Book Review: Towards Democratic Renewal – Ideas for Constitutional Change in New Zealand, Geoffrey Palmer & Andrew Butler

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_towards_democratic_renewal.jpgAt the time of reviewing this particular instalment on constitutional change from Professor Palmer, freedom of speech as a principle was being debated in New Zealand. This was caused primarily by some visiting Canadians, whose provocative views had resulted in them being declined a public venue in Auckland.

Freedom of speech and assembly are not really part of this book on constitutional change in New Zealand. Not just because we all take these basic freedoms for granted, and there is actually an existing Bill of Rights, but because the book is essentially about changing the institutions of political decision-making in New Zealand, especially with regard to how Parliament operates. This seems to be based on the somewhat surprising notion that Parliamentary sovereignty is too broad, and the authors refer to the apparent ‘untrammelled’ or ‘uncontrolled’ rule of Parliament.

This is in fact the second instalment of this academic exercise in constitutional change. The first book by the authors laid out their new constitution and now, having sought submissions from the public and the legal experts, they are offering their amendments to the original proposal. So most of the chapters reflect on the issues that have been raised in this ongoing process of constitutional reflection. Indeed there is even a chapter full of quotes from a variety of people who made public submissions. These include a long quote from someone using very offensive language that should never have been accepted, especially because the person was given anonymity. There are also a number of photos of the authors with groups of students in self-congratulatory poses.

That is not to say that there aren’t some very substantial proposals being put forward here. These include replacing the Governor-General with a new head of state, and therefore a form of republicanism. The removal of the term ‘the Crown’ from the New Zealand constitution, and thus from the legal system, could have profound implications for the Treaty of Waitangi and claims related to it. Then there are aspects of the political process that the authors don’t like relating to elections and the role of Parliament. Changes here include having a fixed four year term for Parliament, and giving the right to vote to 16-year-olds, if not making voting compulsory as well. Perhaps most significant would be the idea of giving the judiciary the power to review legislation, and, if deemed unconstitutional, to declare it invalid.

This power was apparently already there, but now needs to be broadened. The authors make the point that the international trade agreement (TTPA) would have allowed for corporations to challenge legislation that offended them. However, the authors do not address the loss of economic sovereignty at all, especially during the late 1980s when Palmer was a key legislator. But they do assess the role of certain legal cases that help make their case. One being that High Court review undertaken on behalf of the anti-TPPA campaigner, Professor Kelsey, which highlighted how the Official Information Act was not being complied with. The authors are all in favour of more transparency in government, and enhanced roles for Parliamentary officers (such as the Auditor-General and the Ombudsman). Just as long as Parliament itself is not allowed to pass its Acts under urgency anymore, and thus ruin certain landmark pieces of legislation.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Towards Democratic Renewal – Ideas for Constitutional Change in New Zealand
by Geoffrey Palmer & Andrew Butler
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561834

Manawatu Writers’ Festival: Dylan Horrocks and Sarah Laing

Tara Black recorded this at the Manawatu Writers’ Festival this past weekend. Copyright Tara Black, all rights reserved.

Dylan Horrocks and Sarah Laing at the Manawatu Writers' festival by Tara Black

Dylan Horrocks and Sarah Laing at the Manawatu Writers’ festival by Tara Black

Manawatu Writers’ Festival, 7-11 September

Please check out Tara’s other work on her website. 

Book Review: Down a Country Road, by Tony Orman

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_down_a_country_roadWhat is it that has made and still makes New Zealand’s back country – and in particular the South Island high country – so indelibly endearing to so many?

Tony Orman asks that question in the introduction of his collection of stories about some colourful personalities who have made the remote back country of the South Island their home.

He says ‘a couple of decades ago I set out to collect stories from rural New Zealand with a view to publishing a book. I got leads from friends and fellow journalists while others I just stumbled across while deerstalking and trout fishing.’

Down a Country Road includes twenty four stories of men and women whose lives are entwined in rural New Zealand from the swagmen of the 1930s to a third generation champion dog trialist.

Orman has included an interesting collection of photographs, some old black and white, as well as coloured, which add great interest to his stories and I love the ink drawings by Jim Ayers.

Having been in the farming industry for over forty years I have known a number of people who were very clever at putting pen to paper with a rhyme or verse to express  their thoughts, so I enjoyed the inclusion of the appropriate poetry in this publication. Jim Morris farmed in the Ahuriri Valley and has seen big changes in farming over his career, as he suggests in this verse,

‘They mutter of erosion
In their offices of glass,
And say this block should be retired
Before another season’s past.

They speak of soil and water
And the values they hold grand,
Then go and build another suburb
On some market garden land!’

Tony Orman lives in Marlborough and regularly writes for the Nelson-Marlborough Farming and other agricultural and outdoor publications. A life time interest in trout fishing and deerstalking has seen him publish a number of books on recreational fishing, deerstalking and the wilderness. His latest work will be of interest to anyone who spends time outdoors, it is an easy read, the stories are a good length and can be read individually as the mood takes one.

His final yarn about ghosts is fascinating, I don’t claim any connection with James MacIntosh but it is an interesting tale, and I have been in the Vulcan hotel but not seen the ghostly apparition in room one.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Down a Country Road
by Tony Orman
Published by New Holland Publishers
ISBN 9781869664947

Book Review: The Incurable Romantic: And Other Unsettling Revelations, by Frank Tallis

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_incurable_romanticLove makes the world go round, or so the songs say, but what happens when love goes wrong? This book gives the ordinary person, a secret glimpse into the world of a Psychotherapist. Frank Tallis has already written three works on psychology for the lay reader and is himself a clinical psychologist. By using examples from his experiences, he illustrates the many problems that arise in the name of love. Each chapter deals with a different story and he gives the background research for different disorders. So not only are we drawn into the problem, we are allowed to see the variety of tools available in searching for a solution.

Tallis begins by reminding the reader that love dominates our world through writing, movies, songs and history. His own interest with odd things led him to psychotherapy. As he says, ‘For me, psychotherapy is as much about narrative as it is about science and compassion, perhaps even more so.’

So these stories draw the reader into a strange and unsettling world. Megan, who falls in love with her dentist and becomes obsessed to the point of arrest. The elderly Mavis, unable to cope without her late husband. Tallis discovers it was not their shared interests but something more unusual that bound them together. Each story is told with compassion and the endings are often inconclusive. Years later, Tallis is still wondering how some patients have survived.

I found this book fascinating as love as an obsession was not something I have considered. While there is a lot of background history about the science of treatments, it is a readable book for the ordinary public. Tallis is a gifted writer who captures the essence of the problem and his narratives are sympathetic and informative. I see Ian McEwan endorses the book on the cover and I could see writers of romance or mystery finding the text very helpful in the development of a character. It brought to mind McEwan characters from On Chesil Beach.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Incurable Romantic: And Other Unsettling Revelations
by Frank Tallis
Published by Abacus
ISBN 9780349142951

WORD Christchurch: Embracing Te Reo

WORD Christchurch: Embracing Te Reo

This was one of the warmest, most welcoming, and most inspirational sessions of WORD Christchurch 2018. To Hana O’Regan (Kāti Rakiāmoa, Kāti Ruahikihiki, Kāi Tūāhuriri, Kāti Waewae), Hemi Kelly (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Tahu, Ngāti Whāoa), Miriama Kamo (Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāi Tahu) and Jeanette King – ngā mihi nui ki a koutou.

Embracing-Te-ReoKing, a Pākehā scholar of bilingualism, chaired the session. O’Regan, one of the leadership team at Te Rūnunga o Ngāi Tahu and an internationally recognised reo expert, said she’s excited that te reo Māori seems to be having a cultural moment: ‘We need that passion.’ Kelly, a translator and AUT lecturer, said there’s a massive growth in people wanting to learn te reo, which he attributes to the fruition of initiatives put in place 30 or 40 years ago. Well-known journalist and broadcaster Kamo said she’s pleased to see all the goodwill, but cautioned that te reo ‘has gone from severely endangered to endangered’. She would love to see Aotearoa’s history taught in schools, not so we can feel guilt but so we can all understand together.

O’Regan spoke about the benefits of learning te reo Māori. ‘You enhance the cognitive ability of your child if you raise them in two languages.’ We need to get over the propaganda that te reo won’t help you get a job, travel overseas, etc. ‘The world has been opened up to me because of my language and my work within it.’ Kamo agreed, saying that jobs are changing, and that if you have te reo you’ll have job security, since NZ employers are increasingly requiring it, particularly in the public sector. ‘The world will change around you but you’ll be okay.’

cv_a_maori_word_a_dayKing articulated a nervousness that a lot of Pākehā feel, that by trying a bit of te reo you’re being tokenistic and racist – particularly if you trip up and get it wrong. The panel all said this was not so. Kamo said ‘I love to hear people trying.’ Kelly said that te reo is our language for all New Zealanders, and O’Regan added: ‘Learning the language is a sign of respect. It’s not tokenistic or belittling – quite the opposite!’ The next generation will benefit from us now trying and pitching in, and having their language upheld and reflected back to them. ‘Go grab all your relations, and get them all doing it!’

O’Regan admitted that, even with all the excellent reo resources we have these days, it can still be hard to find places and spaces to practise your reo. I myself am learning te reo Māori and am in that very awkward phase of sort of being able to string a phrase or two together but not being confident enough to attempt actual conversation with other humans. So I would like to issue a general invitation now to everyone reading – please come and join me in my Awkward Reo Club, either online or if you see me in Pōneke. I recommend the following:

  •  This post on The Spinoff listing free and cheap reo classes around the country
  • Ask your employer to provide reo Māori classes as professional development – if you’re in Pōneke I highly recommend Kūwaha Ltd
  • The bilingual podcast Taringa (which has probably the best intro music of any podcast ever)
  •  Te Aka Māori dictionary (free online http://maoridictionary.co.nz/ or a few dollars for the app)
  • The Facebook group Starting in Te Reo Māori
  • Make your shopping list bilingual – I did this using Te Aka and my copy of Māori at Home by Scotty and Stacey Morrison. My fave so far is wīti-pīki (weetbix)

I was particularly heartened to hear Kamo say ‘I’ve been on a lifelong stop-start journey with my reo’, and that it’s fine to not be that great at it, especially right away. I went straight out and bought Kelly’s book A Māori Word A Day and got him to sign it for me. I am delighted to discover that the first word is āe (yes) and the second is aihikirīmi (ice cream). Nau mai, haere mai!

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Book Review: Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow, by Siobhan Curham

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_don't_stop_thinking_about_tomorrowStevie and Hafiz are two fourteen-year-olds from very different backgrounds. Stevie is a talented guitarist who is passionate about music – but she has a difficult home life, living with the challenges of her mother’s unemployment and crippling depression after the recent death of Stevie’s father. Hafiz is a gifted footballer, new to England after a gruelling journey on his own from his war-torn home in Syria, desperately missing his parents. The one thing Steve and Hafiz have in common is that both of them are struggling to fit in at school – until they find each other.

This is a fabulous book about diversity, mental health, the plight of refugees, and overcoming prejudice. But mostly it is a story about friendship. The book unfolds in chapters alternating between Stevie and Hafiz’s perspectives. Slowly we learn more about their backstories and the events that have led them to the moment where a well-meaning teacher instructs the new boy to sit next to the lonely girl. This is a very contemporary tale, with its empathetic and tactful discussion of mental health issues and the refugee experience. Stevie and Hafiz’s voices are unique and genuine and the author carefully avoids slipping into a schmaltzy treatment of some very tough topics.

My daughter and I were both big fans of Curham’s earlier books, The Moonlight Dreamers and its sequel Tell It To The Moon, so I was very keen to read this new novel. To my surprise, I think I like this new book even better than the other two; no mean feat. Both of the characters are endearing and extremely likeable. And how can you not love a book that includes a Spotify playlist? This is a thought-provoking and extremely enjoyable read for anyone twelve and over.

Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis

Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow
by Siobhan Curham
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406387803

WORD Christchurch: Disunited Kingdom?

WORD Christchurch: Disunited Kingdom?

Before this session about Brexit started, a strange and annoying man in a purple top hat came and started talking to me. As the session began, he started shouting “boo!” and telling me what to type. The woman next to me told him to go away (kia ora Charlotte!). He slunk off, muttering something about free speech (his not mine).
DISUNITEDKINGDOM-NEW
David Slack did a good job of chairing this popular session: British Muslim author Ed Husain and Scottish crime writer Denise Mina, both lively participants with a lot to say. They weren’t the only ones – boy did we, the audience, have reckons. Sometimes when question time comes round the chair has to coax the first question out of us. But here as soon as the lights went up so did at least a dozen impatient hands.

Husain, a former Islamic radicalist who has also worked as an advisor for Tony Blair, told us he was optimistic about the post-Brexit world, reminding us about the positive effects of Henry VIII’s break with Europe to create the Church of England. He spoke reverently of British democracy with a fervour that bordered on the un-English, pointing out repeatedly that it was more important to honour the democratic process than to remain in the EU.

As well as being NZ-born Pākehā I am also British – specifically, I am English. I remember when I learned about Brexit. It was very upsetting – I put my cup of tea down so suddenly it probably almost spilled. Good heavens, I may have stated aloud. What the gosh-darned heck do you fellows think you’re up to. I turn my back for five minutes and you leave the EU! And after the London 2012 Olympics went so well. Someone hold my crumpet.

Like, I suspect, most of the audience, I took Brexit personally. If you’ve been following the Brexit news at all, the ground covered by Husain and Mina was pretty familiar. But I was struck by Mina’s characterisation of Brexit as a ‘big baggy bundle of grievances’; lots of personal annoyances and affronts wound up by scaremongers and misinformation into a spasm of protest that was against a lot of things without being for much in particular. ‘People were looking for some sort of social rupture to make them feel alive.’

Mina also made the interesting point that the UK still needs migrant workers in the care sector, and since they can’t come from Europe as easily they’ll instead be coming from Africa. Because care work is so intimate, it will hopefully lead to more people of different ethnicities becoming friendly. Mina sees this as a potential challenge to the racism that has become more open and violent since Brexit: ‘I’m quite excited by that’. She also pointed out that, since the EU is essentially neoliberal, leaving will mean that Britain can have more control over its labour models, amongst other things.

I had to duck out a few minutes early to dash to the FAFSWAG Vogue workshop, but my spies tell me that the purple-hatted chap returned to angrily disrupt the end of question time. He was irritating and rude, but it was an apt reminder that, in this crazy thing we call a democracy, his vote counts just as much as mine. Voilá: Brexit.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Denise Mina is a  Crime Writer who won the 2017 McIlvanney Crime Novel of the Year for Long Drop

Ed Husain is the writer of The Islamists and The House of Islam