COMMENT

For the Prime Minister, it is as if all her past life has been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.

In the last week Jacinda Ardern has demonstrated the empathy of Ronald Reagan after the Challenger disaster and the steely resolve of Margaret Thatcher after the Brighton hotel bombing.

Consequently, New Zealand will heal faster than it may have otherwise. Recent immigrants and our well-established Muslim communities are hopefully now in no doubt where they stand with the overwhelming majority of their fellow citizens. With any luck, the Government's proposed gun control solution can command unanimity in the House.

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Looking ahead, global admiration for our Prime Minister means the economic effects on the tourism and education services sectors will be much less than they might have been. Ironically, precisely because the Prime Minister's outstanding leadership has laid a platform for an early return to normality, we will soon be back to arguing over things like the capital gains tax (CGT) and KiwiBuild.

But the political context has changed.

The Prime Minister has an opportunity to use her new-found ascendancy to act decisively across a range of issues. If she really believes in a CGT, for example, she can now be more assertive in demanding Winston Peters fall into line. Similarly, she need no longer defend failing programmes like KiwiBuild but has more freedom to replace them.

The Prime Minister is also empowered to act boldly in getting to the bottom of whatever intelligence failure led to the terrorist attack. It is not acceptable for spy chiefs to argue there was nothing that could be done because the terrorist was not known to law enforcement or the courts.

The very nature of policing and criminal justice is that they can only respond to crimes that have occurred. The role of intelligence agencies is to fill the gap between emerging and manifest threats.

In the past week, Jacinda Ardern has shown a mix of empathy and steely resolve. Photo, SNPA
In the past week, Jacinda Ardern has shown a mix of empathy and steely resolve. Photo, SNPA

It reflects badly on those who head our intelligence agencies that they have not recognised that the very fact of 50 people, fellow citizens and visitors, being murdered in a terrorist attack calls for at least a symbolic offer to resign.

Moreover, the inquiry into their performance must not be the usual Wellington whitewash with a retired judge or former Cabinet Minister appointed to conclude that no one could have reasonably foreseen this specific attack on this specific day. The Prime Minister ought to appoint inquirers from outside the Wellington establishment with proven investigative skills to genuinely seek answers.

How is it possible, for example, that those who buy multiple powerful firearms don't automatically come to the attention of the spies, at least so other risk factors can be explored? Have the intelligence agencies become too interested in foreign threats on the one hand and inward-looking team-building exercises on the other?

Why is our internet search history and social media activity able to be monitored to such an extent to know what books, music, movies, holidays, underwear and pornography we might like, but not if we are visiting known white supremacist and other hate sites?

Were John Key's staff wrong to put a brake on the GCSB's SPEARGUN proposal that might have given it the same capability as social media companies seem to have? And what are we to make of those who publicly opposed even the less sophisticated intelligence gathering apparatus that has clearly failed?

New Zealand can never succeed, on any measure, by cowering behind a wall. Not just our economic destiny but our national identity depends on us maintaining the sense of adventure that brought us all here.

Perhaps most crucially, the Prime Minister is perfectly suited to lead the nation in rejecting hatred and xenophobia and again embracing liberalism and cosmopolitanism.

One party is most guilty of fomenting hatred for political gain but enough has been said about it over 25 years.

More important is where our two main parties stand on these issues.

The Labour Party disgraced itself in its most recent term in opposition with its stunt on Chinese-sounding names and by joining with the extreme left in opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership on the grounds that it would undermine national sovereignty. Not to be outdone, National disgraced itself even more in finding alliance with the extreme right over an almost certainly irrelevant UN compact on migration, using the same ridiculous lines about alleged breaches of sovereignty.

In challenging this nonsense, the business community and the political right have an important role to play.

Misplaced nostalgia often papers over the fact that New Zealand before the 1980s was an inward-looking and profoundly racist country that made little space for difference or non-British cultures, including even the indigenous one. The reforms of the 1980s and early 1990s were about economics but they were also about culture, confidence and national identity. New Zealand would not cower behind a wall.

As a trading nation populated by people every one of whose ancestors took enormous risks to come here in just the last thousand years, the case was made by the likes of the late Roger Kerr that New Zealand should be open and welcoming to the world and its people.

Somewhere that vision has been lost, with business lobbyists becoming more interested in the minutiae of the latest MBIE subsidy scheme rather than boldly making the case for free and open markets and globalisation. There are even those on the political right who have rejected the legacy of the 1980s and express admiration for Donald Trump.

New Zealand can never succeed, on any measure, by cowering behind a wall. Not just our economic destiny but our national identity depends on us maintaining the sense of adventure that brought us all here and extending manaakitanga to those who want to join us, visit us, do business with us, or take a holiday or study here.

Those of us who believe in these things should no longer reject the term neo-liberal, so often used as abuse, but reclaim it. What is the alternative: to be old conservatives? The political right needs to get back on track.