Speaker by Various Artists


One year on from the umbrella protests

by Nickkita Lau

A year ago today, the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong surprised the world by saying “no” to the Chinese government – something few countries do these days.

Since then, the Chinese government and the Hong Kong government it controls have succeeded in securing their power, but in terms of inspiring loyalty and support from Hongkongers on an ideological level, they have failed. Instead, Beijing’s refusal to address the demands from young people has pushed them further away from the “motherland” than ever before.

According to a University of Hong Kong poll conducted in June, only five percent of the city’s population aged 18 to 30 considered themselves “Chinese”, while more than 60 percent self-identified as “Hongkongers”, an unrecognised identity that displeases Beijing.

Shortly after the end of the Umbrella Movement last December, a key part of the leadership of the movement, the Hong Kong Federation of Students, began to fall apart as university students across the city voted to break away from the union.

Some interpreted it as a punishment of HKFS for misleading students into participating in the civil disobedience movement. Another explanation is that university students now disapprove of HKFS’s passive tactics. Peaceful sit-ins, rallies and song-singing have failed to bring them the “genuine universal suffrage” that they wanted.

Those who grew up believing protests and demonstrations should be “peaceful, rational and non-violent” have begun to doubt the approach adopted by the movement’s organisers. More are open to the “forceful resistance” approach promoted by the “localists” – a more radical branch of democracy supporters whose anti-parallel goods smuggling campaigns seem to have discouraged Chinese smugglers from coming to Hong Kong posing as tourists.

Hong Kong university students have long been aware and active in local politics, and many politicians jumpstarted their careers as student leaders in university. After the Movement, eyes turned to the city’s eight public universities for fear that the government would encroach on their academic freedom either for vengeance or to prevent another occupy movement. A change of approach has been evident in student-led protests.  

While the government body of Hong Kong Baptist University was selecting its new president in May, students complained that they were left out of the selection process. For the first time, they stormed into a council meeting to demand direct dialogue with the final candidate Professor Roland Chin, resulting in three additional consultation sessions before the university council made its eventual appointment.

The incident inspired University of Hong Kong students, who felt that the government and its loyalists in the governing body were using administrative tactics to get back at pro-democracy academics. The University of Hong Kong is the city’s most prestigious university and widely seen as the Umbrella Movement’s birthplace.

Pro-Beijing media in Hong Kong and China have launched a series of attacks on the university’s Faculty of Law and its academics for provoking students to participate in the unauthorised movement and indulging in politics rather than teaching and researching.

The university council, in an unprecedented move, tried to halt the promotion of former law dean Professor Johannes Chan to vice-president as  university management had recommended.  It is an extension of the movement and another battle between the democracy supporters and the government and its loyalists. Many believe that if Chan gets voted down, pro-democracy academics in other universities will be silenced soon after.

Students barged into a council meeting to ask for the immediate appointment of Chan in July. The public and government reaction was far more critical this time. Some compared the students to the “Red Guards” in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, only that they were manipulated by pro-democracy parties.

The rift between young people and the Hong Kong/Chinese government is getting even wider. The young people have become more resistant to anything that signifies Chinese influence, from the use of simplified Chinese and Putonghua to compulsory exchange programmes to China. Some even rejoiced in the recent Chinese stock market crisis.

It is important to note that Hong Kong young people do not dislike Chinese culture, which is shared by Taiwanese, Singaporean Chinese, Malaysian Chinese and people with Chinese descent around the world. What they dislike is the negative connotations that come with being a Chinese national and the ruling party of China.

For more than a century under the non-interventionist British rule, Hong Kong has developed into a city with its own character, its own language system (just ask any Putonghua speaker to read a Hong Kong blog post) and its own quasi-national identity, which are all threats to in the eyes of Beijing.

When Hong Kong youth ask for democracy and universal suffrage, they are not merely asking for the right to choose their own leaders. They are demanding the Chinese government to let them determine their own destiny. To them, the 1997 handover of sovereignty should have ended all colonial rule, not only the British.

They want Hong Kong to be its own entity, perhaps not necessarily as the independent city-state advocated by the localists – but definitely not another colony of China. 

Nickkita Lau is a PhD candidate in Media, Film and Television at the University of Auckland.



Misrepresenting Kiribati and climate change

by Suzy McKinney

The case of the I-Kiribati man Ioane Teitiota being deported after failing to become the world’s first climate change refugee in the Supreme Court of New Zealand is unfortunate, but is not unfair and misrepresents the reality of climate change to Kiribati in a harmful way.

I’m a self-proclaimed climate activist – I protested at the UN climate negotiations in Peru last year and submitted to the Ministry for the Environment’s consultation process calling for ambitious action on climate change. I am also currently living in Kiribati, working at the hospital here as part of my medical training.

My climate change activist friends back in New Zealand think this man being deported is disgraceful. Although the long-term impacts of climate change upon Kiribati are certainly disgraceful, Teitiota’s deportation is not and to think so is to misunderstand the unique situation that these low-lying islands and their proud peoples face.

Yes, people who live in Kiribati are absolutely the “vulnerable of the vulnerables” and are experiencing unjust hardship due to rising sea levels, ocean acidification, temperature extremes and adverse weather events. There will come a time when their lives are directly threatened by climate change - but this has not yet occurred.  Yes, there are issues with overcrowding, sanitation and clean water in Kiribati – but the resilient and cheerful people here live contented lives within their rich culture and the development issues that affect Kiribati people are not unique and are largely not due to climate change.

It would be unfair for me to speculate as to Ioane Teitiota’s reasons for originally leaving Kiribati, or how much of a role the impacts of climate change at home played in his decision to fight to stay in New Zealand. I can only observe the comments of those I-Kiribati people involved in climate advocacy here and quote to you the words of Pelenise Alofa, National Coordinator of Kiribati’s Climate Action Network – “no one has ever left Kiribati because of climate change”.

I feel for Teitiota – his children were born in New Zealand, his life is in New Zealand and he very understandably does not want to go back home. But for one I-Kiribati man to claim to be a “climate change refugee” is to misrepresent Kiribati and cause harm to people working passionately on the issue of climate change here.

This claim misleads the public about what our current response to Kiribati’s climate problems should be. Research carried out in Kiribati shows that I-Kiribati people want to continue to live in their country for as long as possible and desire adaptation projects such as sea walls that will allow them to do so, rather than to flee Kiribati in 2015. The failure of Teitiota’s claims make it harder for people working to protect Kiribati’s climate to secure assistance and funding for the adaptation projects the country really needs .

Teitiota’s case also fundamentally misrepresents how I-Kiribati people want to respond to climate change in the long term. The culture and identity of the I-Kiribati people is deeply connected to their land and if the people of these islands have to move because of rising sea levels, they want to move as a group to another island, a new Kiribati, and resettle with dignity. They do not want to and should not have to flee climate change as individuals migrating to various other lands, and do not identify as victims but as a strong community of people jointly affected by large forces beyond their control.

As an observer here in South Tarawa, Kiribati, I see anger at Teitiota for his actions and the words he has spoken about his country. I see resentment for him from civil society here for the way his court case has mischaracterized how I-Kiribati people want to respond to climate change.

Teitiota’s claims are a harmful outlier to Kiribati’s reality. The people of Kiribati don’t want to leave yet, and need our help to stay and to adapt to the changing climate with dignity for as long as they can. They are not refugees and they don’t wish to be – they are people who need the international community to take urgent action on climate change to protect their islands and their sovereignty, and people who want nationwide resettlement with dignity rather than a slow process of flight and the label of being a refugee. 


Political strategy and Canada’s NDP

by Rob Salmond

Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) stands proudly for the progressive left in Canadian politics. Very few would accuse the NDP of being “Blairite.” (For one thing, it opposed the 2003 Iraq war.) While there’s a tight election campaign on in Canada right now, next month the NDP is most likely to head the Canadian government for the first time.

In the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s election as UK Labour leader, and the belief that it signals a new era in progressive campaigning, you might think the NDP must be using Corbyn-like tactics, given that it’s performing well.

Those tactics, if the NDP is mimicking Corbyn, would include rejecting appeals to the centre, rejecting professionalized “slick” messaging, and embracing the unvarnished, raw, authentic truth about the party’s radical reforming purpose.

Anything else, we’ve been told, is hackneyed and out-of-date.

If that’s what you expect, then check out the NDP’s website.

It’s like a poster child for every political consultant’s “grow from your base, then reach to the centre” fantasy. Here’s the top line of “Tom’s Plan”:

Middle-class families in Canada are working harder than ever, but falling further behind. It’s clear that Stephen Harper’s plan just isn't working.

That focus on middle-income earners, and on widely shared, optimistic self-images about “hard work” is textbook political strategy, employed by left and right parties alike. Tell swing voters in particular that they’re the most important, tell them they’re great and deserve more, and if you’re the challenger tell them the incumbent is failing them.

The NDP’s number one specific issue is “jobs,” again focused on “the middle class.” Tom Mulcair’s got a four-point plan:

  • Champion manufacturing jobs and growth with concrete action to protect Canada’s auto and aerospace industries.
  • Reduce small business taxes from 11% to 9% to help the sector that creates 80 percent of all new private sector jobs in Canada.
  • Invest in infrastructure and transit to create jobs, reduce commute times and get Canada’s economy moving.
  • Create opportunities for 40,000 young Canadians through NGO and private sector training partnerships.

Tom Mulcair’s concrete, long-term plan will strengthen the middle class by creating good job opportunities in every community in Canada.</q>

It’s hardly Das Kapital.

It’s aimed squarely at middle income earners, and it combines some left ideas (public infrastructure investment, partly to create jobs) with very centrist ideas (business tax cuts).

Across all the issues the NDP highlights, there’s a mix of left ideas and middle-of-the-road ideas. On the left there’s cheaper childcare for all, in the middle there’s a tax cut for small businesses. On the left there’s polluter pays, in the middle there’s investing in innovation.

That’s really important. A left party should present itself as a mirror to swing voters’ self-images and desires on some issues that matter to swing voters. That’s what gives that same party the ability to enact stridently left policy on other issues that matter to the left.

If you go centrist on innovation, you can go left on climate change. If you go centrist on taxes, you can go left on education. And so on.

That’s how a left party wins both the left and the centre.

Winning both the left and the centre is the only way for left parties to win.

To some activists, I’m sure it all looks like Fifty Shades of Beige. They think it’s manufactured pap, a relic of a by-gone age. They think it’s everything Jeremy Corbyn stands against.

Citing Corbyn, some have argue the progressive citizenry now demands conviction politicians who say what they mean, no matter how out of step it might be with swing voters. Swing voters don’t want to see themselves in their politicians, goes the argument. They want only bold, visionary, honest thought-leadership. That – they say – is the left’s only path to victory.

But the NDP is finding another way to win. In an actual, nationwide election, not just a intra-party contest. And when it wins, using traditional reach-to-the-centre methods, it will deliver real progressive change for Canada.

The Canadian left may not get everything it wants, but it will get a lot of things it wants. That’s what victory looks like in a modern democracy.


The government's Rules Reduction Taskforce went on a witch hunt, and couldn't find any witches

by Aaron Hawkins

In his address to last year's Local Government New Zealand Conference, well and truly on the campaign trail, John Key took aim at the 'loopy local rules' that seemed to exist solely to annoy people. Our national fixation with building a deck needed fewer impediments, and one of the big stumbling blocks was The Bloody Council.

A Rules Reduction Task Force was to be established, which would crowdsource concerns that central government would then address. There are few more tried and true campaign methods than finding a stick to beat local government with.

Everybody hates The Bloody Council.

The back-pedalling began almost immediately. Dunedin City was one of the offenders singled out in the beginning, for stopping someone building a deck near a reserve. Which was a good story, up until the point that it was untrue. When that was pointed out, the city's name was removed from the example, but the example remained all the same.

When it was pointed out that a vast majority of local rules are enforcement of government legislation, the ambit was widened. "Local" was dropped from the Task Force's mission of loopy rules identification. Rather than reprint all of the advertising material, they actually just got someone to cross the word out in marker pen on a bunch of them.

“It's not about local government specifically” Inky Tulloch, former Mayor of Mataura, Task Force member and race car driver told us. “We want to hear about any kind of loopy rules at any level.”

We were always at war with RMAsia.

Yesterday, the Department of Internal Affairs released the Rules Reduction Taskforce Report, a summary of the concerns raised during the consultation, and a series of recommendations as to how to address them (#10 'Stop making loopy rules').

The Beehive knows how influential and effective local government can be in our communities, often in ways that run counter to their general policy direction, which is why they're so interested in limiting the scope of our activities. Alongside the predictable overtures in the report to reforming the Resource Management Act, and clarifying Health & Safety legislation, is a recommendation that they Finish The Job when it comes to reform of the Local Government Act.

The real story is that many of the rules that people sent in, local or otherwise, turned out to be myths. Lolly scrambles haven't been banned, nor climbing a three-step ladder without a harness. (The report is sadly silent on Bullrush). The process of debunking these myths is actually a really positive one, for all levels of government, and for our communities, but it didn't suit the narrative. That takeaway message would be a concession of defeat.

By ruling out the easy option, Paula Bennett still needed something to hang her hat on, to justify the report's existence. With the damage from the leaky homes disaster still being mopped up, the Minister decided the time was right to raise the spectre of deregulating the building industry. Products have moved on since then, she says. We've all moved on since then. Surely we can all agree that there are some building jobs that shouldn't need to be signed off and certified?

As always with these things the devil, will be in the detail, but if a self-certifying building industry is the answer, I think we might be asking the wrong question. 

Aaron Hawkins is a Dunedin city councillor.


“Everest:” Reviewing the reviews

by Rob Salmond

I remember the 1996 Everest disaster well. It cast a pall over parts of our community that had come to revere the climbing exploits of Rob Hall and his late climbing partner Gary Ball, as a new incarnation of great explorers like Shipton and Hillary 40 years prior.

I had high personal expectations for Everest. I thought it met them. It was at once severe and beautiful. Hard-chiseled and poignant. Lonely and warm. “Enjoy” is the wrong word, but I’m very glad I went.

But the reviews have been mixed. I think that’s partly because lots of film reviewers haven’t ever meet a climber. Sample critique: “Who uses ‘summit’ as a verb?!” (Answer: Climbers.) But some of their critiques were deeper, if similarly misguided

Some critics were angry the female characters didn’t have a bigger role. I understand and agree with the general critique, and I loved the more gender-balanced take on the road movie genre in Mad Max. But this was a historical biopic about eight people who died. Seven were men. The two leaders among the doomed were men, and the two most noteworthy stories among the survivors were men, too. In that context, it can’t be any much of a surprise when it’s a male-heavy movie.

To the critique that the wives’ roles were unfairly reduced to crying over the phone, I’d say first that’s not true because Peach Weathers rustled up a helicopter from Texas while Jan Arnold tried to coax Hall off the mountain from New Zealand. And second, waiting for the phone to ring often is exactly what climbers’ partners do.

Others fretted the character development was thin, especially in act three, with all the protagonists fighting the elements in the Death Zone. Well surprise, surprise! The characters were a bit busy battling a horrific storm to chat with each other about their backstories. Climbing a giant mountain is incredibly isolating and lonely, even when there are other people nearby. Been tramping in a storm, with your hood pulled in around you? Multiply that loneliness by a hundred. That’s the sense I got from Everest.

This was a movie about people who climb like real-life mountaineers. When the going gets tough, they shut up and trudge on or they shut up and sit down. When they die, it’s from the side effects of hypoxia and oedema, not from strangely melty harnesses or exploding backpacks. Looking at you, Cliffhanger and Vertical Limit.

Yes, that means it’s harder to eat popcorn in the movie. Watching people slip into hyperthermia and delusion isn’t as much fun as watching cartoonish caricatures having a needle fight in a crevasse. But it makes the film much more real.

I wonder whether part of the overseas reviewers’ problem was that the protagonist talks like a very New Zealand hero. Understated. Sincere. Soft. Rob Hall projected the image of a rock on the mountain by just being one, not by screaming “I’m a rock on this here mountain!” I think that might be behind The Guardian’s tone-deaf complaint of “there’s no compelling story.”

For the third act of Everest I sat semi-fetal, my mouth hidden behind my arm. I knew what was coming, but I wasn’t prepared for it. I was on a boys’ night out, yet I cried when Rob and Jan talked for the last time.

That’s how it should be. That’s a compelling story. A movie about real people’s tragic deaths should be a time for introspection and emotion. It should be awful to watch. That it was is a feature, not a bug.

Last, the most frequent faux-critique of Everest was that there was no message in it. There was nothing to learn. Whose fault was Everest ‘96? Why do people climb mountains anyway?

The film’s answers to those questions were respectively “dunno” and “piss off.” I reckon they’re appropriate.

There’s so much nobody really knows about what happened on Everest on 10 May 1996. We know one half-remembered side of some crucial conversations, and neither side of others. We can infer a little about some people’s competing motives, but very little  about how they dealt with them. With all that lack of knowledge, it’s not really cool as a screenwriter to go round assigning blame to real people for the deaths of other real people. Their families are watching, too.

And the “why climb” trope has been done over and over again. (Best answer, by the way: JFK) Does every race car movie have to ask “why speed?” Does every space movie ask “why bother?” No.

Moves about mountains can cover things other than moralizing about mountains. Touching the Void was about stamina and partnership. Everest is about tragedy and the light and shade of human nature, and it does a stupendous job.