Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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The perils of a New Zealand Border Force — Will New Zealand Be Right?

Keeping the coronavirus out of Aotearoa New Zealand is fraught with difficulties, the most significant perhaps being that it requires the cooperation of multiple agencies. I’m glad I’m not the only person who regards the setting up of a Border Security Force as a potential source of abuse and tyranny.

Whilst the current multi-agency arrangement involving Customs, Health, Police and Military has revealed many flaws from managing security to testing for COVID-19, these are being acknowledged and corrected as they come to light. This is uncharted territory, and if anyone believes that a plan of action can be brought from the drawing board to fruition in record time taking into account every possibility with every permutation already considered and planned for, then they are living in cloud cuckooland.

Would a Border Security Force result in appalling forms of abuse as can be witnessed in countries such as Australia and the United States? I would hope not, but I’d prefer that the opportunity does not arise. Better to resource the existing agencies adequately and create a management task force dedicated to coordinating the agencies and quickly respond to issues as they arise.

If there are legal barriers to setting up such a task force in any future national emergency, then sure, bring in legislation that will allow it ensuring that transparent oversight is included. But having a permanent independent force with little in the way of transparent oversight on the American or Australian model with all their reported abuses? No thanks!

With a general election coming up in less than two months, several political parties are promoting a Border Security Force, but this does not appear to be on the radar for the governing Labour party at the moment. However, they are just as subject to public pressure as other parties, so I want to put my position now in the hope that I’m just one of many voices opposing the formation of a Border Security force.

On this matter I can do no better than reblog Robert Glennie’s post on Will New Zealand Be Right?

Normally I am quite tough on matters of national security, and I am, but the concept of a New Zealand border agency fills me with dread. One does not have to look far to see in other countries why it is controversial. And the last a government agency with enormous control was created in New […]

The perils of a New Zealand Border Force — Will New Zealand Be Right?


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“Say I Slew Them Not” Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, and the U.S. Response to COVID19 — The Inglorius Padre Steve’s World

If you haven’t read the article (below) by Padre Steve, do so. It has relevance to every nation, every community, every social group. This quote from one of the commenters on that blog ring true:

The quote by Martin Luther King comes to me often these days: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

jilldennison

Friends of Padre Steve’s World, I have to admit that the amount of ignorance in the defense of evil that I see daily is simply mind blowing. It makes me shake my head. But then I cannot be surprised anymore. Over the weekend I saw a poll in which nine percent of Americans said that […]

“Say I Slew Them Not” Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, and the U.S. Response to COVID19 — The Inglorius Padre Steve’s World


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Will COVID-19 harm our democracy?

The question posed in this blog’s title refers to Aotearoa New Zealand, and no other country. America, has an orange clown who all by himself is harming that nation’s democracy more than the virus can. Putin has already sunk Russia’s fledgling democracy, and Boris is trying to do a Trump impersonation, but is hamstrung by the collective decision making process inherent in a parliamentary democracy.

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, it’s the government’s success in squashing the virus that makes me a little uneasy. It has made Jacinda and the Labour Party too popular based on recent polls. We have our triennial General Election in September, and if voting is anywhere near recent opinion polls, Labour will romp home with an clear, outright majority. And that’s the problem.

What I like about our MMP voting system is that since its introduction in 1996 no political party has been able to govern alone. This may not seem all that important to many today, but as one who lived through decades of governments that in many respects acted as three-year dictatorships, I’m grateful that no party can steamroll whatever legislation it likes through Parliament.

Perhaps the worst part of FPP voting is that it almost invariably leads to a two-party system, and if as in Aotearoa New Zealand, you have a unicameral legislature, the majority party has almost unbridled power and that was the case until the introduction of MMP.

Given that the NZ Parliament is sovereign and we don’t have a formal constitution, it is perhaps surprising that this nation has the highest levels of economic and personal of freedom and lowest levels of corruption worldwide. Perhaps it says something about our politicians, or about respecting social and parliamentary conventions?

Two conventions that have arisen from MMP ensure that a single political party does not hold sway over Parliament. One is that political parties do not form coalition arrangements before an election. The other is that coalitions are very loose allowing the coalition partners to pursue their own policies apart from those specified in the coalition agreement.

A case in point is the current government formed after a coalition agreement between the New Zealand Labour Party and the New Zealand First Party. Together they form a minority government, and to ensure stability on matters of confidence and supply, the Labour Party entered into a confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party.

So, getting back to my concern:

Prior to COVID-19, opinion polls placed both the two major political parties, National and Labour, each with a little over 40% support, although national was usually slightly ahead. I’m comfortable with that although the slow decline in support for minor parties as a concern.

However, the success of the government’s handling of the pandemic, which at its height had an approval rating of 87%, has seen opinion polls reporting those who intend to vote Labour soaring well above 60% while National have slumped to the low 30s, with one poll showing only 28%. That, I don’t like.

Just as alarming is that Labour’s popularity has resulted in support for minor parties dropping away. The outcome is that there are likely to be fewer political parties in Parliament after the elections given that a party must gain at 5% of party vote or gain an electorate (voting district) seat to be represented in Parliament.

While governments need to be able to govern, they also need to be subject to effective scrutiny. They also need to be inclusive – to listen to minority voices. One way of guaranteeing this is to ensure that no political party has absolute control over the legislature. One method is to have a bicameral or multicameral legislature, although my observation of such arrangements is that scrutiny often disintegrates into filibustering and political point scoring.

Here, the parties that make up the government are free to disagree in all policies apart from those specified in coalition or support agreements. Given that Labour’s partners are a centrist nationalist party and a socialist environmental party that have about as much in common as chalk and cheese, it often requires a lot of negotiation and compromise all round for bills presented to Parliament to be passed.

As sometimes occurs, Labour is unable to gain the support of one or both of its partners, in which case either the bill is dropped from the Parliamentary schedule, sent back for further consultation and redrafting, or support is negotiated with National. All round, it results in more inclusive and better written legislation.

If Labour does achieve an absolute majority in September’s election what guarantee do we have that we won’t return to the pre MMP days where poorly drafted and ill considered legislation too easily became law? The only safety net would be the select committee process that all legislation must pass through.

The select committee process allows for the public to present oral and or written submissions and committees themselves can recommend and draft amendments to bills for consideration by the Parliament. The select committee stage may take three to six months for all submissions to be considered. Convention has it that these changes are accepted, but if one party commands an absolute majority, would it continue to adhere to convention? Would it heed the voice of the public?


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Health Minister David Clark in disgrace

We’re all human – even members of Cabinet. And oftentimes the biggest mistakes seem so innocuous at the time. Take for example the actions of Health Minister David Clark and his family. During the first weekend of the COVID-19 lockdown, they took a trip to the beach. While going to the beach isn’t forbidden, driving 20 Km (12 miles) to do so is considered “non-essential” and therefore prohibited.

Parliament is in recess during the current crisis, and the oversight of government is currently being undertaken by a parliamentary Select Committee – the Epidemic Response Committee. This has very wide ranging powers, has a majority of opposition MPs (Members of Parliament) and is chaired by the leader of the opposition Simon Bridges, leader of the National Party.

The Epidemic Response Committee had requested the Health Minister provide a summary of his movements since the the nation went into the COVIC-19 level 4 lockdown after it was discovered that he had travelled 2 Km (1.2 miles) to a mountain cycling track.

While 2Km is stretching the definition of local, it was the risk involved in cycling on a mountain track that was the issue. We’re being discouraged from undertaking risky activities because should we get injured, lost or otherwise needing rescue, we’re putting responders and their families at risk as they would need to break their isolation bubble.

David Clark Clark had provided the Prime Minister with a complete picture of his activity outside his home during alert level 4, as part of his preparation for the Epidemic Response Committee. Jacinda was not amused. If it wasn’t for the fact that sacking him would be too disruptive, he would have been fired. From the Prime Minister:

Under normal conditions I would sack the Minister of Health. What he did was wrong, and there are no excuses. But right now, my priority is our collective fight against Covid-19. We cannot afford massive disruption in the health sector or to our response. For that reason, and that reason alone, Dr Clark will maintain his role.

But he does need to pay a price. He broke the rules. While he maintains his Health portfolio, I am stripping him of his role as Associate Finance Minister and demoting him to the bottom of our Cabinet rankings. I expect better, and so does New Zealand.

It’s activities such as those undertaken by David Clark, that put in jeopardy a relatively short period of being at a nationwide COVID-19 Alert Level 4. We are all expected to forego our walk in the park. It’s good to know it’s also expected of those at the top.


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Political leaders can change our opinions

I have been a regular participant in the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS) for many years. Their website describes NZAVS as a

20-year longitudinal national study of social attitudes, personality and health outcomes of more than 60,000 New Zealanders. The study is broad-ranging and includes researchers from a number of New Zealand universities, including the University of Auckland, Victoria University of Wellington, the University of Canterbury, the University of Otago, and Massey University. The NZAVS extends our understanding of how New Zealanders’ life circumstances, attitudes, values, and beliefs change over time. The study is university-based, not-for-profit and independent of political or corporate funding.

A recent NZAVS newsletter included the headline “Political leaders can change our opinions” which I found intriguing. My first thought was that politicians typically try to determine the opinions of potential voters, particularly in Aotearoa New Zealand, where the differences between the centre right and centre left are very small and there are very few issues that polarise  public opinion.

But then I thought about Trump and wondered how much his opinions and those of his supporters influence each other.  Research shows that the positions taken by political leaders and political parties can have an important impact on peoples’ preferences, even on issues that are supposed to reflect personal preferences. The newsletter reports:

How much can our own attitudes be affected by our political leaders?

In 2015, then-leaders of National and Labour publicly expressed their personal opinions on whether the New Zealand flag should be changed, with John Key (National) arguing New Zealanders should choose a new flag, and Andrew Little (Labour) arguing New Zealanders should keep the current flag. We measured public support for changing the flag both before and after these opinions were published in the media.

Overall, 30.5% of National party supporters and 27.5% of Labour party supporters changed their original opinion to match their party leaders. This research provides a rare real-time example of politicians’ influence on public opinion.

To learn more, read the article from the Association of Psychological Science

Although the research was conducted only on Kiwis, I wonder to what degree the same effect occurs in other countries. Anyone care to comment?


Just for the record, I’ve wanted a flag change since before I was old enough to vote, and I still hold that opinion. If Australia changes their’s before we do, then I might consider it a less pressing issue, but one still worth pursuing.


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Another Aussie PM bites the dust

Unlike the USA, our neighbours across the ditch have no problem with disposing of political leaders when a party decides that keeping the current Prime Minister is not in their (and perhaps the nation’s) best interests. In fact, Australia has just appointed a new Prime Minister – their seventh since the beginning of the millennium. Of the previous six, four were deposed by their own party.

This seems to have become “standard practice” as both major political parties indulge in the deposing of political leaders while in office. Of course, a change of Prime Minister usually results in a major cabinet reshuffle, and frequently sees some change in government direction.

Prime Minister Term ended How
Howard, John 03 Dec 2007 Lost Seat at General Election
Rudd, Kevin 24 Jun 2010 Deposed
Gillard, Julia 27 Jun 2013 Deposed
Rudd, Kevin 18 Sep 2013 Defeated at General Election
Abbott, Anthony 15 Sep 2015 Deposed
Turnbull, Malcolm 24 Aug 2018 Deposed
Morrison, Scott

In a parliamentary style of government such as Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, the UK, and Canada have, the roles of Head of State and the country’s top political post are held by different people, but I wonder how many Americans envy the ease by which Australia can replace the person holding nation’s top political role, especially in the light of their current leader being Trump.

Should impeachment, death or incapacity be the only means by which a president can be replaced, or would it be better if presidents could be replaced on other grounds? America does have a problem in that presidents are elected for a fixed term, instead of a maximum term, and if the president is removed, then the vice president takes over. This is not an issue with deputy Prime Ministers, as they do not take over as Prime Minister except in a caretaker role while a new Prime Minister is chosen. However I suspect those who would like to see Trump go, would be equally unlikely to want to see Pence take over the presidency.


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“Trump might do some good for democracy”

Now before you conclude that I have lost my marbles, read on.

Throughout the world, voter turnout at national elections have been declining, mainly due to apathy of younger voters. This is also true in Aotearoa New Zealand. Our most recent General Elections were held in 2014 and the voter turnout was at an all time low of 77%. Voter turnout for those under 30 years of age was 62%, while 88% of people my age voted.

The main reason put forward for poor voter participation by younger people is that they feel that they can make very little difference to the results. While there is some degree of truth in that, especially in electoral systems where “winner takes all” such as with FFP (First Past the Post), the same can’t be said of systems with proportional representation such that used here in Parliamentary elections. If a party gains 5% of the votes, it gets 5% of the seats in the Parliament. in other words, every vote counts.

We next go to the polls on Saturday the 23rd of September 2017 to elect our 52nd Parliament. The head of the Electoral Commission (the body that oversees national and local elections in NZ) believes we may see a reversal in the decline in voter participation this year. She gave two reasons: Brexit and Trump.

The results of both Brexit and the US presidential elections were due largely to voter apathy. In both cases, younger voters were strongly against the final result, and had younger voters participated in numbers approaching the national average, the results would have been different. It seems that finally there is evidence that NOT taking part in the democratic process can have serious consequences.

The good news here is that the younger generations are talking about how and why results such as Brexit and Trump as president could possibly occur. Both results seem contrary to common sense. I do hope that the head of the Electoral Commission is correct and that such discussion will lead to greater voter participation, especially among the young.

So thank you Donald, you are the reason the next generation of Kiwis are beginning to take a greater interest in the democratic process. They don’t want to see our leaders behaving as you do.


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Trump and Jesus

Trump seems to be gathering support from a significant section of the American Christian community. I wonder why? His comments about many groups, including women, Mexicans and Muslims, and now advocating torture, is contrary to what the Christian message is supposed to be. Yet the more outrageous the comments, the more conservative Christians seem to be drawn to his form of intolerance and bigotry. I keep asking myself why?

Christians here in Aotearoa New Zealand clearly don’t see any part of Trump’s message as Christian, and a church in Auckland has expressed its opinion rather bluntly. It has put up a large billboard which depicts Jesus nailed to the cross, and Trump standing before him holding a hammer in his hand and saying “I don’t like losers”.

The minister of the church says Trump’s message directly contradicts the word of Jesus.

To the Trumps of his day, and to those who see winners as having money and power, the Jesus of the Bible was a loser who associated with those rejected by society. And he died broke. Jesus had an alternative vision of reality, however. He was a person who sided with minorities and those who were most vulnerable, and it was this that got him killed.

No-one will convince me that Jesus was anything other than a human being. I like much of his message, even though the Gospels distort some of it in an attempt to make him greater than he really was.

St Luke’s minister Glynn Cardy says that the billboard will stay up over Easter and as long as Trump’s candidacy is undecided.

Should religion keep out of politics, and if so is this billboard crossing that line? Personally I don’t think so, but then we Kiwis don’t have large numbers of those who believe in Bible literalism to contend with. Perhaps if I lived elsewhere, the US Bible belt or some east African nations for example, then I might think otherwise.


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Super Tuesday crashes Canadian Immigration Website

 

 

Thank goodness not all Americans think Trump is the next Messiah. Apparently, after the news that Trump had secured big wins from the Super Tuesday rounds, enquiries overwhelmed a Canadian Government immigration Website causing it to crash. If Trump does win the presidential race, will Canada be far enough away? Come to think of it, will Aotearoa New Zealand be far enough away? Antarctica, may find itself with its first permanent immigrants.

And Google reported a large spike in “move to Canada” searches. Of course his supporters are likely to blame both events of the success of Hillary Clinton in the Democrat primaries, but that’s the kind of nonsense they will fool themselves into believing.

Meanwhile the rest of the world wonders how so many Americans have fallen for Trump, hook, line and sinker. To gather in the conservative, and Christian fundamentalists, he now claims he’s a Christian – just like them. But is he? I guess it depends on what qualities one considers are necessary to justify the claim.

From my perspective, he lacks even the barest minimum qualities. Fellow Kiwi Bill Peddie is asking this question in his post Is Donald Trump a Christian? It’s worth a read irrespective of whether your are a believer or a non-believer.

Clare Flourish, in her post Drumpf raises many concerns about Trump and his rise and rise. Her last paragraph in that post says it all:

How authoritarian is the US? How despairing are its voters, to be shilled by this man?


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The Mad World of Donald Trump

Last night while my wife was flicking through the schedules for the evening’s TV viewing, the title of a late night documentary caught my eye: The mad world of Donald Trump. My interest piqued, I decided to watch it instead of my usual habit of sitting in front of the computer.

It’s a British Documentary, and while I take all all “factual” programs with a grain of salt, the program does accurately portray how most of the western world outside the US perceives both Trump and the American political system.

One thing that has struck me over the years is how many Americans seem to be looking for some sort of “messiah” in their presidential candidates, only to turn against them when they are unable to perform the miracles that had been promised. From this distance it often seems cult-like.

The documentary is currently on Youtube, but if it disappears, a search using the string “The Mad World of Donald Trump” should provide a link that you can view. For those who find the Trump phenomenon incomprehensible, or simply wish to see how much of the world sees American Politics, I recommend watching.