Colin James on journalism

December 21, 2017

Colin James’ final column in the Otago Daily Times as a political journalist gives an insight into the craft of good journlaism:

. . . Journalists are close in to events but never part of them. They meet the powerful and the celebrated. Some are seduced into thinking themselves their equals. They are then lost to journalism.

Journalists make no momentous decisions. Celebrity ill-becomes them. They are a channel through which the powerful and celebrated talk to the people and the people talk back.

To others, the journalist seems greatly privileged to be alongside power and stardust. And the journalist is privileged. But not in the way most non-journalists think.

The privilege is to spend a lifetime learning.

A journalist can ask questions of almost everyone and almost all will answer: the powerful and celebrated, the knowing and skilled, the repositories of arcane science or ways of thinking and the “ordinary” guardians of understanding of a community or of a simple truth or of a good way to live an “ordinary” life.

They are all at the journalist’s call. They all teach a journalist who listens.

It’s the journalists who listen carefully who get the inside information and the scoops, not those who do the most talking.

Yet the journalist need not be expert or knowing or complete. The journalist needs understand only so much of a topic as readers-viewers-listeners want or need to know. The journalist has only to light on and illuminate an idea or project or nation or technology.

No other occupation offers that intense opportunity — to learn but not to have to know, to learn a little and move to the next learning.

For a half-century I have had that deeply enriching privilege.

The utu is to listen with respect.

I think he’s using utu in the sense of reciprocation or balance, not revenge.

A journalist is sceptical, alert to lies, deceit, backside-covering and charlatanism. But not cynical. A cynic has stopped listening and learning. A journalist is open. If not, the communication channel that is the journalist will choke.

The utu is also to write down or talk about the learning so that others can know what the journalist has learnt. . . 

My beat was politics and policy, a high privilege. Since politics is power, I met those in power and their advisers and came to understand and respect them, even those I could not admire. Many I the inner person came quietly to like.

Almost all in politics mean well. I learned they are different: they see, or affect to see, only one side of each many-sided story the journalist sees.

Most do indeed mean well, which shouldn’t be confused with mostly doing good.

And since politics seeps into almost every corner of a nation’s life, I met thousands of interesting people from nearly every walk of life.

I met many more when I could put my email address under what I wrote and readers could write to me easily.

Almost all were thoughtful and courteous. The tiny few who were angry or abusive almost all recovered the courtesy and decency that is in everyone when I replied with courtesy and respect. . . 

Courtesy and respect – some regard them as old-fashioned but values like that should never go out of fashion.

The  media would be better if there was more of  both, from journalists, to those they deal with, and from those who respond to what they see and hear in the media.

P.S.

I met James a few times and was impressed by both his courtesy and his knowledge.

He told me that his determination to be impartial kept him from voting.

I don’t think journalists have to refrain from voting to be impartial in their work.

But I wonder if  it’s just coincidence that the examples he picks in this paragraph are from the left or if they give a clue to James’ political leaning:

. . . When David Lange died and the Greens stood in his memory opening their 2005 election campaign, I the journalist stayed sitting while I the inner person behind the journalist secretly stood. There was the same wrench when the Council of Trade Unions conference in 2015 stood in memory of the fine Peter Conway. . .

You can catch up with James’ writing at his website.


As Aussies see us

April 6, 2015

Cameron Stewart writes in The Australian on how, and why the trans-Tasman tide is flowing in New Zealand’s favour:

Jennifer Zhu, a former Australian public servant, was writing briefing notes for incoming prime minister Tony Abbott when she hatched her own Pacific solution.

She leans forward so her story can be heard above the rhythmic grunts of the dragon boat teams gliding across New Zealand’s ­Wellington harbour at dusk. “I was in Canberra working on the briefings for the change of ­government [in 2013] when I realised how much the public service was going to be cut [under Abbott],” she says. Her Australian boyfriend, ­fellow public servant Iain McKenzie, 28, chimes in: “We could see that promotions were unlikely.”

“So I looked up a website,” continues Zhu, 27, who now works for ­Immigration New ­Zealand, “and there were lots of government jobs here. We thought, ‘Why not?’ ” After a year in Wellington, they haven’t looked back. “We both have good [public service] jobs and it’s a much more relaxed culture,” says Iain. “We’re not leaving anytime soon.” . . .

Stewart gives other examples of Australians and ex-pat New Zealanders who have moved here to work in a variety of occupations including farming, viticulture, nursing and hospitality then looks at why the tide has turned.

What has happened is that somewhere, somehow, perhaps in the dead of night when no one was looking, Australia and New Zealand have swapped sides. Cocky, confident Australia is now home to dysfunctional politics, yawning budget deficits, rising unemployment and an electorate unwilling to accept tough reforms.

By contrast, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key is running the most successful and ­stable centre-right government in the world. Whereas Abbott might not survive his first term as leader, Key, 53, is into his third term and has never been more popular. Key presides over a country that is no longer a dead-end backwater but one that enjoys plentiful jobs, strong economic growth and is on the cusp of a budget surplus. All this despite its second-largest city, Christchurch, being devastated by the earthquake of February 22, 2011, which left 185 people dead, the city centre in ruins and a $40 billion clean-up.

Even the Kiwi dollar, for so long the poor cousin to our own currency, is at virtual parity these days. “I’ve been here for 15 years and I’ve never seen this before,” mutters the woman at the Melbourne airport currency exchange as she hands me fewer $NZ than I gave her in $A. “They must be doing something right over there.”

GDP growth in New Zealand last year was 3.3 per cent compared with 2.8 per cent in ­Australia, while unemployment was 5.7 per cent in the December quarter compared with 6.1 per cent (now 6.3 per cent) here. Forget rugby; New ­Zealand is winning a bigger game. When Abbott visited New Zealand in February, he had to ­concede Key has led “a very successful, a really, really successful centre-right government. There are lessons for ­Australia in what you have done.” By contrast, the New Zealand press pack suppressed giggles when Key told an Australian journalist: “I think it’s a bit harsh to describe it [Australia] as one of the more unstable democracies in the Pacific.”

As a result of this trans-Tasman shift in ­fortunes, we are seeing something we have not seen for a generation. The tide of Kiwis coming to our shores has ebbed while the number of those going back home has flowed. This year the trans-Tasman migration is likely to be in New Zealand’s favour — something that has not been seen since Australia had “the recession it had to have” in the early 1990s. . .

[Prime Minister John]Key says Australia’s mining sector and growth in the big cities has slowed, making the country less attractive. “It is harder; I don’t think the opportunities are there in the same way, while on the other side of the equation there are lots of opportunities here in New Zealand and while they may make less money the cost of ­living is generally a lot lower.” . . .

A friend who works in Australia says he earns more and a lot of things cost less there than they do here. But when he takes into account the higher tax rate and other compulsory costs he pays the difference isn’t nearly as big as it appears.

It is often said that Key runs New Zealand like a CEO rather than a politician and that there are clear parallels in style with another self‑ made millionaire-turned-politician, Malcolm Turnbull. “I know [Malcolm] well and I like him,” is all that Key will say of Turnbull, wary of wading into leadership speculation.

Key is a delegator rather than a dictator and makes a habit of consulting in person with ­several of his ministerial colleagues each ­morning. He holds informal meetings ahead of formal Cabinet sessions so that people can float ideas or shoot them down without undue embarrassment. “Most people realise we are not doing extreme things,” he says. “We try to explain what we are about.” He says he is “unashamedly pro-economic growth” but prefers the path of pragmatism over ideology. “My instincts are very much in the middle so I am not fighting internal demons,” he says. “I am not a secret right-winger who wants to do things.”

He does not accuse Abbott of being a secret right-winger but the truth is that compared with Abbott, Key is much more of a pragmatic centrist economically and is more liberal socially, having voted for gay marriage in 2012.

It says much about Key’s political skills that he managed to usher in an increase in the GST in 2010, a debate that both sides of Australian politics are unwilling to have. Ironically, Key did this despite Howard, the architect of ­Australia’s GST, advising Key over a lunch in Auckland in 2010 that a rise was too risky. “I said to [Howard] ‘I am going to raise the GST and drop personal tax rates’ and he said, ‘Don’t do it’. He said, ‘You’ll have the obvious ­argument that the price of bread goes up and it will be felt more keenly by the poorer person and so you will lose that debate’.”

But in the end Key chose to pursue the reform and succeeded, with surprisingly little political bloodshed, in lifting the GST by 2.5 percentage points to 15 per cent while cutting personal and company tax. As a result, New Zealand’s top personal tax rate is now only 33 per cent compared with 45 in Australia, while the company tax rate is 28 per cent compared with 30 per cent here. Key has also been part-privatising state assets in power, coal and aviation, a path that causes political grief in Australia. Key’s reform record has been helped by ­having a first-rate finance minister, Bill English.

In welfare reform, Australia is looking to ­emulate the New Zealand system, which is ­saving billions in long-term payments. In 2011, Key adopted a new model of welfare that ­identifies groups at risk of long-term welfare and establishes special targeted programs for them. “We’ve done a lot in what is called the ‘investment approach’ to welfare reform and we have been genuinely investing money up front in people who would otherwise be long-term beneficiaries,” says Key. When social services minister Scott Morrison addressed Canberra’s National Press Club in February he spent most of his speech lauding the New Zealand model and promising to look at what Australia could adopt from it.

Part of Key’s popularity stems from what political analyst Colin James calls his macro- personality. “Key has a remarkable rapport with ­people across the political spectrum and that is unusual. Bob Hawke probably had that but ­certainly Rudd, Gillard and Abbott didn’t.” . .

Because Australians and New Zealanders are allowed to work in each other’s countries without restrictions, migration statistics are not definitive but they do suggest that far more Australians are now moving to New Zealand to live. While there will always be a flurry of movement because of family ties between the estimated 600,000 Kiwis in Australia and 60,000 Australians in New Zealand, the total number of ­people from ­Australia moving to New Zealand (including New Zealanders returning home) has soared in the past two years to February from 15,355 to 23,571.

Spoonley says the ­number of non-Kiwi ­citizens arriving from Australia to live in New Zealand has jumped by 50 per cent in the past two years, from 5234 in the 12 months to ­January 2013 to 7895 this year.

Job opportunities and quality of life have driven this trend. According to data comparison website Numbeo, apartment rents are on average 24 per cent lower in New Zealand than in Australia and apartment costs per square metre 36 per cent lower. The national median house price has stayed flat at $350,000, according to the Real Estate Institute NZ, and even in Auckland, where the market is hottest, the median price of a house — $675,000 — still ­compares favourably with Australian cities.

New Zealand also enjoys a reputation for better work-life balance, although OECD ­figures suggest New Zealanders only have ­marginally more leisure time than Australians. The downside is that salaries in New Zealand are also around 30 per cent lower on average, although this gap is said to be closing.

Even so, New Zealand is trying to make the most of its moment in the sun, having recently held job expos in Perth and Sydney and another in Melbourne later this month to spread the message that “New Zealand is one of the best performing economies in the world right now and the demand for skilled workers is high”. . .

The current contrasting fortunes of both countries could easily be reversed in years ahead, and the traditional flow of Kiwis to ­Australia could resume. Like Australia, New Zealand is heavily dependent on the health of the Chinese economy and its dairy industry, the country’s biggest export earner, suffered sharply lower prices last year.

In addition, the rebuilding of Christchurch is adding around 1.25 per cent to GDP growth each year but this will tail off as the city nears completion. Even so, a report last month by Moody’s Investor Services predicts continued strong economic growth for at least the next two years and for New Zealand’s budget to return to surplus — a word that Australians can only dream about.

Key concedes that New Zealand has better growth and employment than Australia right now but declines to brag. “We want a strong Australia,” he maintains. “A strong Australia is good for New Zealand. No relationship is more important to New Zealand … there is naturally a bit of rivalry but Aussies are looked at fondly here. Most people, I think, look at Aussies and go, ‘It really is the lucky country even if it has one too many creepy-crawlies and sharks’.”

Key lists several high-profile Australians who have come to New Zealand to live, but his final one packs a punch. “The Australian High ­Commissioner [Michael Potts], who is just about to finish his time here, is not going back to Australia,” the PM reveals. “He is about to live down the road here in Wellington,” he says, pointing out the window. “His wife is a Kiwi so they have made the call they are going to live in New Zealand.”

Key cannot hide his grin. Now even the ­diplomats are defecting. It’s taken a generation, but the Bondi Bludgers are finally enjoying their revenge.

 

"A great read from The Australian on why so many Kiwis are coming home: http://nzyn.at/1FbFD4s"


Human-shaped anthropocene epoch vs overhang idealised historical period

January 28, 2015

Quote of the day from Colin James:

. . . human-made law is for humans’ wellbeing and future, not the preservation of some frozen-in-time environmental mix. We live in the human-shaped anthropocene epoch, not in an overhang of some idealised historical period. We started the shaping millennia ago with shovels and fire. . .

He was discussing the dilemma facing the Green Party and their tendency to see economic development and environmental protection and enhancement as mutually exclusive.

Environmental awareness is growing and in spite of what they would like to believe, green issues and initiatives are not the preserve of the left of the political spectrum where the Greens are mired.

Both the will and means to have green growth are increasing with the economic, environmental and social benefits it brings.

The Greens no doubt feel threatened by that because the country grows greener their radical left agenda becomes even less relevant.

 

 


Poll of polls

September 19, 2014

Colin James’ final poll of polls:

National’s trends from 20 June and from 20 August to the latest interviewing midpoint of 15 September, projected forward five days to tomorrow, points towards around 47.5% on the final count. Take out 1%-1.5% to account for the overweighting of National by the Fairfax Ipsos poll by comparison with all others in most of its recent polling (but not the most recent): that would give 46%-46.5%.

The trends for Labour point to 25% and for the Greens to 12.5%-13% . . .

The latest polls took National’s lead over Labour and the Greens down to a still healthy 8.2%. . . .

New Zealand First’s latest average was 7.6%, the Conservatives’ 4.3%. Internet-Mana was down to 1.4%, the Maori party was 1.2% (just enough to ensure two seats), ACT was 0.4% and United Future 0.1%.

New Zealand First’s trend from 20 June points to 6.5%. But, since most of its rise was in the past six weeks, the trend from 20 August may be more accurate. It points to 7.5%. The same last-six-weeks upward tick applies for the Conservatives. Their trend from August 20 points to around 4.2%. Internet Mana’s downtrend points it toward 1.2%. . . .

There’s  no doubt National will be well ahead of Labour and the Greens combined but that doesn’t guarantee a National-led government.

This reinforced the need for anyone who wants stable government, a growing economy and the social dividends that enables, to give their party vote to National.
Photo: Only our plans will ensure a strong, open economy that delivers more for New Zealanders and their families. PARTY VOTE National. #Working4NZ


Craig’s press secretary leaves in tears

September 18, 2014

Conservative leader Colin Craig has just lost his press secretary of two years:

Rachel MacGregor has told Newstalk ZB she’s left the party as of this morning.

Our political editor Barry Soper says she is very upset and has taken public relations advice.

“Colin Craig does campaign on being this wholesome, out there sort of a bloke, that’s all encompassing, that really is the sort of person we should be looking up to.

“Now if he can’t get his own house in order in terms of staff in the Conservative Party then you’ve got to ask questions.”

Barry Soper says this will damage the Conservative Party brand.

Soper just told Leighton Smith he’d talked to her and she was in tears.

Whatever the truth of this is, it will do the party no good.

It is on 4% in Colin James’ poll of polls.

If  it doesn’t make the 5% threshold those votes will be distributed to parties which do.

A friend was talking to a woman about this yesterday. When she realised her vote for the Conservatives might end up helping Labour and the Green Party get an extra MP she was horrified.


25ish + 7ish = too few

September 16, 2014

Winston Peters is mulling over a Labour New Zealand First coalition:

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said today that voters should consider a Labour-New Zealand First as a potential alternative Government, not Labour and Greens, in what is the most definitive statement from him yet on post-election options.

That suggests that would keep the Green Party away from the cabinet table in any Labour-Led Government as he did in 2005.

He expressed respect today for both Labour’s finance spokesman David Parker and for Finance Minister Bill English and said: “I see both of them as capable of being Ministers of Finance.”

“This is not indicating a choice,” he said “but the media seem to have overlooked one option entirely, a Labour-New Zealand First combination on coalition or confidence and supply.”

In Colin James’ latest poll of polls Labour had 25.2% support and NZ First had 7.1%

That comes to only 32.3% which is well short of the 50% plus one seat needed for a majority.

It could of course try to be a minority government but that would require a lot of negotiating to get any legislation passed and the other parties who are hoping to be in government wouldn’t necessarily be feeling generous.

In 2005, Helen Clark led a minority Government with the support of New Zealand First, United Future, and the Greens on confidence and supply but at the behest of Mr Peters, restricted ministerial posts to only himself and Peter Dunne of United Future. . .

Lest we forget, that’s the government that spent wildly and put the country into recession before the rest of the world.

Many NZ First supporters would prefer the party went left rather than right so all Peters is doing is playing to the gallery.


Poll of polls

September 6, 2014

Colin James’ poll of polls:

After this week’s stream of polls, including TV1’s poll published on the evening of September 5, National is back in the box seat with 50.2% on the latest four-poll average.

(Explainer: The POLL of POLLS is an arithmetical average of the four most recent major polls since mid-June from among: TV1 Colmar Brunton, TV3 Reid Research, Fairfax Media-Ipsos, NZ Herald DigiPoll, Roy Morgan New Zealand and UMR Research, which is not published.*)

Labour plunged to a new four-poll average of 25.0%, its lowest since at least 2008 and probably since the mid-1990s.

The Greens slipped to 12.0% as a high rating in a Morgan poll dropped out of the average.

cjpop

National’s lead over Labour and the Greens combined climbed to 13.2%.

The two winners from the dirty politics furore, New Zealand First and the Conservatives, were at 5.6% and 3.3% respectively. Internet Mana was 2.2% and the Maori party was 0.9%. ACT was 0.3% and United Future 0.2%, levels at which David Seymour’s and Peter Dunne’s seats, if they win them would be “overhangs” and push the number of seats in Parliament to 122.

cjpop1

National’s high rating is unlikely to translate into that level of support from voters and it will almost certainly need some coalition partners.

. . . National Party campaign chairman Steven Joyce said the party’s popularity following publication of the Dirty Politics book showed a disconnect between what the public and media focus on.

Mr Joyce told Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report programme that despite strong polling, National was not assuming it would govern alone. National was not expecting the kind of result shown in the polls on election day, and having partnerships with several parties created a stronger more stable Government.

“If you just say you need a particular party to get over the line then obviously that particular party has a lot more leverage over the larger party.

“What we’ve shown in 2008 and 2011 if you have options then you can form good strong stable relationships and nobody gets too carried away.” . .

The stronger National’s vote is the more options it will have and the less it can be held hostage to minor players.

Labour is so weak it will be in a very poor bargaining position which would enable potential coalition partners to extract far more concessions in exchange for their support.

Its support could keep dropping if people decide it won’t be able to lead the next government or would have to give away too much to the wee players to enable it to govern .


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