Month: October 2013

Are white voices amplified and privileged over indigenous voices?

Native Affairs screened a story last night on Tim Morrison who spent the past 18 months defending a manslaughter charge for a crime he didn’t commit.

As usual, Twitter was an abundant hive of activity and commentary. But one particular comment stood out to me,  the commenter stated she did not ‘trust white indigenous rights activists’ because ‘in a culture of white hegemony, white voices are amplified and privileged over indigenous’.

While the first comment seemed to be more personal in nature, I think in a different (but related) context the second point is extremely important.

In my view, white voices that advocate for Maori or advance Maori issues are often subordinate to our dominant Maori activist voices. Moreover, most white indigenous activists in NZ will defer to our Maori voices for commentary on indigenous issues and our better journalists will request comments or interview Maori voices known to be respected in Maori communities.  So in this respect, I think Maori are very skilled at having their voices heard and advancing indigenous issues in NZ. I’m more concerned about gathering the support necessary to implement change and this is why I consider white indigenous activists as vital for building grassroots relationships. Since Maori are a minority, we need to build support networks and the first step is in embracing those who support our cause.

I think we should be careful about distinguishing between people who advance issues as allies of indigenous voices and those who advance them as a means of thwarting the decolonisation process.

I do agree that in a colonised country white voices are amplified to the detriment of indigenous voices but more so in the context of white voices serving as an impediment to neutralising the privilege of being white in NZ, or alternatively stated, as a means of maintaining that white privilege.

In Open Letter to the Pocahotties: Annotated Version, the author makes some very good points on how when referring to ‘white’, ‘racism’ and ‘privilege’, the usual response is defensive and those who refuse to acknowledge their white privilege often cite their own historical misgivings as justifications for their racist actions.

I also found an excellent article on the top 10 list of how not to respond to indigenous experiences of racism. The author here highlights many of the common responses to charges of racism and briefly explains the problems with such responses. For instance, many argue that some racism is worse than other racism. In the NZ context Maori are often belittled because Australian Aboriginals have a much worse experience of racism than Maori. The article highlights that racism is deplorable no matter how you frame it.

Another relevant point is that some people use ignorance as a shield because their reality differs from the reality or experience of an indigenous person; they often claim that the indigenous persons experience is just wrong because it doesn’t match their reality.

A common reason (noted in the article) that I hear in NZ is that while we were racist in the past we are not now. Notwithstanding the statistics, the cases that evidence institutional racism, and the everyday responses from supposedly non-racist white NZer’s that perpetuate the egregious racial stereotypes.

In summary, my view is that white indigenous activists in NZ are usually respectful and aware of their privilege and will often defer to Maori voices for commentary on Maori issues. However, many white NZer’s are still tied into their privilege and do not understand that they have it or that their privilege perpetuates racism in NZ. I believe that we need white indigenous activists to help show those who enjoy white privilege that there is no shame in acknowledging and understanding that privilege and the inherent racism and surrendering it once its understood. Such persons need to understand that the shame is in trying to justify it.

Worker co-ops and Charter Schools

Critics argue that charter schools will damage the education system in NZ. These arguments are predominantly raised by those of the political left, and in particular, Teachers Unions.

The NZ PPTA considers that there is no evidence to support importing the charter school model into NZ Education. Moreover, that the current legislation allows for parents to set up their own schools, if they are dissatisfied with their local school, provided they have at least 21 students enrolled. 

I asked the PPTA (via Twitter) if teachers were able to run a charter school as a worker co-operative; they replied that the legislation did not appear to allow for this.

I then sent an email to Hon. Hekia Parata and asked:

Does the legislation for Charter Schools allow for the possibility of teachers managing a charter school as a workers co-op? If not, why not?

I received the following reply:

The legislation (s158A Education Act 1989) requires the sponsor of a Partnership School to be a body corporate. Any workers or teachers co-operative would therefore have to be incorporated in some way before it could put forward a proposal to become the sponsor of a Partnership School.

During the Third reading of the Bill, Metiria Turei, Leader of the Greens stated that charter schools have no future in this country should there be a change in government.

This sentiment is also shared by the NZ Labour Party.

If Unions and those of the political left are movements symbolic of bringing an end to bossism, i.e. where workers take control of the means of production; then why on earth are they not advocating for the legislation to incorporate workers cooperatives, rather than pushing for state owned and managed institutions?

This is actually an opportunity for teachers to be freed from the hierarchical systems of institutional education and to bring about a fair and equitable workspace for the teachers and their students.

Even in a market based theory, schools run for profit are less likely to obtain the students necessary to keep the school going if Teacher/Worker co-operatives are able to provide a better educational experience for their students. This competition is good for students because in a workers co-operative, teachers would stake their livelihoods on ensuring the success of the school which depends on the success of the students. It means that teacher co-operative schools would have registered teachers. Although it would mean an end to teachers unions, and perhaps that is a reason why the Unions may not persist along the lines of encouraging workers co-operatives (note: this is a purely speculative comment).

Moreover, Labour and the Greens could also advocate for a proper oversight process to protect the students.

Sure the overseas models have had some poor results and I appreciate that there are some real issues in NZ with the handling of the implementation of charter schools and that the legislation must be improved to better protect the students.

I consider that we should focus on how we can improve the education experience for students and resist the temptation to  measure students against an arbitrary standard suggestive that students are homogeneous entities lacking diversity in their background, skills or knowledge.  We must encourage innovative strategies and move away from a ‘state knows best’ narrative.

The War on Kids documentary points out that while we have conducted many studies on education, there are no studies that show that compulsory education is the best way to impart the necessary skills and knowledge on children to assist them to lead happy and productive lives. Lets not just dismiss the idea of the charter school model, but look at ways of improving it.


What about a voter credit?

The decision to vote or not vote is highly contentious and has led to some quite strong allegations against non-voters for being lazy, apathetic or offensive to democracy.

Bryce Edwards wrote an excellent piece in which he suggested that:

 ‘ if you’re bored by it all, unimpressed with the lack of meaningful electoral options, or just disgruntled with the state of your local authority and democracy, then one of the most powerful options you have is to protest by not participating’.

He further stated that:

‘in reality it’s your legitimate right not to endorse what might seem like an electoral sham’.

Some were highly critical of this view suggesting that our ancestors died for our right to vote and by not doing so, we were doing them a great disservice by disrespecting the democratic rights they fought for.

Others pointed out that not all non-voters are making rational choices to not vote. Rather, there are a significant proportion of eligible voters who are disengaged from the political process.

In a recent Listener article by Jennifer Curtin (paywalled), she argued that its time for New Zealand to at least consider compulsory voting given the impact it has had on voter turnout and voter engagement in Australia. She states that:

‘Australia’s electoral law requires all voters to attend a polling place rather than actually cast a vote, but most fulfil this obligation and so turnout rates average about 94% and are even higher if informal votes are also counted’.

Curtin suggested that:

‘voter participation in turn leads to a broader sense of political efficacy: the feeling that individual political action does, or can, have an impact on politics’.

My personal view aligns to Bryce Edwards, insofar as choosing not to vote is a legitimate right. I’m not persuaded by Curtin’s analysis of engagement in Australia, because I do not accept that voter turnout reflects engagement under a compulsory scheme. It might only suggest that people are voting to avoid the $20 fine for not turning up to the polling booth and that they might in fact just be ticking boxes without making any meaningful selections.

The general arguments for compulsory voting that I’ve seen are that:

  1. We have a civic duty to vote
  2. 22 other countries including Australia have compulsory voting with apparent positive effects
  3. Vulnerable or marginalised groups are often in the non-voting category and compulsion avoids social bias by incentivising political parties to appeal to as many voters as possible, including these groups
  4. It avoids participation bias [similar to above] because when minority groups participate it makes it difficult for parties to campaign on issues that would adversely affect those minority groups.

I think these are pretty compelling arguments, but I still don’t believe that it is democratic to force a person to vote or even turn up to a polling booth against their will. There are a number of reasons why this is unjust but the most obvious (in my view) is that the right to vote is a freedom and when compulsion is attached to that right, it is no longer a freedom, it becomes a duty.

Its been suggested that some people might view ‘voting’ as both a right and a duty. And that may be the case under the current freedoms that we have, but under a compulsory scheme, it is no longer a right we have against the state, it becomes a duty we owe to the state. It subjugates the will of the individual to the might of the state.

This is reinforced when non-compliance results in punitive consequences. In Australia, its a $20 fine for not turning up to the polling booth.

It was suggested by a Young Labour member that citizens be stripped of their passports if they didn’t turn up to the polling booth and if they were repeat offenders that they should also be fined.

Why is that many first of all think in terms of punitive consequences and stripping of rights?

Here’s my (probably very naive) view: we should advocate for a voter credit. Why? Because if we want to incentivise people to turn up to vote, then framing the experience as a positive one will surely be far more effective than threatening non-voters. In terms of how much this would cost, I don’t know. What I can say is that if we implemented a compulsory system with fines for non-compliance then it would involve costs for administration, enforcement and labour, which could be more expensive than issuing a credit. Additionally, it wouldn’t involve taking rights away from people. It secures those rights while rewarding those who choose to participate. I also think, like many others, that there should be a no confidence in any candidate or party option on electoral forms.

Arguably, this voter credit scheme might have the same problems as the compulsory scheme in that people are only voting to get the voter credit, so it might not solve the engagement issue. But in my experience, we (humans) tend to respond well to positive reinforcements and perhaps a voter credit might at least be a step in the right direction.

However, I  do worry about the perception that this is buying voters. But isn’t it better to have those voters voluntarily cast their vote through a positive incentive rather than the alternative?

A question on selling state houses

I have a question in relation to the governments selling of state houses at market prices.

Do you think the government should be able to profit from the sale of land that it continues to have rights over?

In NZ, interests in land are held of the Crown (Veale v Brown (1866) 1 CA 152), with the exception of Māori customary interests (because they don’t owe their existence to a Crown grant).

Land ownership is based on the concept of ‘fee simple’ title which is indefeasible against all adverse claims subject to specified exceptions (Frazer v Walker [1967] 1 AC 569) see also s62 Land Transfer Act 1952. When a fee simple owner dies without heirs or successors, the land escheats back to the Crown. This technically means that while the Certificate of Title grants a bundle of rights (indefeasible title) in respect of the land it does not give absolute ‘ownership’ over the land. This view is reinforced when looking at statutes such as the Public Works Act 1981, which gives the Crown the right to acquire land (s16) through either agreement (s17), or by taking (s23).

In light of the above, isn’t the government selling land, on which state houses are situated, at market rate analogous to me selling you my computer for more than what I paid for it with the presumption that if I ever need it back, I have a right to just take it?

If that is the case, is it even a valid transaction?

I’m not sure about you, but I’m uncomfortable with the government profiting from the sale of land which it (probably) never actually purchased in the first place, and even if it did, it would have been at a much cheaper rate than today’s market rate, even taking into consideration inflation etc.

Note, this is not just a criticism of National’s policy but with governments generally selling land.

Any land law experts able to explain?