To qualify that heading, I suggest that if you have something critical to say about the government you don’t, without careful thought, use the Comment section of websites, the same if you intend to approve something critical someone else has said about the government. As well, principals and teachers need to be similarly careful about writing letters to newspapers. Underlying that caution from me is an opposite message if, having taken that caution into account, and you go ahead with your comment or letter, I applaud you as demonstrating moral courage inspiring to us all.
We should all take a step back and ponder what depths we have fallen to in New Zealand when the Key government, the minister’s office, the ministry of education, Cameron Slater, newspapers (local), and possibly the GCSB, have conspired to create an environment of fear – a fear so pervasive as to make New Zealanders hesitant about exercising their freedom of speech. Is this the kind of country we want to live in?
There is no doubt that powerful search engines have trawled sites to catch out teachers and principals – the names for these being put forward by the minister’s office.
- I want to begin with the possible use of the GCSB (though possibly Slater trying to be funny).
A principal is waiting for a decision (and still is ) from the Employment Relations Authority in a hugely controversial long-running struggle against suspension and the use of a statutory manager. A false e-mail was sent to the Comments section of a posting on this website.
The e-mail said:
June 15, 2014 at 9.33 pm
But remember who was on the 2 year NOVOPAIN task force …
[The name of a person] and he never gave a report back to the NZPF executive that it was a no brainer …
This e-mail was carefully crafted in the style of the principal’s manner of writing e-mails, though it went a step too far with ‘you’ after ‘Love’.
The e-mail was false. The identifying details of the e-mail received therefore were false, but what were the genuine ones.
A team of computer people was engaged in the arduous and complex task of establishing the genuine origins of the e-mail.
Here they are:
OrgName: Navy Network Information Center (NNIC)
Address: 2465 GUADALCANAL ROAD
Address: BLDG 1265
City: VIRGINIA BEACH
Yes – the USA naval spy centre. I believe the GCSB was involved in this (though possibly Slater).
The intention of this false e-mail comment was very likely to set up the circumstances for a further e-mail comment containing some Gestapo-Nazi reference. Thus detracting from the Employment Relations decision when it came out.
This is your New Zealand.
2. I move now to another kind of situation we could never have imagined for New Zealand.
One of New Zealand’s top principals (he had recently received an outstanding ERO report), an outspoken opponent of national standards, had his name placed on Anne Tolley’s hit list (my categorisation). His name was passed on to Whale Oil. Then, in a posting headed ‘Nothing less than a scandal’ this principal, along with two other principals (one of them the target of the possible GCSB attack above), were attacked.
A comment made under the principal’s name from a year and a half earlier was discovered on an education website – a comment with a gestapo reference. It was a comment he couldn’t recall making, but he supposed he must have made it. That comment now became part of the campaign against the principal. The principal went online to try to find it; he couldn’t. So submerged was the comment that only a highly skilled computer operator controlling a computer with a very powerful search engine could have found it. Experts consulted suggested two possible sources: Whale Oil or the GCSB. In the end, the principal had to go to the local newspaper (which had been used for the leak) to find out where it was.
The full torrent fell on the principal. He was described as someone who tried to ‘rally his comrades rather than teach kids at his school how to read, write and do maths.’ Slater went on to say that ‘Any journalist worth their salt would be calling the boards of trustees of the principal involved … ‘ and so on and so on. And then there was a follow-up posting by Slater headed a posting ‘Know your union scum’. Charming – this is what a dedicated and caring principal had to put up with.
Anne Tolley on her departure was congratulated for putting the principal under pressure. Everything about Slater’s postings indicated a close association between him and Tolley. The terrible point is that when the minister’s office and Slater team up, and Slater makes an open invitation to someone in the school community to make a complaint, that person can rely on the minister’s office for instantaneous back up
3. And a further case, this time relating to a principal who had written a letter to the editor criticising national standards. Once again, one of New Zealand’s great principals. If I said she was a legend in education and one of the kindest most sincere principal there ever was, many readers would recognise her, so I won’t say it. Yes, she was on Tolley’s hit list. This time, as well as the minister’s office being involved, there is little doubt the school’s computer system was hacked.
The principal in August 2011 wrote a letter to the NZ Herald criticising national standards. She was hauled over the coals by Slater for not saying she was an NZEI member (headed ‘More dishonest NZEI action’) and later on a ‘hard left suspect’. Also included in the posting was a letter, almost certainly hacked, she had sent to a number of selected principals.
A little under a year later, Slater responded to another letter the principal sent to the NZ Herald, this time criticising league tables. He says ‘Almost a year ago I outed a whiner called …, posing as a normal person, who wrote to the Herald complaining about national standards.’
So a principal writes a letter to a newspaper and that principal is slagged. The point is that if it was just a blogger slagging somebody, not much would be at risk, but behind this, informing Slater, egging him on, ready to pounce if the opportunity offered – is the minister’s office. Slater’s posting, backed by an agency of state, dramatically increases the threat to the principal.
These are dark days for New Zealand democracy. Democracy is not democracy when its citizens are constrained from speaking out freely on the issues of the day – it becomes something else. Is this what our forebears fought for? The prevailing idea I took from Dirty Politics was that an unscrupulous, right-wing group, centred in Auckland, had built up an extensive network of support in politics, the power structure, and the media, determined not to let go of power easily and, in the occasion of it occurring, just as determined to be unrelenting in regaining it. As part of that network was the sleaze of Slater and Whale Oil. And here was New Zealand’s prime minister in regular contact with him. When asked if he was going to stop that contact with Slater – asked three times – he was evasive. As discussed in another posting, New Zealand’s prime minister is not able to stand up against Slater because Slater has too much on him. These surely are unprecedented times. As another example of where New Zealand politics presently is, take the strange circumstances surrounding the appointment of the head of the GCSB, a school friend of the New Zealand prime minister. The prime minister wanted a bunny and he got one. The New Zealand prime minister clearly had already committed himself to the unconsented mass surveillance of New Zealand citizens. My conclusion is that if you have something critical of the government to say, be thoughtful before you say it – but if you proceed – all hail to you. You will gain strength from the idea that in exercising your right to speak you are defending democracy and providing an inspiration to others.