TEDxAuckland: Tom Scott is the 11th hour optimist

By Jamie Joseph

Tom Scott, a political journalist of 15 years, gave up the grind of power shuffling for the daily cartoon. Photo / Supplied
Tom Scott, a political journalist of 15 years, gave up the grind of power shuffling for the daily cartoon. Photo / Supplied

If Tom Scott could go back in time to any era and cover unfolding events, he would be hot on the trail of the Beatles, conquering Liverpool, 1962. Or New York, when Bob Dylan was finding his way.

"And how is it that this man from Stratford that goes by the name of Shakespeare has such an extraordinary ability?" adds Scott. "I have a degree in physiology, and I nearly became a vet, but I wish I'd done a degree in English Literature."

The political journalist of 15 years gave up the grind of power shuffling for the daily cartoon, but his clashes with Sir Robert Muldoon became the stuff of legend. Muldoon obsessed over getting Scott fired, wrote several infuriated letters to his editor, had him kicked out of press conferences, and even had him banned from a trip to China.

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But it was during Lange's ministry in 1987 that Scott changed tracks from writing and illustrating a column each week to channelling his activist roots into the polarising and profound art of cartoons.

"I just thought everyone is enjoying this except me. It was exhausting," says Scott. "I read an interview recently with Jon Stewart who was so depressed because he had to trawl every day through Fox News and was getting increasingly despondent at the ignorance and stupidity, and so he had to chuck it in."

But looking back at his career Tom Scott is never short of highlights, and says he is most proud of the work he did during the Apartheid era, and especially during the 1981 Springbok rugby tour. It was the tour that divided a nation, with tens of thousands of keen rugby fans attending games played behind razor wire and under massive police protection. Outside the rugby grounds tens of thousands of protestors were equally loud in their denunciation. Hundreds of people were injured, but miraculously no one was killed.

"I drew a lot of cartoons during the rugby tour, and people told me that it was instrumental in tipping their views. And I just knew, with every bone in my body, that we were on the right side of history."

In 1995 Tom Scott met Nelson Mandela during his presidential visit to New Zealand and gave him two of his drawings. He reminisces and says that day of 'Madiba Magic' was a little like Beatlemania.

In 2011 Scott produced the feature film Rage, taking into account the police perspective of the 1981 rugby tour. He co-wrote the script together with his brother-in-law police Superintendent Grant O'Fee. It is the story of star-crossed lovers, a beautiful young Maori policewoman who goes undercover and falls in love with a charismatic anti tour student protestor.

We speak about war, nuclear power, and the sixth extinction. Ultimately, Tom Scott is an optimist who believes that at the 11th hour people will come to their senses.

"Anyone in 1943 could be forgiven for being a pessimist. No one would ever have believed Germany and France would share the same currency. Women and gay rights have the vote, but it is just so devastating that the environment continues to suffer."

Tom Scott cites global warming as one of the biggest threats facing New Zealand. The ongoing industrialisation of the dairy sector is by far our biggest contribution to climate change, with emissions on the rise, and with more than half of New Zealand's waterways unsafe to swim in, the dairy industry has a lot to answer for.

"We are sitting on a potential environmental catastrophe," says Scott. "And I look at my beautiful grandchildren and I just think, What a world they are inheriting."

Tom Scott is featured on the 2015 TEDxAuckland line up taking place on Saturday 2 May. To check out all the details and read the full line up, visit tedxauckland.com. Tickets will sell out.

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