Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Race, religion, lobbying and gambling

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Winston Peters. Photo / APN
Winston Peters. Photo / APN

Race and religion are entwined in the hot topic of Maori prayers being routinely used in some schools - reported in Lynley Bilby's Teachers against karakia.

In one primary school, students begin their lessons with a Maori prayer that translates as" 'Lord look after us, guide us with your work today, in your holy name', and some teachers are unhappy about participating in such prayers. Bloggers on both the left and right have come out against such use of karakia in schools.

On the left, No Right Turn has a strong argument that such prayers violate the Education Act, and that 'pretending its a "cultural practice" doesn't change that'. He also calls for secondary schools to be made secular too - see: Against karakia in schools.

On the right, David Farrar says that the union is right to fight for the secular rights of teachers - see: On NZEI's side on this one.

Pita Sharples - the Minister of Maori Affairs, and Associate Minister of Education - has come out in defence of the prayers, declaring them 'consistent with the New Zealand Curriculum' and arguing that the use of karakia improves the 'cultural safety' of the classroom - see Kate Shuttleworth's Sharples - Karakia is part of our culture.

The New Zealand Association of Rationalists & Humanists will not be impressed with such arguments, and have already launched a Keep Religion Out Of School Campaign. And as reported recently, some schools are starting to opt out of the controversial scheme in which they officially close down temporarily and teach religious education to students - see Michelle Duff's State schools review religious classes.

Susan Devoy, the new Race Relations Commissioner, is also making some controversial statements about race - indicating that she will intervene in the next year's election campaign against Winston Peters when he campaigns on issues relating to ethnicity - see Kieran Campbell Devoy has Peters in sights. This will appeal to some of her critics who already see her as too soft on racism. But others will be concerned about a state bureaucrat becoming involved in partisan issues. For example, libertarian blogger Mark Hubbard says that as much as he dislikes Peters' campaigns against foreigners, he is horrified that she might attempt to silence him, and that her statements demonstrate 'how retrograde that office is, and how it has no place in a free society' - see: Race Relations Office Has Turned Censor And Must Go. Peters v. DeVoy: 0 - 0.

The issue of racism in the police force was examined in detail by Maori TV's Native Affairs programme last night, including an interview with controversial criminologist Greg Newbold who challenged some assumptions - watch it here. A new blogger, Alasdair Thompson (formerly of the Employers Association) reviews the programme in Maori TV's Native Affairs.

But what is ethnicity, and how do we decide our 'race'? These are the type of questions very intelligently discussed in this week's Listener by Michael Littlewood - you can read the (unlocked) article: A question of identity. Littlewood provides a fascinating personal account and political argument for abolition of the Maori seats.

For an even more challenging discussion of contemporary ethnicity and politics, read Elizabeth Rata's Democracy & Diversity. Rata is a professor in the Education department of the University of Auckland, and has long challenged some mainstream thinking about race and politics. The above item is a speech she recently gave to the leftwing Fabian Society, in which she criticises the left's embrace of identity politics, and relates this to the Labour Party's abandonment of traditional social democratic leftwing politics. Last week Rata gave another controversial speech critiquing how universities carry out research in relation to ethnicity - see: Race politics in the University and the effects on knowledge. And along similar lines of thought, Chris Trotter has recently pondered whether the New Zealand left has had the wrong approach to race politics - see: What if We're Wrong?.

The issues of gambling and lobbying are also entwined in the hot topic of SkyCity and its various offshoot topics of Labour MPs partaking of corporate hospitality, new gambling legislation, and the SkyCity convention deal. For some, the issue is a moral one - see, for example, Chris Trotter's Why Pokie Machines Should Be the First Victims of the Revolution. Similarly Julie Fairey has written in the Herald: Govt rides roughshod on poker machines.

It's Labour's use of the SkyCity corporate box at Eden Park that has generated the most media and blogosphere interest over the last week. David Farrar has asked: Where is Labour's political management?. Scott Yorke has replied to criticism with a highly amusing parody: Please, I can explain!. See also, his reflections on how damaging the incident has been to Labour: Blogger finds silver lining. And Chris Trotter says that the incident shows how today's elite are under constant surveillance by the masses - see: Watching the All Blacks proves a political point.

There's ongoing unhappiness about SkyCity's convention centre deal with the Government. The best read on this is Stephen Franks's Our constitution and crony capitalism. See also, Jim Evans' Casino deal is against spirit of law.

Meanwhile, Parliament is about to consider the Maori Party gambling bill, which has just been returned from the select committee in a very different form - see Kate Chapman's Bill to tackle gambling harm watered down and No Right Turn's Gutted. It seems that the Maori Party aren't too unhappy about this - see Claire Trevett's Gambling bill rewrite accepted by Flavell (http://bit.ly/15dXaHh) - but the Green Party is - see Trevett's Greens pull support from gambling bill.

Much of the debate about SkyCity has focused on government processes and the role of lobbyists. Therefore, it's useful that Audrey Young has been exploring the register of lobbyists at Parliament - see: Speaker allows twice as many lobbyists to get free pass. The list is evaluated on the No Right Turn blog, especially the fact that so many of the lobbyists are former high-level ministerial staff - see: The revolving door. Meanwhile, David Farrar gives his own defence of the lobbyist situation in Parliamentary passes.

Other recent important or interesting items include the following:

The Labour Party's health is under scrutiny in two must-read columns - John Armstrong's Labour barking up the wrong tree and Tracy Watkins' Testy exchanges mark feral point-scoring. The latter is particularly insightful about Labour's strategic focus on bringing down John Key, and on the recently rising antagonism in Parliament.

The Manufacturing Inquiry has given Labour and its allies a boost. One of the more sympathetic accounts of this is John Armstrong's Political stunt falls flat but still manages to score points. The Herald is much more critical in Opposition report seems neither novel nor necessary. And David Farrar adds something to the debate with Manufacturing Data.

Those interested in the state of the media might be alarmed by the fact that MediaWorks has gone into receivership, with its banks essentially taking ownership of the company -best covered by Matt Nippert in Banks to keep media empire on air. The issue is satirised on The Civilian in Sebastian Boyle's How will MediaWorks reduce its debt? and Ben Uffindell's Banks seize John Campbell as MediaWorks enters receivership. Alasdair Thompson blogs on the issue to say the survival of TV3 is a Good outcome, despite his own downfall following an infamous interview on Campbell Live. And David Farrar takes issue with Labour's take on the woes of the media sector - see: It's all Sky's fault!.

The other big news in the media is end of Truth newspaper, until now under the editorship of Cameron Slater - see Jason Krupp and Kevin Norquay's The Truth newspaper to stop publishing. Many have been tweeting their commiserations to Slater - include Judith Collins (@JudithCollinsMP): 'Cam, you made NZTruth a compulsory purchase in Parliament - once the porn was removed. Your team did a great but impossible job'. You can see more such texts on Slater's blogpost, Truth commentary: The good, the bad, and the ugly.

More sad news for the media, with Russell Brown announcing Media3 will be away for a while. And there's a changing of the guard at Fairfax - see Vernon Small and Kevin Norquay's RNZ names Fairfax boss as new CEO.

The Herald's media commentator John Drinnan asks some good questions in his column, Is Campbell Live going over the top?. And in this regard, it's definitely worth watching two recent Campbell Live items: the 12-minute video: Winston Peters' sin city claims investigated and the 8-minute video: Peters: Dunne's leak 'illegal, totally improper'.

Peter Dunne's fall from grace is putting increased focus on Winston Peters. One playful theme on the rise is characterising Peters as some sort of political vampire - see Steve Braunias' Secret Diary of Winston Peters, and Scott Yorke's Winston Peters' dark secret revealed. Jane Clifton also carries the idea further in her must-read but paywalled Listener article The (self) importance of being Winston: 'When you think about it, Winston is suspiciously ageless and of long-established nocturnal habit. His caucus looks distinctly drained and benumbed, nodding and mumbling approval in a group-think sort of way to his every parliamentary oration. And then there's the fact he can be dormant for long periods, then explode into public scattering corpses and gore like a hand grenade. Winston's exact supernatural taxonomy is puzzling, as on the evidence he could be a political vampire, werewolf or zombie leader, or a hybrid of the three. Whichever crepuscular creature he might be, he undeniably thrives on a diet of juicy, blood-drawing leaks'.

Other important Peter Dunne items include Paul Thomas' Revealed: Messages from a leaky boat, Claire Trevett's The clock chimes utu for Peters, Denis Welch's The Entertainer, and Scott Yorke's A day in the life of Peter Dunne.

This year's Christchurch local government elections will be the most interesting in the country - especially once the Labour Party declares its hand on the mayoralty contest - see Charley Mann's Lianne Dalziel bid for Chch mayoralty. Also of importance in Christchurch local body politics is the latest intervention by central government - see Vernon Small's Govt help with consents is long overdue.

Finally, if you're interested in silly photos of the Prime Minister, see Jenna Lynch's PM gets his silly on at Fieldays and Toby Manhire's John Key's six greatest social media photographs.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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