New Zealand: Dirty tricks rocks elections, Mana challenges status quo

Left to right: Mana's Annette Sykes, Hone Harawira and John Minto. Mana activists are hoping Sykes and Minto join Harawira in pa

New Zealand goes to the polls on September 20. Amid a big scandal of government “dirty tricks”, the Mana Movement is pushing the interests of the working-class and Maori communities.

Mana was formed when firebrand Maori Party MP Hone Harawira split over the Maori Party's support for a right-wing National Party government in 2011. It brings together militant Maori activists with other working-class and left forces.

It has joined forces with the Internet Party, founded by Internet businessperson Kim Dotcom, to form the Internet Mana ticket for the September 20 elections. Polls show it is on course to win at least three seats.

Joe Carolan is the Internet Mana candidate for Mt Albert in Auckland. He is also an organiser for the Unite Union and a member of Socialist Aotearoa. He spoke to Stuart Munckton on New Zealand's elections and Internet Mana's campaign.

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In the lead up to the September 20 elections, the government has been rocked by scandals. Can you explain what these are about?

Things were turned on their heads a few weeks ago with the publication of a book called Dirty Politics by an independent left-wing journalist called Nicky Hager. He has an amazing reputation for thorough research and for launching these books at politically opportune times.

He has influenced the results of elections before. He influenced elections against Labour and the Greens a few years ago by exposing their connections to genetically modified food lobbies. So it isn't true he is only anti-right. He has criticised labour when they've deserved to be criticised too.

Anyway, this book looks at the secret machine that has been attacking the left in New Zealand in a very thorough and organised way. A notorious right-wing blog site called WhaleOil [run by Cameron Slater, the son of a former National PM] has led the attacks, but has been financed and helped in research by the secret police, by the alcohol and tobacco lobbies, by a union-busting operation in the Ports of Auckland Authority, and by police minister Judith Collins and the prime minister himself.

This has been proved. Hager was sent eight gigs of data that was hacked from WhaleOil's computer by a mysterious hacker. Some of the language in these intercepts can show you what the ruling class thinks about us.

The working class of Christchurch, which is suffering a post-Katrina style housing disaster, are referred to as scum who all vote for Labour anyway ― so hopefully they'll move out. It is quite offensive stuff.

This was triggered off by Slater himself, who responded to the death in a car crash of a brother of one of the Pike River miners [a victim of the 2010 Pike River mine disaster that killed 29 workers] by saying “one less feral scum”.

What impact do you think this will have on the elections?

It has changed the image of the prime minister being this affable, “above dirty politics” kinda guy, to being the guy at the centre of this ― and that it is a worked out strategy of presentation. The tidal wave of crap has come. There is just so much in it: the manipulation of the police, manipulation of the media, all of that.

It has created a crisis where John Key, who is usually able to shut down these things, can't. And either he is in denial. He is either saying he simple “can't recall”, coz apparently he has Alzheimer's disease ― that is his normal thing, he can't really recall, maybe or maybe not. This doesn't work when your secret police is feeding documents to right wing hacks out to do people in.

Or maybe he genuinely wasn't over it, in which case who is running the secret police? Because it is one or the other. So he is trying to ride it out, but the controversy has gone on.

So that means if the Nationals lose some support, and dip down to 46% or 45%, they could lose the election and you could see a new government in New Zealand.

What about economic issues in the election? Are there particular issues or attacks on the working class playing a role?

We have a housing crisis in New Zealand. Some of the stuff in this book shows what they think about prioritising building housing in an earthquake devastated city, never mind Auckland where people are living in garages and overcrowded city-centre apartments.

The economic issues for workers are low pay, high rents, no housing and a huge amount of child poverty. These are things that Mana has been leading the debate on ― if anything pulling the other parties to the left. Even before Mana, Unite was campaigning for a living wage.

Now, all the parties on the left support a living wage. Labour has even gone so far as to offer a NZ$2 increase [to the minimum wage] in its first 100 days, which is beyond what unions were pushing for in the here and now. But we do want a living wage of $18.80.

But there are other policies too, like tax issues. The whole agenda of the rich not paying enough tax has come out through this campaign. Again, Mana has pushed for higher taxes on the rich, and even people like Kim Dotcom has said “people like me should pay more tax”. Abolishing unfair taxes like the GST, which hits the poor, is also part of Mana's strategy.

But right now, the media is not focusing on those issues, it is very much the dirty tricks stuff.

Mana has formed an electoral alliance with the Internet Party, headed by Kim Dotcom. How do you think this will go?

I think before this, Mana was pigeon-holed by the establishment and the media as a party primarily for Maori, with a kind of left-nationalist bent. Our target is to have people like [high-profile left activists] Annette Sykes and John Minto elected, alongside Hone, this year to break the idea it is the “Hone Harawira show”.

I would describe Annette Sykes as the Maori “Bernadette Devlin”. Her election will be a revolutionary moment in New Zealand history. She is fearsome. She is an enemy of of the state and she successfully defended the people targetted by the [2007] terror raids, and beat the state there. She has successfully fought the crown on a number of treaty issues and is a burning intellect.

Her election will create a new dynamic for Mana. Similarly, John Minto, a man with an impeccable record for fighting racism and South African apartheid, a friend of Palestine, but also a former Unite organiser fighting for the poor. The election of John will show there is a left-wing constituency among the pakeha, the white New Zealanders.

Our general election candidates in Auckland is a sign we are reaching out to the working class. We have five identified socialists on the list, including myself.

There has been a lot of discussion, including on the left, about the alliance with the Internet Party. How do you view it?

Well, rather than talk about opportunism, we should talk about opportunities. If Julian Assange had walked into the Socialist Alliance offices, rather than where ever he went to, and offered to work with people with some political experience on the left and fighting the state, you'd have to weigh that up.

I think there are issues, as well as the traditional 20th century “minimum program” of housing, jobs for all, a living wage, free food for kids, free education, there are new demands for the 21st century. And increasingly that is that information wants to be free.

One of the things the right-wing hate in New Zealand with the Dirty Politics is that their information has been publicised, and they are the ones spying on us. It goes to show that revenge is a dish best served publicly.

So for things like internet access for working-class people, that it should be cheaper and should be a right, the spying on people and the raids against them, these are issues too. So we want to relate to that, to the Snowden generation, to the Chelsea Manning generation.

Dotcom [who is fighting a US attempt to extradite him to face charges of online “piracy”] might be put into an orange jump suit and taken to Guantanamo at the behest of Hollywood and companies like Warner Brothers ― who have John Key in their pocket and who got him to change labour laws so there are no laws protecting actors in the film industry and they got millions of dollars of tax breaks for the Hobbit movies.

People see this as interference in New Zealand's sovereignty by US multinationals and they want to fight Hollywood. So there is that side of things.

There was also a debate about the persona of Dotcom himself, and it is true he is no revolutionary socialist. But it is also whether these people suffer from “original sin” or not. Can these type of people move in a more left-wing direction? Well certainly the experience of the Internet Mana roadshow shows Dotcom has moved on things like taxing the rich, on housing for all.

The selection of Laila Harre as Internet Party leader was a big signal to a lot of people. She was the leader of the nurses union and won a 30% pay rise for a predominantly female workforce. She fought [former Labour PM] Helen Clark, was one of the only ones to fight Helen Clark, over maternity leave.

So that was a factor. I didn't agree with the characterisation of young Internet Party members as right-wing neoliberals, racists and even neo-Nazis. There was a huge moral panic over that. But the people I met were middle class students politicised by struggles for Internet freedom. And I think we can win that constituency to the left.

If anything, the left not relating to such projects saw parties like the Pirate Party in Germany and Sweden rise like meteors and then collapse because they had no position on social questions.

But it is a very new party and has its own mix of ideas. Mana is a tighter organisation with a commitment of struggle from below. It is rooted in the Maori struggle on one side and social struggle on the other and bringing them together. It is quite a unique o the radical left ― an indigenous-led left regroupment project.

Kim Dotcom is a millionaire. Is there a sense that Mana brings the politics and he brings the money, and therefore the one who pays the piper calls the tune? I imagine that is one of the claims made about the Internet Mana alliance.

That is certainly one of the attacks coming down from the right wing, yeah. But if you look at the tune, it is that we are getting national exposure for a strong left-wing party. The one disagreement before the alliance was about tax, and yet now we explicitly say: “Tax the rich.”

The thing about the funding, though, is for local Mana candidates like myself, we are still self-funding. So the leaflets that I would photocopy to put in doorsteps, these things are still run by local Mana branches, who are all quite poor.

One of the things we've had to grapple with in elections is we've had no resources to do things like get billboards up. Because we don't get corporate sponsorship, and people like the Labour Party do. They have millionaire backers. So most of the resources are going in to finance things like the billboards, and very little is going elsewhere.

Left-wingers always dream “wouldn't it be amazing if we had resources to get our message across”, but what I am more interested in for these two constituencies [the Internet Party's and Mana's] to meet and for there to be a mixture of politics. Because I think the left has things to learn from the Internet revolt generation.

The idea that “information is free” ― I am open to learn about that. And similarly, they have learned. They might have thought that the left and Mana were a scary thing, but now they know more about our program and campaigning.

Mana has some very left-wing candidates and it seems clear socialists are not unwelcome. Can you talk about the left inside the Mana Movement?

We are very loyal members of Mana. We argue our position. We have done on issues such as the prohibition of marijuana. There was quite a prohibitionist view, but we won that. We won the debate on gay marriage.

The debate on Palestine was an interesting one. Some people inside Mana have quite a Christian Zionist position. Oppressed people sometimes look to religion to provide answers and some of the Christian fundamentalist religions they find solace in view Israel as the “chosen land”.

So Mana is a movement that has quite a democratic space inside into which we bring politics. But we don't bring politics in a “book-learned we know better than you” way. Many people see us as fighters in our own right. Many people know socialists through Unite as fighters for low-paid workers, taking on the biggest multinationals.

So many people we know in our Mana branches will come to a picket line because they believe in class politics too. Maori are oppressed as workers and as poor people, too. They learn through issues such as Palestine that other people have also had their land stolen from them. The recent placard we made was the map of historic Palestine being stolen more and more by Israel alongside a map of New Zealand being stolen more and more by settler colonialism.

These are the kind of things that allow the socialist left inside Mana gains some respect and gains an ear. Because we bring politics like that to the movement.

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