Eleanor Catton’s perspective

Author Eleanour Catton has sparked social media discussions through her anti-Government comments in an interview while in India.

Live Mint: Eleanor Catton: In the last year, I’ve struggled with my identity as a New Zealand writer

Her controversial comment:

At the moment, New Zealand, like Australia and Canada, (I dominated by) these neo-liberal, profit-obsessed, very shallow, very money-hungry politicians who do not care about culture. They care about short-term gains. They would destroy the planet in order to be able to have the life they want. I feel very angry with my government.

Catton actively supported voting for the Greens in last year’s election. These sorts of ideas are not uncommon on the extreme Green side of politics.

This nis the whole section of the interview that led up to those comments:

On New Zealand discrediting its writers

New Zealand has the misfortune in not having a lot of confidence in the brains of its citizens. There is a lot of embarassment, a lot of discrediting that goes on in terms of the local writers.

I, for example, grew up just having a strange belief that New Zealand writers were automatically less great than writers from Britain and America, for example. Because we were some colonial backwater, we weren’t discovered, which I’m hoping will change.

The matter of having this kind of cultural embarrassment about your place in the world, we really need to actively resist that and be brave. I don’t think good literature can come about without bravery. The last thing you want is a whole country of embarrassed writers slinking around.

The good side of New Zealand is that there isn’t all that kind of shallow literary fame where everyone’s backstabbing each other. You kind of need a snobbery for those kinds of things to happen. But I think it is always a shame when people don’t stand up for what it is that they really believe.

And I do think the problem we face in New Zealand is that we are reluctant to express firm beliefs in anything.

An example would be, I was teaching in class in Auckland. I made up a statement with manifestoes from all over the world, different writers who all thought what writing should do or not do. I was going to give it out to my students and have them write about the one that spoke to them the most.

When I was putting this document together, I thought, hang on, I don’t have any New Zealand writers here. And I spent an entire day on the internet trying to find an aesthetic statement from a New Zealand writer and there was nothing. Hopefully in the future, we have more people being brave in that way.

We have this strange cultural phenomenon called “tall poppy syndrome”; if you stand out, you will be cut down.

One example is that the New Zealand Book Award that follows the announcement of the Man Booker Prize, in the year The Luminaries won it, there was this kind of thing that now you’ve won this prize from overseas, we’re not going to celebrate it here, we’re going to give the award to somebody else. If you get success overseas then very often the local population can suddenly be very hard on you.

Or the other problem is that the local population can take ownership of that success in a way that is strangely proprietal. So many people have talked in the media and me directly in ways of 2013 being the year that New Zealand won the Man Booker Prize. It betrays an attitude towards individual achievement which is very, uncomfortable. It has to belong to everybody or the country really doesn’t want to know about it.

I know I shouldn’t complain too much—I’m in such an extraordinary position—but at the same time I feel that in the last year I’ve really struggled with my identity as a New Zealand writer. I feel uncomfortable being an ambassador for my country when my country is not doing as much as it could, especially for the intellectual world. It’s sort of a complicated position to be in.

At the moment, New Zealand, like Australia and Canada, (I dominated by) these neo-liberal, profit-obsessed, very shallow, very money-hungry politicians who do not care about culture. They care about short-term gains. They would destroy the planet in order to be able to have the life they want. I feel very angry with my government.

Some curious comment followed:

On writing from someone else’s perspective

I don’t feel like the male perspective is alien to me. I understand what it would be like to be a man. I suppose from reading a lot of books from male points of view, I don’t feel like it’s completely foreign to me.

An odd claim.I don’t understand what it would be like to be many other men.

There is not ‘a male perspective’. There are a wide range of male perspectives. I’m certain that my perpsective is quite different to many other males – I know that the perspective of some other males is completely foreign to me.

It’s much more dangerous when a white writer writes from a non-white perspective than when people write across gender. That’s much more tricky territory, much more to do with the intentions of the person doing it.

If your intention is to be curious, to enlarge your sense of the world, that’s a wonderful thing. But if your intention is to pillage somebody else’s point of view in order to claim some sort of status from that, is very bad, very immoral.

I would never write a first person narrative from the point of view of somebody who had an experience that I had not been through.

Obviously she’s able to express her own views however she sees fit, but it’s just her perspective. Her controversial comments were written from a fairly extreme political perspective.

Her Green perspective is a minority perspective, about 11% of people currently vote Green in New Zealand.

From a poll in July last year “Greens are supported by 13.1 per cent of women compared with 6.6 per cent of men” so her green perspective doesn’t seem to be so popular amongst males.

Obviously she’s able to express her own views however she sees fit, but it’s just her political perspective, albeit shared by some other New Zealanders.

Aotearoa New Zealand?

There seems to be increasing use of the term ‘Aotearoa New Zealand’. I don’t have any issue with the concept of the term in general, but it seems to be creeping into official use. I’m not aware of any official designation of it, so it appears that some are trying to arbitrarily impose it without due process.

This was highlighted in a column by Fran O’Sullivan where she quoted the Race Relations Commissioner using it:

“I am Aotearoa New Zealand … te rangi tahu, together we grow” is in fact the slogan Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy chose as the theme for this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

I thought race relations would not try to impose an unofficial term and use due process to reach agreement on any change.

The Human Rights Commission website doesn’t use the term…

About This Site

This website is owned by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission. The aim of this website is to promote and educate the New Zealand public on human rights in an accessible and user-friendly format.

…including on it’s Race Relations page but in a link there:

Race Relations Day 2014

Race Relations Day, 21 March,  marks the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which is celebrated around the world. The 2014 theme is “I am Aotearoa New Zealand…te ranga tahi, together we grow.”

Dame Susan is Aotearoa New Zealand from NZ Human Rights on Vimeo.

Belonging and feeling connected is essential for a healthy society. This year’s theme explores the balance between having our own individual identities and the potential of a diverse and united collective.    It expresses that everyone here, no matter what their race or cultural background, belongs, and that there are many ways of being a New Zealander. If we understand and appreciate our differences we can grow together into an Aotearoa/New Zealand that is based on dignity and respect.

Complete the sentence “I am Aotearoa New Zealand because…” and share the different ways we can be New Zealanders.

It seems odd for the Race Relations Commissioner to arbitrarily use the term like this. She is likely to divide more than promote togetherness.

If it hasn’t been properly designated then ‘Aotearoa New Zealand’ looks like a slogan being imposed.

Aotearoa is generally stated as the Māori name for New Zealand although there seems to be doubt about it’s origin. It may have at one time just referred to the North Island.

The Constitution Act 1986 makes no mention of ‘Aotearoa’.

Greens use the term in their full name – The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand – and Green MPs frequently use the term (although abbreviate as per https://www.facebook.com/nzgreenparty).

A search of National’s website finds no official use of the term (or ‘Aotearoa’), there are only references to organisations who use ‘Aotearoa’ in their name.

Labour don’t prominently promote the term but use it in their Māori Development policy:

Labour acknowledges Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the founding document of Aotearoa/New Zealand and accepts that Te Tiriti should be honoured in government, society and the family.

Māori hold a particular status as the indigenous people, tangata whenua of Aotearoa/New Zealand. That status is acknowledged by the United Nations and Labour supports formal recognition of this status.

But their use seems limited, as in their other Māori policy Te Reo Māori they use ‘New Zealand’ alone in English language paragraphs and ‘Aotearoa’ alone in Māori paragraphs.

A search of Labour’s website suggests sparse use:

Maiden speech – Jenny Salesa – New Zealand Labour Party

Oct 24, 2014  My family moved to Aotearoa New Zealand

Labour will facilitate regional Māori economic development agencies

Aug 17, 2014  … will take up the challenge to equip rangatahi with the skills they need to build a 
quality life in Aotearoa New Zealand,” says Nanaia Mahuta

Oddly the search summary of this quotes “this country AOTEAROA“…

Merry Christmas – New Zealand Labour Party

Dec 22, 2014  … a very industrious, hard-working family, and we need a government who is 
going to ensure that the ‘real workers’ of this country AOTEAROA, …

…but this links to a video message from Labour leader Andreww Little who doesn’t mention any version of a country name at all.

Something as fundamental to New Zealand as the country name (and flag and anthem) should be dealt with due process, and any change should involve proper consultation and official designation.

Aotearoa (from Wikipedia):

Aotearoa (Māori: [aɔˈtɛaɾɔa], originally used in reference to the North Island of New Zealand, is now the most widely known and accepted Māori name for the entire country.

Translation: The original derivation of Aotearoa is not known for certain. The common translation is “the land of the long white cloud”.


When Māori began incorporating the name Aotearoa into their lore is unknown.

After the adoption of the name New Zealand by Europeans, one name used by Māori to denote the country as a whole was Niu Tireni, a transliteration of New Zealand.

From 1845, George Grey, Governor of New Zealand, spent some years amassing information from Māori regarding their legends and histories. He translated it into English, and in 1855 published a book called Polynesian Mythology And Ancient Traditional History Of The New Zealand Race.

Thus died this Maui we have spoken of; but before he died he had children, and sons were born to him; some of his descendants yet live in Hawaiki, some in Aotearoa (or in these islands); the greater part of his descendants remained in Hawaiki, but a few of them came here to Aotearoa.

In the 19th century, Aotearoa was sometimes used to refer to the North Island only.

An example of that usage appeared in the first issue of Huia Tangata Kotahi, a Māori language newspaper published on 8 February 1893. It contained the dedication on the front page, “He perehi tenei mo nga iwi Maori, katoa, o Aotearoa, mete Waipounamu”, meaning “This is a publication for the Māori tribes of Aotearoa and the South Island.

Regardless of it’s origin and historic usage Aotearoa is accepted as a Māori description applying to the whole of New Zealand now – but ‘Aotearoa New Zealand’ seems to have no official designation.

Muslim condemnation of Charlie Hebdo killings

Muslims are often criticised for failing to condemn Islam related terrorism and this has happened over the Charlie Hebdo killings. It’s usually based on ignorance, I would guess that critics don’t even bother checking before making accusations of inaction.

It’s actually common for countries to condemn acts of terrorism. Including Muslim countries.

Charlie Hebdo killings condemned by Arab states – but hailed online by extremists

Arab governments and Muslim leaders and organisations across the world have condemned the deadly attack in Paris.

Saudi Arabia called it a “cowardly terrorist attack that was rejected by the true Islamic religion”. The Arab League and Egypt’s al-Azhar university – the leading theological institution in the Sunni Muslim world – also denounced the incident in which masked gunmen shouted “Allahu Akbar” – “god is great ” in Arabic.

Iran, Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco, Algeria and Qatar all issued similar statements.

In New Zealand the Federation of Islamic Associations Condemns Paris Attack:



And on Twitter: Muslims In New Zealand (12,786 likes):

How A muslim should respond to the haters —

1. Sabr (Patience )
2. Silence 
3. Smile 

Dear Brothers and Sisters — while going to work, masjid, mall or for a walk or anywhere if someone offends you or your family in anyways, please do not take the matter in your hand & respond, instead please call the police. New Zealand police are closely working with us and is giving us full support.

May ALLAH swt make it easy for all of us.


Innocent until proven a risk should be an inalienable Kiwi principle

It was inevitable that the French killers have been killed. They lived by the gun, died by the gun. A fair enough outcome.

Sad that more innocent people have been killed.

What does this mean for New Zealand? There’s far less risk of anything like this happening here but it’s not zero risk. There should be and will be much discussion about surveillance for protection versus intrusion on privacy.

There will also be ongoing discussion on immigration. There will also be ongoing discussion on immigration. There have been a number of calls to stop immigration of other cultures and religions, and some have even suggested deportation of all Muslims.

It’s worth noting that the Kouachi brothers were born in France.

So should anyone whose parents weren’t born in New Zealand be kicked out of the country just in case there’s a nutter amongst them?

100% protection against terrorism is impossible.

Terrorists want to create mayhem and provoke division. The best way to combat that is to remain calm and cautious, and to not change how we do things in New Zealand as a knee jerk reaction to events in France.

Reacting to the hate and intolerance of terrorists with hate and intolerance allows them to destroy our special way of life.

We need to hold New Zealand values as very precious – our tolerance of different cultures and religions with a relative absence of persecution based on differences.

Innocent until proven a risk should be an unalienable Kiwi principle.

Stuff, Hager and ‘a better place’

Stuff rate Nicky Hager number 1 for making New Zealand ‘a better place’ this year.

Say what you want about him, his book Dirty Politics exposed high-level interactions between unsavoury characters and the Government.

It dropped a bomb on the election campaign and should help to make New Zealand’s politicians more wary of entering into dirty political tactics.

If that was the least he achieved then he has made New Zealand a better place this year.


It’s yet to be seen whether Hager’s book and the associated campaign makes New Zealand better place.

This will partly be up to media and journalists, who have been willing enablers of dirty politics.

(And including Prince George in the five making New Zealand a better place is nonsensical and an insult to the many New Zealanders who contributed to making this country a better place)

Politics not popular

It’s well known that politics isn’t a popular topic with the general population. This is demonstrated by the Top Kiwi Google searches of 2014 (Stuff).

Overall top New Zealand Google searches:

1. Fifa World Cup

2. Robin Williams

3. Commonwealth Games

4. Malaysia Airlines

5. iPhone 6

6. Jennifer Lawrence

7. Charlotte Dawson

8. Flappy Bird

9. Spark

10. Ebola

Top news item searches:

1. Malaysian Airlines crash

2. Cyclone Lusi

3. Scottish Independence

4. Alex from Target

5. Ukraine news

6. Robin Williams’ death

7. Ebola outbreak

8. Wellington earthquake

9. Cyclone Ita

10. Lunar eclipse

Top Kiwis searched:

1. Lorde

2. Aaron Smith

3. Rachel Smalley

4. Lisa Lewis

5. Mark Hunt

6. Joseph Parker

7. Benji Marshall

8. Chris Cairns

9. Mona Dotcom

10. Stephen Donald

No John Key. No Kim Dotcom. No David Cunliffe. No Judith Collins. No election. No dirty politics or Nicky Hager. No Whale Oil or Cameron Slater.

Winston Peters can only play a very narrow part of the media.

And no, Spark is not Bill English and Flappy Bird is not Metiria Turei

The closest to politics is Rachel Smalley who sometimes comments on politics, but it’s probably not politics that has made her an attractive search subject on Google.

Relative to general news, sport and celebrity puff politics is not very popular.

A flag that screams New Zealand

In a speech today John Key promoted the need to explore the possibility of having a new flag.

“When people say they want to keep the flag, it’s not our first flag, it’s New Zealand’s third flag.

“It’s just sheer confusion with Australia. Even at APEC [in China last month] they tried to take me to [Australian Prime Minister Tony] Abbott’s seat.

“The most serious reason is because they say our guys fought and died under that flag. But when you go to the Western front and go and look at the war graves our guys are buried not with the New Zealand flag, it’s the silver fern. Lots of countries change their flags, it’s a representation of who we are and about building national patriotism.

“If you want to look like a Kiwi you don’t put on a t-shirt with our flag on it. I reckon we should change to the fern … without hearing the anthem, without anybody saying anything that just screams New Zealand to you. The current flag does not do that.”

The biggest problem with the current flag is it’s frequent confusion with Australia’s.

From Stuff Flag needs to ‘scream NZ': John Key

NZ maintains high score in corruption index

Transparency International has released the 2014 Corruption Perception Index. New Zealand drops from first to second place but maintains it’s 2013 score of 91. It was 90 in 2012. Denmark increased from 91 to 92 which put it just ahead on ranking.

The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. A country or territory’s score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). A country or territory’s rank indicates its position relative to the other countries and territories in the index.

Top twenty:

RANK COUNTRY 2014 2013 2012
1 Denmark 92 91 90
2 New Zealand 91 91 90
3 Finland 89 89 90
4 Sweden 87 89 88
5 Norway 86 86 85
5 Switzerland 86 85 86
7 Singapore 84 86 87
8 Netherlands 83 83 84
9 Luxembourg 82 80 80
10 Canada 81 81 84
11 Australia 80 81 85
12 Germany 79 78 79
12 Iceland 79 78 82
14 United Kingdom 78 76 74
15 Belgium 76 75 75
15 Japan 76 74 74
17 Barbados 74 75 76
17 Hong Kong 74 75 77
17 Ireland 74 72 69
17 United States 74 73 73

That’s a very good result, but it isn’t being reported like that. Firstline started their item just now saying we had dropped, and it was introduced as saying ‘plummeted’ – not sure if it was tongue in cheek or not. And an expert commentator corrected the perception.

A misleading NZ Herald headline: Politics: Is NZ becoming more corrupt?

New Zealand has been knocked off its perch as the least corrupt country on earth, slipping to number two on the just-announced Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. So does this mean we’re becoming more corrupt?

And, with so many corruption stories and allegations in the media and politics over the last year, shouldn’t we have expected our ranking to drop further than just one place? Why hasn’t Dirty Politics translated into an international ‘telling off’ for New Zealand?

Should New Zealand have fallen further?

The first thing to note about the New Zealand’s drop in the corruption index is that the raw score for the country remains the same: 91 out of 100. By contrast Denmark has increased its score to 92, which explains the loss of the number one ranking. Therefore this is hardly bad news for New Zealand’s reputation.

Despite Edwards and the Herald portraying it as bad news.

And 3 News reports: Don’t take NZ’s corruption rating for granted – Labour

We might be seen as one of the least corrupt countries, but it’s important not to become complacent, Labour’s justice spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern says.

Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index released on Wednesday ranked New Zealand second for least perceived corruption in the public sector, beaten out only by Denmark.

It’s the first time since 2006 New Zealand’s been knocked off its first-place post which it shared last year with Denmark.

Ms Ardern says in a year of reports into unsavoury political and public activity, the drop in placings should give everyone pause to think.

“Today’s report shows we cannot take anything for granted if we want to maintain our hard fought for reputation.

“Good governance, transparency and vigilance in the face of a changing globalised environment are all key if we are to maintain a well-functioning democracy.”

My headline for that item would be “NZ maintains high corruption score but Labour still grizzles”.

Tacked on the end of the article:

Justice Minister Amy Adams said New Zealand’s public sector is internationally renowned for low levels of corruption and noted a number of anti-corruption initiatives had been passed by the Government this year.

But that doesn’t make a good headline.

Back to Edwards in the Herald.

Why are allegations of corruption increasing?

A caution about the perceptions of increased corruption in New Zealand also needs to be made. Just because there are many more media stories and allegations of corruption made by politicians, this doesn’t actually mean that New Zealand is becoming more corrupt.

While the media promote stories about allegations of corruption it “doesn’t actually mean that New Zealand is becoming more corrupt”, it just means media is getting more dramatic and less accurate.

And we should take allegations about corruption from various politicians with even more caution. Such allegations are the new weapon of electioneering. In a period when policy is less important or divergent in New Zealand politics, it is now issues of integrity that have become the main battleground for the political parties. They can often score easy hits against opponents by impugning their reputations.

Again the most pertinent commentary was relegated to the end of the article, well below the misleading headlines.

Media are often willing participants in promoting “allegations about corruption from various politicians” without providing sufficient examination of the validity of the claims.

They are often pawns of attack politicians. Is there a corruption index for media?

Alternative New Zealand flag

FernCrossFlagBoth familiar and different, identity and tradition:

  • retains the same southern cross
  • adds the familiar silver fern
  • with a long white stripe aesthetically angled
  • relatively simple
  • can’t all be copied by the Aussies

As requested by SGA at Kiwiblog here’s a variant:


And with a flagpole plus sky background:


And back to the fern/cross flying:


The Press editorial is anti flag choice

The Press makes it clear in an editorial that they oppose changing the New Zealand flag. They don’t want the people to choose for themselves, they want to fob off any debate by waiting for “an organic deeply felt discussion about who we are”.

In other words they want to put off any debate and any choice.

The editorial runs through the standard anti-change arguments in Do we know who we are?

They don’t like how John Key is proposing to see if the people of New Zealand want a flag change, they have the usual anti-black arguments (it’s easy to come up with arguments against most colours), they are anti-silver fern.

And they want to postpone any flag debate until we have some vague exploration about “who we are”.

So far the question of whether New Zealand actually needs a new symbol to represent itself has not taken place. This attitude seems to reflect the general indifference to any change to the constitution found by the panel set up to elicit views on that subject a few years ago.

Given that the flag will be the symbol to represent the country virtually in perpetuity, a wider, more deeply felt discussion about who we are needs to occur first. That must be organic. It is not something that can be generated by prime ministerial fiat.

That sounds like a long-winded way of saying they want to put off a flag debate indefinitely.

There’s no reason why we can’t have a discussion about whether we want to change our flag and decide whether to do so. It is not dependent on vague notions of “who we are” that can never easily be answered. We are many things and are continually evolving as a country and as a people.

One thing is for sure, we have evolved long past having close ties with the United Kingdom and the Union Jack.

And we have evolved way past wanting to be confused with Australia.

A flag debate can easily happen on it’s own. Trying to involve constitution and national identity are excuses to not have a debate.

People who don’t want a flag change don’t want a debate. They want to deny choice, presumably because they fair that the people will choose something different to what they want, no change.


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