The swamp

What has New Zealand politics come to when someone who was (until a few days ago) a senior frontbench member of our largest political party claims that he was active –  as recently as a few months ago – in collecting very large donations from an open and avowed supporter of one of the most egregious regimes on the planet.   And goes further to suggest that his party leader was not only active in soliciting such donations –  and whether the words are used or not, when senior politicians turn up for dinner at the house of a wealthy person who doesn’t speak English, there isn’t much doubt what the visit is really about  –  but may, illegally so the MP claims, have sought to enable the fact of such donations to be masked from public scrutiny. (Those latter claims are the issue in law, but in many ways they should be less of a political issue than the wider environment this episode sheds fresh light on.)

And when no other member of that political party, or any other political party, is willing to speak out about the culture that our politicians and political parties –  all of them it appears –  have fostered.  Why?  Because the other side is quite as heavily involved in this “donations for acquiescence (or worse)” business.

After all, the Herald reveals this morning that although the Labour/New Zealand First government was directly responsible for the honour recently bestowed on Yikun Zhang, the nomination was a joint effort of National MP –  former PLA intelligence official, Communist Party member, and active fundraiser – Jian Yang, former National Party MP Eric Roy, and former Labour leader and Mayor of Auckland –  recipient of a very large anonymous donation from mainland China to his campaign, in an event organised by Labour MP Raymond Huo –  Phil Goff.    Yikun Zhang is photographed posing earlier this year with the Prime Minister, and in Labour Party group including party president Nigel Haworth –  on record, in the last year as more and more is learned of the new and egregious evils of the PRC regime, praising Xi Jinping and celebrating the PRC regime.

And, of course, not a word is heard from any of them –  Jacinda Ardern, Winston Peters, Nigel Haworth, Peter Goodfellow, Simon Bridges, Gerry Brownlee, Todd McClay (or Jian Yang or Raymond Huo) – about:

  • the mass imprisonments in Xinjiang,
  • the continued illegal PRC militarisation of the South China Sea,
  • the increased repression of religions (and Falun Gong) across China,
  • the rollout of the “social credit” system of repression and control,
  • the growing threat to free and democratic Taiwan, or
  • the increasing erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong.

In fact, as a government minister only last year, Simon Bridges was signing official agreements with the PRC regime committing to an aspirational goal of a “fusion of civilisations”.

What of Yikun Zhang?  He is a leading figure in PRC United Front activities in New Zealand.  That’s not my interpretation, it is the view of the most prominent New Zeland expert on these matters.

Consistent with this, he was among the United Front people invited to Beijing to participate in the 90th anniversary celebrations for the People’s Liberation Army.

On 30 July 2017, Zhang Yikun, a former military servant was invited to participate the military parade in Beijing for the celebration of the 90th anniversary of PLA establishment.

Zhang said to Chinese media, “ As a veteran, now a overseas Chinese community leaders, I felt deeply excited for the tremendous achievements in the national defense  of my homeland. “

Perhaps someone could ask him, no doubt through a translator, about the South China Sea militarisation.

Only late last year, he was leading a delegation –  that included Eric Roy and Southland mayor (see yesterday’s post) Gary Tong  –  to the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council –  then one of the key institutional entities in the PRC influence activities in and through ethnic Chinese communities abroad.

I could go on –  I’ve been sent numerous links to Chinese language articles, which one can run through Google Translate –  but the character of the man is pretty clear.  After 15+ years in New Zealand he hasn’t learned English, he remains close to various PRC bodies including the embassy/consulate in New Zealand, is actively involved in various United Front entities and activities (including the cultural associations, which aren’t simply the equivalent of the Cornwall or Sussex associations, but vehicles through which the PRC seeks to exert control over ethnic Chinese in other countries)…..and he seems to assiduously cultivate connections to key figures in both our main parties (at least) –  and, in turn (and this is the real shame) to be courted by them.    And they give him official honours, for what seem –  in effect –  to be primarily services to the PRC.  Did I mention that it was one of the most egregiously evil, and outwardly aggressive, regimes on the planet?

It is pretty bad that we have allowed people like this to achieve such prominence in our society.   We should, and generally do, welcome people who want to come from China to escape the evils of the regime, and embrace freedom, democracy, transparency and a (until relatively recently) uncorrupt society.   Rather like people escaping to the West from Germany in the 1930s.   But what we seem to be doing is facilitating the functional equivalent of Nazi Party front organisations in Britain or France in the 1930s, and not just accommodating them but embracing them…..for the money.

But evil regimes will do what they do.  What we can, or should control, is what we tolerate –  whether as politicians and political party figures, or as voters.  Our political leaders seem to have no appetite for anything much other than keeping the donations flowing –  and maybe worse if the full extent of Ross’s allegations happen to be true.  They don’t seem to value what made New Zealand one of the world’s best and finest democracies –  part of what made good people want to come here –  or, if they still tell themselves they do, they seem to attempt to compartmentalise in ways that are simply untenable.  Our parties and politicians need to learn to say no.  And we need to demand that they do so.

It is well past time to drain the swamp of New Zealand politics.  If only there were any real hope of that happening.

(For those interested there is a useful background article on Yikun Zhang on Newsroom and interesting – non-controversial –  account of his own life here.)

47 thoughts on “The swamp

  1. There is a civil war coming; those of you with a toe or foot on the property ladder simply cannot see it (try to imagine if you had nothing to lose); I am surprised that Michael was not aware of the “no, English is not necessary, neo-colonial Han overlord” setting at Immigration No Zealand.

    Wake up; NZ Wars II will be upon your children and their children; to the ethno-nationalist Han Chinese dictatorship, the Shaky Isles look a whole lot like Darwin did to the Imperial Japanese Army of the WWII Axis.

    The sticks and stones will soon be upon “us”.

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  2. I clicked through to the Zhang’s CV. He talks endlessly about a humble upbringing with little material wealth while, paradoxically, talking of the multi-million dollar enterprises he has set up in NZ. One cannot follow the money; strange.

    The other thought is regarding Shenzhen – this megalopolis has transformed from a sleepy fishing village on the pearl river delta with a population of 1200 in 1979 to 13+ million citizens today.

    I have friends in Shenzhen and the simple story is this – Deng Xioping (a former village head in Yumin village, Shenzhen) as part of the economic reforms in 1978, decided to build a special economic zone adjacent to Hong Kong to leverage cheap chinese labour with Hong Kong business and capital. There was no population to make this happen so the Government used higher salaries and benefits to encourage chosen industries and technologies to set up there (Capitalism anyone?). Chinese citizens needed a special pass to move and live in Shenzhen. The inference I have taken is talented “party” supporters were at the top of the list get a pass. They moved and the businesses were created – including TenCent, Huawei, HTE – by any measure a spectacular success.

    Given his humble beginnings and (presumably) low paid PLA army job how he was able to afford a trip to New Zealand in his holidays and leave his wife here to set up shop begs a raft of questions. None of these things could happen without the overt support of the CCP.

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  3. Time that political parties were publicly funded – full stop. NZ First would be very, very wise to negotiate (i.e., force) a public referendum on this matter before the end of this term and timed to run alongside the next election.

    New Zealand needs a way out of this political donation morass – and quickly.

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    • Dead right. NZ First got support from the sort of people who flooded to halls to listen to Peters and then the fisheries and racing industries and God knows what else got him.

      I think it is time we had electronic voting and referenda + feedback systems. I’m not an expert but I suspect elites fear loosing power to deplorables.

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    • I’d be interested in your thoughts re influence in our universities, I understand you have a connection to Massey, Katherine.
      I know Victoria Uni has active Chinese influencers (a frequent contributor to Interest.co from there for example) beating the drum for CCP neo-colonialism, oppression and subversion. .
      Our Unis are heavily infested with the far left; a faction that is quite willing to enable the most outrageous assaults on western enlightenment values (the recent disgrace at Massey symptomatic of the prevailing insanity) and foolish enough to be active supporters of this vile regime.
      Are our tertiary institutions and their faculty dangerously on board with the CCP?

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      • I only teach on contract, David, and hence know little, if nothing, of these Chinese organisations/associations on campus. But I can tell you that universities are not “heavily infested with the far left”. I’d have pegged these Chinese organisations/influencers more right-leaning, than left (but I really dislike that old dichotomy – as political ideologies have moved on considerably from there).

        However, as you’ve raised the dichotomy, I think the notion that academia is “far left” is a “far right” myth. And neither are there “outrageous assaults” on western enlightenment values in the universities.

        I teach a bit of enlightenment philosophy/philosophers myself, but I’m not sure what you mean exactly by “enlightenment values”. If you mean the predominant ethics/ethical approaches arising out of the Enlightenment period – these are most definitely an important part of my content (as is Greek philosophy and ethics) – and so is the scientific knowledge/theories arising out of that period, as well as the notion of republicanism in political theory, again arising out of the enlightenment period. And no, I don’t teach it in a way that might be considered “an assault” on those ideas/theories/knowledge. But neither can we, as society, rely solely/only on those theories/theorists to guide us through today’s society. The scientific method alone (from Francis Bacon, an enlightenment theorist) has lead us to discovery of social and natural complexities that he himself could never have imagined that people would have to grapple with in future.

        There are many post-Enlightenment philosophers that a well rounded education should also cover in studying philosophy – ontology and epistemology.

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      • Thank you Katherine, I was more interested in the Chinese influence issue; the culture in our universities is off topic but a real concern to many.
        Despite your reassurances, international research indicates a real left bias and a lack of ideological diversity within academia. In light of recent events and reading the Massey charter it would appear we are no different here. Separatist, race based agenda and policies, moves against conservative speakers and the employment of a far left “activist in residence” are pretty strong indications of a strong ideological tilt. When does the book burning start?
        Here’s some food for thought from Jonathon Haidt of the Heterodox Academy.

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    • Minsk, yes I agree – fully publicly funded would be much better to my mind. I did draft a petition prior to seeing the ActionStation one;

      Petition request

      That the House of Representatives hold a public referendum at the same time as the next national election asking voters whether they want political parties and candidates to be funded solely via public (i.e., taxpayer) means.

      Petition reason

      Democracy derives from the Greek word “demos”, the common people, and “kratein”, to rule.
      The common people rule.
      In New Zealand, we are fast losing our egalitarian roots, as the gap between the rich and the poor in our society widens at an alarming rate. Our common people are generally poor, very poor, in comparison to a small, but influential elite. Many of these elites use their wealth to influence the direction of our society via private political donations. This competition for private funding of political parties and candidates forces aspiring politicians of all colours, to court and seek out money from wealthy individuals (be it via individual, corporate or non-governmental organisation donations).
      This threatens the very nature of our democracy.
      Political donation scandals are becoming commonplace, not only at a national, but more recently at a local government level.
      Election to political office should be won by a contest of vision and ideas, not wealth. Time, not money, should be what political parties and candidates seek out from their supporting public and membership.
      The funding of political parties and candidates via public (i.e., taxpayer) means only, would serve to level the playing field within that contest of ideas; it would force political parties to seek out volunteers of time and enthusiasm (not money); and it would eliminate the potential for corruption of our democracy by wealth.
      New Zealanders should be given the chance to vote on whether a ‘no private donation’ funding regime is their preferred democratic landscape. This should be done by public referendum and the Electoral Act should subsequently be amended to reflect the wishes of the “demos”.

      Will have a think about whether I should still pursue it. ActionStation do however discuss the linked initiative as an initial step, so I’m guessing they might be going for full public funding campaign as a follow up.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m not fan of government funding of political parties and yesterday I thought that suggestion would not be far away. Therefore unsurprised.

    The issue is not the level of funding but malign funding from sources that are not serving New Zealand’s wider and sole interests. Government funding per se would not stop foreign actors from involving themselves in our country’s politics. What is needed is greater (total) transparency of who has given money to which politician and political party and a requirement that the ultimate source of the money has to be NZ sourced.

    This is fundamentally an issue about transparency – racing, fishing, china, they are all vested interests – just tell us what went down.

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    • I believe we’ve amended electoral law a number of times to attempt to create greater transparency. The problem with that to my mind is that the returns in the main come in after the fact (i.e., once an election has finished) – too late to my mind. And additionally, the general electorate doesn’t have the time to keep tabs on all that (i.e., funding matters) anyway.

      I’ve got lots of relatives in the States who think there is no hope for their democracy while private funding of political parties remains part and parcel of their system of democracy. A ban on all private funding would be welcome by all of them, but they hold absolutely no hope of that given the power of the elites in the US.

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  5. Segments of the arts are absolutely “extreme” left- sociology, English, media, Asian studies. Not so much the case with philosophy and political science. Not really the case in law, but it barely qualifies as an academic subject.

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    • Really? Why do you say that? I am never quite sure what “extreme left” means – I’m not sure there is a one-size-fits-all definition. To some perhaps it means communism, to some socialism, to some liberalism, the opposition of conservatism – and so on and so forth. Where NZ is concerned, I find our two main political parties, if the ascribe to a particular -ism – it is globalism. Globalism is the centre of politics, and the dominant political ideology of the post-WWII years, I’d say.

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    • Partially agree. As a very mature student I’m completing a BA in politics at the University of Auckland. Of all my lecturers I can only think of one, possibly two, who would have ever considered voting National.

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  6. Bit of hysteria creeping in here I feel. If he had kept the donation to under $15k each, where’s the problem. The issue is that $15K is an absurdly low level and $100K is not a lot in todays money.
    perhaps raise the discloure limit to $75K, problem solved.

    As for the Greens and Labour well we all know the Unions are heavy funders of their political arms. Cant say those guys have NZ’s best interest at heart, far from it, a lot of Marxists, Trotties, and what have you…of course they align with Russia not China..but I guess thats not fashionable to mention these days.

    Taxpayer funding is not the answer as it just solidifies the status quo and open to a whole of of rorts in itself.

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    • $100K is more than many, if not a majority of New Zealanders are unlikely to be able to save – never mind be able to afford to donate to a cause/charity, across their entire working lives, Ross. We are a low wage, high cost of living economy.

      To this particular donor in the news at the moment – it is a drop in the bucket – a very small fraction (0.25%) of his estimated overall wealth. So, yes, absurdly low in comparison to most New Zealanders for sure.

      In that regard, it’s embarrassing that it bought a place in our NZ Honours list (although it is likely there are more donations made by the individual elsewhere in our governance system).

      In having no private funding, that would include no funding from NGOs (i.e., Unions) as well. In other words it solves problems of influence across the whole political spectrum.

      And it would dramatically change the status quo.

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    • I am rather surprised you and Mr Reddell are so worried about a solidified status quo. For most of the last century democratic politics worldwide was a contest between socialism and capitalism. That kept almost all elections a two party system; a hundred years of status quo. Now that contest has been resolved with state ownership of the means of production out of fashion it has opened up politics to popularism. Film stars and sports stars and even TV reality stars and Italian comedians are our new leaders and I rather hanker for the old days where political parties had traditions and carried historical baggage. So please bring in appropriate political funding of NZ parties; outsiders can use their own money until they collect a proportion of the popular vote in a general election.

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      • I disagree that “For most of the last century democratic politics worldwide was a contest between socialism and capitalism.” – well not in the US anyway. In Kennedy’s era it was more a matter of militarism and industry versus civil rights and demilitarisation. I sometimes wonder if that hasn’t come a bit full circle over there – only the Dem party supports the former and Trump seems to be trying to extricate himself and the US from the former, but the ‘deep state’ is a scary, scary opponent.

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      • Katherine: I rather enjoyed that broad generalisation. When I lived for a short time in USA I realised the word ‘socialism’ was anthema but many cities subsidised public transport far more generously than UK labour councils (from memory Cleveland airport to the city was $40 by taxi and under a dollar by the non-advertised train).
        However two party politics was the norm with lifelong attachment by most of the populace so elections were decided by who was most motivated to vote not by swing voters. Compare that to say modern France with a President who like Trump had no political experience. These days political parties come and go far too easily and the reason belongs in your territory: philosophy, the lack of.

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      • The US spends more (way more) as a percentage of GDP on its socialised medicine, Medicare and Medicaid, than we do as a percentage of GDP on our system of socialised medicine. I can hunt out the stat, if you’re interested. AND they socialise the losses of their private sector way, way more than we do as well.

        I do have to laugh when my American relations perceive NZ to be a socialist state – but I dare not attempt to explain/prove them otherwise.

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  7. 1626, Dutch West India Company rep Peter Minuit met with local Lenape Native Americans to purchase the rights to the island of Manhattan for the value of 60 guilders.

    1803, The Louisiana Purchase from France is considered to be one of the largest land deals ever. With a purchase price of just $15 million, the U.S. added some 13 states worth of territories

    1867, The United States reached an agreement to purchase Alaska from Russia for a price of $7.2 million.

    2018, NZ sold for $100,000 plus ?

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    • No, that’s $100k for 2 or 1 extra MP maybe plus a knighthood.

      If I knew the going rate for a “Sir Greatgreatstuff” was $100k, perhaps I would donate $100k to National as well and nominate myself as a list MP for a $170,000 salary. Thats a great investment return.

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  8. Bob and Katherine, I simply don’t see anything here, move on. Its been going on since time began and before people could vote.

    If you think a $100K donation can swing an election, or buy the influence that you are trying to allude to then I think you have a very poor view of NZ voters and the electoral system. At the margin it may make a difference but it is NZ’ers who vote, and its still majority wins….. ooops wrong 45% didn’t get a say 🙂

    Labour had their $880,000 scandal under Auntie Helen, Winston has never paid back the $158,000.

    Sorry Katherine but you are just naive thinking yet more big Govt can fix the issue ,besides the politicians aren’t going to vote for that option anyway as it doesn’t suit them

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    • No need to swing the election if you can motivate both parties to look favourably on you. When did you last see a cabinet minister of any party publically meet the Nobel prize winning Dalai Lama?
      If political funding was introduced I would not suggest giving it as a lump sum to party leaders but I would try to get the money to the party members – say generous subsidies per attendee for party meetings. Personally I might join one of the two big parties if they offered free beer at their meetings. NZ does have a serious need for widespread informed political debate – by voters not journalists.

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    • Certainly not a call for more big government – we (the taxpayers) already fund a certain amount to every political party contesting an election – who said the amount needed to be much more than what is currently provided?

      Think of it like politics on a shoestring budget where people (not money) are recruited by the political parties, because they offer a vision and a plan that people believe in and are prepared to devote their own time and energy to.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Keep it up, Katharine! Boomfa!!!!

        I will be signing that petition today. Private money is politics is corrupting our politics.

        Without the big bucks to do a big ad buy, I look forward to seeing my local MP pounding the streets and knocking on doors – campaigning for votes by talking to people, the old-fashioned way.

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      • What is the point of politics if different parties are not able to represent different interest groups? You might as well have the state appoint a dictator if all political parties are state funded if different interest groups are not able to fund the party to be biased in their favour. How would parties like TOP even exist without private funding?

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    • If you look at the issue in the context of the released audio recording, there is a suggestion that the donation could have been repaid by increasing the number of Chinese MPs – Indian donors to National apparently aren’t worth as much as Chinese donors in terms of their donation potential. Bridges’ statements could be interpreted that way…

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  9. Yes, altho do note that it is a year old, written about the time her Magic Weapons paper was first released.

    I guess where I differ from here is that she seems to take for granted a willingness to act, while I think we continue to observe an extreme reluctance to even face the reailty of the problem. Of course, Beijing is the initiating factor, but the real problem lies much closer to home – parties scared of their shadows, and eager for money to keep themselves going.

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  10. Catherine-

    I’m not claiming precision with the term. It just seems to me (having spent a great deal of time in arts) that certain displines contain comparetively a lot of people who are fairly left wing on the New Zealand political spectrum; or are Marxist; and/or adopt moral, political, and philosophical positions close to the uber-identify/gender politics in American universities.

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  11. Michael – thanks for continuing to bring this perspective. I would say though that you diminish yourself somewhat using the language of ‘The Swamp’, if only because you must know that you’ll be taken less seriously in NZ than you should be in doing so.

    It’s good to see commenters focussed on some solutions – the implication is that there is agreement of some sort of issue (precisely defined or otherwise) along the lines Michael has been raising over the months. That’s good guys, and don’t lose sight of that common ground between you – it is not widely shared. To pick up on his latest comment above, the current issue we (wider NZ) face really is upstream of that – the acknowledgement-of-an-issue point.

    Surely some real vigour needs to be brought to the exactly what behaviour is and is not in issue.

    If a strong implication of the ‘Bridges/Ross Tape’ – that a donation could be exchanged for party list positions – then we have a very worrying situation. It is more worrying still if the list candidates can be put up by someone with ‘links’ to the CCP, and that those links could be discovered merely by reading a well-known blog (this one). And it is more worrying still if both parties were involved in these kinds of practices because both want the coin.

    But no one – Ms Brady included – is doing a razor-sharp job of parsing out what may be differing cultural practices from those of an authoritarian power. My (limited) experience of Hong Kong Chinese and Taiwanese people also strongly identify with concepts of influence-by-reciprocity, face, and so on. Can each and every person of such extraction in NZ really be under the thumb of the CCP? My point is that the silence of the wider Chinese community may be the result of highly-effective censorship – or it may be that this is the way it goes with people of a different cultural tradition. It might be one reason that sixth generation NZ-Chinese families are not making noises.

    It is not that those brining differing traditions cannot present western democratic traditions with issues, but that we might pause before labelling all behaviour of those traditions as the result of undue influence from a foreign power. With dogmatism of asserting otherwise, the least one can expect is to be dismissed as something between a crank and racist. That would be unfortunate, because there is undoubtedly issue worthy of sincere and widespread attention here.

    All in all though a shameful day for NZ politics. We have learned that it is not only the government without productivity lifting ideas. It is the Nats too: attack ads? Please. Get on an research some policy. We have also learned that it is even further down the identity politics gurgler than we knew. After yesterday’s pathetic invitation to the public to buy into all the worst of #MeToo, we have today’s infantile attempt to justify ethnic quotas in the caucus.

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    • Thanks for the comments. I wavered on the “swamp” – mainly because of the Trumpian associations, altho Trump is a creature of the swamp, if not one of the co-creators – and I was in a hurry yesterday morning, but actually a system in which nothing is done to fix decades of economic decline (and once in govt both parties jsut pretend there really isn’t a problem) combined the willing subservience to PRC interests – for party donations, and the economic interests of a few big corporate/university players – probably deserves the label. We don’t have a system of personal corruption (by and large), which makes it easier to envisage that our system could be fixed. If there was a will, which there doesn’t seem to be among, at least among the established parties (large and small), or other economic/social elites.

      Re your final comments on identity politics, I couldn’t help reflecting the Baptist ministers’ sons – one of my own “identities” as well as Bridges’ background – were over-represented at the top tier of NZ parliamentary politics. Not that I favour quotas of course….

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      • If you listen to the latest saga from Melanie Reid’s essay of Jami Lee Ross and his brutal predatory nature, probably you call it a swamp quite correctly. What a tabloid saga.

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      • Those Maori seats are indeed a minority ethnic quota. But given that MMP can change or collapse NZ governments by perhaps 1 or 2 seats, those 7 Maori seats give 15% of a minority people a huge amount of power to topple NZ governments and therefore a huge amount of influence.

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  12. This is not a secret. The voters know about this.

    Kiwis with their head in the sand is perhaps a more accurate statement and of course quite apt!

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  13. I think the TaxPayers Union covers this idea of beautifully really. Taxpayer funding would end up being a bigger rort, and I agree wholeheartedly, just entrenching Union dominated parties, or single issue parties like the Greens. If you cant convince your supporters to fund you then you dont desrve to be in politics..

    From TPU
    “This proposal is opportunistic, self-interested, objectionable, and would have a corrosive effect on our democracy.

    Taxpayer funding for party business will only entrench the position of incumbent parties like the Greens, and suppress political start-ups that could challenge existing powers.

    Besides, taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to promote ideas that they disagree with or even find morally reprehensible.”

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