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Karl du Fresne: New Zealand’s cultural upheaval

The following piece was originally published in the Spectator Australia on April 16, 2022


My wife and I recently spent two weeks on a road trip around New Zealand’s South Island. It’s a spectacularly beautiful corner of the world that was recently exposed to an international audience via Oscar-winning director Jane Campion’s film The Power of the Dog, in which the Central Otago region stands in for the wilds of Montana.


It was a good time to be touring the island because the roads were virtually free of traffic, a state of affairs likely to come to an abrupt end now that New Zealand is reopening its doors to international tourists after two years of economically crippling isolation.


But the trip was also a therapeutic experience because in the South Island – or to give it its more poetic Maori name, Te Wai Pounamu – you’re geographically removed from Wellington and Auckland, the epicentres of the culture wars. For those two weeks it was almost possible to delude ourselves that we were back in the familiar New Zealand we knew.


Alas, it wasn’t so. Tuning in even briefly to the TV and radio news was a reminder that the country is in the grip of a cultural revolution reminiscent in tone, if not in scale, of the one that convulsed Mao’s China in the Sixties and early Seventies.


There are days when I barely recognise New Zealand as the country I was born in and where my family has lived for generations. The transformation since the re-election of Jacinda Ardern’s Labour government in 2020 has been breathtaking in both its speed and its reach.


Note that I say re-election. Ardern became Prime Minister in 2017, but for the duration of her government’s first term Labour was in coalition with the socially conservative New Zealand First party, which served as an ideological handbrake.


In the 2020 election, voters rewarded Ardern for what they thought was her competent handling of the Covid-19 crisis by giving Labour the power to govern alone. Suddenly the handbrake was released.


The resulting upheaval isn’t measurable so much by legislative change as by a profound shift in the political and cultural tone of the country. Ardern’s re-election was like an injection of steroids for the leftist cabal that now exerts control over all New Zealand’s institutions of power and influence, including the media and the craven business sector.


This university-educated and predominantly middle-class neo-Marxist cabal is distinct from New Zealand’s dwindling old-school socialist/communist Left, which ironically now finds itself aligned with conservatives on issues such as free speech and identity politics. But the New Left wields far more power than the comrades of the Old Left ever dreamed of.


How is this leftist cabal’s influence manifested? Chiefly through the divisive phenomenon known as wedge politics, and most provocatively through the promotion of 50-50 co-governance between representatives of the European majority and a minority consisting of people with Maori ancestry.


There are now effectively two levels of citizenship in New Zealand, one of which confers entitlements not available to the other. This is evident across a range of public policies that include compulsory Maori representation on local councils, the appointment of Maori activists to positions of power and the splurging of vast sums of money targetted exclusively at people who happen, by what is effectively a genetic accident, to have a proportion of Maori blood.


All this is predicated on the notion that people of part-Maori descent are entitled to redress for the baneful effects of colonisation. These deleterious effects presumably included the introduction of democratic government, the rule of law and the end of cannibalism, slavery and tribal warfare.


‘Decolonisation’ is a fashionable catch-cry among the metropolitan elites and one the government does nothing to discourage. Whether decolonisation includes rejecting such innovations as literacy and Western medicine isn’t clear, since the advocates of decolonisation are careful not to spell out exactly what they mean.


Maori co-governance is already well advanced in health and education with virtually no critical scrutiny from the media. However Ardern’s government is facing stiff resistance over an audacious ideological project known as the Three Waters plan, which would transfer control of the country’s water infrastructure from local councils to opaque new entities in which unelected Maori tribal interests would wield equal power with representatives of the wider community.


That may prove to be Labour’s undoing as opinion polls show a pronounced swing in favour of the centre-right National party and its newish leader, Christopher Luxon. It’s a measure of the country’s anxiety – or should that be desperation? – that voters now seem prepared to put their faith in a politician who has never publicly expressed an original thought and whose vision doesn’t seem to extend beyond lowering taxes.


The Three Waters plan is effectively a test run for a radical re-interpretation of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, the country’s founding document. Under the proposed new model, people of Maori descent, representing 16.5 per cent of the population, would be given an equal say in government across the board – an idea clearly incompatible with the basic tenets of democratic government. The stark choice facing New Zealand voters at next year’s general election will be between democracy and a different form of government for which we have no name.


But the cultural upheaval goes far beyond that, stoked by state-subsidised media that have abandoned their traditional purpose of seeking to reflect the society they purport to serve, and which instead bombard the public with indoctrination promoting the interests of attention-seeking minority groups.


The result is a society more feverishly divided than at any time in living memory – a phenomenon exemplified by February’s protest camp on the lawns of Parliament, which exposed deep sociological fault lines and ended in a violent showdown with the police.


This sense of polarisation is magnified by an authoritarian intolerance of dissent and by Stalinist-style denunciations of anyone bold or foolish enough to speak out against prevailing ideological orthodoxy.


Meanwhile, Ardern floats above it all. She’s a shrewd enough politician to have remained largely aloof from the rancour her government has generated, and who avoids entanglement in any unpleasantness that might detract from her carefully crafted image as an empathetic politician. But she cannot disown responsibility for presiding over a government that is promoting the politics of division and destabilising what was previously an admirably cohesive and harmonious society.



Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at karldufresne.blogspot.co.nz.

7,083 views76 comments

76 Comments


This article and these comments are well put together. Can I ask everybody, what do you think of Simon O’Connor, national MP? As potential

leader for national. I have seen him speak - on free speech. Certainly didn’t translate as Luke warm but I don’t know enough about him.

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lynnsam112
lynnsam112
May 31, 2022
Replying to

lets face it we need someone who is NOT afraid to call a spade a spade......don't think Luxon is up to that, too corporate and doesn't like making waves.....

Time will tell with Simon O'Connor....

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Richard Seager
Richard Seager
May 29, 2022

Just back from Australia. On days 1 & 6 you're required (I havn't looked to see if you're legally required) to report in the results of your Antigen test (RAT).


On hold for several minutes you're treated to a recording asking if you want to speak to a Maori operator. Not a Maori speaking operator, you're asked if you want to speak to a Maori operator. Seems a tad racist.


BTW here's my experience of the return trip (I tested positive at Melbourne Airport the week before so had to isolate for 7 days);


https://plebeianresistance.substack.com/p/australia-to-new-zealand?s=w


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Lesley
Lesley
Aug 06, 2022
Replying to

Better than being greeted by a Māori speaking operator asking if you want to speak to an English operator?. Read your adventure in Melbourne and all I can say is you place too much faith in what you read in the news stories. At least you got home safe and well.

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Great article Karl but just to start as far as I am concerned New Zealand is our country with North Island and South Island the two big chunks and a few nice extra bits with well recognised names. However ,yes I agree with you and the commentators. I am personally deeply distressed by the state of our country. It is not the place I was born and grew up in and always loved. Now I feel like a stranger here with nowhere to go although I am historically part Pacifica .The PM and her hopeless Govt are destroying NZ and I do wish that Luxon and his team would start thumping a few tables and making their views widely known…

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Thank you Karl, Don, Michael, Rodney, Richard and all the other writers of the excellent articles that are spelling out the cultural and democratic downward spiral of our beautiful land. George Orwell's Animal Farm comes to mind as these incompetent graft and nepotistic so called country leaders polarise and destroy a nation . I am so angry and disappointed at what is happening in my country of birth. I was preparing to relocate home to NZ 2 years ago from South Africa. As a retiring person, I can no longer consider this - it would be a move of "out of the frying pan and into the fires of hell".

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Replying to

Hopefully the TV 1 and Curia polls may lift your spirits.

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Octavian Augustus
Octavian Augustus
May 29, 2022

"It’s a measure of the country’s anxiety – or should that be desperation? – that voters now seem prepared to put their faith in a politician who has never publicly expressed an original thought and whose vision doesn’t seem to extend beyond lowering taxes."


Luxon and the party he leads do not get sufficient "credit" for the role they are playing here. They are asleep at the wheel. In our system, the counterpart of any government is an effective, critical and combative opposition. We have no such opposition, which, particularly in the face of rampant ideologues, is an absolute necessity.


On the basis of the "fighting fire with fire" principle, only a group of politically diametrically opposed ideologues can have…


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Replying to

Beautiful

As I’ve said before, time to ditch the status-quo with Labour/National.

We have, and are continuing to down a dirty path of no return. Time to give ACT a shot.

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