On the next Governor-General

a35467d36b1d96222bfbThe next Governor-General will have to be named quite soon. Dame Patsy Reddy (appointed 2016) is nearing the end of her five-year term. At the best of times, being a credible local stand-in for a head of state that’s based in London cannot be an easy job. Yet for the next appointee, the usual republican rumblings will be the least of it. The next G-G will almost certainly be in office when the Elizabeth II era finally comes to an end, and when the reign of her deeply uncharismatic son gets under way. This transition will be a testing time for the Old Firm. It will require its next local rep to have a skillset that goes beyond the usual ability to host garden parties, and deliver homilies to school children.

That said, the choosing of a Governor-General from the ranks of local contenders has always been a highly secretive process. The drawing up of the short list, the sounding out of the willing and the able, and the vetting of the final choice are all done discreetly. Arguably, the process should be more transparent. In the Me Too era, public figures are accountable as never before for their past actions and associations. Such scrutiny should be welcomed. Until very recently, we’ve lived in a world where the associates of Jeffrey Epstein, Ron Brierley, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Bill Gates etc seem to have known about their transgressions, but slept peacefully on the information. The attitude seems to have been: such behaviour was just Jeffrey being Jeffrey, Harvey being Harvey and Ron being Ron.

Brierley no longer has his knighthood, in the wake of his recent prosecution for having thousands of child pornography images in his possession. The Queen, no stranger to the predatory behaviour of one of her own children, has been informed. Decades earlier, Brierley’s activities as a regular sex tourist to Thailand had been famously documented by Yvonne Van Dongen in her 1990 biography. Reportedly, Brierley felt no need to hide this aspect of his life. As Van Dongen wrote 30 years ago:

“…in Asia, like many Western men, Brierley revels in the luxury of freedom run loose. He enjoys encounters with young women, often teenage prostitutes, in Thailand, probably because they do not threaten his primary relationship with his mother and they also leave him free to pursue his central objective which is business… Brierley seems completely comfortable with this aspect of his life and showed no embarrassment when teased about his frequent visits to Thailand… These sexually immature young women are not as demanding, physically or emotionally, as an older woman, who might want to develop the relationship further…etc etc.”

Brierley was knighted in 1988. As with Weinstein and Epstein, his proclivities and actions were tacitly condoned. In his case, the latitude was extended for the best part of four decades. Even after the biography containing the above information was published, his actions did not attract wide public censure. Nor- it would seem – were there any resignations on principle among those working closely with him. Apparently, it was just Ron being Ron. If his associates judged him, they seem to have kept it to themselves. Business was business, and rich and powerful men were seen as accountable to no-one but their shareholders. Although it was Brierley’s wealth that empowered him to exploit women and children, the people who helped him to amass that wealth and power do not seem to have felt in any way tainted, or complicit.

Among those who worked very closely with Brierley at the highest level for many years was Dame Patsy Reddy. Her personal bio on the Governor -General’s website says as much:

In 1987 she joined Brierley Investments Ltd as Group Legal Counsel and subsequently became Group Manager for Special Projects. During her 11 years at Brierley Investments she was involved in numerous mergers and acquisitions, including the privatisation and subsequent flotation of Air New Zealand, and the construction, establishment and flotation of Sky City Entertainment Ltd. She represented Brierley Investments on the Boards of both of these companies following their listing and continued to serve on the board of Sky City Entertainment as Deputy Chair until 2008.

It is hard to imagine that someone who played such key roles for eleven years had been unaware of Brierley’s predatory activities. (Van Dongen’s biography was published in the middle of Reddy’s stint at Brierley Investments.) When asked recently by Stuff about Brierley’s paedophilia and fall from grace, Reddy declined to comment. The reluctance is understandable, but unfortunate. It has run the risk of being seen as a continuation of a problematic silence.

After all, royal honours (and offices) have symbolic value. For that reason, achievements cannot be entirely divorced from questions of moral character. Times are changing on such matters, thank goodness. In the current climate, the willingness of Brierley’s associates to continue to work for him for so long would probably – and justifiably – be taken as a potential disqualifier for any future position that carries symbolic weight within the wider community. That is progress. It suggests that wealth and power can no longer entirely insulate people from the consequences of their actions.

Since Epstein’s death, his close associates– those who were complicit in a variety of ways with building and sustaining his ability to be a successful predator, and who probably breathed a sigh of relief when he died – have come under critical scrutiny. Epstein’s networking was more extensive than Brierley’s, judging by this report from the Washington Post .

Epstein collected people almost as assiduously as he amassed dollars… [His]black book of contacts included Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger; more than a dozen aides to [Bill] Clinton; other celebrities such as Alec Baldwin, Naomi Campbell and Jimmy Buffett; media titans such as Rupert Murdoch, Conrad Black and Michael Bloomberg; business magnates such as Richard Branson, Steve Forbes and Edgar Bronfman Jr; Kennedys, Rockefellers and Rothschilds; lords and ladies; ambassadors and senators.

The friends and associates of such people provide insulation, and (even if inadvertently) they also bestow a level of legitimacy. Before Brierley is relegated to being just an embarrassing footnote to this country’s economic and social history, it is worth continuing to ask of his former associates why they chose to be silent about him for so long. Such considerations, one hopes, will now be seen as being relevant to the selection (and vetting) of Reddy’s successor.

Footnote: The local role of a Governor-General is somewhat ill-defined. While the constitutional powers and conventions are reasonably clear, the social role is still essentially a passive one. It needn’t be. Potentially there would be gains if the incumbent was expected to speak more freely about the fundamental issues of the day. While the G-G should still be above the usual political fray, surely the point of having a local in the job is that this should include a readiness to speak to the needs and the interests of New Zealanders.

For example : at this time, the pursuit of meaningful Treaty partnerships in the health sector is being portrayed (by some) as a descent into separatism. In this climate, it would help to have a G-G with a strong background in Maori health and education. Provided that is, they had the latitude to talk freely and publicly about the benefits of realising the partnership between Maori and the Crown envisaged (by Maori at least) back in 1840. As mentioned, the transition from Elizabeth II to Charles will provide an opportunity for renewal – not only of the monarchy, but of the Crown’s commitments to Maori. It would help if the next Governor-General could articulate (and even perhaps embody) what tino rangatiratanga should look like in the modern world, and under the new monarch.

If she wanted the job, Lady Tureiti Moxon could be a good candidate, given her advocacy work and expertise in kohanga reo and Maori health.

Minstrel and Queen

There’s an obvious reason why this 1963 track – written and sung by a black American, Curtis Mayfield –became so popular and influential in Jamaica, one of the Queen’s former outposts in the Caribbean. Only a year before, Jamaica had won its independence from Britain.