I vividly remember the first hour or two of my first end-of-year Parliamentary Press Gallery party.
A senior and respected political reporter bowled up to me. She was puzzled, she slurred. Why was the ACT Party so against Maori?
I was nonplussed. I had just walked in. I naively explained that nothing could be further from the truth.
I realise now that my reply would have just proved for her that I was both a liar and a fake.
“Of course, you are,” she blurted. “You guys don’t want Maori doctors!”
I was more confused than ever – I still hadn’t got a drink. I declared confidently that no one from ACT had ever said such a thing.
Oh but she, said, you are against quotas for Maori getting into medical school.
I realised then that I had led a sheltered life before Parliament. I had never before come face-to-face with such mind-numbing stupidity.
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to begin to discuss affirmative action with someone adult and so manifestly stupid.
I explained why quotas don’t work, why they don’t address the problem of under-achievement, why they are counter-productive and why, actually, anyone supporting quotas was racist.
The ACT Party, I said, was gloriously the only party in Parliament that wasn’t racist and fervently believed that the law should be applied fairly and equally to all.
It was only the ACT Party that demonstrably believed that Maori were every bit as capable as everyone else. She clearly did not.
But her eyes had glazed completely over and her mind had left the party as soon as I started to reason and to explain. It was too tough for her.
So lacking any cause-and-effect thinking how do reporters make sense of politics? They evaluate intentions. The impact of the policy is neither here nor there. It’s what’s intended that matters.
And that’s why the media don’t like business. Business is about a profit. Employers only employ people to make money. They don’t do things to help the world. Unlike governments. And action groups.
Another journalist was incredulous that I was against Jim Anderton squandering millions on his much vaunted “Jobs Machine” policy.
Mr Anderton at the time was flying about the country handing out taxpayer cash to lucky businesses.
How could I possibly be against that, the journalist asked.
ACT was supposed to be pro-business.
Aaah, I explained, politics.
Ending poverty is easy: abolish income tax, remove all controls on foreign investment, eliminate welfare, get rid of the minimum wage and make employing someone simple contract law – ie, no employment legislation, no Employment Court and no personal grievances.
The country would boom and there would be jobs for Africa.
Productivity would go through the roof.
Wages would skyrocket.
The majority of parliamentarians know that’s true.
But they don’t do anything positive to assist the poor or to reverse New Zealand’s relative economic decline. Aaah, they explain, politics.
I could never figure out what that meant. I was missing something. And I spent a great deal of time finding out what it was.
It’s this: there’s no cause-and-effect thinking in politics.
Deducing policy consequences requires a chain of reasoning that political reporters and most voters can’t be bothered with. It requires thought and it’s hard.
I forgive the voters. Their vote won’t make a difference to the world. So why waste time thinking about policy impacts?
But reporters are a different kettle of fish.
They spend their lives reporting politics. It’s their job. You would think they would have a basic grasp of the difference between good policy and bad policy, and some understanding of how policies impact society.
They talk and write as if they do. Turns out they don’t.
They don’t have a clue.