Chris Barton 's Opinion

Technology columnist for the NZ Herald

Chris Barton: Get back to your roots Kim Dotcom

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Kim Dotcom needs to get back to his roots to get the Internet Party back on track - individualism, flamboyance and disruptive business models.
Kim Dotcom needs to get back to his roots to get the Internet Party back on track - individualism, flamboyance and disruptive business models.

Watching Kim Dotcom's slow strip revealing his Internet Party plans has been excruciating: the leak to Whaleoil, the cancellation of the extravaganza launch party, the compromise of journalistic independence by unmasked party secretary Alastair Thompson, and his subsequent resignation. As a political party launch, this wasn't a fiasco, it was a train wreck.

The disastrous start is at odds with the supreme confidence Dotcom espoused when he discussed his political plans in September last year.

"Everything I get into I'm a perfectionist," he told me. "I want to be the best at everything that I do and I will make the same attempt with this political party." Where, I asked, did such driving motivation come from? "It is just inside me. I can't explain," he replied. "I don't like mediocre. That's just my nature." To achieve his grand plan he said: "I want to surround myself with a dream team of achievers - people who get it and want to bring this country forward and into the future."

So far he seems to have surrounded himself with team of ninnies and his achievements look very mediocre indeed. A mega fail. Despite the setback, I hope he perseveres because if he sticks to policy, he has an opportunity, as Derek Handley has pointed out, to give visionless New Zealand politics a badly needed jolt.

If he can rein in his tendency to megalomania and let his charisma shine, Dotcom has unrivalled expertise in three areas that he may be able to articulate into policies. If he communicates these to perfection, he may well capture the hearts and minds of a significant constituency that may be enough to get the Internet Party across the 5 percent threshold. To do so he needs to appeal to not just the young, the disgruntled and the can't-be-bothered-to vote, but also to a significant bunch with leanings to the right or an independent point of view.

In other words, entrepreneurs and geeks.

I suspect the main reason the Internet Party is in so much strife is that it's aligned itself too much with the left which, on matters internet, has shown itself to be terribly incompetent - especially during last year's protests against the GCSB Bill when there was no co-ordinated online and social media campaign, let alone a way to donate to the cause online. As a result, much to the dismay of many attending, the meetings were captured by old-school hard left ideology and tiresome pass-the-bucket funding collections.

It's worth noting that the far right, which should, through its libertarian ideology, be opposed such state intervention in individual lives, was nowhere to be seen at the GCSB bill protests. Worse still, the Act party betrayed its ideals and voted for the GCSB legislation.

It is weird, however, that the left has taken up with Dotcom. The left is not his natural home. When he first came to New Zealand, he sought out the far right in the shape of John Banks for assistance. He's clearly pro tax minimisation for businesses - evidenced by his setting up Megaupload in Hong Kong where it was on a 4 per cent tax rate. It's also plain to see he's a businessman who likes to make obscene amounts of money, flaunt his wealth with extravagant spending and have servants responding to his beck and call - hardly the hallmark of a left-winger.

To get the Internet Party back on track, Dotcom needs to get back to his roots - individualism, flamboyance, disruptive business models - and campaign on policies that have cross party appeal. Here are three where he might change the election picture this year:

Stop spying on me
This is a field where Dotcom is the undisputed expert and living proof that everything Edward Snowden has revealed is true. If the Internet Party can drum up enough outrage about the New Zealand government's active engagement in dragnet surveillance of its population and make online privacy the election issue, it's game on. But quite how this translates to policy is tricky.

Repealing the GCSB Bill is a given, but the Internet Party will undoubtedly have something to say about the Waihopai spy base here since 1989 and whether it should be closed. Being opposed to American foreign policy is not unheard of in New Zealand - as seen in the country's longstanding anti-nuclear stance. But convincing compliant Kiwis that they should take a similar stand against mass surveillance is yet to gain a groundswell.

Dotcom will get plenty of publicity on the issue in his extradition hearing set down for April. He's also claims he will show proof that John Key had knowledge and involvement of the FBI-raid on his Dotcom mansion, a claim Key has vigorously denied. "When you look at this case and everything that's followed after," says Dotcom, "He [John Key] is just totally kissing US arse all the way." If there is any substance to such extravagant claims - in essence political interference in judicial process - Key's credibility could be seriously damaged.

Fix the copyright farce
Who better to understand the seemingly intractable problem of copyright than Dotcom, accused as the biggest downloading pirate of all time? Ever since Napster in 1999, many in the world realised the genie was out of the bottle and that free music and movie downloads were here to stay. Rather than fight this scourge of the music industry and Hollywood until the end of time by creating insane laws that criminalise our kids, many have argued the time is long overdue to stop this hopeless war, and sue for peace.

Many New Zealanders know the farce well - wanting to pay for online content, but unable to because of the movie industry's monopoly stranglehold on licencing rights which dictate when and where content can be legally viewed. Dotcom, who knows how to create systems that ensure artists get paid for their endeavours, could provide valuable insight and knowledge in creating policy that makes New Zealand a key player in neutral and fair distribution of copyright.

Such a policy might also provide the country with a significant economic boost. The argument is being played out in the FBI case against Dotcom which he is convinced he can, and must, win. "If they get away with this, it basically gives Hollywood the gun that they can point at anybody who they don't like to censor the internet, censor new innovation and keep new technologies out that they don't agree with."

Dirt cheap, ultra fast internet for all
This could be the Internet Party's welfare policy - one that plays to improving education and bridging inequality. Once again, Dotcom knows the field intimately. He lives and breathes bandwidth. "I'm an excellent negotiator. I've always got us [his companies] the best bandwidth deals, the best server deals. I am just really good at researching and understanding the market. That's why we were more successful than anyone else because we only paid half the bandwidth fees our competitors were paying."

For many New Zealanders well aware of our county's poor connectivity speeds and ridiculously high prices, policies designed to dramatically improve universal internet access, as a basic utility right, could have enormous appeal.

Of course even if the Internet Party did gain seats in our parliament, its influence would be small. But it could at least disrupt the lacklustre landscape of New Zealand politics. The question now is whether Dotcom can rise to the challenge.

Debate on this article is now closed.

Chris Barton

Technology columnist for the NZ Herald

Chris Barton is a freelance writer with 28 years experience in newspapers and magazines. He's been writing about technology since 1986, was the founding editor of New Zealand PC World and has won numerous media awards, including, in 2009, journalism's top prize, the Wolfson Press Fellowship to Cambridge. He has a Master of Architecture, teaches part time at the Auckland School of Architecture and is an architecture critic, winning, in 2014, the Canon Media Awards Reviewer of the Year.

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