New Zealand’s spiral downwards into irrationality
by James Allan in the Spectator, Australia
Co-governance. Partnership. The unrelenting quest to try to refashion the New Zealand Diceyan unwritten Constitution (one of the modern world’s most successful ever, as it happens) into something else never quite specified, and to do so on the basis of a UN declaration that has the most scanty, exiguous, meagre democratic credentials imaginable. A government with a seemingly pathological desire to downgrade the English language (the world’s reserve language, meaning that to have been born into a country where it is the first language is akin – through no acts on your part, just dumb luck – to having won the biggest lottery going) in favour of the Maori language. Identity politics and the elevation of ethnic or group or race-based thinking and policy-making. After having just returned to Australia from a four-day speaking tour across the Tasman arguing against a radical government report, all this and more would unfortunately describe my observations of New Zealand, the country my family and I happily called home from 1993 to 2004.
Let me give readers just one example out of many possibilities on the extent to which the forces of wokery, corporate and bureaucratic virtue-signalling, identity politics and a radical Ardern government have begun to run rampant in New Zealand. I had finished my Auckland leg and the think-tank hosts were taking me down to Wellington for the next stop. We boarded our Air New Zealand plane and on came the safety video. Now having flown on a modicum of Qantas flights I have a pretty strong stomach for your usual sort of virtue-signalling preening. But nothing prepared me for the Air NZ video that came on. The whole safety video was presented through the lens of the Maori creation myth – you know, the purported beginning of the earth and all that. So with a bit of ‘how to fasten your seat belt’ instructions intermingled throughout we learnt about how Xenu sought out the volcanoes and how the immortal spirits ‘thetans’ helped bring humans into existence. Wait. Sorry. That’s Scientology. My mistake. No, it was all the Maori creationist mythology. But really, would anyone sit through the Scientology bumpf? Would a modern corporation push, say, even Christian creation beliefs on paying customers? To ask is to answer. And yet this Maori mythology is what was rammed down our passenger throats, or ears. And this from the airline that only a decade ago had some of the funniest, cleverest safety videos going – my two favourites being the one with the All Blacks and the other with the Sports Illustrated swimsuit models. (Go figure!)
Things got no better. Next on the plane’s screens came some pub-quiz type questions about such things as ‘the people, places and culture of Aotearoa’ (no New Zealand mentioned).Then you got the answers. Always the answers were given in the Maori language as well as in English (and this despite a miniscule proportion of Kiwis actually speaking, let alone being fluent in, Maori). Some of the translations were idiotic and completely unnecessary, surely only desired by zealots. The American Revolution was translated; it was now the ‘Marikena’ one. Nepal became ‘Nepora’ with some sort of mark over the ‘o’. I could go on but you’d begin to think this was just a parody or satire. Actually, here’s one more. ‘Who wrote Hamlet?’ (This is not a test for young people educated in NSW, with the world’s fastest-falling education standards, so don’t fret young ones in Sydney.) One answer was some collection of consonants and vowels that was totally unrecognisable. Then there was the one in English which (spoiler alert all you NSW high school students) was ‘William Shakespeare’.
Seriously, who in his or her right mind decides it’s a good idea to translate a proper name, and the name of one of the greatest writers in human history known in every country on earth? If you were in Japan, Portugal, Thailand, China, Niger, yes even France, you’d say ‘Shakespeare’, and a fair few people in those places would know that my title above is a paraphrase from one of Shakespeare’s many additions to the English language. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. And if you happened to glance at the map at the back of the airline magazine you could see in bold letters such places as Otepoti (‘Dunedin’ below in non-bold type), Ahuriri (‘Napier’, ditto) and Tamaki-makau-rau (‘Auckland’, yep ditto).
That government-commissioned report I was asked to critique and flown across the Tasman to speak about wants Aotearoa (what else?) to move away from procedural democracy to a ‘co-governance’ or partnership model – one where about 15 per cent of the population are put into one group and everyone else into the other and the former counted as equal to the latter, with an implicit veto on decision-making. That’s identity politics writ large, though in my view no 15-can-veto-85 setup is stable or sustainable (but what do I know, I never guessed Australians during the pandemic would submit sheep-like to the biggest inroads on our freedoms and civil liberties in three centuries, the preponderance of my fellow citizens seemingly welcoming despotic, petty, irrational rules and oversight by a public health clerisy which got just about everything wrong, we now see). Throw in the desire for a written constitution with that U.N. Declaration and an early nineteenth century short treaty stuffed into it – and surely with the unelected Kiwi judges then empowered to gainsay the elected branches on the basis of both – and you have the idea of the path down which this Ardern government is thinking of travelling. Observe and learn Australians!
I can’t finish without also noting that that radical NZ government-commissioned report, much like the failing school system over there (ours is not really any better, sigh), asserts the need ‘to ensure that mautauranga Maori [traditional Maori knowledge according to Mr Google] is equally valued and resourced as Western science’. Really? The science and scientific approach that has delivered the most spectacular increases in human welfare from which all New Zealanders benefit – derisively dubbed ‘Western science’ – is to be put on the same plane as ‘traditional knowledge’? For this report to suggest that somehow this scientific worldview is tainted due to where it emerged in the world, and that it offers no better answers (in medicine, in food production, in international travel, pick any field you want) than so-called traditional knowledge does, is laughable. The claim, one that is likewise advanced regularly here in Australia by the way, can only be put forward because most people are too polite, actually, to laugh. (Test question: If the authors of this radical report were to get very ill, would they opt for ‘Western’ scientific medicine or traditional concoctions? I’ve got a theory on that one.)
Readers, it’s time a lot more of us started to laugh. And to grow a backbone. That goes doubly for my Kiwi friends.