December 26, 2005
New Zealand is presented as a decent, honest nation, and for the most part it is. But during every General Election no one dares mention the 1975–84 era, when Robert Muldoon (later Sir Robert) was Prime Minister.
It’s as though both the major parties have agreed to cover the era up, or, when it is mentioned, such as on a recent historical series on TV One—or any other programme, for that matter—it must be slanted against Sir Robert. I have never seen a positive one since Muldoon’s passing, or, for that matter, during Muldoon’s lifetime.
I wrote in response to this blog entry that New Zealanders are more ready to admit to Satanism than Muldoonism. But the writer of the post, Oliver, at least has the guts to talk about the era, and analyse the good versus the bad.
He doesn’t say Sir Robert got it all right, but he did get many things right—things that both parties completely shun.
There’s a distinct lack of transparency when it comes to learning from the past, and that harms New Zealand’s chances of becoming an advanced economy. With an economic downturn predicted, thanks to the lack of innovation in economic policy since the 1990s, they still aren’t learning.
Muldoon is rejected because of (a) the tall poppy syndrome—New Zealand politicians are afraid to have a PM with absolute power, lest such power be used against them; (b) the fact that Singaporeans used Muldoon-style policies to good effect in the last 20–30 years, and the public must not know. Shhh. We can’t let Kiwis realize what we have done. Roger and Ruth and now, Michael Cullen—the equivalents of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—need to keep this quiet. Letting Singapore Airlines rescue Air New Zealand a few years back would have been fatal to the illusion, so, like some psychiatric patients who need to maintain a fantasy, let’s keep the Yellow Peril at bay.
OK, that’s in conspiracy-theory-land, and I mostly wrote it tongue-in-cheek. But like all humour, there are some elements of truth.
My message is this: let’s just “get over it” and see what we can learn from this era, and what could have worked. After all, New Zealanders voted Muldoon thrice. New Zealanders—I mean most of the country who aren’t sitting on their hind ends in Parliament trying to kill any chance the nation has of working itself out of the coming slump—want to know.
If New Zealand is to get its nation brand right, then it must be inclusive. It does well at incorporating the viewpoint of many people who would be discriminated against—New Zealand was, proudly, the ﬁrst country to vote in a transsexual into Parliament—but it does not do well at incorporating the viewpoints of those who might want to shed light on the Muldoon era.
The thinking goes like this: a Muldoon ally, Sir William Birch, wears a suit. Hence Sir Bill must not be listened to. (Now, they would if he was disabled, or gay, or both.)
Even an unbiased foreigner, like economist John Kay, with his analysis of the post-Muldoon reforms, doesn’t get a fair deal in the New Zealand, its establishment all too keen to report on the government telling Johnny K. Foreigner where to go.
At the same time, the government is telling young New Zealanders where to go, too. They are smart enough to see Australia, with its more cautious economic reforms of the 1980s, is economically superior and a better source for jobs—and care little for the great New Zealand Muldoon cover-up. If they could, they, too, would say, ‘Get over it.’ permalink
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