A grim atlas guides NZ’s right-wing politics

Feb 22, 2024
Flags flutter in front New Zealand Government buildings, House neo classical style House of Parliament with Beehive behind.

The coalition that took power in New Zealand late in 2023, after a campaign centred on attacking the country’s founding Waitangi Treaty, has been exposed as hosting considerable Atlas Network infiltration.

One of the key researchers into the Atlas Network, Lee Fang, observed that it has “reshaped political power in country after country.” In America, every Republican president since Ronald Reagan has begun office with a Roadmap provided by the Heritage Foundation, primary Atlas Network partner. The “Mandate” for 2025 puts America on a hard path to fascism should a Republican win in November. Britain’s economy and standing have been savaged by Atlas partners’ impacts on the Tories. In New Zealand, the recently-elected rightwing coalition government is aping the new “Atlas president” of Argentina, aiming to privatise national assets, but is increasingly also imitating Atlas strategies recently seen in Australia, inflaming racial tensions and harming the wellbeing of Māori people.

Dr Jeremy Walker called Australia’s attention to the local Atlas partner organisations’ impact on the Voice to Parliament referendum and is now helping draw together the focus on the New Zealand partners’ very similar distortion of their national debate. There is a deep racism at the heart of this ultra-free market ideology that has licensed the international right to exploit resources and people around the globe untrammelled, largely in American corporate interest, but more broadly for any corporation or allied sector big enough to be a contender. (They do not, by contrast, fight for the renewable energy sector’s interests, as a competitor to their dominant fossil fuel donors; this shapes their climate crisis denial and delay, and colours their loathing of First People’s capacity to interfere with their profits by environment-driven protest. A sense of Western Civilisation as the apex of human existence and deep disdain for non-Western cultures also pervade the network.)

The coalition that took power in NZ late in 2023, after a campaign centred on attacking the country’s founding Waitangi Treaty, has considerable Atlas infiltration. There is concern about Atlas fossil fuel and associated tobacco interests perverting policy in parliament. The government has promised to repeal Jacinda Ardern’s ban on offshore gas and fuel exploration, plans to sell water to private interests, not to mention planning to enable the selling off of “sensitive” NZ land and assets to foreign corporations, just as Argentinian Milei is intending.

One of the government members, the Act Party, began its existence as an Atlas partner thinktank and continues that close connection. It was founded by former parliamentarian Denis Quigley with two members of the Mont Pelerin Society, the Atlas Network’s inner sanctum. One, Roger Douglas, was responsible for Rogernomics in NZ which has been described as a “right wing coup” that worked to “dismantle the welfare state.” The other, Alan Gibbs, who has been characterised as the godfather of the party, and a major funder, argued Act ought to campaign for government to privatise “all the schools, all the hospitals and all the roads.” This may not be surprising since he made much of his fortune out of the privatisation of NZ’s telecommunications.

The Act Party is currently led by David Seymour who functions as a co-deputy prime minister in the government. He has worked almost his entire adult life within Atlas partner bodies in Canada and boasts a (micro) MBA dispensed by the Network. In Seymour’s 2021 Waitangi Day speech, he acknowledged his “old friends at the Atlas Network.” In light of that, his recent disdainful and absolute dismissal of the party’s connection to Atlas in an interview was telling: he clearly felt the association was damaging enough to lie outright.

Seymour is also deeply antagonistic to policies dedicated to repairing the disadvantage suffered by Māori people, disingenuously describing provisions that work cooperatively with Māori people as the “dismantling of democracy.” He appears antagonistic to Māori culture.

Another Atlas partner that has been key to distorting debate in NZ is the Taxpayer Union (TPU) which is emblematic of the production of metastasising bodies central to the Atlas strategy. Its co-founder and executive director is another graduate of the Atlas (micro) MBA program. Jordan Williams (currently “capo di tutti capi” of the Atlas global alliance of anti-tax junktanks) laughably depicts Atlas as a benign “club of like-minded think tanks.” He created, however, a body called the Campaign Company which helped radicalise the established farmer power base in NZ politics, planting sponsored material in the media. Williams claimed to grant the farmers “world-class campaign tools and digital strategies.” He also co-founded the Free Speech Union (FSU), which is unsurprisingly fighting regulation of the damaging impact of internet disinformation as well as fostering culture war battles.

A further spin-off of the bodies illustrates the increasing ugliness of the populist strategies. A former Act Party MP has founded the New Zealand Centre for Political Research which is fomenting civic division against Māori interests, including placing hate-mongering advertisements in the media.

The Act Party (alongside the populist New Zealand First party) is at the heart of the coalition government’s intention to destroy NZ’s admirable efforts to promote Māori interests for the betterment of the commonwealth, including the co-governance innovation. Efforts to undo disadvantage and programs that have promoted the distinctive NZ democratic experiment are set to be dismantled. A “massive unravelling” of Māori rights is at stake.

Lord Hannan (one of Boris Johnson’s elevations to the peerage, and a junktank creature) recently spoke in NZ, welcoming “all the coalition partners around this table” to hear his oration. There he celebrated the small percentage of GDP that NZ’s government spends on its people, cheering on the TPU’s power. He also disdained the “tribalism” that has dictated recognition of First Peoples’ suffering. There is grand (but unsurprising) irony in a graduate of three of Britain’s preeminent educational institutions dictating that humanity’s essential equality is all that can be considered when devising policy, particularly in settler-colonial nations.

Amusingly the weightier debunking of the Atlas connections has come from: Chris Trotter, formerly centre left, now a council member of Williams’ FSU; Eric Crampton, chief economist of the New Zealand Initiative, NZ’s leading Atlas partner and Sean Plunkett whose “anti-woke” vanity media platform, Platform, is plutocrat funded and regularly platforms the NZI talking heads.

While Atlas’s system largely functions to connect and train operatives, as well as acting as an extension of American foreign policy, this modest-seeming program must not be ignored. We have a handful of years to achieve a monumental shift from fossil fuel towards renewable energy: Atlas partners aim to ensure this does not take place.

And Atlas partners will push us at each other’s throats while we procrastinate.

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