Saturday, August 1, 2009

ZenTiger Hit Me with Your Best Shot

Well, the week's gone by and I've had a little more time to think about P Bennett tar(ahem) and feather Fuller and Johnston.

I still find the action unsettling, and I was trying to work out why. I think it boils down to this:

Bennett asked her staff to dig up every fact she could about these people, and they did so quite easily.

She then looked at the information available SPECIFIC TO THESE PEOPLE and made a decision on what to reveal to sink their argument.

We can argue if what she revealed was legal or not, and whether these two deserved it or not, and perhaps also consider the role Labour had in promoting the issue, but the point remains Bennett called for a dossier and received it.

That's a fair amount of power, and it's pretty much one sided. I'm not even sure the information she provided is relevant to the debate about the value of helping train unemployed people. Irrespective of benefits received (providing they are received legally), a compelling case can be made to support the government's position on the cut backs without resorting to this form of debate.

Furthermore, the information Bennett released was accepted and widely broadcast quickly and efficiently. Were we even sure it was accurate information? It probably was this time around, but whilst the bulk of the public were happy to think that these people had lied by omission etc, have they stopped to consider the government is just as capable of playing the same game?

So what do I think?

In the end, it's perhaps merely disappointing than a fatal blow to democracy, because the reality is the government has so many legal avenues to effect the same result, and it would avail little to plug this particular gap. Bennett could have released this information in Parliament under privilege; leaked it via staff to a friendly reporter; talked generally about current DPB benefits and how they can exceed a salaried job; or cunningly forced the people to reveal the information themselves (which they had more or less done anyway).

Ultimately, the point is our Minister's can request any amount of information on citizens, obtain it easily, and then decide how best to use it or abuse it. Paula Bennett just pointed out the obvious really. I think it still stinks. It reminded me at least of one of the reasons I like a small government and a strong constitution. We don't have either.


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I say as much over at MandM: P Bennett: Tar and Feather, Fire Away

And here's the Blog Post Title reference:




4 comment(s):

mojo said...

Yep ... it is all a little frightening.

x said...

I think commenters here have talked about most of these points in the last posting, so no point going over old ground, but this is new:

"Irrespective of benefits received (providing they are received legally), a compelling case can be made to support the government's position on the cut backs without resorting to this form of debate."

and also the concept of the amounts of power each side posseses.

You seem to tend toward the fear of abuse of systems in your arguments.

If you believe the government should have produced factual info on benefits more regularly, instead of and removing the need for attacking on occasion, at what point could those regular P.A. announcements become mere propaganda? Is there a role for propaganda in a democracy?

And on the second point, how powerless is the citizen really?

You assign a helpless position to them as default, but can you prove they have no power, legal or otherwise, against the government? Sure they don't have hundreds of advisors, but they can get advice and support using alternative methods. Can you suggest ways that the women could have gone about their protest and increased their power?

and just to throw a subjective concept in the mix, if the citizen has to use alternative methods to win an equal or superior amount of power against a government, are you creating a state within a state

and

if the protestor is not willing to expend the effort in gaining extra power, is their cause true?

It's easy to jump up and down about things, some people are always angry, always unsatisfied. Should we make it easier for people to complain about things that aren't really all that important to them in themsleves?

An MP does a lot of work to get to a seat in parliament, even a list MP. They are not given access to power on a whim. Should protestors be given an advantage of power when they can't be bothered fighting for what they want?

What were the motivations for the women speaking out?

Flattery of attention from the Labour Party?

They're just unsatisfied people?

or do they really honestly care about the casue?

One woman didn't and made her peace. How far would she have gone if she had an easy advantage? Would she ever have stopped to consider her own motivations? Is that a good route to change that effects thousands?

ZenTiger said...

Hi X. Thanks for your comment. To reply:

If you believe the government should have produced factual info on benefits more regularly

No, not regularly, just once, nicely summarised on a website somewhere. The media can and do "regularly" run their various "campaigns". A big part of the ensuing debate was all around surprise that a beneficiary can be on $715 a week after tax before education grants.

instead of and removing the need for attacking on occasion

because you cannot debate without resorting to personal attacks? Is that what you are trying to argue?

at what point could those regular P.A. announcements become mere propaganda?

you are stretching to call publishing a summary of welfare benefits "propaganda". It's not even an election year :-)

Is there a role for propaganda in a democracy?

Democracies are riddled with spin, which is what we are discussing here I think. And spin is not a "role" in a democracy, it's a consequence.

Or perhaps more correctly, this is politics! However, there is politics, and there is dirty politics. I'm not endorsing the government's behaviour for engaging in dirty politics. Are you?

You assign a helpless position to them as default, but can you prove they have no power, legal or otherwise, against the government?

No, I assign a position of power to the government. It does not necessarily mean a lack of power for the citizen. I'm not interested in "balancing" the power, I'm more interested in limiting the government's power.

Do you think the government should have limits on its power?

Can you think of any governments where they have abused such power excessively? (Yes, as you suggest, I am cautious when it comes to government exercising power)

Can you suggest ways that the women could have gone about their protest and increased their power?

Probably could come up with a few ways. It's not really relevant to my point about what is ethical or unethical behaviour for a Minister though.

If some-one responds to government force by an act of terrorism, I wouldn't be arguing that the government is therefore also entitled to "balance things up" by blowing up another set of people to scare the terrorists.

Your remaining points seem to follow the same theme, and I don't think I am arguing for that (balancing power).

Also, I'm not sure it matters for ALL forms of dissent to pass some kind of additional "I really care" criteria to have a voice, but thinking of a recent example where over 300,000 signatures were collected to force a referendum, and then to watch whilst our politicians undermine this, supported with biased reporting by the media and a few organisations that receive the bulk of their funding through the government, then I find myself reiterating much the same points I have made above.

To keep this particular situation in perspective though, I do offer my concluding paragraphs from "it's perhaps merely disappointing than a fatal blow to democracy,"

ZenTiger said...

PS: And another post that moderated my opinion somewhat was this one:

You go girl

I also had likened this action (conceptually) to what Helen Clarke did over Peter Doone (somewhere in a thread on the DimPost several days ago) and there also are points about Erin Leigh and Daziel's leak also being another two conceptually similar issues. I wonder if Matthew Hooten read that thread?

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