Over the last year, the Hobson’s Pledge Trust has been promoting the message that New Zealanders are one people, with equal rights to live in this land – not two people, Maori and “the rest”, as successive governments have asked us to believe. Over the last month or so, with the upcoming election in mind, we have been urging people to “use your vote to end National’s race-based policies”. Not surprisingly, people have asked: how?
First let me explain why voting National won’t end the race-based policies which have been increasingly built into central and local government practice in recent years.
National Supporters Deceived
It’s true that the National Party’s constitution has a statement of the party’s values which includes an explicit commitment to equal citizenship. It’s true that when Mr English was Leader of the Opposition he gave a lengthy speech explaining why having a “single standard of citizenship” was the only way forward for New Zealand. And that in 2003 he committed a future National Government to scrapping Maori electorates, as the Royal Commission on the Electoral System had recommended back in 1986 when MMP was first mooted. It’s true that when I was Leader of the National Party, I too made “one law for all” a fundamental plank in the Party’s platform. And that John Key in 2008 also committed a future National Government to scrapping Maori electorates.
But tragically for New Zealand, in coalition with the Maori Party the National Party has gone seriously off the rails in this policy area – ratifying the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (which was so extreme that even Helen Clark’s Government had declined to sign it); establishing the rights of iwi, hapu or whanau to claim a customary marine title over the foreshore and seabed out to 22 nautical miles (including rights to ownership of a range of minerals which might be discovered); establishing the Independent Maori Statutory Board in Auckland, made up of unelected tribal members subsequently given voting rights on most Auckland Council committees; greatly extending the obligation on local governments throughout the country to consult with tribal groups, and in some areas requiring unelected tribal appointees to be appointed to regional council committees; making no attempt at all to get rid of Maori electorates; entering into discussions with tribal groups over their alleged ownership rights over fresh water, despite assuring the public that “nobody owns water”; making no attempt to block the Education Council foisting a narrow “bicultural” focus on the entire school system; and so on.
The National Party seems to have embraced the dogma that the Treaty of Waitangi created a “partnership” between those with a Maori ancestor (always with ancestors of other ethnicities too of course) and those without, despite there being not the slightest mention of partnership in the Treaty itself. On the contrary, the Treaty makes it abundantly clear that the chiefs ceded sovereignty to the British Crown, that the Crown in turn guaranteed the property rights of the chiefs, and that henceforth all New Zealanders had “the rights and privileges of British subjects”. It was an extraordinarily enlightened document for its time, but it certainly didn’t create a partnership nor the basis for regarding New Zealand as made up of two eternally distinct groups based on ethnicity.
Well, if not National, which party offers the best chance of ending the dangerous path we’re on?
A Deadly Combination
The Labour Party is committed to the retention of the Maori electorates, despite the recommendation of the Royal Commission and the fact that there has been absolutely no logic in the retention of these electorates since all adults got the vote in 1893. The Party is also strongly supportive of the education system recognizing Maori as tangata whenua, wants the Maori language taught in all secondary schools, and recently voted to support a Bill sponsored by the Green Party which would have removed the right of citizens to call for a poll if their local council wanted to set up Maori wards.
And indeed, the fact that a Labour-led Government would almost inevitably include the Greens is an important argument against voting Labour if one wants to see an end to the division of New Zealand into two ethnic groups – Maori and the rest of us – because the Greens are committed to extensive race-based policy, including the compulsory teaching of te reo from primary school onwards, Maori wards at local government level, the retention of the Maori electorates, making the Treaty of Waitangi a fundamental constitutional document, self-determination of Maori communities (whatever that means in the 21st century), Maori spiritual treasures to be elevated and celebrated, and much more.
Small but Forceful
Of the very small parties, the Maori Party is of course deeply committed to the barmy notion that government should be trying to build a society (and even government) of two different groups – those with a Maori ancestor on the one hand and all the rest of us (213 ethnic groups in the 2013 census) on the other. This is the party which must carry much of the responsibility for leading the National Party so far from its roots.
ACT has long had a strong commitment to “one law for all”, and from time to time David Seymour recalls that. He spoke against the Government’s moves to embed onerous consultation requirements with tribal groups in the latest amendment of the RMA and, like National, opposed the attempt by the Greens to abolish the requirement to have a poll of ratepayers if a local council wanted to establish Maori wards. But he gives the impression that this is not a policy priority for him.
The one-man party of United Future and the new TOP party both support separatist policies, with the latter’s Gareth Morgan pushing dual sovereignty very hard, even advocating the establishment of an Upper House of Parliament with half its members being Maori.
Consistent Message on Racial Equality
Which leaves only New Zealand First. Mr Peters has a long record of talking about the importance of New Zealand’s being a colour-blind state dating back to the late eighties when he was in the National Party. A decade ago, NZ First had a Bill drawn from the ballot which, had it been passed, would have removed all reference to the so-called “principles of the Treaty” from legislation.
Early last year, Mr Peters addressed the Orewa Rotary Club and offered the National Party his party’s votes for meaningful reform of the RMA, but only on condition that all racial preference was removed from the Bill then going through Parliament. He and his colleagues have repeated that pledge on numerous occasions since.
A few months ago, in a speech in Paihia, Mr Peters ridiculed the notion that the Treaty created a “partnership” between Maori and the Crown. Very recently, NZ First joined National and ACT to defeat the Greens’ Bill which would have abolished the need to have a poll of ratepayers if a local council wanted to establish Maori wards.
And of course, as the election campaign began, Mr Peters said that he would make holding a binding referendum on the continuation of the Maori electorates, in which all New Zealanders would have a vote, a “bottom line” in any post-election negotiations to form a government.
Ah yes, but can Winston be trusted? Fair question – he didn’t use his bargaining power to move New Zealand closer to a colour-blind society when he could have done so in 1996 or 2005. Is his commitment to a colour-blind society just a cynical ploy to win votes to be quickly forgotten on 24 September? Isn’t his new recruit, Shane Jones, on record as saying any referendum on the Maori seats should be restricted to those on the Maori roll (which he himself is on)?
Nobody knows for certain how Mr Peters will use his bargaining power, assuming (as seems likely at the time of writing) that he has some when final votes are counted. But the Party has some other high achievers, like Ron Mark also with Maori blood, who firmly believe in racial equality. So on balance, I think NZ First is the best chance we’ve got of moving New Zealand to a society where ancestry is absolutely irrelevant to our legal rights.
I haven’t spoken to Mr Peters since April last year. But that month, I made a submission to the select committee considering the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill. I asked the committee why National would not do a deal with NZ First to reform the RMA since Mr Peters had made it clear that he favoured far-reaching RMA reform provided that all racial preferences were dropped from the Bill.
After I had finished my testimony, I left the committee room. Mr Peters followed me out and suggested coffee. I said, “you know Winston, this racial preference thing is the most important issue facing the Government right now”. He corrected me: “No,” he said, “it’s the most important issue facing the country right now.” I believe he meant it.
Don Brash is one of the two spokespeople for the Hobson’s Pledge Trust, the other being Casey Costello, a woman of Ngapuhi and Anglo-Irish ancestry. The Trust has been urging New Zealanders to honour the pledge which Governor Hobson made to each chief as they signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, namely that “we are now one people” – not two people divided by when our ancestors came to New Zealand, but one people, with equal rights to live in this land.
First published Elocal 1 September 2017