Karl du Fresne
We learned a few days ago that on the day before the September 23 general election, Winston Peters kick-started legal action against National cabinet ministers - including then prime minister Bill English - party officials, a senior public servant and two journalists over the leaking of his superannuation overpayment. He took this action without disclosing it to either the National or Labour parties.
The only thing that can be said with any certainty about the next New Zealand government is that it will look very different from the last one. National party prime minister Bill English won an emphatic 13-seat majority over the opposition Labour party in an election result that defied the pattern of history.
It’s hard to recall a more concerted gang-up against a public figure than the one that followed the launch of former National Party leader Don Brash’s Hobson’s Pledge movement, which wants an end to race-based preference.
I’ve always thought democracy is a pretty good sort of system. Not perfect, of course, but as Winston Churchill said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Human nature is a perverse thing. It consistently thwarts all attempts to coerce us into behaving the way bureaucrats, politicians and assorted control freaks think we should.
What do a world-famous historian, a British author and a New Zealand cartoonist have in common? On the face of it, not much – except that all three have been embroiled recently in controversies that show how fragile the right of free speech has become in supposedly liberal democracies.
Some time back in the 1990s, I wrote an article that began: “The newspaper you are holding in your hands is an endangered species.” The risk to newspapers that worried me then had to do with media freedom. That remains a matter of concern to journalists – probably always will be – but it has been replaced by a far more urgent threat. Dismal financial results reportedly recently by the two big newspaper groups, APN News and Media and Fairfax Media, confirmed what had long been obvious: that the newspaper industry is reeling from the impact of the internet.
Let’s get the congratulations out of the way first. National’s election triumph was as emphatic as they get, at least under MMP. Admittedly, it’s rare for a government to be tossed out of office after only one term: it last happened in 1975, and the circumstances then were unusual. Norman Kirk had died in office and the Labour Party leadership had been assumed by the mild-mannered Bill Rowling, who was ill-prepared to deal with the aggression and firepower of a political streetfighter named Muldoon.