A reader sent us a link to a great article in Metromag.co.nz by Graham Adams, published a few days ago – Is New Zealand becoming the Absurdistan of the south Pacific? Graham Admas reflects on the slow unravelling of a small democracy. If you’re planning to emigrate to New Zealand because you’ve heard a lot of PR about how ‘free’ and ‘uncorrupted’ the country is you need to read it.
Adams writes how Absurdistan was first used in 1989 to describe the bizarre life of Czechs in Czechoslovakia, he reckoned that the term could also be applied to Cuba where the “repressive communist government” made no sense, even to tourists like him who were just passing through. He thinks that New Zealand is becoming the latest Absurdistan, saying it is
an odd little South Pacific nation where many things have stopped making sense to many of its citizens, even those normally enthusiastic about its idiosyncratic traits and national character, which has long been marked by tolerance, egalitarianism, a sense of fair play and a willingness to protest against injustice and inequality…
It appears the defining moment for him may have been strange election of 2014 where voters took umbrage at Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange warning them that they were being spied on by security organisations.
Or it could have been Prime Minister John Key wearing “seven hats”. Key claimed to be “several people at once and accountable to no one” when his association with attack blogger Cameron Slater (Google: NZ Dirty Politics New Zealand’s house of cards is collapsing ) was questioned by the opposition. Inevitable comparisons were drawn with Colombia or Argentina then Adams wrote “In Absurdistan you can assert anything you like, apparently and make it true”.
Adams is incredulous that the New Zealand public is asked to believe a whole host of things they know or suspect to be untrue, not least the reasoning behind the exorbitant cost of living, and why people in top jobs get paid way too much for doing way too little …
If these implausible propositions aren’t bad enough, there are the absurd quasi-official explanations for the high prices we pay for just about everything, including electricity (“It’s expensive getting it across Cook Strait”), and why the average cost of building a house is roughly 30 per cent higher here than in Australia, even though we grow our own timber, process our own cement and have lower wages (“New Zealanders all want bespoke houses”).
And then there are the tired mantras repeatedly used to justify the eye-watering salaries we pay senior public servants and CEOs (a reminder that censorship is not just what we are prevented from saying but what we are compelled to repeat). Chief among the shibboleths: “We need to pay managers huge salaries because they could earn much more in the private sector and, anyway, if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.”
Stephen Keys, a political commentator has opined on his blog that John Key’s salary should be the benchmark for all public sector salaries because it is the most demanding in government. Before allowances Key earns $452,500 which “makes him among the most highly remunerated leaders in the world in relation to per capita GDP”, earning more than President Obama. Yet, there are many senior Heads of Department, DHB and SOE executives (including the head of the PM’s own department) who are paid more than Key.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of children are going to school hungry and 270,000 children live in poverty in New Zealand. The government takes care of its own very well, but the dumbing down of the free press and the tactics of Dirty Politics have turned and disenfranchised many voters…
Something over the past few decades has happened to New Zealand to dull our spirit for protest and political reform and engagement in our democratic process. Roughly a million people didn’t vote in September’s election – one of the country’s worst turnouts in the past century…
It’s hard to divine exactly what has gone wrong in our political system, but part of the explanation no doubt lies in the news media’s willingness to trivialise important news and indulge in what Britain’s Daily Telegraph recently described as a tendency to prefer “froth to facts; nit-picking to policy.
It doesn’t help that newsroom staff numbers have been repeatedly slashed, with senior journalists laid off in favour of cheaper juniors (and many good journalists being lured into better-paid PR), with an inevitable drop in editorial standards, including human-interest stories too often replacing analysis…
The government also puts out a lot of spin and Key has admitted the Official Information Act is manipulated for political purposes. Journalists are also denied the chance to investigate issues in the public interest.
All this wouldn’t matter so much, perhaps, if the government wasn’t so dedicated to PR noise itself. Last year, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) had 56 publicity flaks (not including contractors) to spin its view on events; as North & South editor Virginia Larson pointed out in a recent editorial, that was more than the entire Press Gallery in Parliament.
Journalists who could once get direct access to ministers find they are now often impossible to approach except via a phalanx of PR people. And they are often far from helpful, as the pugnacious response in March to the National Business Review’s dogged questioning of Steven Joyce’s spin doctors over the SkyCity convention centre deal proved. In essence, the newspaper was told that if its journalists continued to be so persistent in their digging, the minister’s PR minders would stop playing nice.
That shouldn’t be too surprising, given the Prime Minister has admitted on Radio New Zealand National – without a trace of embarrassment – that the Official Information Act is routinely manipulated for political purposes.
Perhaps the most extraordinary recent example of journalists being denied the opportunity to investigate matters in the public interest came in the Northland byelection in late March, when National’s candidate, Mark Osborne, was banned by his media minder from giving interviews about his handling of a council business until the election was over.
At this point we’ll remind readers about the 10 hour long raid on the home of investigative journalist and author, Nicky Hager, in which people tried to find details about his sources.
Early in March, Nicky Hager (channelling Edward Snowden) reported that the GCSB was hoovering up electronic communications in the South Pacific (including those of New Zealand citizens) and passing them on to the National Security Agency in the US. John Key, who had promised in 2013 to resign if the spy agency was undertaking mass surveillance, said the information was wrong but wouldn’t say why. He also claimed there was a difference between “mass collection” of data and “mass surveillance”. The distinction is so clear in his mind (even if in no one else’s) that his categorical promise to resign has suddenly become wondrously elastic.
And Key could afford to be casual, given surveys that asked if people minded being spied on showed most thought it was perfectly acceptable – which is ironic in a country where strict privacy regulations can make acting on behalf of an incapacitated relative a bureaucratic nightmare.
And, of course, snooping on an employee’s Facebook page and its photo of an offensive cake – and then trying to harm that worker’s employment opportunities – cost NZ Credit Union Baywide $168,000 in March for invasion of privacy before the Human Rights Review Tribunal.
Updating Stalin’s insight for the cyber age, you could say: “A single invasion of Facebook privacy is a tragedy; hoovering up a million emails is a statistic..
Adams continues with details of how suppression orders are used to silence and censor people, even in parliament…
February and March were particularly interesting months for those wondering if our masters had finally gone troppo in the unusual late-summer heat as bizarre scenarios tumbled one after another into public view.
…A suppression order about a police investigation in force when Mike Sabin resigned as the MP for Northland meant Labour leader Andrew Little couldn’t even refer to the matter in Parliament without being hauled up by the Speaker; allegations nevertheless flew that the Prime Minister had allowed Sabin to chair the law and order select committee while being aware he was under investigation.
Australian broadcaster Derryn Hinch, an expat New Zealander, wrote on his blog about the subsequent byelection: “If you think politics in Australia gets crazy around election time, just have a look at what is happening across the ditch… The [Northland byelection] is shrouded in so much mystery and rumour and censorship that the people don’t even know the reason why the sitting member resigned to force the byelection.”
Another overseas site, Lauda Finem also blogged about the Northland incident, you can read more about it here Prominent New Zealander to lose name suppression pending appeal.
And there’s much, much more but you get the gist. We’re not going to review the whole report here, read the whole of Adams’ current affairs review here at Metromag.co.nz.
The article concludes with this brief question
Or is it simply that, in Absurdistan, the bizarre is now the new normal?
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New Zealand author Eleanor Catton recently made some well considered criticism of the New Zealand government (read Eleanor Catton’s Illuminating Take on New Zealand, and It’s Culture of Anti-Intellectualism)
Prime Minister John Key was very quick to rebut Catton’s remarks, even though they weren’t aimed at him specifically. That he chose to criticize Catton, while subtly promoting his position as Prime Minister, simply enforces what she said in other parts of her interview…
— Stephen Keys (@SteveKunframed) January 30, 2015<!–blockquote>
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”>@EleanorCatton The criticism has basically come from the same circlejerk that featured with #DirtyPolitics
— Rangi Kemara (@Te_Taipo) January 30, 2015
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><a href=”https://twitter.com/EleanorCatton”>@EleanorCatton</a> Thanks for your bravery. Sorry that it takes bravery to speak the truth in this country. We’re with you!
— Leonie Reynolds (@Leonie_Reynolds) January 30, 2015<!–blockquote>
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”>Gordon Campbell terrific on the Catton vs creepz stoush: http://t.co/0iexhMZGqo pic.twitter.com/E2NtjIm7hk
— Jonathan King (@MrJonathanKing) <a href=”https://twitter.com/MrJonathanKing/status/560573859607244807″>January 28, 2015</a></blockquote>
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”>Catton’s father hits back at ‘traitor’ claims <a href=”http://t.co/5f1fOSX35N”>http://t.co/5f1fOSX35N</a>
It’s not that New Zealand is not strange, weird, off, nor crazy, its reality is just different from yours.
This is the country where the leading academics think the solution to high teenage pregnancy rates is to fit all girls with IUDs before they become sexually active.
Mass birth control for young girls in New Zealand has recently been compared to childhood vaccination campaigns. You can imagine the scene. Your 10 year old daughter gets her routine jabs at school, and while they’re at it they wack in a Jadelle, copper IUD or Mirena just for good measure. Whatever happened to “kids being kids for longer” in New Zealand?
Of course, now that your daughter is fully equipped she can be as sexually active as her male associates need her to be. RIP the age of consent. RIP any hope of controlling the country’s STI epidemic (they gave up on Hamilton years ago).
Get the feeling that birth control is up to females in New Zealand, that there’s something very gender specific about responsibilities? What does this tell you about the status of Kiwi women and Kiwi children? Moreover, where’s the discussion about testosterone implants and progesterone injections for males?