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No Middle Ground

Book Review | BWB Texts
The Ground Between: Navigating the Oil and Mining Debate in New Zealand, by Sefton Darby (BWB Texts, paper $14.99; e-book $4.99)
Reviewed by Catherine Delahunty

bwb1000_darby_the_ground_between_tip_frontWarning! This review is written by a person making no pretence of neutrality on the subject.

The series of small books published by Bridget Williams Books have been generally high quality and provocative reading. This book is not in that league.

In The Ground Between, Sefton Darby starts with the claim that he has worked for all “sides” of the mining debate. The elephants in the room and the side he has not worked for are the people whose community is either being mined or threatened with mining. I am reviewing this literary contribution as one of those people. Sefton’s thesis in this series of faux reasonable apologist rambles is that extractive industries are a huge base for our culture and the answer to the question to extract or not is “it depends”. He writes lucidly and clearly about how reasonable he is on this subject.

Sefton is correct about our current damaging dependency on oil, gas and minerals but his “it depends” misses some huge aspects of the debate. He makes nil structural references to vital, uncomfortable issues such as Te Tiriti o Waitangi rights, and the huge power imbalances between multinational corporations and local communities. The signature quote on the book jacket is “there is a deep dysfunction in the way we talk about oil and mining”. I agree, and I read this book to find an example of that dysfunction whereby the industry man presents himself as an advocate for a calm reasonable and evidence-based approach. When he worked for Newmont Gold in Waihi, the utterly unreasonable citizens whose houses were shaking from the open cast pit, the developing underground blasting, and their property values collapsing, made their feelings clear to him.  These people do not rate a mention in this book about so-called reasoned discussion. I know what these people said to him because I was there, in the court rooms and public meetings.

Waihi, from space, with Martha mine pit at left and tailings dams at right. Image from Google Earth 2017.

Waihi, from space, with Martha mine pit at left and tailings dams at right. Image from Google Earth 2017.

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Old Racism, New Racism

Book Review | BWB Texts
Old Asian, New Asian, by K. Emma Ng (BWB Texts, paper $14.99; e-book $4.99)
Reviewed by Judith Morrell Nathan

oldasian-001This book, written by a young second-generation Chinese New Zealander, gives many examples of the racism that Asian New Zealanders experience. Ng defines racism as both prejudice (attitudes) and discrimination (acts). She points out she uses the terms “Asian” and “Chinese” more or less interchangeably but in fact most of her material is about Chinese. The statement on the cover conveys her hope that: “Perhaps at some point we will no longer be asked to justify our presence or prove our worth.”

Ng gives a brief historical overview, noting that the Chinese were invited here as long ago as the 1860s to the Otago Goldfields. Once they were here, anti-Chinese sentiment quickly developed and spread. She points out that Paul Spoonley and Richard Bedford commented on the similarities with regard to Pasifika — invited to fill labour shortages but subsequently discriminated against. For Chinese, there were some 55 acts and amendments that singled them out, for example levying a poll tax on entry (for many years 100 pounds) and preventing them from becoming citizens or receiving welfare benefits. Police could search Chinese dwellings without warrants. Chinese women were not allowed to immigrate here until the rules were loosened after the Japanese invaded Manchuria in the 1930s. As recently as 1961, even New Zealand-born Chinese had to get a permit to re-enter the country if they left it. She also considers the barriers to acceptance — most obviously appearance — but the 1960s to 1980s saw a decline in discrimination and apparent acceptance at last. Chinese New Zealanders were largely invisible and strove not to draw attention to themselves.

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On the Move

Book Review | BWB Texts
Fair Borders? Migration Policy in the Twenty-First Century,
edited by David Hall (BWB Texts, paper $14.99; e-book $4.99)
Reviewed by Judith Morrell Nathan

fairborders-001This is a thought-provoking, timely collection of essays by a diverse range of New Zealanders, most of whom are academics here or abroad.  Their varied perspectives, political, economic, social and cultural are all loosely connected to the theme of fairness.

In his introductory essay, David Hall from AUT analyses the concept of fairness and questions how genuine the supposed impacts of immigration on housing, employment, infrastructure and social welfare are.

Tahu Kukutai and Arama Rata, both from the National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis at the University of Waikato, consider issues from a Maori perspective which they point out has been ignored in the immigration debate.  They consider the relationship between today’s immigration and the mass immigrations of  nineteenth-century colonisation which swamped the tangata whenua.  New citizens are required to pledge allegiance to the Queen but what about to the Treaty of Waitangi? Kate Macmillan, from Victoria University Politics department, acknowledges there are inherent contradictions between what is fair to the would-be arrivals and to those already here. New Zealand has one of the world’s most liberal regimes with regard to voting rights, introduced in 1975 when most immigrants were from Britain.  In 2015-16 the largest number of migrants came from India and China, (then UK and the Philippines).  Immigrants with the right of residence can vote here after one year – which exemplifies the principle of no taxation without representation, but is it fair to our citizens to give such recent arrivals a say in how our country is run?

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‘Unacceptable Choices’

Book Review | BWB Texts
The Whole Intimate Mess: Motherhood, politics, and women’s writing
by Holly Walker (BWB Texts, paper $14.99; e-book $4.99)
Reviewed by Alison McCulloch

bwb1000_walker_the_whole_intimate_mess_tip_aw-1When I saw Holly Walker, MP, speak at a meeting in Tauranga, I remember thinking how confident and together she was. That was a few years back, and she must have been barely 30 years old. “Whoa,” I thought, “I could never have done that at 30-something.” When she decided to step down as an MP, I confess to being a bit disappointed. Having read a fair bit over the years about the struggles facing women in Parliament, I had started to think that was then, this was now and things had finally changed for the better. I mean, look at Holly Walker. This book makes very clear that’s not the case.

Walker’s résumé is impressive, Bachelor’s degree, Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, Member of Parliament, all before she turned 30. And all of it following an origin story about her mother’s struggles as a single parent and her own lifelong dream to make sure every child in New Zealand had the kind of safe, secure, opportunity-rich childhood she’d enjoyed. It was a story that, by the time she left Parliament in 2014, she had come to doubt as inauthentic. “The reasons for this lofty ambition,” she writes, “were as much to do with celebrity and approval as they were about public service.” Holly Walker wanted to excel, to exceed expectations, to be approved of, to be liked.

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What’s Fair?

Book Review | BWB Texts
Tax and Fairness
by Deborah Russell and Terry Baucher (BWB Texts, paper $14.99; e-book $4.99)
Reviewed by Peter Malcolm

bwb7890_tax_and_fairness_highres_awThis is an excellent and timely book, since apart from general statements about increasing or mostly reducing tax, there has been very little comment or debate as to whether we should pay tax at all and how much tax each of us should pay.

The authors have subtitled the book “we need to talk about why we pay taxes”, an important statement, although I believe they should have added “and how much should each of us pay”. The last couple of pages make an excellent case for “the why”, and the last two sentences encourage us to see our tax system in a more positive light:

“Proudly paying our taxes is a sign that we believe in our own capacity to create a flourishing society that gives all New Zealanders fair opportunities. We should smile when we pay our taxes.”

But what about the “Fairness”? The authors give little space to this critical question apart from the unfairness of an almost non-existence Capital Gains Tax. The question of tax scales, progressive or regressive tax systems, hardly rates a mention. Many commentators aruge that in comparison with most other developed countries our tax rates on the poor are heavy and the tax rates on the high income/wealthy are light. Is this fair?

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