Modern Activism and the Potential for Cultural Conflicts

Pōwhiri is an important ceremony in Te Ao Māori. It begins with a wero from tangata whenua to the manuhiri (guests). When tangata whenua are satisfied manuhiri are there on friendly terms, the karanga is issued calling manuhiri onto the grounds.

But there may be occasions where cultural practices and modern activism come into conflict.

When Australian PM Tony Abbott visited Wellington, he was met by a justifiable resistance from local activists. After all, he has been instrumental in policy that has led to human and indigenous rights abuses. However, Minister Hekia Parata complained to Radio Waatea:

“As the karanga was being issued forth protesters were protesting for indigenous rights. It just shows me that there are different ways of respecting indigenous practices. One of them would have been to respect our indigenous practice here in New Zealand”

I have some sympathy with that argument. It seems rather empty to call for recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples if simultaneously disrespecting the customs of  local Indigenous Peoples.

At first glance, I did find it unsettling that protesters had allegedly disrespected the karanga during the pōwhiri. However, others  (who presumably attended) have suggested that protesters were well away from the pōwhiri such that any potential for disruption would have been negligible. So it might just be in this case, that there is no issue.

But that doesn’t mean that in the wider context of activism that this isn’t a potential issue.

I’m reminded of the Greenpeace activists that entered a sacred Peruvian site and damaged some of the Nazca lines in order to send a message to UN Climate Talk delegates.

When asking the question as to whether activist causes justify disrespecting cultural practices of the local Indigenous Peoples,  I had a straw man thrown at me. As if somehow, I were defending human rights abuses against refugees in Nauru and the forced closure of Aboriginal communities! I can unequivocally state here, that I absolutely abhor the human rights and indigenous rights abuses of the Australian government. I wholeheartedly support the call to solidarity with the Aboriginal Peoples of Australia and the Refugees in Nauru.

Acknowledging there are legitimate concerns about how activism can potentially flout the rights of Indigenous Peoples does not equate to supporting the perpetrators that protesters are dissenting against.

I am not raising this as an issue to distract from the causes. I think some activist communities should think more carefully about how their actions might have unintended consequences. I think activists ought to be mindful of the cultural practices of others particularly when consciously using culturally significant ceremonies, events and locations as the site of their activism.

 

 

 

 

 

Wai Māori

Poroti Springs. Image sourced from Waimarie Nurseries http://www.waimarienurseries.co.nz/Poroti_Springs.cfm

Simmering away for some years now and probably not too far off blowing its stack is the contention as to whether anyone owns the water, or if any group can claim rights over water. This debate will inevitably lead to the false claims that Māori want to exclude the average New Zealander from access to freshwater.

Water is indisputably an essential resource for the development and sustainability of all societies.  Yet, in countries like Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the US (to name a few) where Indigenous populations have protected and relied on certain water sources for centuries, have had their access to most of these water sources snatched away through the process of colonisation. Many of the newer generations ignore the vital role of water to these communities.

The continual use of statements like no-one owns the water derives from the assumption that ownership as they understand it – as an exclusionary concept, is synonymous with the concept of ownership from Indigenous perspectives. For Māori, the rights over water include use rights but also rights to kaitiaki which allows hapū and iwi to keep water sources clean, and to avoid exploitation to preserve aquifers for current and future generations in the event of scarcity.

Water scarcity arises through both natural (drought, flooding etc) and human forces (commercial exploitation, waste, pollution etc). According to the UN while there is “enough freshwater on the planet for seven billion people” its uneven distribution and the extent to which water is  “wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed” affects around 748 million people in the world.

Those of us living in developed countries have for the most part, uninterrupted access to water. Some countries going so far as to drill into prehistoric reserves to service industry needs.

 The NZ Herald recently reported that the government has rejected a bid by the Iwi Leaders Group (ILG) for rights over freshwater. Minister Nick Smith has indicated that the government may instead “compromise by allowing regional councils to do local deals with Māori”.

The government love the no one owns the water message. Firstly, it polarises public opinion and plays to NZ’s largely nationalist base, which concomitantly supports the government’s unwillingness to grant water rights to Māori. Secondly, it obscures what is happening in the background to the negotiations between the Crown and the ILG – the privatisation of water by regional councils for sale in overseas markets.

For example, the Northland and Whangarei District Councils have collaboratively sidestepped consulting with the Whatitiri Māori Reserve Trust, the owners of Poroti Springs, and have approved the expansion of earthworks by Zodiac Holdings for “a commercial water bottling plant across the road from the springs”. This ought to greatly offend the same nationalists likely supporting the against Māori having water rights brigade given the end product is intended for overseas markets. Yet it won’t. Because parse the message and we get Māori cannot own or have rights over water.

To deny rights to Māori over freshwater while empowering regional councils who have failed to protect these water sources from pollution or exploitation illuminates the racism underlying the governments rhetoric. This is not about ‘no one owning the water’ this is about the Crown stamping its racist little iron feet on Māori.

The actions of these councils also indicates that the governments vision of  cooperation between Māori and Regional Councils is not only flawed but disingenuous since the government is well aware that commercial interests will supersede the rights and interests of Māori native to the particular rohe, especially where investment in those regions is necessary.

Escaping government and the nationalist public considerations is that hapū and iwi have occupied these regions for centuries. During this time, they have cared for the waterways ensuring reserves were not exploited and that they remained free of pollutants. Every single New Zealander has benefited from the kaitiakitanga of our tūpuna over our waterways.

In Aotearoa, access and availability is interrupted usually only as a result of drought (scarcity) or flooding (pollution), and through private ownership of water sources granted to corporations by the government.  For Māori some water sources are taonga from a wahi tapu perspective.

But water is also a vital source of economic security. Access and availability are necessary for growing food, drinking water, health, hygiene and sanitation. It comes as no surprise then that the ILG would seek rights over freshwater in Aotearoa, when the Crown have systematically privatised water systems and allocated rights to public entities in this respect which has led to spiritual, environmental, and economic detachment for many hapū and iwi.

The fact that the government and regional councils seem prepared to draw down on the principal of our water for short term relief should worry all of us. Not because the water is to be shipped offshore, but because we should be mindful of the uneven distribution of freshwater globally and the need to protect against water scarcity in Aotearoa for current and future generations. We should also remain alert to the harmful rhetoric employed by the Crown that intends to entrench a divisive public to reinforce its own power over all us.

[Editors noteThis is the revised version of the original post]

Haere rā homeownership

The Landlords Game (the original Monopoly) used to explain Henry George’s theory. See also: http://harpers.org/blog/2012/10/monopoly-is-theft/

As housing prices in Auckland continue to rise at unprecedented rates, the dream of home ownership, especially for many younger Aucklander’s slips away. Well, more accurately put, it is obliterated. Why? Government inaction and a refusal by policymakers to consider different approaches that might actually address the issue. Land Value Tax (LVT) anyone?!

This time last year, Jesse Colombo warned of an economic crisis for New Zealand. He argued 12 points which you can find more detail on here. With regard to the housing bubble he warned interest rates, overvalued land and demand were key indicators.

Colombo was ridiculed by Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, as an  alarmist and a bubble-ologist. As the NBR point out, this is despite the endorsement Colombo is given through publishing on one of the US’s most influential business websites.

But here we are. On the downward spiral to that bubble popping. The demographic I’m referring to are those of us who have had or have to borrow for post-secondary school education. Most of us will never own our own home. We will pay rent to a landlord for the rest of our lives. We will continue to pay sizeable taxes on our incomes but we will pay for our own retirements.

I’ve banged on about LVT for the past couple of years. Deirdre Kent & Phil Stevens of the New Economics Party have been writing on it for even longer. The idea derives from the work of Henry George who wrote his seminal work Progress and Poverty in 1879, that makes the case for taxing land and untaxing labour. Oh, and a factoid for fun, Henry George began the original weekly newspaper ‘The Standard’ in 1887.

Some Georgists/Geoists prefer not to use the phrase LVT, and consider land rents or similar as a more accurate description. I’m down with that, after all, the intentions and theory behind it are pretty much the same. I’ve written a few posts on Georgism, so to avoid re-writing, you can read them here.

We are constantly told if we just build more houses the market will cool, well, clearly we can’t really build at a rate sufficient to meet the total demand it seems. If we raise interest rates, then fewer people will buy. But this means lower-middle income earners are priced out. These approaches have done nothing. And all the while the government itself has contributed to the skyrocketing prices, for example, by banking a section of land intended for social housing for over 11 years, which is now being sold off privately at market prices. So perhaps Minister Joyce might want to reconsider his views on Colombo.

My suggestion is why not an LVT? Even if it is something applied solely to Auckland in the interim to incentivise the competition necessary to drive prices down and then rolled out across the country? I’m not saying I have a model ready and available. All I’m suggesting is that we start talking about alternative approaches to housing affordability especially if they have the potential to simultaneously address other issues that are suffocating low-income families and younger generations (X, Y, Z)

The thing about an LVT is it changes the nature of property rights that we currently know. Rather than individual ownership rights, they become use rights where the land is of the commons and the occupant pays a rent to the community for the privilege of taking the land out of the use of the commons. One comment that remains firmly etched in my mind is this by Nate Blair:

The problem with Georgism is not the idea, which is basically flawless.  The problem with this idea is that it seems both radical and inherently moderate to anyone understanding it.  The revolutionary aspect of Georgism threatens the predators of caricature “capitalism” and angers the conservatives. The justice and honesty threatens communist revolutionaries and angers armchair progressives, who are fine with paying a bit more but not with giving up their privilege.

I hear heaps of people online referring to themselves as ‘progressives’, yet comparatively few advance any alternative ideas, to existing failed models. It makes me wonder how much of that is about a reluctance to part with certain privileges. So since many of y’all liked Piketty’s book, here is a video where Joseph Stiglitz & Thomas Piketty gave a presentation on inequality. Toward the end Stiglitz exposes his own Georgism:

If further interested have a look at the LVT tab up top of this page for some documentaries/clips and websites that talk more about LVT. I personally recommend “The Taxing Question of Land” and “Real Estate 4 Ran$ome”.

The Aboriginal Peoples’ Call for Global Action: #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA

 

 

Whose land are you standing on?

 

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of Australia have subsidised the lifestyle choices of white Australia since the colonisers arrived and stole their land, stole their resources, stole their children, forced communities into slavery, and denied their human, economic and cultural rights at every step. Benjamin Warlngundu Ellis Bayliss itemises out the costs of colonisation:

…frontier wars; loss of land; loss of culture; loss of wages; loss of languages; loss of songs; loss of identity; genocide; massacres; rape; destruction of sacred sites & land; stolen generations; Maralinga nuclear testing; stolen artefacts and the collection of ancestors remains; oppression; fear & intimidation; no treaties; influenza; poor health; life expectancy; no self-determination; no consultation; disease; exploitation; creating a culture of dependency; famine; introduction of foreign flora & fauna; culture of divide & conquer; discrimination; racism; meddling with the theory of eugenics; attempts to breed our mob out; so called dying softly in the pillow; deaths in custody; incarceration rates; denigration; invisibility & lack of positive representations; attempts of assimilation; policies of control & management, including driving people from their lands; intellectual property theft; meddling with the Racial Discrimination Act; NT Intervention; lateral violence; and trivialising our interests, concerns; upon many, many others I am sure I have missed.

The Abbott government’s recent announcement that around 150 Aboriginal communities would be forcibly closed in Western Australia, prompted a global call to action for our indigenous whanaunga. This decision was made without consultation and without the consent of Australia’s Aboriginal Peoples.

Pause.

We would not accept this in Aotearoa New Zealand. So why on earth are we so silent when it comes to the tyranny of the Australian government?

 

SOS Blak OZ

 

On Blackfulla Revolution’s Facebook is a call to those who have ignored and continue to ignore the oppression and injustice suffered by Australia’s First Nations Peoples.

 [7min 35s]

But this isn’t constrained to Australia. Abroad, descendant’s of settler generations ignore the impact colonisation has had on Indigenous Peoples within the lands they colonised. It is why Indigenous Peoples everywhere are reaching out to their whanaunga across borders  to achieve kotahitanga and bring our Peoples together in solidarity. This is not separatism. This is not an attempt to turn the tepu and oppress non-indigenous people. It is an effort to get the sleepy masses to recognise that: Indigenous Lives Matter.

This policy being pursued by Tony Abbot & his government is the continuance of that dark history of colonisation in Australia. This system imposed on Australia’s First Peoples is designed to disadvantage their communities at every social, cultural and economic opportunity. This policy is nothing less than forced urbanisation and assimilation. It is an explicit attempt to strip these communities of their connection to their traditional lands.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, many Māori have taken up the plight to stand with our First Nations whanaunga in Australia. MP Marama Fox, Māori Party, sought to table a motion that the House of Representatives condemn the the forced closure of these Aboriginal Communities and to call on the Australian government to honour its commitments to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Although tabling the motion was blocked by government Minister Gerry Brownlee, National Party, it has since been tabled and will be voted on in 3 weeks when Parliament resumes.

The kumara vine indicates that the Māori Party, Greens, Labour, United Future and ACT will all support the motion. However, NZ First and National have signaled that they are against it.

As most will know, recently the National Party lost a seat in Northland, to NZ First’s Winston Peters. The compositon of the house has changed slightly such that National now only have 59 seats. In order for the motion to pass, NZ First support is required.

Winston Peter’s spent much of his campaign talking about how successive governments have ignored the issues that matter to the Northland electorate – jobs, poverty, health and so on. In opposing Marama Fox’s motion, Peter’s words would  ring incredibly hollow given the broader context of his concerns – that governments ought not neglect small communities, and instead ought to manaaki their aspirations. If he stands by his commitment to Northland, then I see no reason why he and his party would not support the call to recognise the rights of Aboriginal Peoples in their communities that have been neglected by the Australian government,  who now deem it appropriate to forcibly close those communities without consultation or consent of the peoples. So I urge people to lobby NZ First to offer their support to add international weight to the plight of the Aboriginal Peoples.

So far three events in Aotearoa New Zealand have been organised around the country to coincide with the global action to support our Aboriginal whanaunga.

For further details see:

Tamaki-Makaurau (Auckland), 1 May 2015, 18:00, QE II Square (next to Britomart)

Hamilton, 1 May 2015, 13:00, The Pulse (27b Whatawhata Road, Dinsdale).

Wellington, 1 May 2015, 18:00, Location tbc.

So it’d be cool if everyone could, you know, be present and support the campaign to STOP! The Forced Closure of Aboriginal Communities. Our silence is complicity. Make their voices heard and show your solidarity with all First Nations Peoples of Australia.

Food Security apparently optional for the Children of Aotearoa

Last night the government (National and ACT) voted down two bills that sought to provide food to children particularly in low decile schools. That is, children who live in the most economically deprived areas of the country. The bills essentially dealt with the issue of food security, or alternatively stated, food insecurity.[1]

Food security is considered as existing ‘when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life’.[2] It involves four essential elements: availability, access, stability and utilisation.[3] According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, availability is measured in terms of the quantity, quality and diversity of food available to consumers, while access is measured by both physical and economic access to food.[4] Access and availability are largely guaranteed through national level policy although there is no requirement for a country to ‘achieve food production self-sufficiency’.[5] Importantly, measuring the extent of food security at the national level (that is, that a country has sufficient levels of food to distribute to meet domestic demand) does not necessarily reflect the extent of security at the household or individual levels. A nation can be food secure at the national level while still food insecure at the individual level due to ‘unequal distribution of food within the country’ which may result from food prices and the issue of affordability.[6] Stability is measured through exposure to food security risk, as well as incidences of shocks such as price spikes, fluctuations in domestic food supply and political instability,[7] while utilisation measures the ‘variables that determine the ability to utilise food’ together with ‘outcomes of poor food utilisation’.[8]

Food insecurity has often been considered an issue of  inadequate food supply at the national level. But this is not the case in New Zealand, nor in most developed countries. Instead, it is often the lack of purchasing power on behalf of households.[9] In his entitlements theory, Amartya Sen emphasised similar issues of consumption, demand and access to food by vulnerable people.[10] Sen argued that a person will starve if their entitlement set is absent ‘any commodity bundle with enough food’.[11] Also, that starvation was imminent if there were a change in their factor endowment, such as, loss of land or labour power, or their exchange entitlement mapping, such as food price spikes or loss of employment.[12] He maintained that these changes would restrict a persons ability to acquire any commodity bundle with enough food.[13]

A problem that arises in respect of the Feed the Kids bill, is that critics imply the problem of food insecurity in New Zealand is not one of a chronic nature (as is often found in developing or least developed regions). Therefore, studies that suggest marginal improvements (and perhaps arguments such as Sen’s) which were largely responding to food insecurity in developing countries should not be used to defend policies that attempt to address transitory food insecurity in children in New Zealand through school lunch or breakfast programmes. The reason being that there is little evidence to show that outcomes will provide any significant benefit for the cost of such policies.  For instance, Dr Eric Crampton writes:[15]

[I]t’s hard to make a case for that we’d get any great benefit from the [school breakfast] programmes. Rather, we often find that they don’t even increase the odds that kids eat breakfast at all.

And:

To the extent that they improve outcomes in some studies, we really can’t tell:

whether the effect is from changing the timing of breakfast, in which case we should instead have a morning tea break;

whether the effect is any better than just giving those families an equivalent cash transfer.

However, the cash transfer option doesn’t ensure that children will become food secure. By that I mean it doesn’t ensure that there will be food available or that they will have access to food.  I appreciate that a cash transfer gives the parent more freedom to choose the kinds of food that the child has available to them. However, a cash transfer may also incentivise food producers to increase the price of their foods to exact a benefit for themselves through the increased purchasing power made available at the household level. This could in effect neutralise any benefit that might have otherwise accrued to food insecure households due to affordability issues. Arguably, this problem could be overcome by adjusting for any inflationary effects. But that pattern is hardly desirable and contributes to the cost of government administration. Additionally, a cash transfer may not increase what the parent spends on food at all. Parents who find themselves without work, paying rent and utilities, school costs, and servicing other debts incurred while employed or those parents that simply don’t have enough money to cover the basic bills each month may not be able to increase their food spend, it may mean they’re able to cover costs that they had been unable to cover – car licensing, dentist, school costs, sports fees etc.

However, there are also issues for advocates of the Feed the Kids bill, such as, who supplies the food to the school? Can a government get value for money if entering into a supply agreement with a corporate (who would likely create terms more favourable to itself), or is contracting with a charity necessarily the best option since they may for example, source food products from corporations? There just seems to be a contradiction in fighting capitalism from the left – who are the main advocates of this bill, to partnering with corporations either directly or indirectly.

In principle, I support the Feed the Kids bill. But like many others have suggested, it needs some work. That would have been the benefit of getting it to the Select Committee where the public could make submissions and where robust research was carried out to attempt to construct an effective policy.

An area where I’d like to see research directed, is where food is targeted at the source. That is, where the government invest in local food production. It might be that there is room to incentivise food producers to produce surpluses that are supplied to their local schools. Sure, this is an un-worked idea but we shouldn’t just limit our imagination to cash transfers or supply by food corporations. There is a human right to food and in my mind that means it is a resource first. If the government can improve local food production by investing more in the sector to deal with issues of household and individual food insecurity then perhaps we can tackle a number of issues (such as employment, health, education) while also ensuring children are not subjected to food insecurity whether it be chronic or transitory.

The right to adequate food is recognised and protected in both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).[16] The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food defines this right as:[17]

…the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensure a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear…

The government also has obligations to meet food security goals as set out in the Millennium Development Declaration[18] and the Rome Declaration on World Food Security. [19] I haven’t even touched on issues of undernourishment, nutrition, food sovereignty, the role of agribusiness, deforestation, land grabs, climate issues, infrastructure issues, armed conflict, GMO’s. The topic of food security is vast, and is a priority at the international level. Pity the New Zealand government see it as optional. Perhaps, the next development in the feed the kids campaign, then might be to focus on the wider issue of food security at the household and individual level and find ways to address it that aren’t merely palliative, but involve addressing the network of challenges that cause food insecurity.

 

[1]  Some of the content of this post comprises parts of a dissertation I wrote for my LLM.

[2]  Rome Declaration on World Food Security.

[3]  FAO State of Food Insecurity in the World (2014), at 13.

[4]  Ibid

[5]  Christopher Stevens, Romilly Greenhill, Jane Kennan and Stephen Devereux “The WTO Agreement on Agriculture and Food Security” (paper prepared for the Commonwealth Secretariat, Economic Series No. 42, London, 2000), at 3.

[6]  At 2-3.

[7]  Ibid.

[8]  Ibid.

[9]  World Bank Poverty and Hunger (1986)

[10]  FAO “Chapter 2. Food security: concepts and measurement” in Trade Reforms and Food Security: Conceptualising the Linkages (FAO, Rome, 2003), at 28.

[11]  Amartya Sen Food, Economics and Entitlements (World Institute for Developmental Economics Research, United Nations University, 1986) at 8-9. For Sen, an entitlement is ‘the set of different alternative commodity bundles that the person can acquire through the use of the various legal channels of acquirement open to someone in [their] position’.

[12]  Ibid.

[13]  Ibid.

[14]  Stevens et al, at 5.

[15]   Eric Crampton “Breakfast” Offsetting Behaviour (15 May 2013)

[16]  Universal Declaration of Human Rights GA Res 217 A, III (1948); International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights GA Res2200A XXI 993 UNTS 3 (1966).

[17]  “The Human Right to Food” UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

[18] Millennium Development Declaration

[19]  Rome Declaration on World Food Security

Tactical Voting, Manaakitanga and the Northland By-Election

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while. Quite anxious about posting. Worried about the backlash. The thing is, I don’t consider tactical voting as inherently bad. I just think that some strategies appear inconsistent with tikanga Māori. In particular, the principle of manaakitanga. That principle might not be important to non-Māori electors, but it does, in my view, matter where the particular electorate involves a candidate and constituents committed to kaupapa Māori.

Note, I am not suggesting that I am an authority nor that I speak on behalf of all Māori electors. Rather, it is my personal analysis regarding my interpretation and how I have come to understand manaakitanga and the problems I see with tactical voting in this particular regard.

Before I get into the substance of my concern, its necessary for the purposes of transparency to outlay a couple of disclosures. Firstly, I am a Māori Party (MP) member, and secondly, as reported in the media the idea of strategic voting was discussed at the Strategy and Executive levels of the MP with regard to the Te Tai Tokerau seat during the 2014 Election. Of note, views on strategic voting within the MP groups with whom I have had close contact with anyway,  is not settled. Many, like myself, were and remain strongly opposed to the idea of pulling a candidate just because polling is unfavourable. The concern revolves around the stripping of the candidates mana as a result of such a process. (I’d go as far as saying this is similarly true with standing a candidate but not allowing or perhaps discouraging them from seeking a candidate vote).

In brief, manaakitanga is about behaving in a way that is uplifting and enhances the mana of others. It is about positive role modelling and preserving the integrity of individuals, whānau, hapū, iwi and the wider community. (I am mindful that the concept can and does change within and between whānau, hapū and iwi, however, these characteristics seem to be widely accepted).

So I’m not convinced that the disavowal of an elected candidate, in this case, Willow-Jean Prime who has expressed a strong desire and genuine commitment to seek the electorate vote is in anyway mana enhancing or positive role modeling. To add insult to injury, encouraging people to vote for her rival candidate Winston Peters who has known sexist, bigoted and racist traits (recalling his joke at the expense of the Chinese) and has expressed a clear aversion to Te Tiriti o Waitangi reflects a lack of respect for the integrity and mana of Prime. It is essentially a strategy of two facing Prime by claiming on the one hand that she is the best candidate but undermining that message by getting people to not vote for her and to vote for Peters which is inconsistent with what manaakitanga involves.

For clarity, electors who were already going to vote for Peters are not participating in this mana stripping exercise. Additionally, if a candidate voluntarily revokes their commitment to seek the electorate vote then the strategy can arguably be said to not breach the principle. Although, there would remain issues regarding whether whānau, hapū, iwi and wider community see this kind of strategy as an attack on their integrity and mana.

The prevailing narrative is that a vote for Prime is essentially a wasted vote or a vote for National. But it’s not. That story is moral blackmail. It attempts to alienate any person who exercises their democratic right to vote for the candidate that they believe will best represent their interests and the interests of their electorate. This particular kind of tactical voting insists that the personal preferences of electors and the mana of candidates be set aside for the ‘greater good’ of the left. For Māori electors, it asks or rather demands that Māori identify as left first and only thereafter as Māori.

There is indeed a place for tactical voting provided it isn’t coupled with coercion. Where people aren’t induced to vote in a particular way due to fear of exclusion or public condemnation. Where people aren’t morally blackmailed into taking a particular position. And where campaigns and candidates aren’t undermined in a way that is mana stripping.

Some argue that this strategy is not coercive but instead educational. I’m still unconvinced by this argument too. The presumption is that all the strategy does is propose an option for voters together with counter-scenarios to let them make a choice. Yet, this is most often coupled with the above narrative and has led to verbal assaults on the non-compliant, at least in online forums. Moreover, it delivers information in a way designed to persuade a voter to conform rather than to impart knowledge. Some may not see the problem with that. That’s their prerogative. But when a person refuses to conform and is then castigated by their supposed left wing allies for daring to have an alternative view, it cannot pretend to be educational.  And given the extent of manipulation we as individuals are already subjected to, I find it alarming that many of these people would criticise media manipulation while engaging in the same tactics.

The awful rhetoric (coming from some very active voices) that followed the left bloc loss at the 2014 election was that everyone who didn’t vote according to a particular strategy guide were whollly responsible for National’s win, must hate people, are selfish and greedy, and lack intelligence – some suggested even that some shouldn’t have bothered voting at all [the irony given the push was to attract the elusive missing million]. So instead of holding up the principle of democracy, it became a game of ‘democracy on our terms only’. Free choice erased. Manaakitanga not even a feature of the story. Camaraderie existing only in conformity, under a strategy of manipulation.

Chasing The Illusory Peace

 

Thirty Years War [Source: Google images]

Throughout history, the end of wars has required negotiations between the warring parties.  The most prominent negotiation being the Westphalian Peace Settlement that ended the Thirty Years War [1618-1648] that had desolated Europe. The settlement comprised three treaties which are considered by many jurists to have birthed the international legal system.[1] Confronting a state of perpetual war, the parties to Westphalia negotiated the conditions in which they could agree to cease their hostilities and enter peaceful relations.

The contemporary importance of Westphalia is that it established two fundamental principles that are now codified in the Charter of the United Nations: sovereign equality and territorial integrity.[2] As most can probably surmise, these principles were intended to have anti-hegemonic effect. However, in reality they enabled superpowers to emerge as a result of ‘radical inequalities among states in size, wealth, and power in international role’.[3] This is evidenced in the composition of the UN Security Council, exemplified by the five permanent States that hold veto power that they can and do use for their own political ends.

Admittedly, although negotiations have ended past wars, the Iraq (and similarly Syria) war is more complex. Firstly, IS is not a State in any formal sense despite their assertion to the contrary. Secondly, it is a civil war not a war where one sovereign State agresses against another equally sovereign State threatening their territorial integrity. It is in this context, that the do not negotiate with terrorists (DNNWT) rule arises.

Whether the DNNWT rule has acquired customary status, I am unsure, but a good case could probably be made given it’s widespread acceptance among States and the clear evidence of State practice. Additionally, it would be consistent with the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties principle that a treaty must be concluded between States in order to achieve international legal standing.[4] As terrorist designated organisations are not States, then no internationally binding treaty with IS could ever be legitimately concluded, unless they were to be recognised as a State (which would bring with it a very complex and contentious set of considerations). However, there is always the possibility of a domestic treaty negotiation situation.

However, the DNNWT rule serves both the anti-hegemonic and hegemonic agendas. For the reason that, it protects the sovereign equality of States, but it also allows superpowers to heavily influence the direction of international security policy and to dictate who are legitimate resistance groups according to their own political and economic interests. This might seem reasonable when limiting the scope of discussion to IS given the heinous atrocities that form the basis of their resistance strategy. But the implications extend further than those groups. It is not difficult to conceive of a circumstance when internal resistance might be necessary, such as, when a society is ruled under a violent dictatorship. For instance, many (contentiously) see the resistance of the Free Syrian Army as a justifiable belligerent act against their autocratic government and some States were prepared to support the FSA despite their lack of legal standing at international law.

The logic of the DNNWT rule seems perfectly reasonable.  In order to protect the political sovereignty of a nation, the obvious strategy is to refuse to allow a belligerent militia to influence the decision making of that State.  Of course, there are times where that logic is stretched beyond what is reasonable. Recalling Prime Minister John Key’s assertion that not going to war with IS was essentially allowing them to interfere with New Zealand’s political sovereignty. Absurdity abounding on the very fact that his decision to deploy troops to Iraq comes off the back of pressure from other nations that New Zealand cannot simply be a passive ally. Moreover, that doing nothing or doing what the government have decided to do are both decisions based on the influence of IS.

On the other hand, ruling out negotiations, as mentioned above, removes the very process by which conflict could ever hope to be resolved with enduring peace. I’m not so naive as to think that negotiating with IS would immediately resolve the long history of religious tension within Iraq and its surrounding regions. Nor am I suggesting that IS would even be willing participants  to negotiate a resolution. However,  eliminating the option arguably casts us back almost 400 years to once again face the reality of a perpetual war. Sheldon Richman also alludes to the perpetuity of war arguing that when governments invade and occupy other countries, or ‘underwrite other governments invasions or oppression, the people in the victimised societies become angry enough to want and even to exact revenge’.[5] I’m certainly not convinced that raining hell fire over Iraq and areas controlled by IS will bring about any solution at all.

Similarly, Dr Jeremy Moses (Senior Lecturer, UCNZ) tweeted:[6]

“…there are no good outcomes from [the] Iraq situation. [The] [r]ole of NZ can be nothing more than a favour to the US…NZ will have no material impact on what will be a long, brutal battle for Mosul. And even if IS falls, what then? No-one knows”

And before someone calls me an IS apologist, this is not about defending IS at all. To make that claim is both lazy and unintelligent. As humans in common, we all have an interest in avoiding the spread of hate and unnecessary death. We all have an interest in avoiding a world in which fear is normalised and the quality of our lives debilitated. We cannot pontificate under the pretence of ‘the others’ intolerance when our governments commit or support other governments that commit equally heinous crimes.

Richard Jackson makes the point much better:[7]

…what counts as cruelty and barbarism in war is shaped by our cultural values and historical context. Objectively, it is perverse to insist that burning a man to death with petrol is a greater moral evil than using munitions like phosphorous bombs in military operations which we know will burn a great many innocent people to death, including children. It is the nature of every society however, to point out the cruelty of the enemy while obscuring the cruelty of one’s own actions.

John Key has insisted that the New Zealand must join the club and choose the ‘right side’.He has made the executive decision that New Zealand will deploy troops to Iraq. That does not mean Aotearoa supports him in his crusade. Contrary to the PM’s suggestion that New Zealand’s contributions must exist on some kind of binary – sending troops versus doing nothin,  we can meaningfully contribute to improve the lives and outcomes of Iraqi’s through genuine humanitarian aid while finding a way to open dialogue between IS and the Iraqi government. For instance, New Zealand could consider relaxing our refugee quota, sending food and water, medical supplies and unarmed medical personnel rather than exporting guns, bombs, drones and people armed with what is ultimately a violent mission.

Expanding the war in Iraq will surely aggravate the incapacitating conditions that Iraqi peoples already endure. That is not help, that is hindrance. It is insane that our governments (NZ and abroad) support the export of violence to an area already riddled with instability and fear under the illusion that foreign arms will introduce peace amid the chaos. It’d be good if foreign policy wonks realised that peace is not something you can just bomb into existence.

 

 

 

[1] The Peace of Westphalia comprises three treaties, namely, the Peace of Münster, the Treaty of Münster and the Treaty of Osnabrück see Anuschka Tischer “Peace of Westphalia (1648)” in Oxford Bibliographies online < http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199743292/obo-9780199743292-0073.xml>.

[2] Charter of the United Nations, arts 2(1) and 2(4).

[3] Richard Falk “Revisiting Westphalia, Discovering Post-Westphalia” (2002) 6(4) The Journal of Ethics 311 at 314-317

[4] Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, art 2(1).

[5] Sheldon Richman “Domestic Fear Is the Price of Empire” Free Association: Proudly Delegitimizing the State since 2005 (25 February 2015) < http://sheldonfreeassociation.blogspot.co.nz/2015/02/domestic-fear-is-price-of-empire.html&gt;.

[6] @jeremy_moses <https://twitter.com/jeremy_moses/status/570669388245962752&gt;.

[7] Richard Jackson “IS and the Barbarism of War” RICHARDJACKSONTERRORISMBLOG (12 February 2015). < https://richardjacksonterrorismblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/12/is-and-the-barbarism-of-war/&gt;.

Transmisogyny Lurking in Supposedly Liberal Spaces

It is a difficult thing to have to outlay your own prejudices – past or present knowing that you have actively participated in the harm that befalls trans people on a persistent and unrelenting basis. As someone who grew up in a small provincial town, trans people were not present in my insulated world. Well, actually, they probably were but given the social conservatism that gripped the town, I imagine trans people were forced into hiding their gender identities to keep themselves safe from the violent identity-denying vultures.

This is by no means an attempt to justify the prejudices I held. But I cannot write this post pretending that I have always treated trans people in a dignified way. I have denied trans people their right to define their identity under the illusion that my vagina gave me superior rights to define who was and was not a woman, or indeed a man. It is certainly not a position I hold now, but it would be remiss and dishonest of me to ignore my own destructive role in transphobia of which I am deeply regretful and to which I offer my sincere apology to trans people everywhere.

On Saturday 21 February 2015, the annual Pride Parade took place in Auckland. The event included a float by both the New Zealand Police and the Department of Corrections. A small group gathered to protest their inclusion.  For those unaware, when trans women are arrested, they are placed in men’s prisons in which they often become subjects of violent sexual and physical assaults. These institutions do not recognise the identities of trans people and are unsympathetic to the risks they impose on trans women in the process. The protest was derided by many as unnecessary with calls to the group that they were ‘ruining the parade’. The protest was in fact a necessary act of resistance to highlight the impropriety of including these institutions as part of the pride event given the routine mistreatment of trans people who come into their custody. A trans woman was removed with such force that it broke her arm, and as she was pinned to the ground crying in agony, a Police Officer stood atop of her. That the majority of people are quibbling over the minutiae of facts rather than being upset and incensed that a woman’s arm was broken during a forcible removal for participating in a legitimate form of protest, stuns me. This is an explicit act of violence against a woman.

From the responses I’ve seen circulating social media, I suspect if she were a cis woman, those same people would be banging on their keyboards in support of her. That just speaks to the harrowing extent of transphobia and transmisogyny lurking in supposedly liberal circles. After all, only a few weeks back cis people were bemoaning the mistreatment of a cis white woman who was called a hua on national radio. This is not intended to minimise Eleanor Catton’s experience, but is invoked here to highlight the blatant hypocrisy regarding the reactions to both situations. Catton, an author, was criticised for expressing a political opinion at a book/author event. Cis people everywhere (rightly) backed her rights to speak freely and validated her voice. A Māori trans woman dared to express a political view to challenge institutional transphobia at a Pride event. Cis people everywhere blame her for injury (“she was being aggressive”), attempt to silence her voice (“she was ruining the parade”), and invalidate her experience (“she was lying”).

This physical and emotional violence carried out by cis people against trans people must stop. If you can’t see your own hypocrisy or refuse to acknowledge your prejudice and work to overcome it, then you are not just part of the problem, you are the problem. Rather than dismantling structural inequality, you are reinforcing it.

 

We really going to ignore white terrorism?

For the most part, I support the idea of a media. I mean, the point is to question events and hold power to account. Depending on the particular media outlet, these things are done to a greater or lesser degree.

But when the collective industry by and large choose to ignore the execution style killings of 3 Muslim college students by a white man, the outcry should be vast and vociferous.

We can be assured that if it were 3 white college students shot in the head, that it would be framed as a ‘national tragedy’. And you know what? It would be a national tragedy. But THIS IS a national tragedy – no matter what religious, political or other views or identities the victims held.

We may also be assured that if the shooter were a person of colour or a marginalised identity, that scorn would be scrawled across every media headline in breaking news.

The blanket of silence is in the context of an ongoing global effort to homogenise the diversity of Muslim communities in an attempt to demonise Islam as a terrorist faith. The political goal: hegemonic stability.

We already know the answer as to ‘who’ these media organisations are protecting and ‘why’. Another question is ‘what’ are they protecting and ‘how’?

One answer is their carefully crafted (but incredibly ghastly) message that dare not depict any Muslim deaths in a manner that might induce empathy from the public because this would interfere with their ability to continue to persecute all Muslim peoples.

We talk about Islamophobia too often in abstraction, but the reality is that the architects of Islamophobia are the same entities and organisations that bury the truth to muzzle white outrage when Muslim blood is spilt in hate. The rationale being that white outrage is a threat to hegemonic stability, because the mainstream system already invalidates non-white voices.

The response from major media outlets (if any) has been that the 3 Muslim lives stolen was not a particularly newsworthy event because the ‘shootings’ were the actions of a ‘mentally deranged’ (white) man angry about a car park. But minimisation of the crime that took place is an indirect mode of persecution. The mass persecution (direct and indirect) against all Muslim peoples practiced by a white dominated media is a manifestation of white terrorism. The executions carried out at Chapel Hill are the savage and soulless actions of a white terrorist.

Are we really going to ignore white terrorism?

Reclaiming Northland not an impossibility

The resignation of Mike Sabin as Northland MP provides an opportunity for the people of Northland to elect a representative that is capable of addressing the issues confronting the electorate. During the General Election period locals in Northland voiced as primary concerns: employment, sexual violence, health, education, housing and economic development. But these issues were emphasised as unique to Te Tai Tokerau, that is Māori, despite the reality that Northland in geographical terms falls within those boundaries and many Māori are on the general roll, and many non-Māori are concerned about the same issues.

In saying that, Northland is considered a safe National Party seat. However, no seat can ever really be said to be absolutely safe. If the ALP unseating of LNP Premier Campbell Newmann in Queensland, Australia is anything to go by, a swing is not entirely unheard of, nor is it indeed impossible.

Whangarei Child Poverty Action Group report that 49 per cent of children [in Northland] were identified as being born in the bottom two most-deprived deciles – the highest child poverty rate in the country. Sabin’s resignation presents an opportunity for opposition or indeed minor parties to show the electorate that they are an important part of our social fabric and that parties do care about providing strong representation to confront this and every other issue in the region despite the neglect shown to the region in the past. Leaving the seat uncontested or putting up a candidate simply for the sake of it smacks of bad faith and is just not good enough for the people in Northland, especially given the politically and economically sensitive environment that currently prevails.

Willow Jean Prime was formally confirmed as the Labour Party’s candidate to stand in that seat. Prime ran during the General Election, and while she did not win it by a sizeable majority, that she is committed to running again illustrates her enduring commitment to the region.

There is some hinting that Winston Peters intends to stand in the seat or at least a representative of NZ First. Peters rightly pointing out the social and economic issues afflicting the region remain unresolved and overlooked for far too long.  Colin Craig has also contemplated having a crack at the Northland seat, while Hone Harawira has unequivocally ruled out standing after his defeat in the Te Tai Tokerau seat by Labour’s Kelvin Davis, but has suggested he has someone in mind to represent Mana. Arguably, Northland needs a candidate that can work in a mutually supportive relationship with Davis if any serious ground is to be made on the issues confronting the electorate.

But what about the other parties? NZ Greens, Māori Party, Internet Party.  Barely even a whisper. Yet this is an opportunity for these parties to put their politics where there mouth is and prove they are serious and viable alternatives to the macro parties.

I was wondering about who might be viable candidates in the Northland seat. My reckons are below.

Marama Davidson, NZ Greens. She is next on the Party list, is connected to the region, is incredibly passionate about representing the most vulnerable groups in society and if she still has billboards, she could recycle them. If any party can get away with recycling signage it’s the Greens.

Chris McKenzie, Maori Party. Although he hails from Tokoroa , he is third on the party list and has a raft of skills that he showcased during the General Election particularly with regard to eocnomic development and working with business and iwi sectors.  And if he’s changed his mind about standing as a candidate, then Dr Lance O’Sullivan is surely worth approaching following his endorsement of the party? He has made significant contributions to the many families in Northland and is highly respected and committed to the rohe.

Annette Sykes, Mana Movement. She is second on the party list, is the strongest candidate in the party and presumably has a solid rapport with Northland given her exceptional Tiriti work.

David Currin, Internet Party. He lives in the far north, stood in the seat in the General Election has a unique technology advantage and if the Internet Party intend on sticking round into next election, then its a way to keep the party momentum.

Many wonder why National and Labour remain the duopoly of political power in Aotearoa New Zealand. In short, they are always present. In less eloquent terms, they are like rabbits: they leave their political droppings everywhere. They both take opportunities for publicity seriously. The reality is that National do have the greatest chance of retaining the seat based on habitual voting patterns.  But put up a candidate that can win the minds of Northland, and that just might change.