Tuesday, February 21, 2006



The ten worst New Zealanders

Capitalism Bad, Tree Pretty has a list of the ten worst New Zealanders. In chronological order, they are:

  • Edward Gibbon Wakefield, whose plan for a "better Britain" included mechanisms - a "sufficient price" for land and an oversupply of workers - to ensure that the poverty and subjugation of the British class system (the very thing people were coming here to escape) was replicated.
  • John Bryce: war criminal and Native Affairs Minister who commanded the troops at Parihaka.
  • Robert Logan, first Administrator of New Zealand occupied Samoa. In addition to his racist policies as administrator (he annulled all marriages between Samoans and Chinese indentured labourers and banned cohabitation, or even members of the different races entering one another's houses, in order to keep the Samoan race "pure"), he also allowed 20% of the Samoan population to die in the 1918 Influenza pandemic. His attitude of neglect on the latter - summed up in his comment "I do not care if they are going to die. Let them die and go to hell" - simply beggars belief.
  • Those who made Gallipoli a myth, for glorifying a pointless slaughter in the name of a stupid, inbred criminal aristocracy on the other side of the world. The dead deserve our pity and our respect - but the "cause" and the war they died in deserves our utter contempt.
  • The 1937 McMillan inquiry, which supported the continued criminalisation of abortion and instead urged women to be "less selfish" and breed for the glory of New Zealand and to avoid "race suicide".
  • Peter Fraser, Prime Minister and hypocrite. Having gone to jail for sedition for opposing conscription in the First World War, he then turned around and jailed conscientious objectors during the second.
  • Fintan Patrick Walsh, who betrayed the Waterside Workers Union and supported the government during the 1951 waterfront strike.
  • Robert Muldoon. Left wingers hate him for his authoritarian, his divisive politics, and his support for racism at home and abroad. Right wingers hate him for being a "socialist". The only person who still loves him seems to be Winston Peters.
  • David Lange, as representative of the Revolution, and for dodging responsibility for it.
  • Names Suppressed, the four men currently appealing their conviction for gang-rape (representative of others).

That's a pretty compelling list, though a little constrained by a desire to be fair to all eras. I've been considering a similar post for a while, and had been thinking of the following:

  • James Prendergast, for his infamous ruling in Wi Parata v Bishop of Wellington that the Treaty of Waitangi was a "simple nullity" and that a contract with "savages" could not possibly be binding. Quite apart from being legally incorrect, this precedent was used to assist in the systematic dispossession of the Maori people. It has only recently been overturned in law (Ngati Apa vs Attorney-General is hopefully the final nail in the coffin), but it is still hanging around like a bad smell in the political consciousness of far too many National Party politicians.
  • Robert Semple in the place of Peter Fraser. Like Fraser, he had been jailed for sedition for opposing conscription in the First World War. During the Second, he didn't just support conscription: he was Minister of National Service, and drew the marble for the first conscription ballot (I have a photo somewhere...)
  • William Massey, Prime Minister from 1912 to 1925. He used special constables ("Massey's Cossacks") to break the 1913 waterfront strike, had practically the entire leadership of the Labour Party jailed for sedition during World War One (and then delayed the elections anyway, just in case he didn't win), ensured the passage of the War Regulations Continuance Act 1920 which allowed him to continue wartime censorship and the persecution of communists (plus the odd Catholic Bishop), and (last but not least) gave us the flu because he was too important to wait in quarantine. Over 8000 people died as a result, leading to him being memorialised in a children's song: "Big Bill Massey brought the 'flu, parlez vous...".
  • Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson. Lets not beat about the bush: the amount of suffering these two caused New Zealand was criminal. They gave us mass unemployment, gross inequality, lower wages, and cuts to government health and education services just when people needed them. Richardson was crueller with her benefit cuts, but Douglas started it all. Their names should be vilified to prevent the memory from fading.

As for who I'd drop, I'd go for Lange, Fraser (in favour of Semple, though its much of a muchness), "Names Suppressed", and probably the McMillan inquiry (I juggled the latter with the glorifiers of WWI, who include Massey, but I'm surprised by how strongly I feel about that pointless waste of life).

21 comments:

A very interesting list .could I suggest the un-architect of our electricity debacle Max Bradford
could be considered for inclusion.
It is my opinion that we will rue the day that he was ever allowed to meddle with this vital infrastructure.
The only winners will be the international investors.

Posted by Puriri : 2/21/2006 08:30:00 PM

amen to Richardson and Douglas (for completeness's sake I would add Preb's too)

With regards to Fraser, I'm not defending everything he did, but - in my mind at least - there was a major significant difference between WWI and WWII. WWI was a totally unecessary colonial war (not to mention that it seems hard to see why New Zealanders were slaughtered to suit the fantasies of Europe's Elite). But WWII was necessary in the end: Hitler was a monster who had to be though (true, much better that he had never been created via the TOV, but once he was there, there were few choices). Likewise the Japanese were a genuine threat to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific and had to be resisted). On top of all this Fraser, and his Labour Government, implemented some worthwhile reforms re welfare and health care etc.

Posted by Terence : 2/21/2006 08:35:00 PM

arrrggghhh...typo alert

"Hitler was a monster who had to be though"

should read

"Hitler was a monster who had to be fought"

Posted by Terence : 2/21/2006 08:37:00 PM

You can blame Douglas, Richardson and Prebble for the massive rise in welfare rolls, too, especially among Maori. Up to the mid-1980s, Maori men had a higher labour force participation rate than non-Maori men, then it dropped to below that of non-Maori between 1986 and 1991 and unemployment soared. The high rate of joblessness among Maori men and the related sharp increase in sole parenthood among Maori women was not the result of the 1938 Social Security Act or the 1973 DPB but of massive restructuring by reckless radicals. I wish someone would tell Pita Sharples that before he gives another speech on welfare. What his aunty was complaining about in the 1950s was the universal Family Benefit, which actually did a lot to help Maori families, especially as they migrated to urban areas and had a greater need for cash.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/21/2006 09:59:00 PM

Re Fraser, a conscientious objector supposedly doesn't take the morality of a particular war into account - they object to fighting wars per se. His introduction of conscription transformed his conscientious objection in WW1 from a moral stand into mundane self-preservation.

Posted by Psycho Milt : 2/21/2006 10:56:00 PM

Oh no now I have to include Massey on my list. I'd forgotten he was Prime Minister for so long.

I may have to make it 11 worst New Zealanders, because I can hardly take Muldoon off.

By all rights Prebble should be on the list as well - possibly two of them. Ten is just not enough.

Posted by Maia : 2/21/2006 11:20:00 PM

-terence: WWI vs WWII, Hitler had to be faught.

It's not the fight objected to, it's the conscription for it with surrounding hypocricy (and perhaps the subsequent war crimes that those conscripts were forced to partake in, if one wants to look into why such things matter).


And on a lighter note for norightturn, might I request a NZ's ten best? People who've made serious material benefits to the life of all. Savage springs to mind, but who else?

Posted by tussock : 2/22/2006 02:27:00 AM

That list is revanchist nonsense, a 20/20 hindsight application of a point of view to slander anyone you don't agree with.

THIS LIST IS WHAT PEOPLE SHOULD MEAN WHEN THEY GO ON ABOUT PC BULLSHIT.

A total, unadulterated, ignorant load of tosh.

Posted by TomS : 2/22/2006 08:30:00 AM

You forget that people voted for most of these politicians.

I'd add to the list everyone who voted National, NZF, UF, ACT and (mostly) for Labour too. Better add those who didn't vote as well.

All adds up to a big list!

Posted by Rich : 2/22/2006 09:48:00 AM

Interesting. Here's a few for the ten best list:

John Ballance, Pember-Reeves, John McKenzie - for land tenure reform, universal suffrage, the IC&A.

Michael Joseph Savage - definitely, although according to John A. Lee he did oppose most of the progressive reforms that he's now remembered for.

Gordon Coates - according to Brian Easton and Michael Cullen, the man who made the hard decisions necessary to return NZ to financial health during the latter part of the Great Depression. Also a strong advocate for Maori (along with Sir Apirana Ngata).

Judge Owen Woodhouse - architect of the Accident Compensation Corporation (1970s). That decision has saved NZ society from the worst excesses of American style litigation.

Sonja Davies, general activist extrordinaire.

Edmund Hillary - of course. It's not often remembered that he warned the country of Muldoon, and then payed the price.

Peter Blake - similar reasons, especially for his later role in raising awareness of ocean conservation.

John Pascoe - mountaineer, explorer, archivist, photographer. He pioneered the NZ coffee-table photography book showcasing our scenery to the world, as well as recording much of the country's history for the Making New Zealand centennial publication in 1940.

Norman Kirk - giving New Zealanders a sense of their own self-worth, and for stopping the destruction of Lake Manapouri.

Posted by nzidealist : 2/22/2006 10:18:00 AM

NZidealist: well, that's a good start. McKenzie definitely belongs there, for giving us the Queen's Chain and his work in strangling Wakefield's aristocracy at birth. But I think I need to do more research into the early Liberals before picking any others. And I'd definitely agree with Savage and Hillary. Kirk I suspect depends on your age (again, someone I need to read more about).

What about Kate Sheppard? Or Whina Cooper?

This will require some research and time to mull it over...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/22/2006 11:15:00 AM

Some of these seem really valid: thinking about Massey really makes clear how much better NZ has become in the last 90 years.

But some of this list is a bit petty. And the tendency to point out the worst mistakes a leader has made, without considering their virutes, is unfair. In particular there's an odd trend to both hate Muldoon, and to hate the Labour 'revolutionaries' who replaced him.

Muldoon was an arrogant, overbearing, overspending bully who set up a superannuation scheme that the govt couldn't afford as an election bribe, and tried to run a nanny state with very heavy govt intervention into economics. But that hardly makes Muldoon one of the worst NZers of all time.

Lange knew the country needed a revolution but didn't really know in detail what it should be like. That is bad. All left-wingers who want to smash something but don't have a really, really clear picture about the practicalities and problems of how they will replace that something should take note of the example of David Lange. He didn't do a great job of the task he faced: but the task he faced was herculean. Again, I don't think that his faults make the worst NZers of all time list.

Douglas's fault was hubris. Inherently anti-democratic, he believed you needed to rush the country into things before anyone could stop him. He avoided oversight whereever possible, he interpreted criticism as opposition that must be thwarted. If he'd been omniscient that strategy would have been fine, but he's only human, and such hubris in a political leader was really damaging.

The transitions costs of the Douglas revolution, whether you measure it in lives wrecked or in economic loss, were huge. Even if you think the general changes were good, still it's true that the same changes done more slowly and with more consultation would done a lot less harm. Look at Australia, and at how much better they handled the same transition. But Douglas, Prebble, Bassett, et al wouldn't slow down, wouldn't say in advance what they planned, and wouldn't listen - even about such basic services as rural post offices.

Change was inevitable. Rushing the country into it was stupid.



On another topic:

Re conscription: WW2 and WW1 were different in many ways. Conscription in WWI in NZ was introduced not because we lacked sufficient numbers of volunteers. It was introduced because it was felt to be unfair that certain sectors of society were bearing too much of the burden (young white upper and middle class protestant twits were keener than the rest of us to die for King and Country). It was largely a class issue, though also partly a racial and religious issue - Maori and the Irish catholic immigrants weren't generally as keen on dying for the English crown.

Posted by Icehawk : 2/22/2006 11:52:00 AM

Always easy to bash Muldoon, comrade, just I would've thought better of you.

Posted by Oliver : 2/22/2006 12:29:00 PM

hhmmmm..... I think that adding Lange to the list is a little unfair too. Sure he didn't know waht he was doing, sure he was never particularly left, but he wan't in the same league as Douglas and Prebble (and Bassett - perhaps the worst of the lot - good addition Icehawk).

What's more, right when things were going to get so much worse than they already were, he found some spine, and it cost him his career. He vetoed Douglas's flat tax despite the fact that (if I recall correctly) only Michael Cullen had voted against it in cabinet.

A while ago I wrote a bit about what I think would have happened had he not done that:

http://laanta.blogspot.com/2005/12/belated-tribute-to-david-lange.html

Posted by Terence : 2/22/2006 01:22:00 PM

Well, I'm rather more forgiving of Lange than Maia was. As for Muldoon, it's his nasty, small minded bigotry and authoritarianism that puts him on my list, as well as his support for the Springbok Tour. Fortunately, he was only in charge of new Zealand; if he'd been in charge of a bigger country, with a competant security apparatus, he could have been really dangerous.

WRT WWI conscription, the lack of volunteers was a key issue. Massey had promised Britain a certain number of troops, but not enough New Zealanders were willing to put their lives where his mouth was.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/22/2006 01:56:00 PM

Whenever I read lists like this, I always have to ask this question:

"How far can we go with historical revisionism? Do we possess a moral objectivity that can apply across all time, or is morality relative?"

The actions of some people on while be rupugnent regardless of time or place; I'm thinking John Bryce, Robert Logan and probably Fintan Patrick Walsh (because the act of betrayal of one's people has always been morally suspect).

But how much were the others people of their time, their place, their environment? We have moved on from those times, that's true; but how much can Peter Fraser (for example) really be criticised because there were some important differences between the environment he encountered in 1917 vs 1940?

I'd say that we can disapprove of and learn from the people on this list, but it can be granting ourselves a superiority we don't otherwise deserve to dismiss them as "evil", "wrong" or "worst."

Worryingly, taking such a view can lead to a lack of understanding about history, issues and other people (cf; demonism of islam).

(P.S. I guess I'm making the same point as "Toms" here, just without the malice...)

(P.P.S... I though that the "names supressed" names had been released; I'm sure I've heard names mentioned in relation to the current appeal?)

Posted by buzzandhum : 2/22/2006 02:03:00 PM

Objecting to war in general is a valid reason for being a conscientious objector. However, so is disagreement with the reasons and goals of the specific war that you're refusing to participate in. Supporting one war doesn't necessarily invalidate conscientious objection to another - though putting other objectors in jail probably does.

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 2/22/2006 02:56:00 PM

David Lange?

Lets see... He inherited a country teetering on the brink of being bankrupt; his government passed ground-breaking legislation allowing claims from 1840 on to go before the Waitangi tribunal; his government outlawed nuclear ship visits and his speech at the Oxford Union debate brought the issue to international attention; The Labour government had the courage to decriminalise homosexuality in the face of strident conservative opposition; the 4th Labour govt's much-maligned economic reforms also stopped subsidies to farmers, prevented governments from disguising unemployment by creating non-jobs in railways and the like, allowed the NZ dollar to be valued on its merits, and largely stopped the string of economic "borrow and hope" disasters that defined Muldoonism. We owe the economic success of the last 6+ years to the reforms started in that Labour Govt. France and Germany, two economies that could use such reform, have unemployment rates of 9.5% and 11% respectively. That's a lot of wasted potential, to put it mildly.

Going beyond Lange's achievements (Te Reo was recognised as an offical language under Labour #4), the man had the integrity to walk away from power when Roger Douglas was voted back into cabinet. Too few politicians around the world voluntarily renounce power on matters of principle. I would see him as one of the greatest New Zealanders, instrumental in the transformation of the country from the "Poland of the South Pacific" to an economically robust, cosmoplitian, and pluralistic society.

Posted by adrian : 2/22/2006 04:24:00 PM

The denunciation of Douglas and Richardson is outrageous. They are friggin hereos, not villians. Douglas never got the chance to complete the job of removing this country from bankruptcy and leading it to prosperity. The bigoted criticism of him and Richardson, two of the most courageous politicians we have had, belongs in your sedition dialogues.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/22/2006 08:31:00 PM

Mythologizing Gallipoli was not a crime: the guy in charge of the debacle was one W. Churchill.

I'd consider adding the captain of the Wahine (& his whitewashing cohorts in the Maritime Authority)

NB:
Roger & Ruth -anomics was a mad ideological experiment that NZ still suffers from. They went too far too fast. Little wonder NZ still votes Left.

Posted by peasant : 2/22/2006 08:45:00 PM

"I think I need to do more research into the early Liberals before picking any others. "

Very much so, Michael Savage was a strong supporter of the "white New Zealand" immigration policy.

I hate to sound like I'm plugging something but "The Truth About Labour" has a lot of good information of Savage and the other early Labour MPs, it can be read online here

Posted by Byron the commie : 2/25/2006 02:07:00 PM