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Monthly Archives: April 2014

ANZAC day, Shane and Māori leadership: do we really need another bloody hero?

A few months ago I had a delightful experience. I got to visit the ramshackle, dusty, grubby and altogether questionable Mad Max II museum in Silverton, just out of Broken Hill in Australia’s Outback. Full of old banged up cars, clothes, models and props from the Mad Max movies I found myself entranced, and seduced again by my teenage memories of Mad Max in all his 80s glory. We found ourselves some DVDs that night, and sitting through some, sleeping through the rest, I realised once again that the past is another country. And that bloody awful Tina Turner song hid some even more awful movie by the time we got to Mad Max III. No, we don’t need need another hero, now bugger off and take your mullets with you. (Don’t know the song? Check out this: )

I found myself humming Tina’s song quite a lot over the past few days as ANZAC day approaches and news of Shane Jones’ departure broke. ANZAC Day and Shane Jones for me, at least, highlight one of Māoridom’s continuing problems, the valorisation of past heroes (such as the men of the 28th (Māori) Battalion, Tā Apirana Ngata, et al) and the search for new (almost inevitably male) heroes to take their place. A sentence from Morgan Godfrey’s interesting recent post on Shane’s departure illustrates this thinking: Maori political history isn’t rich with choice. Telling us to wait for a more “progressive” candidate is deeply offensive. Maori have waited too long for too little. Shane was an opportunity and one many – including myself – were willing to back. He wasn’t perfect, but he was as close as we’ve come in more than a decade to the centre of power. Winston was the last Maori politician to come close to real power. It’s been a century since Maori actually touched it (Carroll as acting prime minister). (

I find this quote interesting because of the yearning it expresses, as Māori wait for a leader to arrive; a leader presumably to lead Māoridom from its current state. Shane, the implication is, could have been such a leader. Thus, a people continues to wait.

Another similar sentiment was expressed by Kiritapu Allan in her blogpost ruminating on Māori political leadership The Maori vote is wide open, but the vote is calling for a champion for justice who is pragmatic enough, and in touch with the pulse of Maoridom enough, to create some excitement about the opportunities that a post-settlement world creates for hapu and iwi.

These posts from young, sophisticated Māori urban commentators echo a cry I hear occasionally, a lament really, that Māori have no true ‘leader’, at least, not one that reach across the divides of class, race, and political affiliation. Since the arrival of Old Testament narratives along with colonisation in the early 19th century many Māori have held fast to the notion that a Mosaic, or a Messianic figure will some day appear to lead Māoridom (Ngā Tiu) out of the wilderness and into the Promised land. There is now a lot of scholarship about these powerful myth narratives in Māori thinking (see Bronwyn Elsemore, Judith Binney, Te Ahukaramu Charles Royal, Selwyn Katene and so on) Māori history and mythology is suffused with heroes grappling with the evils of colonialism. An obvious and influential example are the mythological narratives that grew up around the deeds and the personas of Te Kooti Arikirangi and Rua Kenana, both messianic figures  in the foundation of the Ringatū church (and stories still abound of the forthcoming successor to their legacy). (,_No._4/Myth_and_explanation_in_the_Ringatu_tradition%3A_some_aspects_of_the_leadership_of_Te_Kooti_Arikirangi_Te_Turuki_and_Rua_Kenana_Hepetipa,_by_J._Binney,_p_345-398/p1)

Of course Māori are a heterogenous bunch, and notions of leadership within Māoridom have undergone massive changes over the last couple of centuries. Leadership has evolved from models primarily based on ariki, rangatira and tohunga, to charismatic, transformational leaders of the 19th century, on to leaders affiliated with powerful corporatised Māori interests (trust boards, the New Zealand Māori Council, Māori Women’s Welfare League, tribal rūnanga). (see Katene 2010)

So yes, Māori notions of leadership have changed and adapted to modern needs,but the idea of A LEADER to surpass all, and to tap into the Māori (and national) psyche is a long-lived, powerful and seductive one. This nostalgia for our wartime heroes, this late-blooming nostalgia for what Shane Jones might have become, this apparent yawning gap in Māori leadership begs, in my view, a far more important question: what about those of us who would be knit together by such leaders? How prepared are we as individuals, whānau, and hapū to engage politically with those among us who would lead, to such an extent that such leaders would be bound to do what we require of them?

I would prefer to see less bemoaning the lack of Māori leadership and a focus on ordinary people and what we are prepared to do to create leaders in the first place. Are we prepared to take our whānau down to the ballot boxes on polling days to vote in our local body and central government reps? Are we engaging on Twitter and FB about issues other than what we ate for breakfast? Are we engaged with our kōhanga, our school boards, our marae, our sports committees, making decisions and showing our whānau what it means to make decisions and take the consequences? Are our own actions lighting sparks in the eyes of the seven year olds or the ten year olds in our homes? Are we actually present? Or are we waiting for a fully formed mythopoeic leader to emerge from the mists of our past, cloaked with the benedictions of our tupuna  for us to claim her or him as our own?

Heroes are never what they seem to be, Shane watched porn on the taxpayer. Apirana was sometimes impatient with ordinary frailty, our veterans are and were brave men with feet of clay. We don’t need another hero, because there are no heroes. What we need are active, involved, engaged Māori across the political spectrum to make the damn thing work for Māori. Among us are all the leaders we need. Or deserve.

“Institutional racism”. Warning: label may smudge with over-use.

Today we heard, courtesy of Radio New Zealand, that a UN delegation visiting NZ prisons has urged our government to consider the extent to which our system creates systemic bias against Māori (

The problem with a phrase like ‘institutional racism’ (the term used most often to describe this notion of systemic bias) is that it creates a distance between people and the problem. The problem is well documented. We all know that Māori are over-represented at all stages of the criminal justice system, from arrests to court appearances, to sentencing, to prison population. .

Do these statistics really point to a systemic problem? Commentators tend to fall into two kinds of camps. There are those who point to the monolithic nature of the system, the racism of Pākehā, lack of Māori values evident in the system, the history of colonialism and the breakdown of Māori legal institutions, the displacement of Māori autonomy over their own lives and so on as setting the scene for, and justifying the name of, institutional racism. Māori have no investment in this system, and until they do there will be no substantive change. A kind of systemic revolution is necessary to roll back the stats (Moana Jackson is probably still the leading commentator in this camp, as discussed in the JustSpeak paper  )

The other camp tends to focus less on the racism and culpability of Pākehā, and the system itself, instead pointing to sociological/individual explanations that underpin Māori over representation. Māori over-representation occurs by and large because Māori offend more. Identify the drivers of Māori crime, address those, and the problem will sort itself out. The system is not to blame, as far as any system can be, the criminal justice system is neutral, and upholds and reflects the primary values of the community (including Māori) appropriately. Sure there could be changes to make the system more ‘Māori friendly’, but the solutions lie within Māori decisionmaking, Māori families, Māori individuals. Criminologist Greg Newbold represents this perspective to some degree, seen here in conversation with Moana Jackson on Native Affairs: Another quite strident view from this camp can be seen here:

My own perspective falls somewhere in between the two camps. In my view the term ‘institutional racism’ has become a kind of label that cloaks the nature of what really goes on in the criminal justice system, and within society more generally. The nature of what really goes on cannot be divorced from the individuals that make up the system. This system is a human artifact and cannot be value free. The law is not neutral, we made it, and we infused it, and the system that upholds it, with values.

I remember hearing one of New Zealand’s high profile judges speaking frankly about the dilemmas he is confronted with when sitting on the bench when Māori offenders come before him. He acknowledged that a decision about giving bail, for example, could go differently depending on whether the offender before him was Māori or not, NOT because of ethnicity, but because almost inevitably the Māori offenders had less stable home circumstances and less support to help them keep to their bail conditions, were more likely to breach, and more likely to end up back in court for the breach. Therefore, such Māori offenders might be more likely to receive bail than their Pākehā counterparts who usually had more obvious home support and more stable home circumstances. What was he, as a judge, to do? Grant bail, and see that offender back in front of him for breach, almost inevitably, lengthening the already negative contact between that offender and the system (including the police), usually resulting in jail anyway, or refuse it, thereby expediting the CJ process but sending the offender to jail more quickly (if the court process ended up in a finding of guilt). Which values does he call upon in the making of that decision? As he observed (and I’m paraphrasing), “if these are the moments of discretionary power I have as a judge, what about all those other moments before the offender even gets to me?” Indeed. Social workers, case workers, teachers, parents, family members, police, probation officers, lawyers, all of them will have had moments of discretion they exercised that impact upon our theoretical Māori individual as she progresses through life, let alone the criminal justice system. All of the ‘discretionary moments’ intersect with the decisions made by this person; what are the nature of the choices she makes in her life? How might she have been ushered into making those decisions, some of which could see her enter into the system? 

Māori are agents, not just victims, and a term like ‘institutional racism’ does two things, it denies Māori agency, but it also points to the sum total of those discretionary moments exercised by all those who have decision-making power within the Criminal Justice System. Perhaps the first step to undermining the phenomenon of systemic or institutional racism, or just over-representation of Māori within that system, is to ask those individuals what decisions they made today. And those same questions should also be asked of the whānau and friends. Ultimately, I think we are all collectively responsible for Māori over-representation in the criminal justice system.

 As for a remedy? Well, I think Jackson is partly right. Māori must have decision-making power over Māori lives, and they must also see themselves reflected in the systems of this country in a way that normalises rather than demonises them. So structural change can achieve some of that. And the capacity of Māori to create and implement useful dispute resolution processes, perhaps using the marae more often, is exciting, and growing recognition of Māori customary law and processes offers fantastic room for growth. There are also international developments in sentencing law that New Zealand could look to in the recognition of culture and background in the sentencing process. We already have this capacity in NZ law (by virtue of ss8 and 27 of the Sentencing Act 2002), the Courts have basically declined to use it to address disproportionality in similar ways that have been done in Canada, for example. (see the Court of Appeal decision in the case of Mika v R, and some interesting commentary here:

But I also think that the focus on the institution cannot be at the expense of the focus we place upon ourselves. The battle to stop our young people going to jail starts at home in the everyday discretionary decisions we make as parents, whāea, mātua, tuakana, teina, and finally, as mokopuna ourselves, to live a life outside the criminal justice  institution and well away from any of its tatty labels.

Rachel Smalley and the dangerous waters of female opinion

As a former broadcaster in a previous life I still, occasionally, suffer the broadcaster’s recurring ‘dead air’ dream. The one where the song has finished playing, and a yawning chasm of silence has descended on the studio, waiting for me to back-announce, or jibber-jabber some other reassuring words to you, Dear Listener. And I can’t do it because I am hammering on the locked studio door, from the outside. Yet through the glass panel I can still see the record spinning, pointlessly, and soundlessly. (Well, like I said, my broadcasting days are a few years ago now!). Ms Smalley will probably have a similar dream about the comments she inadvertently made on-air naming New Zealand women over a certain weight as ‘heifers’ and ‘lardos’. Only her dream will likely remain a waking nightmare for years to come perhaps until she reconciles herself with what she said and what she thought at the time she said it. If she ever does. 

My dream (and other professions will have similar dreams, no doubt) is, and was, an anxiety dream. In my dream, I am supposed to perform, and I fail. It doesn’t matter what the reason are for the failure, there it is, my inadequacy exposed for all to hear. I don’t actually remember if I ever did leave ‘dead air’ out there for any lengthy period of time; the imagery of my dream has overtaken the humdrum reality of a pretty ordinary job. 

In no way is this blogpost intended to be an examination of Rachel Smalley, or her professionalism, or even of her ethics. Those are her private matters, and I wish her well. My interest is really in that exposure that broadcasters experience in a way that few other professions really do, and how broadcasters must reconcile their inner lives with their public personas. As I type now, I can cast and recast my sentences to make me seem better than I am; I can choose to delete my annoying adverbs, I can pull my punches so as not to offend, or, for that matter, generate any interest. Broadcasters, like other public performers don’t have that luxury, and are usually trained so as to minimise the risk of on-air stuff ups. Of course, we all want just a few on air stuff ups, as they can become the stuff of legend. A couple of my favourites include Wendy Petrie’s fist-pump, outside the courthouse when the Bain verdict was to be released, and Jim Hickey’s notorious invention of the word ‘come-burger’ as a companion to the more usual ‘gone-burger’ during a weather bulletin in 2007. “Heifers and Lardos” will probably find their way into the same pantheon, and life will carry on, eventually. But the broadcasters who commit such little faux pas may likely chew on them far longer than the public will, because of what they fear those moments reveal about them personally. I recall the ultimate exoneration of Petrie’s ‘fist-pump’ came about as people realised her action was not about agreeing with the verdict, but about the elation of doing a good live cross. The alternative scenario was unthinkable; that Petrie was a journalist expressing an opinion, ‘editorialising’ the news, especially with what was (by then becoming) an unpopular opinion. I don’t know if Jim Hickey ever realised what he added to New Zealand’s obscenity lexicon, but Rachel Smalley’s apology indicates that she was mortified at being thought of as having held an opinion like the one she apparently expressed: “It was stupid, it was judgmental and offensive. It was not made as a statement of fact and it was in no way representative of any opinion I have ever held, ever. And I’m sorry, I truly am.” (

It interests me that a broadcaster such as Smalley denies the possibility that she holds the opinion she expressed. Even more, it interests me that she is currently being excoriated on social media (on my Twitter and FB feeds for example) for having (or presumably having) such opinions in the first place, thus not being a ‘good enough role model’ for our young and not so young women. Oh for crying out loud. Putting aside my deep misgivings about anybody being a ‘role model’, it makes me uneasy at how ferocious we can be at high profile women when they express opinions, especially about other women. As one of my own FB friends put it, neatly reflecting the general tenor of much of what I have seen on social media: “F*** you and your tears, Rachel Smalley. In the same vein of your comments to other women: you are just a weak whiny b*** who is crying because you got snapped out not because what you said was awful. Women have enough issues without other women attacking them for weight issues.” [**** added, for extra delicacy]. In this, and other angry expressions, Smalley has become a mirror for other people’s (women’s) insecurities and fears about themselves and their own lives. Comment negatively about women’s weight as a feature of the New Zealand populace and one likely becomes, as Smalley has discovered, a ‘fat-shamer’ a hater of women’s bodies, a purveyor of patriarchy. It matters not that the comments were meant to be private, or whether she said them loudly, proudly and intentionally. The result, I think, would have been the same. Simply put, a high-profile female broadcaster just oughtn’t think like that. Apparently.

I wonder if this response to Smalley provides us with a reason as to why we have relatively few female broadcasters that might be accused of having known political beliefs or actual opinions. We have some fantastic female broadcasters, but only a few would be able to come out of this kind of attention unscathed. Kim Hill, Linda Clarke, Mihingarangi Forbes, Carol Hirschfeld, Pauline Gillespie, all strong women who do hold opinions, have all probably got their own ‘dead-air’ nightmares they could tell you about, but all of them are probably long enough in the tooth (except perhaps Forbes) to come through such an episode without inciting perhaps so much of a Twitter hate-storm. None of them is known for outrageous opinions, all of them are intelligent, articulate, and eminently professional. Perhaps a good exception to the trend might be Pam Corkery, who was certainly known as an unapologetic ‘personality’ in broadcasting. In comparison, the list of male broadcasters that could, and actually do, get away with pungent views is far longer: Paul Holmes, Paul Henry, Willie Jackson, Mark Richardson, Kevin Black, Michael Laws, Duncan Garner, John Campbell, Derek Fox, Marcus Lush, Sean Plunket, just to name a few. In short, and based on my pretty unscientific analysis, we prefer our male broadcasters to have a degree of personality; to be seen to be bucking current conventional thinking perhaps, and even those that attract the most vituperation (Henry, Holmes, etc) have appropriately large followings that insulate them (so it seems). We are less able, it appears, to allow our female broadcasters quite the same latitude in having and expressing opinions that might rankle with some. While there are exceptions to this observation, obviously, it still is a shame, to my view, that a high profile broadcaster feels the need to apologise for what people thought she thought, rather than for what she did. A nightmare, indeed.

Why RNZ’s ‘The Panel’ annoys me, but I keep listening anyway.

In the wake of the understandable fuss and nostalgia accompanying Geoff Robinson’s retirement from Morning Report, I have been thinking a little bit about RNZ’s sleepier and gentler Afternoons show, shortly to be revamped itself with the addition of Simon Mercep. I’m hoping a little bit of substantial change might be coming, I really am. Not, I hasten to add, that I entirely dislike the current offering.

Jim Mora’s Afternoon’s show over the past few years on Radio New Zealand National has often provided the backdrop for my working afternoons. From ‘The Best Song Ever Written’ to the Feature Album of the day, to the New Zealand reading, Jim’s affable manner and the range of non-famous and non-expert voices on his show provides enough of a background murmur that I leave the radio on, rather than switch to something more urgent, or demanding of my attention. I actually like hearing people I know nothing about talking about things of interest to them and describing events of their local area, or topics of local interest. I prefer this groundedness, and can find such voices quietly compelling, if I actually focus.

My blood temperature usually rises, after 3.45, however, as Jim introduces the members of the Panel for the next hour, and the rise of the end theme leading into the 5pm news will sometimes see me in a bit of a lather. The strangled ejaculations that might be heard coming from my office usually reveal a theme. “For crying out loud, what the hell does he know about it? The man’s never met a real live Māori in his life!’ ‘Why the hell don’t they have people on that bloody show who know something about the topic!’ and the evergreen ‘Oh for F***’s sake! That’s it, I’m never listening to that crap ever again.’ Now to be fair, I need to make a disclosure or two. I have asked Jim (unsuccessfully) by email a couple of times over the last few years to be interviewed on the show about some of the work I’ve been doing (well, hey, easier than driving round the city with a loudhailer, right?) so I could be accused of sour grapes of the ‘I-would-be-so-much-better-than-that-total-ignoramus’ variety.  Maybe that’s all there is to it. But I am a listener too, and although the aforementioned apoplexy is not a common occurrence (maybe once a week or a fortnight) it happens often enough, and I see enough Twitter commentary to ask myself: “why do I have a problem with the Panel, and why the hell do I keep it on?”.

There are a couple of main reasons for my allergic reaction to the Panel. One is the obvious and persistent lack of cultural variety. Another is the lack of voices from varying socio-economic perspectives. Yes, those two points are certainly related. Looking back over all episodes of The Panel this year only one consistent Māori voice has appeared (twice) -Chris Wikaira’s. Only very rarely are other Māori commentators or experts drafted in to the show for their views on presenting issues. Diversity, of course, does not just require Māori voices, but those of other cultures, other perspectives, even. I had a quick look over all the Panels held so far this year, and there are well over 50 individual panellists, with a few of those having or or three appearances since the beginning of the year. There are some pretty recognisable names among them; Jane Clifton, Mike Williams, Sir Bruce Slane, Bernard Hickey, Garry Moore, Mark Inglis, Josie Pagani, David Slack, Peter Elliot, Tim Watkin, Rosemary McLeod, Finlay McDonald, Jeremy Ellwood, Michelle Boag, Brian Edwards, Gary McCormick, Mai Chen. Some commentators are not as well known to me, but still have significant public profiles due to the work or activities they carry out. Ali Jones. Megan-Nicol Reed, Fa’amatuainu Tino Pereira, Sapna Samant, Most of these names are affixed to people I enjoy listening to, or paying attention to, in their ‘other lives’ as commentators, journalists, writers, television personalities, politicos. All of them have interesting lives, interesting backstories, interesting things to say. I have no axe to grind with any of them. It’s just that the parade is so unleavened by difference or perspectives from outside New Zealand’s cultural and middle class mainstream. Completely acknowledging that I may inadvertently be excluding someone here out of ignorance, it seems to me that the burden of representing (for example) the cultural differences of Asia, Pasifika and Māori are carried by Chris, Tino Pereira, Sapna Samant, and Mai Chen. A heck of a burden that, to ‘represent’ such a broad and heterogenous range of people.

Of course, a counter argument that one might raise (in the absence of knowing how the Panel is actually chosen) is that the Panel members are surely chosen for their listenability (if that’s a word..), for their engagement, for their lively interest in matters New Zealand. Why saddle such individuals with the burden of representing an entire culture? Yep. I totally get that, and the idea that one person can ever be the Pasifika Voice or the Māori Voice, or the Poor Person’s Voice is cringeworthy indeed. I have experienced moments, when, in a room full of nice Pākehā (no, not an ironic nice) I’m asked asked for my opinion because apparently I represent ‘How Māori Think’. I’m not fond of the sight of heads swivelling in my direction just on the basis of my putative cultural credentials.  So I’m reluctant to impose that kind of expectation on anyone. But to use that reasoning as a basis upon which NOT to seek out people from all kinds of backgrounds seems, to me, short-sighted.

Of course, I’m not privy to the conversations engaged in between the producers and Jim about the composition of the Panel.

Actually, I quite admire what seems to me to be the thinking behind the creation of the Panel. Bring together a different couple of engaging and thoughtful people every day to throw around some issues of the day and see what happens. Panel members are not usually ‘qualified experts’ in anything, although they may have public profile and have reached dizzying heights in their individual professions. They are reasonably intelligent people with life experience, and something to say. The Panel, it seems to me, tries to strike a functional balance between excluding one kind of risk posed in talkback radio (relatively unmediated public input that can tip over into small-minded prejudice all too often) and the risk posed by modern thirst for expert commentators. The world has quite enough blimmin’ experts, and it is one of Jim Mora’s strengths (and Afternoons’) that they are committed, it seems to giving a platform to ordinary voices, thereby charting a middle path between the two extremes mentioned above.

It’s not that laudable apparent intent I take issue with. It’s the irredeemably narrow definition of ‘ordinary’ that gets to me. The Panel, by and large (and not exclusively), is comprised of middle class people who are either salary earners or self employed. Most of the people on the Panel do not ordinarily hang out at a local marae, or footy club. They don’t (most of them) speak more than one language (so therefore are unlikely to bring to the job some of that freshness that comes from understanding the world through a different vocabulary), they don’t punch time-cards, they are not at risk from the downturn in the manufacturing sector. I’d be surprised if more than a few are religious. I don’t think the Panel is elitist, and I’m sure they would be horrified at such a charge (so just as well I don’t make it). They are what they are, and that’s all they can bring to the table when issues of culture, race, or something else beyond their ken arises. That’s all anyone can bring, and they have just as much right to opinions about those things as anyone else. I have no problem with men talking or writing about women’s experiences. Nor do I have problems with Pākehā or Chinese talking about Māori culture. I just prefer some familiarity or effort put into understanding those things which we were not raised with before we pronounce upon them. The image in my mind’s eye that explains the gap between the Panel’s expressed perspectives and those of the other swathes of ordinary people that don’t get a look in is that of a small gathering of people in a corporate box peering down on a sportsfield. The group is interpreting the action for the like-minded people around them. Except sometimes the game they are talking about is rugby union when what’s actually being played is soccer; they just don’t know it. I hope the changes at RNZ sets the scene for a broader definition of ordinariness. I’m not, however, holding my breath. And yes, I still listen to Afternoons.

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