Thursday, 31 March 2016

God Save The Royal Republic!

The English Revolution: In 1649, Oliver Cromwell famously decided to "Cut off the King's head with the Crown upon it" . The English Commonwealth, which replaced the monarchy, was a parliamentary republic, constituted in a fashion remarkably similar to our own. We have yet to cut off the Queen's head, but that's only because there's no real need to. Unlike Charles I, Elizabeth II wields no power. If she, or her Vice-Regal representative, the Governor General, ever attempted to interfere in our democratic politics, however, New Zealand's decorative royal figurehead would be gone - probably by lunchtime.
IS MITCH HARRIS RIGHT? Is New Zealand, for all intents and purposes, already a republic? Are all the monarchical appurtenances of our unwritten constitution nothing more than an entertaining illusion, as the veteran broadcaster insists? Full of pomp and ceremony, certainly. But in a nation where the people, as embodied by Parliament, are indisputably sovereign, of no relevance whatsoever to the way in which New Zealanders actually govern themselves.
Harris’ heretical opinions, broadcast on Tuesday night’s (29 March 2016) Waatea – Fifth Estate, cast the outcome of the flag referendum, and the earlier, almost totally ignored deliberations of the Constitutional Review Panel, in a new and very interesting light. Stripped of its talkback host’s bravado, Harris’s thesis asserts that over the course of the last 176 years New Zealanders have, with a minimum of fuss, fashioned one of the purest and least constrained democratic regimes on Earth.
What’s more, says Harris, we’ve done it surreptitiously. The Prime Minister may proudly proclaim himself a fan of Constitutional Monarchy, but he, like most New Zealanders, would bridle at the slightest suggestion that the legislature he dominates is anything other than absolutely sovereign. The idea that an unelected judiciary might one day possess the power to strike down legislation passed by the House of Representatives would strike him as a dangerous and undemocratic extension of judicial power. New Zealand is, and must continue to be, governed by those in command of a parliamentary majority – and nobody else.
You’ve got to go back a long way in the history of the English-speaking peoples to find a constitutional set-up like New Zealand’s. All the way back to the conclusion of the English Revolution, in fact, and the establishment in 1649 of the “English Commonwealth” – the world’s first parliamentary republic. Having cut off the King’s head with, in Oliver Cromwell’s memorable phrase, “the Crown upon it”, and dissolved the House of Lords, England was now governed by a 14-member Council of State, answerable (at least in theory) to the House of Commons. This latter body, representing the common people of England, was deemed to be the repository of “all just power” in the state. It was a principle destined to endure long after the English Commonwealth succumbed to Cromwell’s dictatorial “Protectorate”.
New Zealand, too, is governed by a council of state – The Cabinet – drawn from and answerable to the elected representatives of the people. Our own equivalent of the House of Lords, the Crown-appointed Legislative Council, was abolished with barely a murmur by the first National Party government, led by Sid Holland, in 1950.
For all practical political purposes, therefore, our unwritten constitution makes Parliament the supreme organ of power in the state. It passes the laws, makes appropriations of money for the administration of the state, and, if moved to do so, can bring down any government at any time simply by withdrawing its support from the Prime Minister and his or her Cabinet. The only other example of a unicameral parliament operating without the restraint of a written constitution is the State of Israel.
But what about the Queen? I hear you say. Legally and constitutionally Elizabeth II is Sovereign in Right of the Realm of New Zealand, and her Vice-Regal Representative is the Governor General. Quite true. But Harris’s point – and I agree with it – is that all this monarchical mummery is just a grand distraction from the realities of political power in New Zealand.
The only way the Queen could hope to influence events in New Zealand would be if she allowed herself to be drawn into a plot to topple a democratically elected government – as happened in the infamous conspiracy to bring down the Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, and his beleaguered Labor Government, in 1975. The only thing that saved the Queen and her Governor General, Sir John Kerr, on that occasion was the fact that the interim regime installed to replace the “dismissed” government went on to win the obligatory general election. Had Whitlam’s Labor Party been returned to office, Australia would, today, be a republic of 40 years standing.
What the “Dismissal” did demonstrate, however, was that royal and/or vice-regal interference in the democratic political process, unbuttressed by the electorate’s ex post facto validation, can only end in constitutional tears. Her Majesty was extremely fortunate that a majority of the Australian people concluded, notwithstanding the machinations of vice-regal ratbags, that Whitlam’s government wasn’t worth reinstating. The important lesson to take away being that the political decision was theirs – not hers – to make.
It is to be hoped that both Charles and William Windsor have absorbed this lesson, and that in the event of a New Zealand Governor General asking the Palace to support his or her plan to dismiss a government (or, more likely, refuse to appoint a government that the “business community” doesn’t like) the correct constitutional response is to immediately ask the New Zealand politician commanding a majority in the House of Representatives to advise him to dismiss the incumbent Governor General and propose a new one.
Because any other course of action: any attempt to circumvent the will of the New Zealand people; any reassertion of the royal “prerogatives” destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in 1649; will instantly see the monarchy’s gloriously retro decorativeness brought to an abrupt and permanent end. The Queen and the Governor General are like the diminutive Bride and Groom on the top of the Wedding Cake: sentimental favourites – but you wouldn’t expect them to impart serious marital advice.
Some would say it’s a typically Kiwi solution to the fraught business of defining the exact nature of the New Zealand state. A republic presided over by a queen may cause the political scientists to tear out their hair in bewilderment, but, as Mitch Harris might say, “we know what we mean”, and somehow, like a Taranaki gate, it works.
What our royal republic appears to represent, and what it actually stands for, would appear to be, like the flag we just voted to keep, two very different things.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 31 March 2016.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Whoops And Cheers For Democracy's Flag.

The People's Flag: For the duration of the Prime Minister’s vainglorious change-the-flag project, the New Zealand Ensign has stood for the right of the people – and not a single individual – to determine their nation’s destiny. It was Democracy’s flag that we voted to keep.
WHEN THE NEWS came through that the present New Zealand flag had defeated Kyle Lockwood’s silver fern I was at the pub. One of my companions suggested that we share the referendum result with the other patrons. Having by far the loudest voice, I strode to the bar and announced that the present New Zealand flag had received 57 percent of the votes cast to the Silver Fern’s 43 percent. The room erupted with whoops and cheers and just about everyone in the pub joined in the applause.
That spontaneous ovation seemed to me to have very little to do with the respective merits of the Union Jack versus the Silver Fern. Indeed, it is highly likely that at least a third of the people seated in that bar had voted for change.
Why, then, did so many of my fellow patrons clap and cheer?
The answer is simple: they were cheering the personal discomfiture and political humiliation of the Prime Minister.
John Key had made the flag referendum a test of his supporters’ loyalty: of their willingness to follow his every wish – no matter how fundamentally it contradicted their own. Astonishingly, they came within 7 percentage points of passing their leader’s test. Over the last ten days of voting, the gap between the supporters of the present flag and Lockwood’s alternative narrowed dramatically – startling evidence of the Prime Minister’s influence over his conservative base. That the six electorates in which the Silver Fern secured a narrow majority over the Union Jack were all true-blue National seats is certainly no accident.
That they were being asked to participate in some sort of weird affirmation ritual did not escape the attention of the rest of the population – and they resented it bitterly. That resentment only increased as the flag-changing process unfolded. I was reminded of the child’s card-trick in which the “magician” appears to be giving his “mark” a series of choices, while actually contriving to sequentially eliminate all but the chosen card from contention.
What infuriated the population even more was Key’s armour-plated insouciance. He clearly believed that his referendum card-trick would work on just enough people to secure him the affirmation he was seeking. All it communicated to those not yet under the Prime Minister’s spell, however, was how thoroughly manipulable he believed the electorate to be.
The alternative flag “finalists” only added insult to injury. With three of the four designs featuring a silver fern, the cynics’ view, that the judging panel knew exactly what the Prime Minister wanted and was determined to give it to him, gained widespread currency.
What the panel could not give him, however, was the option Key’s loyalists were most eager to vote for: the “All Blacks Flag”. Intellectual property considerations had conspired to keep Key’s first choice for an alternative New Zealand flag off the ballot. The NZRFU was simply unwilling to surrender its brand. If it had, that 7 point gap separating the status quo from change would, almost certainly, have been narrower.
For those not in thrall to “Brand Key”, however, the choice was clear. If you were determined to deny the Prime Minister plebiscitary proof of his own invincibility, you simply had to vote for the status quo.
Only the most indefatigable leftists, like the former Green MP, Keith Locke, were willing to set aside Key’s all-too-obvious agenda and vote to get rid of the most enduring symbol of New Zealand’s colonial heritage. (The flag Irish nationalists still refer to as the “butcher’s apron”.)
Most supporters of the “Government-in-Waiting”: Labour, Greens, NZ First; were, however, willing to swallow their socialist, republican and nationalist principles and vote for the “Good Old Flag”.
Challenged by their outraged comrades, many offered the excuse of the proposed alternative’s design inadequacies. “If we’d had something better than a glorified tea-towel on offer” they protested, “we’d have voted for it.”
But would we? To fly, a flag has to stand for something. No matter how well-designed, the flag worn so ostentatiously on Key’s lapel would still have stood, in the minds of his opponents, for the Prime Minister’s determination to demonstrate that, even on a matter as fundamental to the nation’s identity as its flag, his would be the will that prevailed.
That was the aspiration so many National supporters (regardless of their personal preference for the status quo) were willing to satisfy by voting for their leader’s choice. A genuinely frightening demonstration of political fealty.
More reassuring, however, were the whoops and cheers that echoed around the pub as I announced the referendum result. For the duration of the Prime Minister’s pet project, the New Zealand Ensign has stood for the right of the people – and not a single individual – to determine their nation’s destiny.
It was Democracy’s flag that we voted to keep.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 29 March 2016.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Republics Of This World: A Meditation on Rome, The USA And Easter.

Not Of Rome's World: While the similarities between the Roman and American republics are striking - especially in terms of the deliberate corruption of their politics by wealthy elites - the notion of belonging to a moral polity, as enunciated by Christ, could hardly be more different. The Kingdom of Heaven will always stand in sharp contrast to the brutally contested rewards of worldly governments.
I’VE JUST FINISHED READING Robert Harris’s historical novel, Dictator. Set in the final tumultuous years of the Roman Republic, the book has sharpened my appreciation of the current campaign for the American Presidency. Though separated in time by more than two thousand years, the political similarities between the world’s two most influential republics are more than a little unnerving.
In both instances we are confronted with extremely ambitious and fabulously wealthy men joining forces to subvert the institutions of the republic. The weapon of choice against the Roman and American constitutions are the all-too-easily aroused passions of the long-suffering plebs. Having whipped up the fury of the common people against the depredations of the elites, the enemies of the republic then set the plebs to dismantling the constitutional checks and balances which are all that stand between them and the exercise of unbridled power.
All that is lacking from the political stage of contemporary America is a Julius Caesar. There is, as yet, no United States equivalent of Rome’s all-conquering general. No one in command of an army of fanatically loyal soldiers ready to march on Washington itself – if that is their imperator’s command.
Some would cast Donald Trump in the role of America’s Caesar. Having read Harris’s novel, however, I would rather cast Trump as America’s Publius Clodius Pulcher.
Clodius was a populist Roman politician who relinquished his aristocratic privileges so that he could be elected to the office of Tribune – the representative and protector of ordinary citizens. Like Clodius, Trump is vilified by “decent” citizens for adopting the vulgar accents of the mob, and is accused of inciting them to intimidate and attack his opponents.
In Trump’s recent prediction/threat that there will be “riots in the streets” if the elites attempt to deny him the Republican Party’s nomination, one detects ominous echoes of Clodius’s actual use of his fiercely loyal plebeian followers to overawe the aristocratic Roman Senate and secure the passage of his populist legislation.
The fall of the Roman Republic was, paradoxically, the result of its extraordinary success. As Rome’s conquests multiplied, its wealth grew to the point where the civic virtue so essential to the operation of its complex constitution was utterly overwhelmed by avarice and corruption.
There was simply too much money to be made out of Rome’s expanding empire: more than enough to buy up the key public offices of the republic. Gold could also create legions, the military power upon which the city state and its empire ultimately rested. Inevitably one ambitious politician would lay his hands on sufficient wealth, and swords, to dispense with the consent of the Senate and People of Rome altogether.
This fascination with Rome, stronger today than it has been for many decades, may strike you as odd until you are reminded, every Easter, of the events which bind the world of two thousand years ago with the world of today. Whatever else it may purport to be, the story of Jesus of Nazareth; his birth, ministry and ultimate execution; is a story which takes place in the context of Rome’s imperium.
Jesus and his followers could no more avoid the political and moral questions posed by Roman rule than we can escape the challenges of American hegemony. In his time, as in ours, there were many who sought to free themselves from imperial rule by violence. Only a handful of those struck by Rome were willing to turn the other cheek.
The Judea of 33AD was as plagued by terrorism, and the grim reprisals it provokes, as the Israel of 2016AD. It’s people awaited the coming of a mighty leader: someone to make the land of God’s chosen people great again. For a moment, they thought they’d found one. But, when asked by the Roman Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, whether he was this long awaited King of the Jews, Jesus replied: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
What did Pilate make of that enigmatic answer? Did he shake his head – incredulous at his doomed prisoner’s naivety? How could Jesus not know that imperium and reality are inseparable? That nobody is more of this world than a king.
The idea of a moral imperium was as foreign to Pontius Pilate, then, as it is, now, to Donald Trump.
A version of this essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times of Thursday, 24 March 2016.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Future Of Work And The Future Of Labour Are Closely Linked.

Future Focused? Can Labour's finance spokesperson, Grant Robertson, shrug off his reputation for caution and embrace the sort of policies that would signal to voters that Labour has ceased to fear Neoliberalism and is now ready to challenge it? This week's "Future of Work" conference will offer the beginnings of an answer.
WHILE COVERING last December’s COP21 climate change conference in Paris, American broadcaster, Amy Goodman, made an alarming discovery. Climate scientists, the people the world relies upon to tell them the truth about global warming, were pulling their punches. Interviewing Kevin Anderson, of the Tyndale Centre for Climate Change Research, for the current affairs show Democracy Now! Goodman elicited the following admission:

“So far we simply have not been prepared to accept the revolutionary implications of our own findings, and even when we do we are reluctant to voice such thoughts openly… many are ultimately choosing to censor their own research.”

When asked why he and his colleagues were self-censoring, Anderson replied:
“What we are afraid of doing is putting forward analysis that questions the paradigm, the economic way that we run society today… We fine-tune our analysis so that it fits into the economic reality of our society, the current economic framing. Actually our science now asks fundamental questions about this idea of economic growth in the short term, but we’re very reluctant to say that. In fact, the funding bodies are reluctant to fund research that raises those questions.”
So absolute is the hold of the neoliberal economic paradigm on the minds of the professional classes that not even an existential threat to human civilisation can loosen its grip.
Anderson’s last sentence is particularly chilling, because published research is the royal road to advancement in the twenty-first century university. No academic can afford to have his or her research funding cut off. If a research proposal questioning the long-term viability of “the economic way we run society today” causes those holding the purse-strings to raise their eyebrows, then researchers will very quickly learn to ask less dangerous questions.
But, if neoliberalism (a.k.a the free market system) is going to be be the death of us, how do we explain the success of neoliberal political parties around the world? Why: when neoliberal policies are driving the spectacular growth in global inequality; when the real incomes of even middle-class workers are stagnant or declining; when high levels of personal indebtedness – especially among young people – have barricaded the road to a secure future; and when the capitalist economic system, itself, is in the process of triggering abrupt (and probably irreversible) climate change; is the global electorate so willing to re/elect neoliberal politicians such as David Cameron, Tony Abbot and, yes, even John Key, to office?
The answer would appear to be the general failure of “mainstream” opposition politicians to conceptualise a credible alternative to “the current economic framing”. Rather than use their sojourns in opposition to formulate such a challenge, the parties of the centre-left have tried to come up with ways to temporarily blunt the sharper edges of neoliberal policy. Providing short-term relief from neoliberal pain takes precedence over constructing long-term alternatives.
This refusal to challenge neoliberalism at a fundamental level leaves the primary purveyors of the ideology in the political box seat. As National demonstrated with such force at the last general election, the defenders of “the way we run society today” will not hesitate to present their “neoliberal-lite” political opponents as, quite literally, a ship of fools.
This week the New Zealand Labour Party has given itself a grand opportunity to demonstrate its willingness to move beyond the neoliberal paradigm. Its “Future of Work” conference is being held on Auckland’s AUT University campus and will feature presentations by former US Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, and Guy Standing, author of the best-selling book The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class.
There are two political guarantees that would undermine neoliberalism fundamentally: guaranteed work, and a guaranteed income. The former could take the form of the state establishing (and ensuring) a minimum number of hours to be worked by its citizens over the course of their lifetime. The originator of this idea, Andre Gorsz, set the number at 20,000-30,000 hours. In return, the state would guarantee every citizen a universal basic income – not huge, but sufficient to maintain a dignified and secure existence.
These two guarantees would, necessarily, entail a radical redistribution of wealth from the richest 1 percent of citizens to the remaining 99 percent. Equally radical political and social changes would follow in its wake – but no more radical than the political and social upheavals that followed the imposition of neoliberalism in the 1980s.
If Labour is willing to embrace these two guarantees, then it will be well-positioned to stake its claim to the new political territory of the twenty-first century. If it fails to be bold, and continues, instead, to court the “respectability” that comes with paying fealty to the dominant neoliberal paradigm, then its “Future of Work” initiative will founder.
Like the self-censoring climate scientists exposed by Amy Goodman, Labour will have sacrificed its long-term survival for short-term safety.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 22 March 2016.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Yes, He Can! Why So Many Americans Are Voting For Donald Trump.

Striking A Pose: Those narrowed eyes, that tilted head, the jutting jaw: so reminiscent of Benito Mussolini. Donald Trump has never held elected office and has no record of public service upon which to build his candidacy. And yet, paradoxically, it is precisely this outsider status that draws so many Americans to him. They are not looking for someone who understands the system. They hate the system. The President they're looking for must be a wrecking ball!
WHAT LEADS THE MAN who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 to come out for Donald Trump in 2016? What prompts a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat to re-register himself as a Republican – just so he can vote for “The Donald” in the Florida Primary? Obviously it’s about disappointment. About “change we can believe in” turning into the same old Wall Street shuffle. About “yes we can” somehow acquiring the rider “but not quite yet”. Equally obviously, however, it’s about hope. If the eloquent graduate from Harvard Law School couldn’t, then maybe – just maybe – the ebullient, trash-talking property billionaire can.
Can what, though? That’s what’s got New Zealanders puzzled. Trump offers very little in the way of carefully considered and thoroughly costed policy. Indeed, a rational case for electing Donald Trump president is difficult to make. The man has never held elected office and has no record of public service upon which to build his candidacy. And yet, paradoxically, it is precisely this outsider status that draws so many Americans to him. They are not looking for someone who understands the system. They hate the system. They’re not in the market for a constructive candidate, they want a President who’s ready to go after the system with a wrecking ball!
The Republican and Democratic parties have only themselves to blame for Trump’s extraordinary run of primary victories. For three decades they have either crudely inflamed, or, loftily dismissed, the people they call “Trailer-Trash” and “Rednecks”: the very same people who are now turning out in their tens-of-thousands for the man who openly proclaims that he “loves” the “poorly educated”.
Are you going bald? Does your beer-gut spill over your belt-buckle? Do you work at a dead-end job for the minimum wage? Yeah? Well, guess what? The Donald loves you guys – and he wants your votes. Why? Because your votes, and the votes of those assholes up at the Country Club carry exactly the same weight. That’s right: exactly the same. And you know something else, fellas? There are way more of us than there are of them!
It’s taken these folk a while to work out that all the promises the Republicans made about abortion and gay marriage were only ever intended to keep them away from the Democrats. Not that they needed much persuading – not when the Democrats had already written them off as Bible-bashing misogynists, unreconstructed racists and gay-bashing homophobes. But now they have woken up. Now they know that the politicians in Washington have about as much interest in their welfare as their old employers did when they laid them all off, shut down the factories, and opened up new ones in Mexico or China.
That’s why they have no interest in Senators, or Governors, or any other representatives of the established order. That’s why they’re flocking to the man who’s so rich he doesn’t need to go cap-in-hand to the Koch brothers (like “Little Marco” Rubio). The man who “gets” what’s happened to people like them. The man who knows that the TPP is nothing more than a thieves’ charter, something cooked-up by and for the big corporations. The man who, like them, knows what it means to be ridiculed, excluded and hated – and isn’t afraid to say so out loud. The man who wears the scorn of the Establishment as a badge of honour, and who revels in its all-too-obvious fear.
When asked by journalists (“disgusting people”) what his reaction would be if the Republican Party grandees attempted to deny him the nomination, he didn’t answer them directly. What he would do was not something he was prepared to discuss. What he did tell the news media, however, along with the rest of the political class, was what his followers would do: “There’ll be riots in the streets.”
Moderate America – Hillary Clinton’s America – recoiled in horror. This was without precedent in the nation’s recent history. A presidential candidate had just warned the nation that his followers would not shrink from unleashing civil disorder – if that is what it took to secure their objectives.
Nothing less than the future of the American Republic is now at stake. Its fate in the hands of a social formation filled to the brim with the same reckless disdain for established order that drove the bluff burgesses, sturdy artisans, and unruly apprentice boys of Boston in the 1770s. The revolutionaries who concluded that if the Royal Government in London could offer them nothing more than the constant abrogation of their rights, then they would devise a way of governing themselves.
Two-and-half centuries later, the role of King George is being played by the Federal Government in Washington. Not for nothing did these latter-day rebels style themselves “The Tea Party”. They may not be historians, or political science graduates, but the imagery of the armed citizen stepping forward to confront tyranny is burned ineradicably into their political imaginations. Nor are they strangers to the grim business of securing their nation’s objectives by force. A great many of Trump’s followers are veterans of America’s most recent wars: the men and women who were “rotated” in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq far too many times. Not only are these good ole boys and gals ready to fight for their version of the United States of America – they know how.
Donald Trump, with a political empathy bordering on the fascistic, has made himself the leader of these disregarded Americans. He “gets” them in ways that Hillary Clinton (and even Bernie Sanders) cannot hope to emulate. Like every successful purveyor of nationalistic populism, he first stokes and then validates his followers’ anger. Because they have been cheated by those who claimed to be their friends.
But that’s all over now, because he, the Donald, will never cheat them. He will be their wrecking-ball. And, together, they will “make America great again”.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 21 March 2016.

Monday, 21 March 2016

The Eyes Of An Absent God

Externalised Consciences: Old, Presbyterian, Dunedin possessed no surveillance cameras. It needed none. Back then the only watcher that mattered was already in people’s heads. In 2016, God’s eye looks down upon Dunedin’s students from the nearest wall.
“IT’S LIKE HAVING Mum and Dad on the street watching you.” The idea of the University of Otago’s CCTV surveillance cameras observing the comings and goings on Hyde Street, one of the Dunedin student quarter’s most notorious addresses, has not been met with universal approval. The prospect of having an additional 50 cameras strategically located at other “hot spots” (burn a sofa in the middle of the street and that is what you get!) in the student “ghetto” has raised additional concerns.
With the shock of Friday’s balcony collapse still fresh in the local authorities’ minds, however, student umbrage at intensified CCTV surveillance will likely carry less weight. The City and the University must now be reaching for every available tool to maintain safety in the streets of North Dunedin.
We can only sympathise with Mayor Dave Cull and Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne, who find themselves in a predicament analogous to that of Larry Vaughan, the unfortunate Mayor of Amity Island in Steven Spielberg’s classic movie Jaws. The Great White Shark of student disorder cannot be decisively beaten in Dunedin without putting at risk the very institution that keeps the city alive and kicking.
Ten-to-fifteen thousand students pour into Dunedin every year (a huge number of them from Auckland) on the strength of its reputation as the most student-friendly city in the country. Life in the student ghetto of Dunedin is a vital aspect of the University of Otago’s allure. “Closing the beaches” (to pursue the Jaws analogy a little further) would spoil all the fun.
Comprehensive CCTV surveillance, continuous and aggressive policing of the student quarter, and an unforgiving application of both the law and the university regulations would certainly prevent the Great White Shark from inflicting further casualties. But it might also prompt a great many prospective Otago students to ask themselves whether the long journey south was any longer worth it.
Dunedin’s dismal weather and dingy flats are currently offset by the warmth and vitality of its “Scarfie” lifestyle. Take that away and the place risks being written-off as a cold hole far too far from home and far too close to the Antarctic.
At some point, however, the depredations of the Great White Shark become so horrendous (one of the most seriously injured victims of Friday’s balcony collapse may never walk again) that turning a blind eye ceases to be an option – and installing 50 new electronic eyes begins to sound like a great idea.
The historical irony of this move towards “God’s Eye” surveillance in the student ghetto is that it is taking place in New Zealand’s preeminent Calvinist city. In 1901, when the University of Otago was already 30 years old, 98 percent of New Zealanders were Christians. In Dunedin, many – perhaps most – of those Christians were Scottish-born or descended Presbyterians.
At the heart of Scottish Protestantism was an unceasing and exhausting dialogue between the individual sinner and Almighty God. The comforting intermediations of the “Roman” clergy had long since been anathematised by these dour inhabitants of lowland and border. For them there was no veil to thwart the perception, and no intercession to soften the judgement, of the all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful Jehovah.
People still talk about “the fear of God”, but today it is almost always meant rhetorically. In a world where nearly everybody believed in an omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent deity, and where that belief was whetted to a self-harming sharpness every Sunday in the pews of a thousand churches, the fear of God was all too literal.
The young people of the past were as familiar with the Bible’s catalogue of sins, as today’s young people are with the apps on their I-phone. In those days, any occasion for sinning must also have been, in the minds of youngsters convinced that their most private thoughts and furtive deeds were at all times laid bare to the gaze of an all-seeing and judgemental god, occasions for the most paralysing fear and guilt.
Among student revellers basking in the fiery glow of Castle Street’s burning sofas, fear and guilt displayed precious little purchase. Their parents (or, more likely, their grandparents) might retain vague memories of church services and Sunday schools, but with less than half of New Zealand’s population now identifying itself as Christian, they almost certainly do not.
The optimists among us will be hoping that the voices of Mum and Dad, and the moral imperatives they imparted, still feature in their children’s internal deliberations. In this respect, that young inhabitant of Hyde Street’s comment about the surveillance camera being akin to her parents watching is instructive.
Old, Presbyterian Dunedin possessed no surveillance cameras. It needed none. Back then the only watcher that mattered was already in people’s heads. In 2016, God’s eye looks down upon Dunedin’s students from the nearest wall.
This essay was originally published in The Press of 8 March 2016.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

A Wee Nip Of "Shooglenifty".

The Whisky Kiss: Shooglenifty perform their most popular number, Whisky Kiss, live at the Jazz Roots Club in 2011. Sadly, Kaela Rowan is not with them in this clip.
THE SCOTTISH BAND "Shooglenifty" has been around since 1990. It's six members: Angus Grant (Fiddle) Ewan MacPherson (Mandolin) Gary Finlayson (Banjo) Malcolm Crosbie (Guitars) Quee MacArthur (Bass) and James Macintosh (Drums) produce an electrified version of traditional Scottish folk that the music critics like to call "Celtic Fusion".

Exchanging the wet and still wintry streets of Edinburgh for the muggy warmth of Aotea Square, the band jetted in to the Queen City this week for a couple of performances in the Spiegeltent as part of the Auckland Festival.

It's a rich musical combination, Shooglenifty, held together by Macintosh's superb drumming and the virtuosity of Grant's fiddling. In between these two, the other four musicians lay siege to the ear with the sharp complexities of their various stringed instruments. All up it's a righteous and rollicking experience - and utterly unable to be sat still for - as the mostly grey-haired Baby Boomers who made up the audience proved by jigging themselves breathless - while Grant ducked and weaved and goaded them on to ever more strenuous exertions.

Collaborating with the band last night (Friday, 18 March) was the fearsomely talented Kaela Rowan - famed throughout Scotland for her mastery of the Gaelic "mouth music" tradition. Rowan adds a very special quality to Shooglenifty's repertoire. Listening to her sing, it is easy to discern the debt traditional Celtic music owes to the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean. She was performing in Auckland, but she would not have sounded out of place in a Beirut night-club.

Though I'm paying the price for all that dancing now, I wouldn't have missed my wee nip of Shooglenifty for a hill of haggis.

Video courtesy of YouTube
This review is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Shock Therapy?

Watching The World Burn: Shocking the middle-class today isn’t about engaging in political or moral therapy. Today, it’s about shocking people literally. As in alarming, disturbing and frightening them. As in outraging, appalling and provoking them. The sofa-burning revels of Otago students are a case in point. Except, of late, even these ritual fires have been deemed too tame. New shocks are in store for Dunedin's long-suffering citizenry. 
AS IS THE CASE with most things arty, the French have a name for it. Épater le Bourgeois! (Shock the Middle Class!) became the catch-phrase of the French decadent poets Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud. Their artistic mission was to cultivate a lifestyle of such unrelenting transgression as to throw into sharp relief the dull torpor of middle-class existence. Like a bracing bucketful of cold water, the uncompromising radicalism of their art was supposed to shock its victims into a new level of consciousness.
By the early Twentieth Century, épater le bourgeois had morphed into the notion of an artistic avant garde (advance guard) dedicated to all things new and challenging. From Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, the mostly middle-class consumers of art were taken on a dizzying journey to worlds so utterly unlike their own that they could scarcely take them in. The debut performance of the Rite of Spring provoked first cat-calls and then fist-fights amongst its Parisian audience. Le Bourgeois was very épater indeed!
There was more than a little épater le bourgeois about the youth rebellions of the post-war era. Rock-n-Roll scandalised the buttoned-down middle-class suburbanites of the Eisenhower Era. (All those nice, white, boys and girls gyrating to “Negro Music”!) Events took an even more radical turn in the 1960s when thousands of nice, white, middle-class college students began “turning on, tuning in, and dropping out”. Mum and Dad may not have known much about Baudelaire’s or Rimbaud’s sybaritic predilections, but they harboured deep misgivings about the (very similar) hijinks of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. As Bob Dylan wryly put it in his Ballad of a Thin Man: “Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr Jones?”
But, if the Middle Class was being shocked by the artistic avant garde, it was also being improved. The innovative and experimental work of all these poets, painters, playwrights, novelists, musicians and composers more than repaid the “squares” who were willing to lay aside their prejudices and wrestle with artistic expressions as exciting as they were illuminating. Regardless of whether they were listening to the Rite of Spring or Highway 61 Revisited, there was always a lot more than shock on offer. People emerged from these experiences changed – for the better.
In its most recent iteration, however, épater le bourgeois has undergone a dramatic change. In the past, the artistic and political avant garde shocked people for purposes that were more-or-less noble. The bourgeoisie had, after all, started out as a revolutionary class, preaching the gospel of universal emancipation. Avant garde artists were hoping to shock the smug and self-satisfied middle-classes back into loving freedom; scandalise them back into demanding justice.
No such nobility impels today’s avant garde. Shocking the middle-class today isn’t about engaging in political or moral therapy. Today, it’s about shocking people literally. As in alarming, disturbing and frightening them. As in outraging, appalling and provoking them. Not for any transformative purpose, but simply for the thrill of traumatising one’s fellow human-beings.
If you’re looking to pin the blame for this sorry state of affairs on someone or something, look no further than the Post-Modern ethos. Post-Modernism, like a carnival mirror, makes everything that is big look small. Even the possibility of nobility is denied. And if men and women are neither good nor bad, then damnation’s as pointless as redemption. Épater le bourgeois no longer has a purpose – other than to give pleasure to the people doing the shocking.
When I was a student in Dunedin, I cultivated a romantic persona: styling my hair like one of King Charles I’s cavaliers; writing articles for the student paper; and singing songs attacking the pretensions of my smug university city. If I ever set out to shock Dunedin’s middle classes, it was only in hopes of waking them up.
Forty years later, I read about a vanload of Dunedin students pulling-up alongside a car containing a woman and her dog. Suddenly the door of the van slides open, and one of the students yells at the startled driver: “If it wasn’t for the dog, we’d rape you!”
As performance art, it was certainly a case of épater le bourgeois. The driver was shocked. I was shocked. Whether either of us were improved is less certain.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 4 March 2016.

Picking Apples

One Bad Apple: Between them, the Education Minister, Hekia Parata, and the Finance Minister, Bill English, hope to develop a government-wide data-capture system which will allow schools to identify the "at-risk" apples in their catchment area and prevent them from turning bad. At-risk identifiers include: families in which at least one parent has been to prison; the child, or a sibling, have suffered abuse; the family has been supported by social welfare benefits for a prolonged period; and the mother has no formal educational qualifications.

ROOT-AND-BRANCH RADICALISM is not something we tend to associate with the National Party. But, Education Minister, Hekia Parata, is ready to change all that. Her review of education funding promises to lead New Zealand towards a radically new way of allocating resources for our children’s education. Some of the ideas under consideration will leave the world gasping.
That the Minister has her heart set upon something truly radical is confirmed by her treatment of professional educationalists.
When it became clear that the Minister was ‘thinking big’ in relation to education funding reform, NELP, the National Educational Leadership Partnership (an umbrella group encompassing school trustees, the teacher unions, principals’ representatives, parent-teacher associations and special-needs students’ advocates) eagerly offered to help.
Ms Parata was having none of it. Before you could say “provider capture” she’d informed NELP that the “consultation phase” would come later. That would be the proper time for people like themselves to get involved.
Now, some might argue that any government intent on making its policy innovations stick wouldn’t dream of embarking on a programme of radical reform without the sector’s enthusiastic support and participation.
And, let’s be clear, NELP did offer. In a statement of principles to the Ministry of Education its members declared:
“NELP is proposing that it work with the Ministry to co-construct the principles and terms of reference of the resourcing review, and be part of the review process, including the analysis of the research and data, and in the subsequent development, testing and implementation of promising model(s).”
The radical solutions being contemplated by Ms Parata, however, are not the sort that lend themselves to indulging such airy-fairy participatory notions as “co-construction”.
Like her colleague, Finance Minister, Bill English, Ms Parata has been seized by the notion of using “government-wide data” manipulation to identify all those very young citizens unfortunate enough to have been born into inadequate and/or under-performing families. Statistically-speaking, these are the apples most likely to turn bad and spoil the whole bunch.
Who are these “at risk” citizens? According to advice supplied to Ms Parata by the Ministry of Education, they are the pre-school offspring of families in which at least one parent has been to prison; either themselves, or a sibling, have suffered child abuse; their mum and/or dad have been supported by social welfare benefits for a prolonged period; and if their mother has no formal educational qualifications.
The Ministry argues that if resources could be directed specifically to those schools preparing to enrol these potentially ‘bad apples’ – thereby dramatically improving their chances of remaining fresh and wholesome – then the outcomes, both educationally and socially, would be far superior to those achieved by the present, statistical scatter-gun approach of decile funding.
In those suburbs of our major cities where “concentrations” of these bad-apples-in-waiting are detected, the local school (using a yet-to-be-devised formula) would find itself in the running for an extra-specially thick wad of additional cash.
Radical stuff! But why stop there? If it is possible to identify early these bad-apples-in-waiting, and if the key factors in their breaking bad are all related to domestic dysfunction and family failure, then why not remove the children from that environment altogether? Why not set up special schools for the children of inadequate families and break the cycles of failure and dysfunction once and for all?
And if acting on government-wide data works for the bad apples, why not develop a statistical profile for families likely to produce exceptional children?
These would be the families in which no one had ever been sent to prison; there was no history of child abuse; no record of a relationship with the Ministry of Social Development; and in which both Mum and Dad had gone to university. The statistical likelihood of above average success would be further boosted if the family income was sufficient to endow the children with truly massive lump-sums of cultural capital.
In suburbs where there were concentrations of these potentially ‘super apples’, the state could facilitate the setting-up of special schools where their particular talents could be identified early and fully extended in an environment free from family distractions.
Ms Parata could call the schools for fixing bad apples “Borstals”, and those for producing upper-middle-class super-apples, “Private Schools”. National would be lionised for instigating an educational revolution. What could possibly go wrong?
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 18 March 2016.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Protecting The TPP.

Democracy In Action: Anti-TPPA protester, Josie Butler, is prevented from presenting her "Dick of the Year" award to New Zealand's Chief TPPA Negotiator, MFAT's David Walker. It seems highly likely that the security personnel, seen here moving in on Ms Butler, were employees of the high-end security firm October Protection. According to the firm's website: "Many of our staff come from military, police, corrections and close protection backgrounds". What sort of “trade deal” have we signed-up to, when its explanatory roadshow requires the protection of former soldiers and policemen?
THE HEAVILY GUARDED Trans-Pacific Partnership’s (TPP) travelling roadshow came to Christchurch last week. The word “heavily” is used advisedly. According to the reportage of Josie Butler (who staged a peaceful protest at the event and was escorted from the auditorium) the roadshow was not only protected by upwards of 30 police officers, but also by 40 members of the New Zealand Defence Force. Ms Butler’s reportage further alleges that the roadshow had at least one other protector – its government appointed chairman, broadcaster Sean Plunket.
If Ms Butler’s description of the proceedings is accurate, then it is fair to say that Mr Plunket has opted for an alarmingly heavy-handed approach to chairing these gatherings. Participants are restricted to asking questions of the presenters and will be interrupted aggressively if they so much as attempt to contextualise their queries. Hecklers are summarily ejected.
What was presented to New Zealanders as an opportunity to participate in a free and frank discussion of the costs and benefits of the TPP, is being experienced by those attendees not already convinced of the agreement’s benefits as little more than a crude propaganda exercise. Even worse, these meetings are alleged to have been conducted in a fashion that treats dissent as a hostile and potentially criminal act.
Given the strong public feeling which the TPP has aroused, the manner in which the  roadshow is conducted is very important. Negotiated in secret, and signed by the National Party-led Government without prior endorsement by the House of Representatives, the TPP has been presented to the people of New Zealand as a fait accompli. The most appropriate stance of the person chosen to chair the TPP roadshow is, therefore, one of democratic scepticism.
The case in favour of the TPP needs to be made in full acknowledgement of its inherently adversarial nature. After all, the roadshow is the first official occasion for the public’s direct participation in the TPP debate. Critics of the deal should, therefore, be encouraged by the Chair to make their case, and the government’s spokespeople required to answer their criticisms as well as their questions. If it is true that Mr Plunket’s formidable interrogative skills are not being used to probe and challenge the statements of the government’s representatives, but are, instead, being deployed against the TPP’s critics, then the democratic legitimacy of the roadshow is forfeit.

Certainly, Ms Butler’s description of the Christchurch roadshow makes a strong prima facie case for concern. In her report of the event she states that: “I went to the first security check point which was at the front driveway to the [Rydges] hotel. The guards asked for my ID, and whilst I was getting it out I noticed one of the guys had an army badge pinned to his lapel, I asked him if he was military and he confirmed that all security present today were army personnel.”

Constitutionally-speaking, this claim is particularly alarming. The only circumstances in which it is justifiable for the Civil Power to call upon the assistance of the Military Power are those in which there is a demonstrable threat to life and property. Historically, the involvement of the Military has been confined to helping out during natural disasters and, extremely rarely, to the quelling of widespread public disorder – like that following the 1932 Queen Street Riot. Nothing even remotely resembling such circumstances were present last Friday in Christchurch.
Urgent efforts must be made to confirm the accuracy of Ms Butler’s claim. And if it is confirmed that the NZDF was involved in providing security for the roadshow, then questions need to be asked. First, of the Defence Minister, and second, of the Police Minister. Did Gerry Brownlee know that the Military Power had been called upon to assist the Civil Power in Christchurch? If so, at whose instigation? Does Judith Collins know why the local Police were deemed unequal to the task of preventing disorder at Rydges Hotel?
Frankly, it would be a whole lot better for New Zealand if Ms Butler’s record of the Christchurch TPP roadshow turns out to be inaccurate. That Mr Plunket was, in fact, the soul of politeness and a stalwart facilitator of free speech and open debate. And that whoever Ms Butler spoke to about his military lapel badge turns out to have been pulling her leg about the  composition of the security detail. Because, if her version of events is proved correct, then New Zealand is in a world of trouble.
What sort of “trade deal” have we signed-up to, if its explanatory roadshow requires the protection of the armed forces? How good can it be, if those who attempt to criticise its content are cut off in mid-sentence?
Could it be that those who condemned the TPP as a threat to democracy were right all along?
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 15 March 2016.
On Tuesday, 15 March the author received a call from Nick Bryant, Gerry Brownlee's media officer. He informed him that, having checked with both the NZDF and MFAT, the Minister was able to assure him that no serving military personnel were involved with providing security at the Christchurch TPPA roadshow event.
When contacted, Josie Butler strongly reiterated her claim that the security personnel hailed from the military. 

An appeal for assistance was issued over social media which quickly produced a link to a private security firm called  October Protection.
According to its website: 

October Protection is a Christchurch based security and protection company with branches in Auckland, Wellington, Queenstown, Dunedin and associates throughout New Zealand. We provide industry-leading hospitality security, along with VIP transport, helicopter services, secure event, travel and accommodation packages New Zealand wide ….. Many of our staff come from military, police, corrections and close protection backgrounds and their experience is diverse and extensive, providing October Protection with a vast array of specialist skills.
It would seem that both Josie Butler and the Minister were telling the truth.
This Update is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Blurred Vision: The Interview.

CHRIS TROTTER follows-up on many of the issues canvassed in the previous posting in this interview with Paul Henry, broadcast on Thursday, 17 March 2016.

This posting exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Blurred Vision: Why Labour Isn’t Trusted To Govern New Zealand.

Impaired Vision: Veteran Rogernome, Phil Goff, is leading his nearest rival for the Auckland mayoralty by an astonishing 33 percentage points in the latest UMR survey. That's 3 points more than Labour's total support! Clearly, Auckland voters have no difficulty in determining what Goff stands for. Unfortunately, New Zealanders are finding it much harder to determine Labour's ideological outline. This is highly problematic, because the electorate's trust and confidence will only be given to a political party whose features are easy to read.
STEPHEN MILLS, from Labour’s pollsters, UMR Research, today (7/3/16) confirmed that Labour’s support has slipped back to just 30 percent. He also informed RNZ’s listeners that Phil Goff is leading his nearest rival for the Auckland Mayoralty, Victoria Crone, by 33 percentage points. This is, of course, the same Phil Goff who, as Labour’s leader, failed to squeeze more than 27 percent of the Party Vote out of the New Zealand electorate.
It’s a grim parade of statistics for those of us hoping for a change of government at next year’s general election. And what it’s telling us is this: Labour isn’t trusted to govern. Phil Goff may be trusted to lead the country’s largest city – overwhelmingly trusted. But, Andrew Little is not trusted to lead the country.
This lack of trust is crippling. If it’s not addressed, and soon, it will produce yet another electoral defeat. Whether Labour can sustain a fourth rejection by the electorate – especially if it turns out to be worse than the 25 percent 2014 result – is highly debateable. A century-old party can only go on losing for so long before it simply fades away.
It is the privilege of historians to pinpoint the causes of an institution’s malaise, even when they have little to offer by way of immediate solutions.
In Labour’s case, the origins of its malady are easily discerned. The embrace of what were then called “free-market policies”, in the late-1980s, destroyed Labour as a mass party. Splits, first to the Left, and then to the Right, further weakened the organisation. That Labour survived at all as a viable electoral force was due, almost entirely, to the iron will of Helen Clark. All that has happened to the party since her departure in 2008 only confirms her pivotal role in delaying Labour’s disintegration.
What Clark was unable, or unwilling, to do, however, was the one thing that might have breathed new life into the Labour Party. To rebuild Labour as a trusted and decisive political force, it was necessary for someone to stand up and publicly repudiate Rogernomics.
This needed to be more than simply a half-hearted owning up to “mistakes”. It had to be a root-and-branch condemnation of the entire exercise – accompanied by a process of “rejuvenation” that completely denuded the parliamentary caucus of all its Rogernomes.
This latter exercise is crucial. Indeed, the repudiation of Rogernomics can only proceed successfully when the Rogernomes themselves are gone Any attempt to reassert democratic-socialist values and policies while convinced neoliberal MPs remained in caucus can only result in the most vicious kind of public political blood-letting – with all the inevitable electoral damage that such disunity entails.
What, then, do people see when they look at the Labour Party in 2016? The answer, sadly, is a blur. In the absence of a clear repudiation of its Rogernomics past, Labour can only present itself as an indistinct, ill-defined political notion. This is especially true of Labour’s parliamentary caucus where – believe it or not – there may still be found remnants of the David Lange-led, but Roger Douglas-controlled, Labour Government of 1984-1990!
With these veteran politicians, and their younger allies, still in place, even David Cunliffe’s relatively mild attempt (when compared to Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders!) to dislodge the party from its neoliberal past provoked the most extraordinary backlash. Andrew Little, has striven mightily to avoid his predecessor’s fate, but only at the cost of ideological prevarication and policy confusion. Labour’s stance on the TPPA, for example, gyrates wildly between opposition and grudging support. Meanwhile, Phil Goff (the most senior remaining Rogernome in caucus) gets a free pass to vote against his own party.
Auckland’s voters have rewarded Goff’s undeviating ideological clarity by making him their runaway favourite for the Mayoralty. And why not? When it comes to leading a monstrous neoliberal artefact like the Auckland Supercity, it’s difficult to think of anybody better qualified for the job.
But, for those of us who not only want to get rid of the National Party-led Government, but also the dangerously unequal neoliberal system that it supports, Labour’s blurred outlines and indistinct values inspire only disappointment and mistrust.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 7 March 2016.

Vita Continuat.

MY SINCERE THANKS to all the visitors to Bowalley Road who, upon learning of my father's death, so kindly and so graciously conveyed their condolences. Your words have been a great support at this sad time.

As a strong supporter of this site, however, Dad would, I am sure, have wished me to lose as little time as possible in re-starting our political conversation.

That is what I now propose to do.

In the language of the Romans - with whom we seem to have more and more in common these days: Vita continuat.

Life goes on.

Chris Trotter.
18 March 2016

This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

For Dad (A Poem)

Wheeling gulls enfold the tractor
like feathered confetti.
My father, head half-turned,
To keep the furrow straight,
Is dwarfed by the immensity
Of the paddock he has ploughed.
To my child’s eye,
The birds’ raucous accolade
Is well-deserved:    

My dad did that.

Sweat and blood and dust
Concoct a powerful remedy
For the dislocation
Of abandoned pastures:
The apprehension of new fields.
Lodged deep beneath the skin,
Close to the heart,
The quickened earth will find
A new way to speak.

My dad did that.

Discovering a grimy sack
Of be-mudded spuds.
Depression-era currency,
Deposited without ceremony,
At a country doctor’s back door.
Feeding my father’s early respect
For the raw honesty of the poor.
Heirlooms of a nation’s history,
These stories, passed down.
My dad did that.
The ravelling and
Unravelling of family.
A cast replenished –
Even as its heroes leave the stage.
The father’s trick,
To so play his part that,
In his children’s eyes,
He seems to grow larger
With every backward glance.
My dad’s done that. 

Chris Trotter
11 March 2016.

This poem is exclusive to Bowalley Road. 

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Anthony Alexander Sinclair (Tony) Trotter: 1924 - 2016

Anthony Alexander Sinclair (Tony) Trotter
1924 - 2016

TONY TROTTER – “Mr Country Calendar” – died today (Wednesday, 9 March 2016) aged 91, from natural causes.
As the television broadcaster who chose its distinctive theme music, and moved the programme out of the studio and “into the field”, Tony shaped Country Calendar into the nation’s most beloved television series. The iconic programme, celebrating every aspect of rural life, is still being produced, and this year celebrated its own fiftieth anniversary.

Tony’s later work included the ground-breaking Natural World of the Maori, with Tipene O’Reagan, and the quirky A Dog’s Show – which turned the obscure country sport of sheep-dog trialling into a popular television show. Tony ended his broadcasting career in 1989 as the Executive Producer of Television New Zealand’s award-winning Natural History Unit in Dunedin.
The son of a country doctor, Tony was raised in Herbert, North Otago, during the Great Depression. He was educated at Otepopo School and Waitaki Boys High School. In 1943, aged 18, Tony joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force. He trained in Canada, and ended the Second World War as a Pilot Officer. Returning to New Zealand, he spent the next 20 years of his life as a farmer. His property, “Beaulieu”, was situated 5 miles east of Herbert. In 1951 he married school-teacher Margaret (Peggy) Marshall, also of Herbert. They had four children: Peter, Ruth, Christopher and Jane.
In 1965, Tony sold his farm (which was too small to remain profitable) and began an entirely new career as a broadcaster for the NZBC. After a short stint as a radio announcer in Timaru, Tony’s farming experience took him south to Invercargill and rural broadcasting. Two years as Southland’s rural broadcaster was rewarded with a promotion to Wellington, where he was soon involved in a fledgling television programme covering rural affairs called Country Calendar.
A well-respected and highly creative television producer, Tony also possessed a mischievous sense of humour. His Country Calendar “spoofs” – like the celebrated “playing the fence” sequence, in which “tuned” fencing wire was plucked to produce a deep, harp-like music – delighted the programme’s eager audience.
In retirement, Tony was an active member of Dunedin’s Pakeke Lions Club. He was also a tireless campaigner for Jim Anderton’s Alliance, and the principal backer of the left-leaning magazine, New Zealand Political Review.
He is survived by three of his children: Peter, Christopher and Jane. Three grandchildren: Margaret, Michael and Aelinor. A great-grandson: Lachlan. Daughters-in-Law: Cathie and Francesca. And Son-in-Law, Shane.
This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.