Fran O'Sullivan: Young need to connect the Dots

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Kim Dotcom. Photo / Norrie Montgomery
Kim Dotcom. Photo / Norrie Montgomery

'Are you Red-dee for a Rev-Oh - Loo- Shin? Are you Red-dee to take down the Government? Are you Red-dee to extradite John Key?" The thick Germanic accent bellowing out these words will be burned into the brain of anyone with a compulsive interest in New Zealand politics after Kim Dotcom's latest video went viral.

So too, the imagery of Christchurch students chanting "F ... John Key, F ... John Key, F ... John Key" to the rhythm of Dotcom's baton.

It's important not to take too seriously the howls of outrage over Dotcom's latest political orchestration. Or, for that matter the students' antics.

Wake up people.

There is an election on after all.

There should be contest. There should be passion.

Commentators with no personal experience of New Zealand's recent combative political history - but a good handle themselves on the dark arts of politics - have made over-blown claims that the Dotcom raves are reminiscent of Hitlerian behaviour.

They ought to get out more.

The loudest howls are coming from Generation Xers.

Many of those who have worked themselves into paroxysms of rage were mere striplings during the periods when New Zealand youth did stage violent rebellions, including during the Springbok tour protests of 1981.

They were probably at the kindergarten stage during the Vietnam War era when student leaders like Helen Clark and Phil Goff led marches down Princes St. They were not there to taste the fire when my generation also protested the visit of United States Vice-President Spiro Agnew outside the then Intercontinental hotel in 1971 because we wanted US bombings to stop and a halt called to drafting young people to serve in a hopeless war.

The youth protest movement during the early 1970s paved the way for Norman Kirk's election as Labour Prime Minister in 1972. He immediately withdrew all New Zealand troops from Vietnam, putting the end to our eight-year involvement in the war. He also abolished compulsory military training and campaigned for a nuclear-free Pacific.

Unfortunately the fire that ignited the ravers' bellies was more likely alcohol than rage over injustice.

Dotcom is smart, he's facing extradition to the United States over alleged copyright piracy, he's got some interesting ideas on policies to exploit the digital economy. The businessman is also the Internet Party's $3 million sugar-daddy.

On top of that he's got a hint of demagoguery and is paying a former Alliance Cabinet Minister an MP's salary to front the party he bankrolls.

These are the factors that lead many - particularly in the ruling parties - to see him as an unhealthy influence on New Zealand politics.

Without his 3 million plus smackers the Internet Party wouldn't exist. More to the point it would not have been in an alliance with the Mana Party.

Dotcom is also a larger presence in the election campaign than Internet Party leader Laila Harre.

The problem is he can't see past his antipathy towards John Key.

John Key will brush off the insults. Middle New Zealand will be horrified at the offensive slights to the Prime Minister.

But what young people have to work out is whether Dotcom's battle is their battle.

Right now his own personality is overshadowing the Internet Party's policies on the knowledge economy and the digital age - policies which are common in internet parties elsewhere.

What's interesting is that while the controversy plays into Dotcom's hands and ensures the Internet Party's profile is heightened there are no signs yet that the party ravers have been radicalised to the point where they actually stand for something.

They have yet to prove themselves a political force in the way which, for instance, Auckland's Gen Zero group has played a valuable role in focusing attention on the need for intensification in our prime city.

This is the real pity.

Young people do have issues they should be focused on: More high-paying skilled jobs, housing and superannuation for starters.

The pity is that their political activation is being cynically ignited by Dotcom and not by their own generation's leaders.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Fran O'Sullivan

A columnist for the NZ Herald

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

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