Cross-Examination: Dirty Politics
Cross-Examination is a blog series about current legal issues in New Zealand produced by EJP Communications volunteers.
Nicky Hager’s new book, Dirty Politics, has exposed an intricate maze of backchannel communication, duplicity, and privacy invasion within the walls of the Beehive. Mr. Hager recently participated in a public talk in Mt Eden alongside Sir Ted Thomas, and discussed his book in detail before taking questions from the packed hall.
Sir Ted opened the evening by addressing the alleged hypocrisy inherent in Mr. Hager’s book. Critics have argued that by using leaked information to write the book, Mr. Hager has been as villainous as the very cast of shadowy bloggers and furtive staffers he criticises for invading privacy and breaching confidentiality. In response, Sir Ted discussed the way in which individuals’ right to privacy must always be weighed against broader public interest. He argued that while some of the information used by Mr. Hager may have been private in its nature, the importance to the general public of knowing the kind of “machinations” and media manipulation taking place in government more than tipped the scales in favour of disclosing that information. He went so far as to say that it would have been “remiss” of Mr. Hager to not use that information to create his book.
Once the thunderous applause that met these remarks had subsided, Mr. Hager himself took to the stage. Despite its appearances, he argued, the book is more than a “compendium of nastiness.” Instead, it is intended as a reminder to the nation that not all politics needs to be “dirty.” Hager was at his most emphatic when dispelling the idea that the duplicitous behaviour detailed in the book is a necessary, omnipresent element of modern politics. By educating ourselves about this behaviour, we as a voting body are able to vote for the values we think should be present in Parliament. The unrelenting smears and scandals perpetuated by Hager’s protagonists are, in his eyes, geared solely towards stopping people voting and “silencing, scaring, [and] bullying people to the margins.” Such behaviour is “horribly expedient:” those practicing such tactics are aware of which groups are most likely to turn their backs on voting first, and are safe in the knowledge that it “won’t be their people.”
The antidote to these politics is, in Hager’s view, simple: we must participate in order to effect change. Politics is not inherently “terrible.” A society must “build up [its] defences” in order to make this “terrible” behaviour more difficult to practice. Exhorting the audience to refuse to imitate the negative and instead question, analyse, and challenge those in power, Hager’s efforts have undeniably “crystallised” the vague awareness many had about dirty tricks being played by those in power.
To rid New Zealand of the ills Hager has exposed, we must fight off the apathy and cynicism that threatens to overwhelm us. Politics is indeed the “sum of the actions of everyone involved.” As clear-thinking, engaged individuals with the ability to make our voices heard, it is crucial that we take to the polls in the coming days and weeks to collectively cure our political system of the entitlement and duplicity that has seemingly enveloped it.
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