A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

Speech by Colin James to the Polytechnics Association conference, 2 November 2001

Here we are in “knowledge city” in the decade in which we are supposed to become the “knowledge society”, catch the “knowledge wave” to the “knowledge economy” and thereby fashion the “knowledge nation”. It’s a fad in our sorts of countries. And it’s your business. read more

An ethnic accident

Colin James’s paper to Stout Centre/IPS conference on Australia-New Zealand, 27 October 2001

This is the tabloid slot. After two days of erudition, a journalist — and did not Professor Mackay admonish us on Thursday evening that nothing disturbs the “enduring stability” of the Australasian relationship except the “popular” press? I stray into discord at my peril. read more

The government after 2002

Speech to Importers Institute conference, 11 October 2001

It’s tempting in the light of this week’s coup activity to start with the small picture whither Bill English and the National party. But actually Bill is a good reason to start with the big picture, for reasons I will explain later. read more

"Left" and "right"

Speech to the Wellington Rotary Club, 20 August 2001

I have for some years been fascinated by the fact that the National party dominated governments for the second half of the twentieth century. Political scientists by and large ignore this and expend great energy on Labour — which was a failure in that half-century. read more

Hard choices

Colin James’s summing up at the Knowledge Wave conference, 3 August 2001

It falls to me to offer a summing-up. I shall do that as an intrigued bystander — and a fairly detached one.

I am a bystander because I am a journalist. A journalist’s duty is to be sceptical. That, as we learnt last night, is not well understood by scientists, though it should be. read more

Catching the tides of history

Speech to the National Party Epsom electorate’s “newsmakers” breakfast, 29 June 2001

My first point is that I am not a newsmaker, as the title of these breakfasts suggests. I am a news watcher.

My interest is not in what or who is right or wrong but in what will stay the distance or fall by the wayside. Those who have political or economic agendas often think I am for or against them or their position — when actually I am testing them or their policies against the public’s judgment. I am, in the famous words of Sir Walter Nash, “neither for nor against”. I am a news watcher, as dispassionate as I can be, not a newsmaker, passionately arguing a case or pushing an interest. What I think or feel, even what I conclude after analysis is the “right” policy course or person for the job, is irrelevant to readers. What I can relevantly do is clarify for readers what the actors in the deadly political game think or feel. read more

"Freedom" and "security"

Speech to National party northern region conference, 5 May 2001

My role, as I understand it, is to talk about the big social and political picture, where we are and where we as a country and society might go. What I am about to say, therefore, could be said to a Labour conference without a word changed. read more

After the America's Cup is gone

Launch of the Auckland Regional Council’s strategic plan, 4 April 2001

I am an inmate of Wellington who thinks Auckland is better. Auckland is warmer. Its skies are more open. It has Waiheke Island just offshore and I have a shack there and the wine is outstanding. Its harbour is surely one of the finest water playgrounds in the world. read more

The Treaty of Waitangi in the twenty-first century

Te Papa Tongarewa forum, 6 February 2001

Between the 1840s and the 1870s the Treaty of Waitangi went from a solemn pact to a “simple nullity” in the public life of the colony, at most thereafter occasionally invoked simply for ceremonial purposes. In the 1980s the Treaty was revived as an instrument for settling wrongs and reshaping some decision-making. There is nothing surer than that in this new century the Treaty’s role will change again, probably substantially. read more

A new paradigm for local government?

Local Government Conference; Christchurch, 10 July 2000

Let’s start with subsidiarity. Only the French could have concocted such a barbaric word; only Anglo-Saxons could have adopted it with enthusiasm.

Subsidiarity means taking decisions and carrying out actions at the lowest practicable level of government. This concept is a reaction against the twentieth century centralisation of power and activity in the hands of sprawling central governments. New Zealand did not escape that centralising tendency: indeed, we made centralisation an art form. And now we are not escaping the decentralising reaction. read more