Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Brash ban is a tipping point

Don Brash is an avuncular, elderly politician who was once leader of the National Party, New Zealand's longest-governing political party. He narrowly missed out on becoming prime minister when he was defeated by Helen Clark's Labour Party in 2005. There were many who thought he was robbed of election victory because Helen Clark illegally used taxpayers' funds to publish a 'pledge card' that was distributed to every household in the country. The Electoral Commission, which oversees the conduct of elections in New Zealand, referred the matter to the police, who declined to prosecute. Had Labour been tried and convicted of electoral fraud, there almost certainly would have been another election with a different result.

This is the man who has been banned from speaking at Massey University in Palmerston North after he was invited by the Massey University Young Politics club to talk about his experiences as Leader of the Opposition. The university's vice-chancellor, Jan Thomas, cancelled the event because of Brash's "leadership of Hobson’s Pledge and views he and its supporters espoused in relation to Māori wards on councils" (as well as some very dubious "security concerns").

Hobson's Pledge is an organisation whose vision is listed on its website as "New Zealand is a society in which all citizens have the same rights, irrespective of when we or our ancestors arrived." That seems innocuous enough, but the truly contentious part of its raison d'être is its opposition to the constitutional and legal privilege that has been accorded to Māori tribal organisations under the post-modernist interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi. The issue about Māori wards for council elections was a subject in one of my recent blog posts here. Both of these issues are significant and legitimate questions for public debate and Brash's views on them are shared by a large number of New Zealanders (and, in the case of the Māori wards, an overwhelming majority of those who have voted on the issue).

I believe this fairly minor matter of a university cancelling a speaker may turn out to be a tipping point in New Zealand politics, for several reasons. Firstly, the issue of banning speakers for their controversial views is already a hot topic after the cancellation by the Auckland Council of an event by Canadian speakers Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern. Secondly, I believe there is a sense of disenfranchisement amongst many New Zealanders that is similar to that amongst Britons before Brexit and Americans before Trump's election. I think we are ripe in New Zealand for a trigger issue to ignite this disenfranchised group in the same way that Trump ignited the support of those Hillary Clinton called "deplorables". Thirdly, I think the Treaty of Waitangi has become that sleeper issue for many New Zealanders who are far from content with the increasing demands from Māori tribal elites and the escalating concessions from successive governments eager to appease those demands. New Zealanders have bitten their tongues on the Treaty issue for fear of being called racist but have been biding their time, waiting for an opportunity to make their views known. 

New Zealanders are a impassive bunch most of the time and it takes a lot to rouse us to anger. But we have a keen sense of justice and I think the idea of a former Leader of the Opposition being denied the right to speak on a public university campus will strike most New Zealanders as unjust. The idea that it is unacceptable to voice any opposition to the establishment position on important issues is exactly what will turn many people against the establishment position. I may be wrong, but I suspect Jan Thomas and Massey University will come to regret their decision, and the New Zealand political establishment may end up with a shock of Brexit proportions.

As I said on Twitter earlier, if you think that Don Brash is extreme, wait until you see the alternative.

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