The Kakapo Syndrome


Rob Hosking at NBR describes the Kakapo Syndrome of the government.

But first you need to know a bit about the Kakapo so you can understand his analogy.

Firstly, it finds it extremely difficult to actually find a partner. The kakapo in fact does everything it can to make it difficult to attract a partner: When it is on the kakapo equivalent of “the pull,” it’s inclined to stand at the top of an excessively tall crag of rock in a particularly remote spot and send its mating call booming across the forest tops in the hope some nice, suitable, obliging and above all patient partner will hear it and make the difficult way over the primordial forest so they can enter into the kakapo equivalent of connubial bliss.

Now, I’m not a specialist in New Zealand’s native fauna, and I’m relying on my memory from a talk someone gave at the Wellington Tramping and Mountaineering Club some years ago, but I seem to recall the kakapo also does this at times inconvenient to other kakapo, given that it has to do a bit of a mating dance against other males.

It may also exude a musk that actually repels most other kakapo, though I’m not sure about this.

If you need to know, google it.

The point is the kakapo makes itself difficult to love.

It may not be blessed with a huge choice of partners, and one suspects the kakapo must’ve lived in a state of almost permanent sexual frustration but it had one advantage that other creatures seldom have – it lacks natural predators.

So, the theory goes, Mother Nature, in her infinite if customarily coldhearted wisdom, evolved a way so the kakapo wouldn’t breed in the manner later made famous by the Flopsy Mopsy Cottontail and Peters of the animal kingdom.

That lack of breeding capacity, that evolutionary turning of the kakapo into a kind of nerd bird, repelling most partners, counterbalanced the absence of anything much that would effectively counter the kakapo’s place in the food chain.

So when a bunch of predators turned up in the 19th  century, the kakapo had a problem. No natural defences, not used to being attacked effectively:  It was very nearly wiped out.

Ok, got that? Now how does that relate to National’s cabinet?

I first joined the coin the term “the Kakapo Syndrome” not long after the last Labour government was caught completely flat-footed by then National leader Don Brash’s first Orewa speech.

There is now an element of the Kakapo syndrome about the government. A number of its ministers and staffers have taken their position in the political food chain for granted for so long they are responding very poorly to new challenges – or to old challenges ignored for too long, such as the housing issue.

Lacking an effective opposition for so long, its ministers are inclined to fall back on defences that have worked in the past against much less effective enemies.

The responses that have worked against less powerful threats – which usually involve pointing to something the last Labour government did or did not do – are inadequate, nearly 10 years on from that government.

As time goes on pointing out what the last government did doesn’t really work and is cringeworthy. But Rob Hosking is right in that there is a strong element of arrogance, bred by an ineffective and dopey opposition led by people with tits for hands.

There are some differences to the Clark government’s kakapo syndrome. At the moment, the threat comes more from events – again, mostly housing related – rather than from a coherent and credible alternative prime minister and government.

But ministers, from the prime minister on down, now have to make a major and possibly difficult adjustment.

The government is no longer a popular one. It does not mean it is about to be defeated – New Zealanders frequently, in fact most of the time, re-elect governments they do not actually like very much.

But ministers – again, starting with the prime minister – have become used to being popular, and few ministers in the current administration have the experience of being members of an unpopular government (only Bill English, Murray McCully and Nick Smith and, as a backbencher, Gerry Brownlee, have that background).

It is going to be a more difficult transition for some than for others. The tendency to either lash out in unnecessarily personal fashion (a la the leaking by Paula Bennett’s office of information about the head of the Te Puea marae last week) or to dismiss criticism with an equivalent of Michael Cullen’s infamous ‘We Won, You Lost, Eat that!’ Is taking hold.

And it’s the sort of thing voters will punish. Not, perhaps, with conviction, at least not yet.

But with an even worse punishment: making them have to govern with Winston Peters.

Very wise words, which I suspect will fall on those cloth ears of arrogant ministers.

 – NBR

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.