2005: New Zealand’s Right Wing Populist Moment

The Hollow Men

Directed by Alister Barry (2008)

Film Review

This documentary, based on leaked emails cited in Nicky Hager’s 2006 book of the same name, the delivers a blow-by-blow account of New Zealand’s 2005 election campaign. In that year, pro-corporate New Right champion Don Brash nearly became prime minister via shrewd “populist” anti-Maori, anti-welfare, Islamaphobic campaign messaging

The film mainly focuses on Australian political consultant Bryan Sinclair (whom Brash hired as a personal assistant) and Australian social research strategy group Crosby Texter (which adapted the shrewd negative campaigning style of Bush advisor Karl Rove) in crafting deceptive political messaging to make Brash’s his pro-corporate ultra-right wing leanings appear mainstream.

The infamous Orewa speech Brash delivered in January 2004 was based on a cynical  Crosby Texter strategy to boost poll ratings by tapping into white resentment towards Maori.

In a second Orewa speech in January 2005, Brash blamed New Zealand’s “entrenched” social welfare system for increasing crime and domestic violence. Because National had already won over all the country’s rightwing biggots, it produced only a slight improvement in National’s polling.

Likewise a July 2005 Whanganui speech aimed at stoking Islamophobic sentiments produced only a slight temporary polling blip

The two most egregious events of Brash’s 2005 campaign were a Washington DC visit in which he promised a National campaign victory would see New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy “gone by lunchtime” – and the secret collaboration between the Brash campaign and the NZ Christian fundamentalist group Exclusive Brethren. Although their religious beliefs forbids them to vote, Exclusive Brethren are allowed to campaign and lobby for parties with a compatible moral perspective.* In 2005, they spent nearly $2 million on leaflets attacking both Labour and the Green Party. Because the leaflets made no mention of the National Party, this expenditure fell outside the party’s electoral spending cap.**

Despite polling six percentage points above Labour the day before the election, National ultimately lost to Labour by one seat.

Nicky Hager published The Hollow Men on November 21, 2006. Nine days later Brash resigned as National party leader.


*The Exclusive Brethren opposed Labour’s proposed civil partnership legislation (because it extended to gay couples). Although Don Brash initially supported it, he reversed himself on learning it could help him win votes among Christian fundamentalist.

**Brash’s campaign team rewrote the leaflet to ensure it didn’t violate NZ electoral law.

Public library members can view the film free at https://beamafilm.com

1 thought on “2005: New Zealand’s Right Wing Populist Moment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.