Tuesday, January 30, 2024

David Farrar: Taxpayer funded conspiracy theories

Josh Drummond shares his conspiracy theory about how there is somehow a link between the No campaign on The Australian voice referendum, and various groups in NZ.

Now I have no problem with Joshua shouting out his conspiracy theory to anyone who will listen. He's wrong in every aspect, but he is entitled to be wrong. But what has happened is taxpayers have paid for his conspiracy theory to be turned into a documentary that screened on the state television broadcaster. So we have taxpayer funded misinformation.

Joshua's conspiracy theory is nothing new. There have been versions of it for 20 – 30 years. Sometimes it is the Mont Pelerin Society who is the evil overlord, but now it is the Atlas Foundation.

Life is too short for me to rebut every sentence of his theory, but here's just a few.

The short version is that there are a bunch of well-funded, right-wing, neoliberal influence and lobbying groups in New Zealand, who share links with similar groups overseas

Oh my God. There are groups in NZ who have links to other groups. Is he talking about Action Station getting funding from the Global Greens and OPEN. Of course not. What is mundane to almost everyone, becomes evil if it occurs on the right.

They are ostensibly independent groups, but they coordinate their activities, share resources, trade personnel, and — when you zoom out slightly — essentially work as one large body.

Now we have the fact that staff sometimes change jobs and employers. Yes an NZTU staffer went on to work at the NZ Initiative. This was not a sharing of resource. They poached him! Another NZTU staffer got picked by Business NZ. Others have gone in to work at DPMC, Reserve Bank etc. Does this mean the Reserve Bank works with NZTU? Well as NZTU savages them regularly, that would come as a surprise.

Two Green Party MPs now run Greenpeace and Forest & Bird. Is that a sharing of resource? Another worked for the Helen Clark Foundation. Is that a conspiracy? Or it is just that people interested in public policy tends to gets jobs in the same area?

In fact, several of the groups officially operate under the auspices of one giant neoliberal anthill organisation, called the Atlas Network

They don't operate under the auspices of Atlas anymore than Greenpeace operates under the auspices of the Global Climate Action Network. Joining an international grouping is again an absolutely mundane happening for any organisation.

Their modus operandi is to write stultifyingly dull papers, create model legislation, get pet MPs and parties elected, and incessantly insert their messaging into the public consciousness via the media.

Oh how evil – they write policy papers, draft legislation and communicate with the public. How dare they!

They consistently oppose both climate action and recognition of indigenous rights

The NZTU has long supported the Emissions Trading Scheme and even the inclusion of agriculture into it. The NZ Initiative has been a leading voice for why the ETS is the best policy for reducing greenhouse has emissions. Opposing bad climate policy is not the same as opposing all climate policy.

And the assertion about indigenous rights should be read as not supporting co-governance of public services, which is a very different issue.

Lobbyists and their ilk advance their agenda in the media through the following methods:
  1. Giving journalists their phone numbers and never failing, as I mention in the doco, to pick up when it rings, to deliver some variation on “the world's richest and most sociopathic people are right, actually.”
Now as you read Joshua's description of anyone on the right who disagrees with him, remember he was given a taxpayer funded documentary to convince people of his views. Very balanced eh.

Numerous examples include New Zealand Institute asset Luke Malpass waltzing into the job of political editor at Stuff, a position he wields with all the impartiality of a used car salesman

Numerous reporters have worked for organisations on the left. I recall some in the gallery who used to work for the ppta for example. So again it is only evil when a journalist has worked for a non-left organisation. Malpass incidentally was the opinion and features editor for The Australian Financial Review before being appointed to Stuff.

ex-National leader Simon Bridges failing into a podcast at Stuff

LOL. Simon's podcasts are as far removed from politics as you can get. They're actually really interesting as he is very good at getting famous NZers to talk about their lives. How this has anything to do with the a referendum on the Treaty, god knows.

long-time right-wing lobbyist Matthew Hooton getting a seemingly eternal opinionist gig at NZME; and his (current? former? I don't know, and neither do you, because the media outlets he appears on often don't deign to tell us) consigliere Ben Thomas, who rejoices in the lifetime appointment of Chief Migraine Officer on the spinoff's exhausting political podcast, Gone By Lunchtime.

Hooton being in the media is bad. Left wing lobbyists are fine. And last time I looked Ben Thomas actually worked for a lobbying firm owned by Jacinda's former chief of staff!

News media can also choose to identify when stories have been shopped to them by members of astroturf influence organisations like the Taxpayer's Union, or (more ideally) refuse to run their hit pieces.

Now again Josh is quite entitled to think media should not report on stories from any organisation he dislikes. That's freedom. But again I remind people, this is who got a taxpayer funded documentary – a guy who thinks organisations on the right should be banned by the media. He also repeats the lie that NZTU is some sort of astroturf organisation when it has over 200,000 supporters and is over 80% funded by small dollar donors. But hey facts should never get in the way.

Media should identify and label influence groups accurately: for example, identifying a spokesperson as being from the benign-sounding “New Zealand Institute” tells an audience nothing: labelling the New Zealand Institute (accurately) as a “neoliberal lobby group for ultra-free-market economics with representation from some of the biggest corporates in New Zealand on its board” tells audiences what they need to know.

I'd love it if all organisations had such descriptions. “Now we have a spokesperson for Tax Justice Aotearoa, an organisation that consists of four people in Wellington” or “A spokesperson for Greenpeace, a vigilante organisation run by a former Green Party co-leader”

Now back to Atlas, the so called mastermind behind the No vote in Australia. Let's ignore that the main no group in Australia isn't even a member of Atlas.

I'm one of two founders of NZTU. When we founded it, we hadn't even heard of Atlas. We discovered they exist some way down the track and their aim is to support groups that have a classical liberal outlook. They are a pretty small organisation as far as US groups go,. Their annual turnover is around US$20 million a year. Heritage Foundation has six times their revenue – just for US policy. So to fantasise that the global overlord is run on a budget smaller than the budget for some US house campaigns is farcical.

The impact of Atlas on NZTU policy and positions is basically zero. I can say this as someone who sat on the board for almost ten years. They are a great organisation, and occasionally some initiative NZTU has done wins an award by them and a small amount of funding – say $10,000 or so. Now this is less than 1% of NZTU turnover. Small dollar donors contribute (off memory) over $2 million a year to NZTU. There has never been a conversation where we say “Hey let's do this because Atlas might like it” just as I'm sure Action Station don't decide their priorities based on what they think will please George Soros.

There are deep seated conspiracy theorists on both the extreme right and left of politics. Those on the extreme right think the WEF and WHO actually run New Zealand. They are rightfully dismissed as cranks. Those on the extreme left think Atlas (or Mont Pelerin Society) run the centre-right in New Zealand, but rather than also being dismissed as cranks, they get taxpayer funding to promote their theories on the state broadcaster.

David Farrar runs Curia Market Research, a specialist opinion polling and research agency, and the popular Kiwiblog where this article was sourced. He previously worked in the Parliament for eight years, serving two National Party Prime Ministers and three Opposition Leaders.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article, well argued. Thanks.