Green Vomit and statistical nonsense: the lies you hear about immigration and the Auckland housing crisis

hanson-farage-trump

Uncomfortable bedfellows: NZ Greens’ James Shaw joins Pauline Hanson (Australia), Michael Gove (UK) and Donald Trump (US) in an international trend of xenophobic scapegoating.

 

Article by Tim Leadbeater. Reprinted from the International Socialist Organisation (Aotearoa/NZ).

A few days ago the Labour party announced a new policy of increasing police numbers by 1000. I groaned at this news but it didn’t really surprise me. Then yesterday I heard of the new Greens policy on immigration, with James Shaw calling for a drastic reduction in numbers. Is New Zealand First calling the shots here, aided and encouraged by a compliant and uncritical media happy to jump on the anti-immigrant bandwagon? The Greens and Labour will almost certainly need the support of NZF to form a government next year, and Winston really just hates those hippy-dippy lentil munching do gooders. James Shaw knows this, yet needs to send a very clear signal to Peters that the Greens are willing to compromise. Immigration is a hot topic, and Shaw can easily frame the issue in terms of “sustainablitity” and “infrastructure”. No need for racist dog-whistles or Chinese sounding surnames, this is Sensible and Practical Greens policy, easily digested by sensitive liberals turned off by the crude nationalistic appeals of NZF.

“We think that the country needs a more sustainable immigration policy, so what we’d do is set a variable approvals target based on a percentage of the overall population. That would be at about 1 percent of the population, which is historically how fast New Zealand’s population has grown.”

Mr Shaw says the policy would even out peaks and troughs in annual migration numbers.

“You’ve also got to cater for changes in infrastructure, and because our population has historically grown at about 1 percent the country is set up to absorb that,” he says.

“Suddenly double that number, and you’ve got a problem like we’ve got at the moment, where you actually can’t meet the demand.”

Hmmmm. Sounds sensible enough. It’s not that we are racist or anything mean and horrible like that, it is just that we have looked at it very carefully and the numbers just don’t add up. One percent is all that the infrastructure can handle – just look at the housing crisis for proof, even if we wanted to we just couldn’t build enough new houses that fast. The government isn’t switched on like we are, they are letting in huge numbers and now people are sleeping in their cars! Etc, etc.

Curious about this one percent growth claim, I searched for the population data on Statistics New Zealand and came up with this graph:

population-graph

It is sort of true that the New Zealand population has grown at around 1% per year, as you can see for the period from the 1990s up to 2015, the line fluctuates above and below 1%. If you were a statistician paid by Winston Peters you could cut the time period to 1980 and onwards, and very easily draw a steadily increasing trendline through the periodic peaks and troughs. Look! The line is going up, we don’t have enough houses! The line must be flat, we must flatten the line! One percent is an absolute maximum!

The really strange and scary thing is to consider just how New Zealand survived throughout those extreme and rabbit-warren like years after the second world war. Those baby boomers were just popping them out without any consideration for New Zealand’s fragile infrastructure, pushing 3% for a couple of years and then a period of about 20 years with that line well in the red zone (and it was so sudden! How did they cope?). Then there was that period in the late 60s and early 70s when the line went into the 2% Danger Zone for about 3 years. Those damn hippies, what were they thinking?

Cheering for the Greens new anti-immigrant stance, Martyn Bradbury from the Daily Blog conjures conjures up some even more gratuitously false statistics to make the case:

Here is the grim truth about our current immigration settings. It’s not the 70,000-90,000 who become permanent residents that we need to be concerned about and it’s not their families joining them that we need to be worried with either, the real problem is our scam work/study visa scheme that sees 250 000 desperate students coming to NZ for bullshit ‘education’ programs that end up as bonded servitude with exploitative employers who hold onto their passports.

These 250 000 work hard jobs, many on less than minimum wage and pay tens of thousands for education schemes that are glorified english courses all for the promise of becoming permanent  residents.

A quarter of a million students paying tens of thousands of dollars to learn English, and getting exploited at the same time by ruthless bosses! And all of them putting massive stress on our infrastructure! They’ll never ever go back to where they came from because their bosses have stolen their passports!! We’ll be doing the country a favour as well as fighting for worker’s rights if we just stop them staying here! A double whammy:

We need to stop exploiting these people and stop promising them permanent residence via education. If they wish to come here for education, fine, that’;s their decision, but putting in place the pathway from education or employment to residency is exploitative and creating huge pressures on an infrastructure that can’t take anymore.

When I first read this blog I was struck by the twisted moral “logic” of Bradbury’s anti-immigrant stance. Like James Shaw, he wants to save the ‘infrastructure’ from the hordes of foreigners swamping our fair land. But he wants to present this as simultaneously saving the immigrants from exploitative bosses. If only they knew how exploitative and nasty kiwi bosses were, they would never have come in the first place. (Working conditions in places like India, of course, being obviously superior). I started pondering the strange and only barely coherent motivations for this ‘argument’, then my head started to hurt so I gave up. What then struck me was Bradbury’s figures. Where on earth did he get that figure of 250,000 ‘desperate students’?

He links to another blog by Mike Treen, which states that “250,000 people are granted student or temporary work visas each year.”. There are no sources given for any of these numbers, so I dug around the Statistics New Zealand and MBIE sites for up to date data. Treen’s figure of 250,000 is most likely based on data for the 2014/2015 year, in which 84,856 international students were approved for New Zealand courses, and 170,814 people were granted a work visa.

Let’s start with the temporary work visas. It is difficult to know exactly how many of these people are or were international students. There are several categories of temporary visa, and a set of complex rules and regulations surrounding each category. I didn’t spend enough time on this problem to come up with an exact number, but I did take note of the clearly spelt out fact that the biggest single source country of those gaining temporary work visas was the UK. And the fact that the biggest visa category (61,404 people) was ‘Working Holiday Schemes’ (think backpackers). How many people were granted visas in the ‘Work to Study’ category? Exactly 13,688. There are other categories international students might have applied under, but this is the most obvious candidate.

How about those 84,856 international students? Again I didn’t dig long enough in the data to work out how many of these students worked, or intended to work after studying. Fairly obviously the 18% of them who were under 16 will not be working, which leaves us with 69,582 who might get part time work alongside their studies. There is no denying that for a significant chunk of these international students (and ex-students), exploitative and often illegal work practices are a major problem. But the numbers involved are nowhere near the idiotically false figure of 250,000 which Bradbury confidently puts forward without any reservations.

Are these just careless mistakes made a by blogger who thrives on the hot air of passing controversies, or is there something else going on here? I’m aware that Bradbury operates a blog rather than an academic journal, but the brazen sloppiness regarding statistics is surely a big issue. The internet allows you to check numbers very quickly and easily, so why not back up your statistics with actual sources?

There are definitely some impressive numbers out there which at first glance appear to back up the argument for cutting immigration. According to Statistics New Zealand, surely a source far more credible than Bradbury’s blog or Green Party press releases, Auckland’s population grew by a massive 2.9% in the 2014 – 2015 year. This growth accounted for over half of the population growth for the entire country. Alongside these facts it would not be a difficult task to present a series of familiar and undeniable truths about the problems with Auckland’s infrastructure: the housing crisis, inadequate public transport, congested roads and so on. Shortly after the release of this data in July 2015, there was a Stuff article with the headline “NZ migration boom nears 60,000 a year, as Indians and returning Kiwis flood in”. Like many other similarly hysterical media reports, immigration is presented as a major causal factor of the housing crisis. With almost no attention given in the mainstream media to alternative points of view which question this received wisdom, the truth of the claim ‘immigrants cause housing crisis’ has apparently become established through constant repetition. In this environment, it is possible to make outlandishly false statistical claims about immigration without stirring any controversy.

The most insightful piece I have read about this issue is Peter Nunns’ transport blog article ‘Why is Auckland Growing?’. Nunns points out that net migration is extremely volatile, being dependent on both the numbers of Aucklanders leaving for places such as Australia and the numbers of people coming in from overseas. Much more constant and statistically significant is the natural population increase due to Aucklanders having babies. If we can get past the hysteria of the 2015 figures and look at the past 24 years for a broader and more robust view of the situation, the statistics tell a different story: in 18 of those 24 years, natural increase was a bigger contributor to growth than net migration. The significance of this is that even if regulations on immigration were tightened considerably, overall long term population growth would be roughly the same as if the status quo rules remained. Nunns demonstrates this with a simulation comparing a projected Auckland population growth with a 50% reduction of net migration to one without such a reduction. His prediction is that by the year 2043, the 50% reduction version of Auckland would have a population of about 2.1 million, whereas the status quo Auckland would have a population of about 2.2 million. The conclusion he draws is that Auckland faces some major tasks around preparing its infrastructure for population growth, so it needs to do things like build more houses. Cutting immigration is simply not a solution.

I can’t resist another conclusion: none of this pedantic analysing of facts and figures really matters all that much. What does matter is all those times you get on board an Auckland train in the morning and there are no seats left, and you are surrounded by lots of Indian and Asian young people. When you get on the bus and have to listen to all those conversations in Chinese. Then you get off on Dominion Road and basically every sign is written in Chinese, and they don’t even bother translating them into English. All those bright and hard working Asian students who get most of the academic prizes in the secondary schools. These very pertinent experiences and anecdotes build on each other, so when you read the outlandish and ridiculous sentence “the real problem is our scam work/study visa scheme that sees 250 000 desperate students coming to NZ for bullshit ‘education’ programs that end up as bonded servitude with exploitative employers who hold onto their passportsyou don’t even blink, it just sounds about right.

As a socialist I am for internationalism, solidarity and a world without borders. In this article however I have restrained myself from using any of the perspectives, values or arguments which inform these positions. The mainstream left in New Zealand appears to be lacking in both statistical literacy and the spirit of the famous phrase ‘Workers of the World, Unite!’. If we can’t communicate to them the spirit of solidarity, the least we can do is point out their mathematical failure.

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In defence of the ‘user pays youth generation’

According to a US survey, 49% of millenials view socialism favourably.

According to a US survey, 49% of millenials view socialism favourably.

By Ian Anderson, Fightback.

The Daily Blog’s Martyn Bradbury recently posted an article seeking to characterise John Key’s electoral appeal. Bradbury contends that Key appeals to a ‘user pays youth generation’:

This empty aspiration appeals to a user pays youth generation who have no idealogical [sic] compass, and is best expressed through the naked narcism [sic] of Key’s son.

Bradbury has used the specific phrase ‘user pays youth generation’ before. In August 2015, the Daily Blog posted another article attempting to characterise Key’s base, with a nearly identical paragraph on the apparent superficiality of millenials:

[Key appeals] to our anti-intellectualism… He’s so laid back he burns books on his BBQ. This empty aspiration appeals to a user pays youth generation who have no idealogical [sic] compass, and is best expressed through the naked narcism [sic] of Key’s son.

Bradbury is right to suggest that Key’s PR-guided personality appeals to a certain Kiwi anti-intellectualism, a blokey ‘she’ll be right’ attitude in the context of the global financial crisis. National is supported by the rich, and by insecure middle-class folks relying on the property boom – which raises the question, how many people in their 20s own houses?

Although Bradbury may have a point about Key’s media-savvy philistinism, he’s wrong to imply that Key’s base is primarily young. While Young Nats offer a horrifying spectacle of privileged self-indulgence, this does not represent most ‘millenials.’ According to early voting statistics from 2014, students voted for a change of government, with Labour-Green-Internet Mana at a combined total of around 50%, and National votes at 37% (around 10% lower than the national average). This doesn’t say anything special about Kiwi millenials: youth generally tend to be progressive. According to a US survey, 49% of millenials view socialism favourably.

National’s electoral strength can be explained not only by who votes for them, but who doesn’t vote at all. 2011 saw the lowest turnout since the 19th century, and 2014 wasn’t a significant improvement. The ‘missing million’ of non-voters is comprised largely of youth, migrants, tangata whenua, poor and working-class citizens – the demographics most likely to vote left.

Surveys of non-voters reveal that they are more likely to cite disengagement (eg “my vote wouldn’t have made a difference”) than a perceived practical barrier (eg “I couldn’t get to a polling booth”). After 30 years of neoliberal assault and entrenchment by successive Labour and National governments, it’s unsurprising that so many are disenfranchised.

Generational narratives about ‘millenials’ and ‘Baby Boomers’ do in some ways resonate with lived experience. For example, I was born in 1988, during the reign of the Fourth Labour Government. Although Pākehā and relatively well-off, I was born into a world of privatisation, declining real wages, and ballooning private debt. Since leaving home I’ve only worked short-term casualised jobs, and lived in poorly maintained flats. If I’m part of a ‘user pays’ generation, I owe this in large part to Baby Boomers like Phil Goff, who introduced student loans (after getting through university with a universal student allowance). With a $40,000 student loan, I’m not inspired to vote for a party that recently promoted Goff as a potential Prime Minister.

However, generational narratives can also also conceal reality. Baby Boomers, in general, did not implement neoliberalism: a global minority carried out this assault. Many more resisted; thousands of leftists killed by Pinochet’s regime in Chile; thousands of miners in Thatcher’s England; and those of my parents’ generation who unsuccessfully fought a sudden, disorientating wave of restructuring initiated by the Fourth NZ Labour Government. I was raised with the idea that “socialism was a nice idea that didn’t work” – that there is no alternative – and didn’t come to understand this history until well into adulthood.

Reactionary complaints about the apathetic ‘selfie generation’ also conceal more than they reveal. My generation saw perhaps the largest ever global mobilisation, against the Iraq War, a mobilisation that did nothing to stop that military assault. This perception of political powerlessness, this sense that there is no alternative, seems more likely to discourage youth from political participation than the ability to take pictures with our phones.

A Baby Boomer coined the phrase ‘don’t trust anybody over 30,’ and in a certain sense he was wrong. Older radicals offer a reminder that not everyone grows conservative with age. Any socialist alternative to Labour and National’s business-as-usual will require the intergenerational self-organisation of workplaces, universities and communities. Otherwise, a privileged minority of millenials will find themselves managing a violent social system much like the one they were born into – likely dooming the species to extinction.

The kids aren’t alright, but generational warfare is a distraction. Capitalism remains the enemy.

See also

Coalition governments and real change

LabourMike Treen, General Secretary of UNITE Union. (Reprinted from The Daily Blog, originally published in 2013).

Can a party that wants fundamental changes in society be a minor part of a coalition government?
My conclusion is no, after having been a participant in the Alliance Party’s implosion after attempting to do so from 1999-2002 as part of the Labour-led government. But that does not mean that a minor party can’t be an effective player in parliament for reforms while continuing to build a movement outside of parliament as well for real change.

Similar disasters befell radical left or Green parties in many countries. In most cases there existed a moderate centrist Labour or social democratic party that had strong support from working people but was committed to the existing system including the system of worldwide alliances with the US-led western imperial ambitions.

Pressure always comes on the smaller more radical party to oppose the more right wing parties and support the “lesser evil” of social democracy. Many working people who either have illusions that their traditional party will make real change, or simply accept – albeit unenthusiastically – the reality of lesser evilism, will also often want their party to ally with parties to their left rather than their right in the hope of more progressive policies emerging. It is always worth remembering that not all Labour governments are a lesser evil. It would be hard to argue that was true for the 1984-90 Labour government.

This was true in 1999 in New Zealand. There was genuine enthusiasm when Helen Clark extended the olive branch to the Alliance Party at its conference that year and what was effectively an alternative coalition in waiting won the election.
Alliance leader Jim Anderton was made deputy prime minister and three others got cabinet posts, but the party essentially disappeared from view into Labour’s embraces and its policies were seen as essentially the same. The government remained reasonably popular but the Alliance Party’s support collapsed in the polls. Technically the party retained the right to differentiate its own position from that of the larger partner while remaining in cabinet but this was rarely invoked. Then when the decision was made to send troops to Afghanistan it provoked a bitter internal fight, with the vast majority of the party rejecting the decision by Anderton and a majority of Alliance MP’s to support the government’s position. The Alliance was eliminated from parliament at the 2002 election and Anderton’s faction has simply been absorbed into the Labour Party.
The problem for a genuinely radical party is that it only has minority support and cannot impose any significant policy change on a party committed to the existing system. So long as that system is based on serving the 1%, only small and relatively minor progressive changes are achievable. That was the case for the Alliance, which achieved the establishment of Kiwibank and Paid Parental Leave and some labour law reforms, despite significant opposition from elements in the Labour Party at the time. But these changes weren’t enough to significantly change the position of working people in the country. They weren’t enough to give people hope that unemployment could be eliminated, inequality radically reduced, democratic control exerted over the key sectors of the economy.

If the Alliance had remained outside of cabinet it could probably have negotiated for all the changes it actually achieved, but remained free to agitate and mobilise people in the streets for the more radical changes that are needed to make a real improvement to the lives of working people.
The Greens will face a similar challenge if they can achieve a majority able to form a government with Labour after the next election. The Greens have already taken the first significant steps to becoming a “partner” in running the existing system rather than challenging it when they signed up to the ETS [Emissions Trading Scheme] as a mechanism to combat climate change. They know that the ETS, or any other market-based mechanism, cannot make any real impact in combating a threat to humanity that has arisen as a consequence of the free market system in the first place.
Protecting the environment and protecting the rights and living standards of the vast majority of people in the world requires the system of capitalism to be superseded. That requires a radical social and political movement that aspires to win a majority in the country – not simply assume the role of “junior partner” to a party that remains fundamentally committed to the current system.
The Mana Movement, which is in my view a system-challenging movement, may also face a similar problem if the election is close and Labour and the Greens (and NZ First?) require their vote to form a government. They too will be in a position to negotiate some reforms that benefit the people who support them, as part of a negotiated agreement to allow a Labour-led government to be formed. By doing so they will respect the fact that for now they are a minority party and the majority of the people they want to represent have voted for Labour or the Greens. That democratic choice can be respected.

At the same time Mana can retain their freedom of criticism and ability to organise at the grass roots for the generally timid reforms to go further, or against any reactionary policies that such a government will inevitably end up promoting. So long as these parties in government are trying to make a system “work” they can’t escape ultimately disappointing their own supporters, because for this system to work it will continue to produce economic crisis, unemployment and environmental destruction. Movements like Mana can then provide a progressive alternative for those people rather than have that disappointment captured by the right.

Elections and migrant-bashing: Full rights for migrant workers

Ni-Vanuatu migrant worker

Ni-Vanuatu migrant worker

Joe McClure, Fightback

Labour and National both have unpromising records when it comes to immigration policy. National, represented by Minister of Immigration Michael Woodhouse, has suffered a series of embarrassments this year. Groups of Filipino workers employed in Christchurch were found to be victims of exploitative company Tech5, which was keeping them in cramped conditions, taking $125 per person per week to “pay for the cost of their tools”, and coercing them into working for the company without complaint, or risk losing their visa and being returned to the Philippines. A recent raid on fruit picking operations in the Bay of Plenty found eight people working without visas, and more than 18 companies operating in breach of immigration requirements. In May, Woodhouse was found to have met with overseas investors and significant National party donors, including prominent Chinese businessman Donghua Liu, before deciding on their visa applications.

Labour has also been dogged by the case of Liu, when it was found that Labour leader David Cunliffe had intervened in his application, after Liu allegedly paid $100,000 for a bottle of wine at a Labour party fundraiser. Despite Cunliffe’s adamant claim that he never got involved with Liu’s visa application in 2014, it has been revealed that in 2003 he wrote a letter asking for Liu’s immigration application to be fast-tracked. Liu donated an undisclosed amount to Labour after the application was approved.

Labour’s hostility to immigrants (other than wealthy businessmen) was made clear in their election policy, where they announced they wanted to reduce immigration to avoid raising housing prices. Despite the party’s frequent attacks on National’s immigration stance, Deputy Labour Leader David Parker made it clear that the Labour party intend to control the number of immigrants arriving in New Zealand, reducing the number arriving without qualifications or skills of value to the New Zealand economy, and fast-tracking those instances where applicants can demonstrate that they can contribute to growing New Zealand’s GDP.

Labour party policy involves a points-based system, which ensures that immigrants are spread throughout the country rather than being concentrated in just one or two regions. In a concession to potential coalition partners such as the Green Party, Labour promised to ensure immigrants are paid no less than the minimum wage, provide training opportunities for upskilling immigrants, and increase the refugee quota from 750 per year to 1000. In contrast, the National party claims that the risk of refugees targeting New Zealand is growing, a claim echoed by NZ First leader Winston Peters.
Peters has announced his party’s position on immigration, involving increased security and a reduction in the number of student visas granted, in line with the party’s conservative ideology; however, the lack of detail in Peters’ statements prevent a clearer appraisal of his position.
In contrast, the Green Party, in their policy framework, include promises to increase the refugee quota to 1,000, with a focus on uniting families, ensuring that migrant workers are paid no less than local workers and employed in the same conditions, and will create opportunities for people on temporary visas to upskill so that they can apply for permanent residency.

Finally, MANA-Internet policy reflects a more open-borders position, in which skilled visitors from overseas can come and go from New Zealand as necessary. Internet Party founder Kim Dotcom has been a very prominent figure in immigration discussions, as his residency was granted under dubious conditions by Immigration NZ, and subsequent to this, an illegal search of his home was carried out, including the seizure of various items belonging to him.

Dotcom claims that former Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman pressured Immigration NZ to accept his residency application, as part of a deal with the US government, and to ensure he invested in the NZ economy. He further suggests that this was to make it easier for the US government to extradite him out of New Zealand, as he was accused of copyright fraud by various American media companies. According to reports released under the Official Information Act, Immigration NZ were aware of these accusations made against Dotcom, but felt that his economic contribution was more important than his legal situation.

As a result of these obfuscations and denials, Dotcom has demanded transparency in government processes, and a full review of the relevant diplomatic and intelligence agreements. MANA leader Hone Harawira has also taken up this view, as have his fellow candidates; John Minto demanded that Woodhouse explain why the NZ government was discriminating against Pacific people from Tonga and Samoa while putting out the welcome mat for anyone from Australia, irrespective of skills and criteria.

New Zealand employs numerous workers from around the Pacific each year to take part in fruit picking and other seasonal employment, and this creates a valuable opportunity for these people to work in the NZ environment, improving their English language fluency, as well as picking up skills that they can use both in New Zealand and in their home countries. However, these workers are often discriminated against, as in the example of the construction workers in Christchurch, and the MANA Movement is one of only a few parties that have promised to prevent this happening.
MANA has offered to migrant workers the same pay and conditions as local workers, without the risk of having their visas revoked, and enabling them to receive the same support as a New Zealander working in that job could expect. This is just one of the areas where Fightback stands alongside MANA, in affirming the rights of dispossessed workers, and demanding fair and reasonable treatment without discrimination, whether for migrant workers employed in New Zealand, or New Zealand-born workers.

National and its right wing friends

billboard

National today appears to be seeing a level of popularity unheard of in the MMP era. But behind the polls, the reality is much more mundane. Most political polls exclude undecided voters and those planning not to cast a ballot, yet these groups can occasionally make up as many as 15% of respondents. At the last election, the number who didn’t vote was even higher. In 2011, just over a third of the population voted for National, a quarter didn’t vote at all.

The party has barely campaigned, beyond some tough-on-gangs murmuring, the meaningless #teamkey hashtag and and the usual billboards featuring the faces of its leader and candidates. National has very little to campaign on, much of government policy is a holdover from the previous Labour government, which in turn did little to reverse the neoliberal economic reforms of the 80s and the 90s.

The changes National has made are hardly vote winners- further erosions of work rights, including such basic rights as meal breaks, attacks on civil liberties though granting more powers to the GCSB, and opening up protected areas for mining and drilling. Added to that is the deeply unpopular asset sales program, which triggered a citizen initiated referendum. National has also made cuts in education, social welfare and ACC- the latter of which they reneged on somewhat after an effective campaign to restore funding for sexual abuse survivors.

National plans to win this election through inertia, hoping that enough people will be too disillusioned or disinterested to turn up at the polling booth. Its a reasonable strategy, when the past three decades have seen little difference between National-led and Labour-led governments, why bother when the outcome is going to be one of the two?

A change in government could be quite significant this year though. Labour has previously shunned the Green Party, last time it was in government aligning with parties to its right- NZ First and current National partner Peter Dunne- but the Greens have grown their support over the past decade and can’t be ruled out. Of course, Labour has already stated it expects to rely on votes from National to pass legislation the Green Party would oppose on environmental grounds, so the presence of Green MP’s at the cabinet table is unlikely to be a shock to the system.

The major challenge to the status quo comes from Internet-MANA, while Labour has ruled out having them in government the electoral alliance between the MANA Movement and the Internet Party has been clear from the start that a vote for them is a vote to change the government. Last term Labour adopted MANA’s ‘feed the kids’ bill, voting on the bill has been delayed until after the election meaning a change in government will see it passed. MANA was the first party to call for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador following Israel’s latest bombing in Gaza, within a fortnight the Green Party had echoed the call, the issue is now on the agenda. Small but significant victories like this make giving a tick to Internet-MANA on election day a worthwhile action.

National evidently recognises this threat, as Internet-MANA is engaging previous non-voters with social media, the ‘party party’ events, and packed out meetings across the country. As a result John Key has been pouring scorn over Internet-MANA to a much greater degree than he has toward any other party. Recently Key made the the sexist statement that Kim Dotcom was a “sugar daddy” to Laila Harre. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a sugar daddy as “a rich older man who lavishes gifts on a young woman in return for her company or sexual favours”.

Among the 35% or so of the voting age population that support the party, some are no doubt better off under a National led government, tax cuts for the rich are only a bad thing if you’re not rich, and a few people are. That said, National could not survive if it didn’t achieve a level of support from some of the working class. John Key’s image plays to a type of identity politics. While he refuses to appear in front of the no-holds-barred interviewers of Radio New Zealand, he is a regular guest on sports radio and talkback stations. Key has created an affinity with a number of male voters, the sort of people who praised him for his “not all men” response to Labour leader David Cunliffe’s speech on domestic violence at Women’s Refuge. He’s not losing any votes from that part of his base by standing by his “sugar daddy” comment either.

Identity politics is nothing new for National, under the leadership of Don Brash the party went from their worst election result in history to a near win in 2005 after a campaign full of rhetoric about Maori privilege, ‘one law for all’ and the infamous Iwi/Kiwi advertising campaign- implying that Labour was for Maori and National was for ‘everyone’ of course, the campaign was targeting just one ethnic group- Pakeha.

National would not go in for that rhetoric today, if for no other reason than the fact that it would seem hollow in light of its arrangement with the Maori Party, but the Maori Party is set to leave parliament (largely due to the stellar efforts of MANA’s Annette Sykes who is challenging Te Uraroa Flavell in Waiariki) and National has indicated it would like voters in Epsom to elect ACT’s David Seymour, and ACT has no qualms about playing the race card.

ACT

With the election of philosopher Jamie Whyte as leader, and the merger-in-all-but-name with the Libertarianz (former leaders now hold high list positions in ACT) the party once known as the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers looked set to become a doctrinaire libertarian party- with poll results to match: in one poll they were equalled by the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, an organisation promoting the one libertarian policy the majority of the public actually agrees with.

Perhaps this is why Jamie Whytes conference speech was light on ideology and instead focused on anti-Maori populism. According to former ACT on Campus vice president Guy McCullum, Whyte told a small gathering of ACT supporters in Dunedin on the morning of 20 July that he was in search of a “stunt … because you know, the polls.”

That stunt came in the form of the bizarre allegation that Maori occupy a similar social position to the aristocracy in pre-revolutionary France. “ACT’s policies are about reminding you of scary burglars, zealous bureaucrats with a hidden green agenda, and resentful Maori…This is the imagery the vague words are designed to create. Liberals and libertarians are getting a rough deal from ACT” McCallum, who resigned from ACT following the speech, told Otago student magazine Critic.

ACT seems to be confused about what sort of party it is, libertarian, or conservative? perhaps the next parliamentary term will be the last one ACT is relevant, depending on the outcome in Epsom, they may become irrelevant even sooner. Unfortunately National has another right-appendage waiting in the wings.

The Conservatives

Colin Craig may be unsure about the historical validity of the moon landing, but he’s smart enough to see that ACT’s disarray, combined with the retirement of NZ First firebrand Winston Peters, which really can’t be that far away, opens up a space for his party. If not this year, then in 2017. As such, The Conservatives have joined in the attack on supposed Maori privilege, using the much more groan inducing slogan “one law to rule them all” and borrowed a number of NZ First policies.

Right now, the party is still a joke, but if given an Epsom-style deal in 2017 they may need to be taken seriously. For the mean time though, the best strategy is to keep laughing at them. If you need help, Colin Craig once did a glamour photo shoot which is easily found on Google Image Search.

New Zealand First

While finding anti-immigrant rhetoric not the draw card it once was, NZ First has spoken against “separatism” and ruled out working with any “race based” parties, meaning there are now three parties flogging that dead horse (actually four, if we count the tiny 1Law4All party which managed to register) NZ First has some progressive policies, but recent rhetoric has shown they are likely to support National, for example a bottom line is keeping the retirement age at 65, a policy where National is actually more progressive than Labour.

In 2011 some commentators argued that returning NZ First to parliament would mean a change in government, and a vote for them would be ‘strategic’ that was wrong then and its wrong again now. At best it would mean a centre left bloc in opposition with less Labour MP’s and more NZ First MPs (this is how Richard Prosser ended up getting a platform beyond conspiracy theory magazine Investigate to espouse his Islamophobia) at worst, it means keeping National in power with the help of a party elected in part by progressive voters.

The best outcome for anyone wanting a change in government would be for NZ First to drop below the 5% threshold, and the best option for bringing about a meaningful change is a party vote for Internet MANA.

Where Internet MANA came from

Miriam Pierard of the Internet Party: speaking the language of youth

Miriam Pierard of the Internet Party: “Speaking the language of youth”

by DAPHNE LAWLESS, Fightback (Auckland)

Miriam Pierard (left) with Internet Party leader Laila Harré

 

Miriam Pierard, the 28-year-old Internet Party candidate for Auckland Central, is no stranger to Fightback – “a very good magazine”. She compliments us in particular on our “really amazing article” explaining our decision to support the Internet Party-MANA Movement alliance, and she attended our “Capitalism: Not Our Future” conference last Queen’s Birthday in Wellington.

After qualifying as a teacher, Miriam backpacked around the world in 2013. “Thinking that I might want to get into politics, I wanted to see how the rest of the world worked.” In the process, she experienced places like Iceland and Bolivia where local popular movements have rejected business-as-usual neoliberal politics and created space for alternatives.

In Iceland she met with Jón Gnarr, comedian and former mayor of the capital Reykjavik, who led a populist electoral challenge which unseated the conservative local council. “He stood up and said, our political system doesn’t work, let’s bring something new in…. they got overwhelming support because they brought humour into politics, made it fun again – and they gave people hope, because they were normal people who Icelanders knew.”

After spending time in Colombia learning Spanish, she went to Bolivia, occupying herself with “looking after pumas”. “I was interested in the indigenous movement, how they had expelled McDonalds from their country and tried to do the same with Coca-Cola.

“I spoke to miners in Potosí, drinking hideous alcohol and chewing coca leaves. That was a horrific place – I felt really strange afterwards. In some ways, conditions haven’t changed in 300 years. All the mines are worker co-operatives. Even in these dark dangerous places there is still hope, and it’s about personal relationships.

“Experiencing all this across the world, especially in places like that, made me realise just how special New Zealand is and how important it is to take back our proud history of leading the world in progressive change. Looking at the current situation, I’m so ashamed.”

Dawn of the Internet Party

Returning to New Zealand, says Miriam, she was particularly “angry at our country’s involvement with the United States and the NSA”. She was sympathetic to both the Greens and the MANA movement, but “I stayed away from political parties because of that tribal, territorial culture – fighting over votes without seeing the bigger picture.”

When German internet millionaire Kim Dotcom founded the Internet Party, she was originally “more skeptical than I should have been… I had only been reading the mainstream media! But I was excited that there was something new coming to shake up the election.”

Miriam was impressed that the Internet Party managed to reach the requisite 500 members “virtually overnight” and understood that “there was something serious about this party”. However, like Fightback at the time, and like veteran left activist Sue Bradford, Miriam was initially sceptical about the alliance with MANA.

“The mainstream media was trying to paint it as Kim Dotcom buying the Left. I still support Sue in that she made her decision based on her values. But on the day of the rally against the TPPA (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement) in late March, I discussed this with [left blogger] Martyn Bradbury, who explained the strategy… I sat on the floor astounded by the genius of this.”

Not being totally convinced, she decided to attend the MANA AGM which would discuss the alliance. “I was really impressed by the level of debate. I was a little bit wary of what Kim had said, but proud of the MANA leadership and the Internet Party for having the guts to have the conversation.”

Miriam feels that Hone Harawira showed leadership in presenting the debate, and that Kim Dotcom dealt well with questions from the various rohe. “I remember that the Fightback people were nervous about the proposal – but every single person in that room was heard. And now I see that same thing is happening in the Internet Party, except that we do it online.

“By the end of the night I came away feeling really emotional. I ran into Annette Sykes, and I said ‘Thank you so much for this day, the democratic process and debate was so impressive and overwhelming.’ I started crying … I really felt empowered by that debate.”

Sue Bradford has said that the debate was conducted in an “authoritarian and patriarchal” way, but Miriam doesn’t agree. “Perhaps because I wasn’t so involved with the politics of MANA, I didn’t pick up on that. Sue was vocal and public about her stance, and perhaps people were responding to that.” However, Miriam stresses “the Left in New Zealand is much better for having Sue”, and more recently talked to her about how to “stay true to yourself” as an activist in Parliament. “I’m so glad we were able to have that conversation of solidarity.”

Two parties, one vision

On the other side of the debate, Miriam thinks that some Internet Party supporters “see MANA as a hardcore socialist organization which wants to burn down the houses of rich people. Of course MANA has a strong socialist element, but some people are stuck in a kind of 1950s Red Scare mentality about what socialism means.

“The people in MANA with socialist leanings don’t necessarily think that a Stalinist state is a good idea. They don’t want top-down totalitarian control. Both Internet and MANA are interested in using the Internet, this incredible tool, to harness the incredible wealth of knowledge to enable democratic participation.

“Real democratic participation, that is, not just limited to ticking a box every three years.”

Miriam mentions her great respect for the MANA movement, and its leaders such as Hone Harawira, Annette Sykes and John Minto.

“Hone Harawira needs friends in Parliament to raise a voice for the excluded. Hone is seen as this radical Maori separatist, but why is it radical to feed the kids? To want equal opportunities, or a warrant of fitness on State homes? It’s so sad that these ideas are considered fringe.

“But joining MANA would be disingenuous for me, because I’m so Pakeha! I love people like Annette and John, but they have a different way of doing things than I do. John Minto… what a guy!”

As Miriam sees it, Internet and MANA are two parties with the same vision – but different ways of working and talking, and appealing to different audiences.

“The two parties are speaking to different but vital groups in our society, which have both been excluded. My generation realise that if tangata whenua and the poor are falling behind, we all fall behind. And thirty years of neo-liberalism has only widened the gap.

“Because the Internet Party has quite a different constituency to MANA, it is able to bring my generation into activism on issues where we agree, such as climate change, inequality and mass surveillance. These are the issues that will define my generation, and the Internet Party is handing us the power and responsibility to have some say in these decisions.

“This alliance brings credibility to both sides. We have a really good relationship and I’m amazed at how well it’s working.”

The programme of the Internet people

So who exactly are the Internet Party’s constituency? Miriam returns to the day of the rally against the TPPA.

“We were down at the US Consulate [in downtown Auckand], and there were pools of young people wearing purple T-shirts with Internet Party on them. It was the first time I’d seen Internet Party marketing and I was suprised.

“I chatted with these young guys, and what they were saying made me think – wow! I had never seen a political party engage with young people like this. One said he had never been interested in politics or voted, but finally there was a party which spoke their language.”

Miriam names.concerns around the TPPA, threats to national sovereignty from trans-national corporations and foreign powers, mass surveillance, the Five Eyes data-sharing arrangement, and the unaccountable GCSB (Government Communications Security Bureau) as issues that have brought young IP activists into politics.

“This made me feel – this is what we’ve been waiting for,” Miriam explains. “We are trying to engage and empower those who have been excluded and disaffected by the system, such as the million people who didn’t vote at the last election.”

Isn’t a concern for national sovereignty a bit strange for those devoted to the globalised, borderless world brought by Internet technology? Miriam argues that the real issue is “fear around multinational corporations being able to sue our government if we have laws that are not in their interest. There’s a strong concern on the Internet around the power and influence that big corporate bodies have – their legal influence, and how they’re able to bankroll politicians.”

Miriam argues, for example, that “Hollywood corporates” bankrolled the campaign of US Vice-President Joe Biden – “which is perhaps one of the reasons America wants Kim Dotcom extradited – they want their money’s worth.”

Miriam agrees with Fightback‘s stand against the international copyright regime as a tool of this global corporate dominance. “It’s quite crippling on creativity. There’s an idea that Kim Dotcom just wants to be able to steal other people’s content. But we’ve got people in the Internet Party, artists, musicians, who’ve felt excluded and ripped off by these major labels and Hollywood corporates.. And royalties are such a messed-up system.

“Corporations are terrified of being cut out of the money flow for digital content – which is why they’re trying to get Kim with this ridiculous civil case! Our policy is about giving more power to content creators. Even the National Business Review wrote a grudgingly positive review of it!”

Laila and Kim

What of the leading personalities of the Internet Party? Miriam is upfront about her huge personal admiration for party leader, and former leftist Cabinet minister, Laila Harré.

“I remember as a teenager driving through Auckland, seeing Laila on Alliance billboards and thinking ‘I want to be like her!’”

Ten years later, when Miriam sold Laila raffle tickets at a Green Party fundraiser, she didn’t recognize her teenage idol at first. A week later, Miriam was catching up with Unite union secretary Matt McCarten, “and we all went out for dinner with Laila – this was well before the Internet Party – and it was lovely to talk to her, and I felt happy that I was able to keep up with the conversation! Talking to her husband Barry and her son Sam, I was impressed by how committed a political family they are, and also how personable.

“One thing that some people can’t understand about MANA is that Hone, Annette and John are strong and loud personalities and come from a protest background, which can put people off. In contrast Laila is so softly spoken, and yet she can have people like Paul Henry under her thumb in such a beautiful, graceful manner.”

Miriam also cites Laila’s achievements in the 1999-2002 Cabinet, such as paid parental leave and fighting against New Zealand troop deployment to Afghanistan. “I’m so happy to have her as my boss. Who better to work with and learn from?”

Some people would think that it’s Kim Dotcom, not Laila Harré, who is Miriam’s boss. And the Internet Party founder has a track record of regularly alienating progressive activists with such things as owning a copy of Mein Kampf autographed by Hitler himself, “racist day” hijinks while recording his album, and most recently an offensive joke about “killing hookers” on Twitter.

But the Internet Party, Miriam assures us, is very far from being “Kim’s” personal plaything.

“Just because he provides a good chunk of our money doesn’t mean he’s in control. A lot of it is John Key’s spin about Kim ‘buying his way into politics’. And that’s bullshit.

“People think we’ve got all this money, but we’re actually on a very tight budget. It’s not a slush fund that we can dip into whenever.

“Without Kim’s funding or vision for the party – around things like easier access and cheaper internet, taking democracy back to the people, a digital economy rather than relying on agriculture, extractive industries or tourism – we wouldn’t exist. He’s a generous donor and he’s really committed to the vision. He’s got his own sense of humour, which doesn’t reflect what the rest of us think.

“John Key says he’s just trying to keep himself from being extradited. No Labour justice minister is going to help him with that, so that has nothing to do with the party at all. But the idea for the Internet Party came in part from the deep resentment, hurt, and fear that Kim and his family felt with the raid on his house. It also showed how deep our Government is with the NSA, how we’re just bending over for America.

“Kim has very little to do with the daily running of the party, and doesn’t want to. He polarises people – the 18-24 year olds seem to really like him, while older voters are wary, but then they respond better to Laila or our other candidates. Our policy is not dictated by Kim – the agenda comes from the Internet Party executive, on which Kim has only vote.

“I have no questions as to whether Kim is to be trusted. I’m grateful for the opportunity that we all have – our generation, our country – because of this new party.”

Online democracy

Miriam is at pains to point out what she believes to be the revolutionary democratic nature of Internet Party online decision-making and policy making.

“A lot of our policy is developed through discussions with our members via Loomio and Google Docs applications. Our environment policy had 300 people working on it. Our health policy was written almost entirely by members – including doctors and pharmacists, as well as ordinary members of the public who visit their GP.

“In contrast, the existing politicians and parties bypass the experts and the people that they represent. Sometimes there’s consultation, but in education there was little to no consultation on charter schools or national standards, and it’s been a complete cock-up.

“And why are the Government spending all the money from asset sales on roads, or the leaky roof of Parliament, rather than Auckland’s City Rail Link? Let’s talk to the experts, let’s have evidence-based policy.”

One problem with Internet-sourced policy formation is the power that moderators and policy committees have as “gatekeepers” of bottom-up initiatives. But Miriam doesn’t see this as a problem.

“It’s fairly self-moderated at the moment. For a while I thought it was inappropriate to get involved myself, but now candidates are getting more involved. I’ve never seen such a high level of intelligent discussion on an Internet forum – it’s not like YouTube comments! A number of people are very involved and we’d like to get more people involved, but we have to think about how we make that happen.

“Loomio is a discussion forum. If an idea gains traction it will get moved into policy development. But we’re on a very tight time frame, so we have to move a bit faster at the moment. One criticism I’ve heard from some members is they’re not aware exactly how the Incubator material gets turned into policy – so we have to make those links clear.

“So we’re having teething issues, but this is really revolutionary… as far as I know we’re the first party in the world to have this. It’s about bringing democracy back to the people, and making it easy to access.”

So is the Internet Party internally democratic?

“It’s early days yet. That’s certainly the aim we’re going for, but there’s so little time before the election, so we have had to push things through more quickly than we’d like. As a candidate and leader, I rely on my friends and our voters and members to keep us true to what they want. If it’s democratically decided on, I’ll fight for that, even if I don’t agree.

“The party is owned by everyone. The members have more say than in any other party I’ve heard of. Candidates talk regularly on our own forum, and the Executive team are very open for us to come and talk to them.”

Openness, conspiracies, and cat ears

Isn’t there a problem with being too open? For example, the recent Aotearoa Not For Sale demonstration had to deal with Nazis turning up. Could the Internet Party be “entered” by people with a vile agenda?

“We’re really committed to free speech,” allows Miriam. “But in the forums if someone comes up with a question about whether we should reject Holocaust deniers as members… Anyone can join, but the hateful won’t get much traction, and the other members will jump on them and slam them in the forums.

“Again, it’s self-moderation of the membership. Internet Party members and supporters are not going to let us be taken over by conspiracy theorists or Holocaust deniers.”

Miriam warms to the theme of conspiracy theory. “When people put emphasis on things like chemtrails, it totally derails the conversation – it takes away the conversation from real issues. Can we focus on the causes of climate change, or on the manipulation of governments by big business – which sounds like a conspiracy theory, but is actually happening?

“We’ve got too much to fight for that we can do real, practical things about. People can talk about things like chemtrails or vaccines causing autism, but we’re not going to have a policy on things like that. There are too many real things to be scared of.”

Quite opposed to the fear and negativity of conspiracy theory, Miriam hopes to bring hope and “a sense of humour” to New Zealand politics, following the example of Jón Gnarr’s “Best Party” in Iceland. “We don’t take ourselves seriously, but we take what we do seriously.”

Accordingly, part of Internet Party strategy is the big “Party Party” dance events held in various centres, featuring popular hip-hop and rock artists. These are part of a general trend of strong Get Out The Vote activism at this election, including the similar “Rock Enrol” campaign. “We also need ways to get young people to the polls,” adds Miriam. “17% of non-voters say that they just couldn’t get to the polls.”

The night before our interview, Miriam attended Auckland’s “Party Party”, and her outfit drew comment from NZ Herald right-wing gossip columnist Rachel Glucina.“She made some nasty comment about me, saying I was ‘inexplicably tarted up with cat ears and whiskers’.”

Miriam Pierard at Auckland’s Party Party, 25 July 2014

Actually, Miriam was representing Harold, the Internet Party’s cat mascot. “And people loved it! The Internet Party is about positive politics – you’ve got to have fun. Our Party Parties have been off the chain. These musicians really care about getting young people out to vote. We don’t care who they’re voting for, as long as they’re voting.”

Hostile Greens

Miriam is less distressed than put-downs from gossip columnists than she is by the negativity from the party which she still “really loves” – the Greens.

“The Greens have been hating on us. I suspect they don’t really get it. We’re not trying to take Green Party votes – most Greens I know like what we do, but they’re not going to vote for us. The first generation of Green voters are now middle-aged and less radical than they used to be.

“I don’t blame the Greens for moving towards a more establishment image if it gets them wider support. But we are trying to bring a more ‘radical’ element to progressive politics. We don’t have political baggage where we have to appeal to older voters.”

In contrast to Internet-MANA, whom Miriam argues have realised that “it’s not in anyone’s interest to be so possessive over your own votes,” the Greens seem to sense a threat to their political “brand”.

“Russel Norman came out and said that Laila Harré took the Greens’ intellectual property for our environment policy. If we have two parties with similar policies, that complement and support each other, isn’t that a good thing? That the policy has more power and we can effect change more easily?

“I’d met [Green Auckland Central candidate] Denise Roche before and she seemed like a nice lady. I went to go and give her a hug and talk to her about Auckland Central – I actually don’t want to split the progressive vote, I myself am voting for [Labour’s] Jacinda Ardern. But she was really unhappy to see me – quite short with me and pushed me away. That upset me a lot – I can take whatever the Right throw at me, but if we can’t can’t work together on the Left, we’re through.”

However, Miriam hasn’t let this make her bitter in return. “I hope the Greens get 15% – a strong coalition including them, Labour and Internet-MANA could be really amazing.

“National are talking about ‘the hydra of the Left’ and the instability of all these different parties. I completely reject that. We celebrate diversity on the progressive side because that’s what democracy is all about. It’s unhelpful to bag each other over personal issues.”

She also has some advice for Labour:

“In 1935, when the Savage government brought in the welfare state, Labour was radical, with Ministers who’d spent time in jail, seen as disruptors. Cunliffe could be more progressive, if the Anyone-But-Cunliffe mob would just shut up. We need more disruption.”

Is this the future?

Does Miriam think that the Internet Party could survive without Kim Dotcom? That brings a quick “yes”.

“I’ve put the same question to Kim myself – what happens if you’re extradited? Now we have actually gotten big enough, and have enough credibility, to continue without Kim if that happened, touch wood that it doesn’t. I have faith that he will continue to support us – not necessarily financially – in the future, but we’ve got enough momentum that we can keep going.

“As a teacher, I see the power and the passion and the perceptiveness in my my students every day, and in so many political arguments I wish I had the 14 year olds in my class to back me up, because they’re so onto it. Young people are excluded from political conversations until they’re 18, and then suddenly the political parties are trying to make themselves appealing.

“But it’s not about making parties appealing, it’s about making the issues relevant, easier to understand, and giving young people something to vote for. Policies aren’t aimed at helping the young – they’re about maintaining the status quo.

“ Young people don’t have a tradition of voting so they’re ignored, and policies are created for them. We’re neglected, so we neglect to take part.

“The Internet Party recognize that our generation has a different way of participating in politics, like sharing a petition on Facebook. That might be armchair activism, but it’s as valid as going to vote. Young people think – why should I vote, when politicians lie, break promises, and don’t listen to us? And they understand that Labour and National are pretty much the same thing.

“I wonder, what would have happened if the Labour government hadn’t taken us down that neoliberal track 30 years ago? My whole life has been dictated by this bullshit neoliberal trickle-down theory. But we’re young, progressive and educated, and with the advent of the Internet, we can’t go back to old models.

“Our world isn’t going to be built on nostalgia. We need creative, innovative thinking. We have to reject this old mindset and these old ideas which clearly don’t work. People ask us, ‘So what’s the alternative, a Stalinist government?’ But show a little creativity! There are alternatives, and if my generation works together with those other groups in society who don’t quite fit in, we could change the world.”

“We’re about building a new vision, and a new movement, with optimism.”

Will the Internet-MANA alliance last past the election? “Everyone is open to that as a possiblity. It depends on what the members think, how many MPs we get.”

And will Internet-MANA get the 4.5% of the vote necessarily to elect Miriam herself, number 6 on the joint list? “The polls are going up and up, even those based on landlines. What young, poor or Maori people have landlines, anyway?” She looks forward to the big meeting on September 15 in the Auckland Town Hall, with Kim Dotcom and US radical journalist Glen Greenwald, “where Kim will drop a political bombshell about John Key’s lying, and just how much we’re involved with the American spy network.”

For someone who doesn’t really want to be a politician – because as a teacher, her occupation gets a lot more respect – Miriam sounds ready and willing to commit to the struggle.