ‘Aotearoa’ is to be preferred over ‘New Zealand’ – or as a straightforward editorial instruction – henceforth all presenters and newsreaders will introduce themselves in the Māori language.

It is inconceivable that a major presentational change, one which contributed significantly to the catastrophic decline in RNZ’s audience numbers, was nothing more than a spontaneous and unbidden efflorescence of “progressive” staff sentiment. And even if it was, the bottom-up resolution was never reproved or countermanded.

The example of RNZ and Te Reo is not being cited as a criticism. An argument can certainly be made that encouraging greater use of Te Reo – an official New Zealand language – is a positive development.

No. What is being highlighted here is that the major, state-instigated, cultural and ideological shifts of the past six years contributed hugely to the Sixth Labour Government’s demise. Rightly or wrongly, a great many New Zealanders felt uneasy about the arbitrary change of their country’s name, and the sudden adoption of Māori names for New Zealand’s major cities.

That unease turned to alarm as it became clear that, at some point, New Zealand’s public service chiefs had decided that the priorities of the nation’s most important departments of state were to be “decolonisation” and “indigenisation”.

It would go some distance to allaying New Zealanders’ fears about these sudden shifts and changes if the incoming government could instruct the public service bosses to both explain the reasoning behind their “innovations”, and supply a clear timeline indicating when key first steps towards decolonisation and indigenisation were taken, by whom, and upon whose advice.

Were the changes prompted by ministerial edicts in the wake of lively Cabinet debates? Or, were they undertaken on the basis that in making these changes the bureaucracy was simply moving in the direction of the new government?

The risk for the new government, should it decide not to conduct a thorough investigation into the entire decolonisation and indigenisation project, is that it will be captured by it. New ministers, most of them without the slightest understanding of how deeply entrenched the “progressive” interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi has become in the senior echelons of the public service, and lacking the intellectual confidence to openly challenge the policy advice which arises from it, are at grave risk of simply nodding it through.

In a matter of days – weeks at most – the new government will find itself hopelessly enmeshed in an ideological project it had no part in creating – just like its luckless predecessor.

If that happens, then the voters who turned against Labour will also turn against National. Their rejection will be all the sharper for being born out of disillusionment and, in their eyes, at least, betrayal.

Furious, they will turn to National’s coalition partners, Act and NZ First, commanding them to stand firm on their promises – even at the cost of a new election. Just months into his government’s first three year term, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon will find himself confronting a potentially disastrous political crisis.

The leaders of National’s coalition partners, David Seymour and Winston Peters, will also face an array of daunting choices. Either, they will stand firm on their election promises regarding race and democracy, and risk a new election, or, they will capitulate to the bureaucratic inertia that already has National in its grip.

Except, if that is their choice, their voters will not just submissively slink away. The polarisation that has already so disfigured New Zealand politics will simply get worse – much worse – and out of the anger and frustration occasioned by the Centre Right’s surrender to what former Trump chief-of-staff Steve Bannon would call the “Deep State”, a much darker, uncompromising, and potentially violent Far Right political movement will begin to take shape.

The burden laid upon Luxon’s shoulders by this grim political scenario is considerable. From the very beginning, he and his government will be required to treat the public service mandarins as by far their most serious opponents.

Reduced to a state of political impotence, Labour will offer scant resistance to Luxon’s new regime. But the nation’s senior bureaucrats, well informed by their contacts in the neo-tribal capitalist elites, will be well aware of the massive political leverage embodied in the angry and radicalised rangatahi mobilised by Te Pāti Māori and the Greens.

The mandarins’ pitch to Luxon is readily imagined: “Are you sure you want to provoke these young people, Prime Minister? You must surely be aware of the effort that went in to dispersing the occupiers of Parliament Grounds? A nationwide rising of anti-colonial rangatahi would make that look like a Sunday-school picnic.”

It is already clear that Te Pāti Māori and the Greens intend to treat the New Zealand House of Representatives in exactly the same way as radical Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and her “Squad” treat the US House of Representatives – as a stage from which to preach their revolutionary doctrines.

Whoever is elected Speaker, and the new parliament’s Privileges Committee are, like Luxon himself, going to have to get very tough, very quickly.

Is Luxon up to it? Not if he intends to read the election result as a call for some modest tax cuts, and a few swift changes to property and workplace legislation. What happened on 14 October was much, much, more than that, and if Luxon pretends that it wasn’t then political reality will soon disabuse him of his just-a-little-bit-of-change-will-suffice fantasies.

For a crucial fraction of the electorate – the fraction that gave Luxon victory – the election was about saving their country, about pulling it back from the brink of disintegration and disaster.

What those hundreds-of-thousands of New Zealanders are expecting from Luxon, in his first 100 days, is a full explanation for the changes and policies that so alarmed them. They want to know who made the decisions; when they were made; and why?

If Luxon wants to govern on his own terms, rather than the Woke Establishment’s, then, to borrow another Trumpian term, the “swamp” of Wellington will have to be drained. Let all the poisons in the bog come out.

Allow New Zealanders to gaze long and hard at all that was hidden from them in the capital’s dark and stagnant waters.

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