Key’s ‘Free Thinkers’ on Security Risk reveals his Distrust in Academics.

This morning a “group of free thinkers” were announced that will be advising the PM on security threats to New Zealand. The group will be reporting to the ODESC group within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Unfortunately, the PM hasn’t included any university-based experts on global security.

Some of the appointments make sense. You would expect Ian Fletcher, head of the Government Communications Security Bureau, to be on the list. Likewise, Sir Peter Gluckman, PM’s chief science adviser and Lt Gen Rhys Jones, former Chief of Defence Force. There’s also a lawyer, Richard Forgan, consulting partner at PWC.

Then it gets a more problematic.  The remainder of appointments are people with high level business acumen and management expertise:

Therese Walsh – chief executive of the 2015 Cricket World Cup, Karen Poutasi – chief executive of NZQA, Keith Turner – chairman of Fisher and Paykel, Hugh Cowan – Earthquake Commission executive, Helen Anderson – director of Dairy NZ, Niwa and Branz, Murray Sherwin – chairman of the Productivity Commission.

Now sure, global security risks threaten business and pose an economic risk. If three of the appointments were held by business people with strong strategic thinking, fair enough.

But where are the academic experts who spend their whole working lives researching global security?  Global security is incredibly complex because of the range of players (individuals,groups, governments, corporations); new and evolving technologies; the potential impact of threats (economic, but also to human life, to the environment, to our food security); and the potential impact of any counter-measures (i.e. escalation).

At the very least, it should include thinkers like Associate Professor Dr. David Capie, from the Centre for Strategic Studies at Victoria University, whose research area is conflict and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

The irony for me is that ‘free thinking’ is precisely the role the university is meant to have in society, to act as social conscience because of their ability to be removed from government or business interests. At the same time as Key’s government is following a marketplace agenda with our tertiary institutions that is decimating education, this advisory group shows the need for ‘free thinkers’.

4 thoughts on “Key’s ‘Free Thinkers’ on Security Risk reveals his Distrust in Academics.

    1. I know!! It’s mind-boggling. My sense of it is that he sees business people as not tied down by the public sector and therefore able to “think outside of the box”. It seems like a cliche about entrepreneurship, being a guy with “big ideas”. All of this lacks knowledge about how strategic and analytical thinking is actually developed in universities. I think that it’s also a case of Key wanting thinkers that think like him; i.e. fuelled by major consideration of financial risk (and maybe not humanitarian concerns).

  1. In addition to Dr. David Capie, Tulia, I would add Assoc. Prof. (soon to be full Prof.) Steven Ratuva who received a $600k+ Marsden grant to study Pacific people’s understanding of security. But that most probably would be the kind of thinking that would be far too outside of the box for this government. Not surprising that all the appointments are pakeha, though. A lot of ‘security’ discourse is really about the privileging of some people’s fears over others, as Cynthia Enloe might put it. Thanks for your blog. T-

    1. Thanks for your insightful comment, T. Steve Ratuva would be fantastic. His Marsden project sounds fascinating. It’s frustrating because to my mind the inclusion of academics working on security issues onto a consultative group is a really low bar to set. This level of criticism should really be raised by mainstream media. I agree with you about ‘security’ discourse privileging some people’s fear over others, and imagine that we might be in for more mobilisation of dominant security discourses into sites like ‘border control’ and policing that enable micro-aggressions against ‘Others’.

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