Sunday, February 22, 2004

For the past two weeks, NZ, and the southern half of the North Island in particular has been thrashed by a series of weather paterns that are not just most unseasonable, but verging on unique.

The cause, we are told, is a high pressure system that has developed over Antarctica where normally there is a stable low pressure system. The effect of this high pressure system has been to shift the weather patterns normally reserved for the likes of the Auckland and Campbell Islands up to the latitudes of Wanganui and Wellington.

The consequence, if you have not heard, has been a series of violent storms with very heavy rain and strong winds. That has resulted in flooding throughout the Manawatu and Wanganui, and down through Kapiti, into the Hutt Valley and across the Rimutakas into the Wairarapa.

Current estimates of the damage and economic fallout are in excess of $100 million, and I believe will continue to rise to close to double that if government support for farmers and others affected by the floods is factored in.

As a matter of statistics, places such as Palmerston North, Levin and Wanganui have had in excess of 120% of their average February rainfall, with only half the month gone. To make that worse, the weather boys are saying that there is little sign of the system abating.

However, it is also proving that one man's black cloud can have a silver lining for another.

Over the past 18 months or so, the Immigration Department has been grappling with a series of "tough" decisions. Leading the pack in the public eye has been the case of A. Zaoui; ex Minister of Foriegn Affairs in the Algerian government and erstwhile political refugee. The main thrust of the public debate in that instance has become strongly political with some strange similarities to other larger and more internationally known examples. As a result we now are waiting on a Commission of Enquiry to establish "the truth" in the way that Mr Zaoui's application for residence as a refugee has been handled.

On top of that, a second and more problematical example has surfaced - that of a 16 year old Sri Lankan girl and her grandmother. When they first arrived here (as most "refugees" do) the first application was for "political refugee" status - their lives were in danger because of political beliefs etc etc...

Toward last weekend, after that application and the related appeals had all been exhausted fresh grounds were "brought to light. In fact, the grandmother admitted lying because she had been advised that "political refugee status" was the only reliable grounds for admission. The "truth" was that the girl had fled her family, accompanied by her grandmother, because she was being systematically sexually abused by her father and uncles. By Monday, one of the local tv networks had "obtained" a copy of a letter to the girl from her legal counsel, on which was a drawing of a guinea pig, and notes on how best to obtain residency status - a plan of action - which ended with the idea of "media" and publicity.

During the week, this developed into a political stoush about when and from whom TV3 had obtained the letter. The legal counsel was very upset because the letter was privileged. The Minister of Immigration Lianne Dalziel was incensed because it showed the lengths that people were going to pervert the course and use of refugee status processes - an indirect tilt at the Zaoui case and probably others as well. The National Party opposition could smell at least one or two drops of blood in the air and were baying after the wounded.

On Wednesday night, Lianne Dalziel was called by NZPA and asked some very direct questions. Because those answers did not swing with the evidence that NZPA and others had obtained they held publishing until the following morning and rang the PM. I can just hear Auntie Helen's growl down the phone to "hold that, there will be bigger news this afternoon".

And so it came to be. Because of a simple untruth, not even a political "hedge", the Hon Minister of Immigration and four other minor portfolios Lianne Dalziel, good mate of the PM, found herself relegated to the back benches of the House to lick her wounds and left over this weekend to ponder upon her political future.

There are parallels and connections that I could make to at least two major international instances of much the same kind of statement having far greater and different (and in one case tragic) repercussions.

This local example has none of the ramifications of the Beeb, WMD or any of that. It is, by comparison, very small beer.

So, it is sufficient that the storms in the lower North Island have been of such intensity and consequence that they have taken some of the heat out of the Dalziel saga much, I suspect, to the relief of the PM at least.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Once again, the connections...

I had written my little exposition for last weekend on Sunday night and early on Monday morning. It was not posted up simply because there was that nasty little feeling in my bones that I was missing something quite important. The missing part; the other side of the connection. It had to be there, but what was it? The deja vu was so strong that it was almost keeping me awake at night. It was bothering me at work. There was something in the past that was making a future and that is scarey, very frightening, when you can not pinpoint the cause.

Well the answer came with this morning's paper. Smack across the front page in the headline "Spot the difference"

So, let's go back to the beginning and the draft I left in fallow last weekend...

After a very badly written and probably inaccurate backgrounder on the Treaty of Waitangi I wrote...

"Two weeks ago, as the political master raised themselves from their summer deckchair slumbers or return from their overseas (taxpayer funded) "holidays" we had one of our annual political spectacles - "The State of the Nation" address by the Leader of the National Party to the Orewa Chapter of Rotary. This is a little tradition started by Rob Muldoon during his term as Prime Minister back in the mid-'70s. It marked the end of his holiday at the seaside and the return to operational status. It was also a kind of "speech from the throne" indicating the kind of repressive law and regulation that he might have in store for us unsuspecting electors during the following eleven months.

"Well, Rob is long gone and so too is the spirit of the National Party, the centre right party that he led for so many years. Since he left (and I cry no tears for his going) leaders of the party have come and gone, the party has been in and out of government and we have all survived the changes as they come and go. So too, have the "state of the nation" addresses by the successive leaders of the party.

"Until this year...

"Twelve months ago, there was a revolution (comparatively bloodless) and the then "Leader" of the National Party Bill English was replaced by a political newcomer, a Johnny-come-lately, no make that a "Donny-come-lately", Don Brash. Mr Brash, (despite his name) is one of these "colourless bureaucrat kinds" who you would never expect to hold a place in the public eye. But, to his credit, this he did as Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. As a technocrat he was brilliant. In our largely deregulated economy he was responsible for driving national economic policy given "the rules of the game" imposed by the government of the day. This was a task that he performed with much credit, and for which he earned much respect.

"Two weeks ago, Don Brash delivered "the state of the nation" address to the Orewa Rotary. The main thrust of that address - certainly as far as the media and the public are concerned - involved the vexed question of Maori / Pakeha relationships and the long succession of government policies intended to "benefit Maori", to "favour the disadvantaged", the whole litany of political double speak that comes with pork barrel politics. Do not for a moment think that this is a one-sided position. It might seem that way to many given the special relationship between the Ratana Church and the Labour Party (who just at the moment happen to be "in charge"). In truth as many or more of these policies originated with the National governments as from Labour governments.

"So, we have Don Brash "rescuing the National Party" (which had been polling in the low 20% of total vote since the last election - effectively a rudder-less rowboat with only one oar) with a speech which promoted the idea of "one rule for all".

"At the same time, the present Labour government is beset with an albatross which has been hatched within the judicial administration of our planning (the "Resource Management Act" - RMA) legislation. The judicial involvement arose (in this specific instance) from a series of applications initially relating to Whangaruru Harbour in the Far North about 15 or so years back, but more recently to the Marlborough Sounds in the north of the South Island. Just to mention, there is no connection at all between these two other than that they arose from similar applications."

But essentially, this is where my draft for last week was heading. I was trying to bridge between Brash successfully creating a "brand difference" between the two major parties, and the problems faced by the Labour government that can come from trying to solve the problems from within the Treaty "industry" using the foreshore "ownership" debate as example.

All of this was still on my mind yesterday as wife and I wandered around the "Taste of Africa Saturday" that is becoming a fixture in our local calender. In the three or so hours we were there, it was apparent that the very greatest majority of those "celebrating" the "Taste of Africa" were white New Zealanders, ex-pat Afrikaaners, a small mix of local asian people, and probably no more that thirty (a crowd of over 10,000 was expected) Cape Coloureds and African people. The only "cultural" items were two groups of youngsters dancing hip-hop to dj'd South African rap, and a trio of dancers who produced (again with CD backing) a plastic Zulu dance to the Miriam Mikeba's "Click Song" (regrettably not by the great lady herself, but a reasonable cover), then some fairly desultory fire eating (complete with warnings "do not try this at home"), and then encouraged audience participation in a "limbo dance" which was still going when we left a short while later.

I guess, a little sadly, that it is not too much different from the "Maori culture" that is dished up to many overseas tourists in their whistle stops at the various "significant" attractions around the country.

This is starting to round us out now to where I ended up last week with my unfinished entry. Moving back through this succession...

One of the things that has always been a mainstay in my pride of my home nation has been the fact that we foster difference and diversity. Well to be more precise, we have in recent times...

It has not always been that way, and for that change the Maori people can take most credit. It was their culture most at risk. It was their culture that had been suppressed by many different means since NZ became an independent nation (as distinct from an "independent colony") in 1908. I recall my father's anger at being disciplined by the "education system" when he was teaching in Te Whaiti - about as remote a school in the North Island as it is possible to get. He was disciplined "for allowing pupils to speak in Maori on the school grounds". Seems a fairly small beer from this distance but in fact it was law, not bureaucracy, that created the proscription. Under close examination there probably would be many other examples.

None were so dramatic, though, as the policies of the Australian government that gave rise to stories such as "Rabbit Proof Fence" and the plight of Aborigine children taken from their parents to be raised by "good Christian white folks" and the "nanny state".

So, we get back to the "product differentiation" that Donny-come-lately Brash has successfully created. The "one rule for all" (I still know nothing about the rest of his speech, it is as if that is all that he said) idea seems to have taken hold quite nicely within the electorate. If you say it out loud, and often enough it has the kind of ring to it that appeals, in the same way as a referendum asking "Do you believe in Law and Order?" might.

Until today, when the Sunday paper has pointed out (in yet another "the king has no clothes" revelation) that what Donny Brash has said is "a xerox copy" of one Pauline Hanson in her electioneering for the "One Australia Party".

There is the connection I was missing.

What a frightening prospect it creates...
[ Thu Jan 29, 08:35:16 AM | bob renner | edit ]
Well now, Lord Hutton has released his report. Without having seen the full text, and with little more than the embargo-breaking Sun report to go by, what have we learned?

* First up, and most important for me, the Beeb is not now, is no longer, the reliable and independent news source that I believed it to be. What a great shame that is.
* Second major point is that Tony Blair and his bureaucracy had not “doctored” (I prefer that to “sexed-up”) the evidence favouring the invasion of Iraq.

I suppose that on the global scale the first will be of fairly small beers to most people. I know that I can get over it.

Before I start on the remainder of this, I must also state that I do not see any evidence of a conspiracy in the outcome of the Hutton enquiry. There were a number of pieces of evidence given publicly to the enquiry, which have to be accepted as truth and which clearly pointed to the likely outcome. So on that basis alone I am happy.

But there are a number of questions which arise now, and the most important of these revolve around the principles of government accountability.

The obvious inference of the enquiry finding that the evidence and reports were not doctored is that Tony Blair received that information from British Government intelligence sources. Again, no conspiracy here – it is in line with relevant evidence given to the enquiry.

So it seems there is another conundrum here. Tony Blair was entitled to use (in good conscience had to use) the evidence he was given to “protect the interests of Great Britain”.

One of the principal “facts” presented to Blair by British Intelligence was debunked within days of the announcement; that SH had attempted to purchase U (yellow cake) from West Africa. Since the invasion, most, many, if not all, of the justifications for the invasion of Iraq (other than that Saddam is a very bad man and probably guilty of genocide) have been proven to be either untrue or mistaken.

The conundrum is; who is going to face the music for what have become patently obvious failures in the gathering, analysis, and confirmation of information gathered?

That, ironically, is the very same failing for which the Beeb has been found guilty by the Hutton enquiry.