Earlier this year, I wrote a column headed “The country is going mad”. I was wrong: we have already gone mad. I produce three pieces of evidence.
The first relates to the very widespread push in recent months to create Maori wards in local government: New Plymouth, Tauranga, Kaipara, Whangarei, Northland, Taupo, Gisborne, Ruapehu, Nelson and South Taranaki. In several of those areas, councils have tried to create Maori wards previously, only to have had them thrown out by huge majorities when ratepayers have forced a poll on the issue. Overwhelmingly, ratepayers to not want a bar of race-based representation. Too bad, councilors retort: you’re going to have it whether you want it or not, and to make sure of it we’re going to ask the Government to change the law so that ratepayers no longer have a say on the issue.
And amazingly, those who demand representation based on race claim that it is those who oppose such race-based representation who are the racists! But it is surely those who want councilors elected on a race-based franchise who are the real racists.
It is entirely unclear what would be gained by race-based representation, in a situation where all councilors must swear to serve all their ratepayers, where all ratepayers want much the same things from their local government (good roads, good water supply, local libraries, etc.), and where more and more Maori councilors are being elected even without race-based wards – 4.3% of local body councilors were Maori in 2004 and 10.1% in 2016 for example. In Parliament, Maori are “over-represented” relative to their share in the total population, and that would be true even if there were no Maori electorates. In the last term of Parliament, the Leader and Deputy Leader of National were Maori, the Leader and Deputy Leader of NZ First were Maori, the Deputy Leader of Labour was Maori, the co-Leader of the Greens was Maori, and even the Leader of ACT was Maori. Maori have shown again and again that they are every bit as capable of winning elected office as other New Zealanders, without the prop of race-based wards.
The second issue is the huge pressure to use more and more Maori words, especially in the public sector. Yes, te reo is an official language in New Zealand. And yes, because it is very important to some New Zealanders, I’ve always supported taxpayer funding of Maori-language radio, Maori-language TV, and the teaching of te reo to those who want to learn it. But let’s face it: te reo will never be the dominant language of New Zealand. A press statement from Statistics New Zealand last month advised that only one in six Maori could speak te reo with some degree of fluency, and since Maori make up only about one in six of our total population, that is likely to mean that only about 3% of our total population can speak it fluently.
And yet we have heavy doses of te reo on RNZ, more and more frequent references to New Zealand as Aotearoa (even though that was never the word used for New Zealand by early Maori), a commitment from the Transport Minister recently to have bilingual traffic signs throughout New Zealand by the end of this Government’s term, a claim from the New Zealand Maori Council that teaching te reo should be compulsory in our schools, a Government statement that all education providers should be using te reo every day, and Auckland Council using scarce ratepayer resources to have te reo used on the Auckland rail network (and in the elevators in the Council’s head office building).
Perhaps learning te reo would be a luxury we could treat ourselves to if our children were all getting first class education in the subjects which they will need to prosper in the modern world – like spoken and written English, like maths, like science. But tragically for our children, educational outcomes are gradually deteriorating: our average scores are declining as compared with other developed countries, and declining sharply compared with the countries of East Asia. We are being left behind, and that is perhaps especially true of too many Maori children. There is always an opportunity cost of teaching te reo in our schools: something else will have to be dropped from, or reduced in, the school curriculum
But third, and most worrying of all, we are rapidly seeing it accepted that the Treaty of Waitangi did not really involve Maori chiefs ceding sovereignty to the Queen, as the unambiguous words of Article I of the Treaty clearly state, but rather the formation of a “partnership” between those who have at least one Maori ancestor (along with ancestors of other ethnicities now of course) and the rest of us.
When questioned about the meaning of the Treaty at Waitangi on Waitangi Day in 2019, the Prime Minister admitted she didn’t really know what the first two Articles of the Treaty said, but “knew” they were about partnership.
So perhaps it is not surprising that we can see the Minister of Health promising to establish a separate Maori Health Agency, the Assistant Maori Children’s Commissioner demanding that Oranga Tamariki be controlled by Maori, and that special funding should be allocated for Maori health.
Nobody appeared to regard it as seditious when early in December one of the newly elected Maori Party MPs demanded the creation of a Maori Parliament, asserted that Maori own the water, and demanded that “a by Maori, for Maori, mokopuna Maori entity take the place of Oranga Tamariki” (though no doubt funded by the general taxpayer). He said it was no longer acceptable for the justice system “to lock our people up”, for the welfare system to “keep my people poor”, for the health system to “keep my people sick”, or for the education system to “keep my people dumb”.
Nor was there any objection recorded when the other newly elected Maori Party MP asserted that she stood in Parliament “as a descendant of a people who survived a holocaust, a genocide sponsored by this House and members of Parliament whose portraits still hang from the walls – members of this Parliament who sought our extermination and created legislation to achieve it”. This was of course a gross rewriting of history: yes, there was something akin to a holocaust in New Zealand, perpetrated between different Maori tribes years before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed when an estimated 40,000 Maori were slaughtered in inter-tribal warfare. Nothing remotely similar occurred after 1840.
Perhaps even more concerning was the way in which Kelvin Davis, the Minister in charge of Crown/Maori Relations, announced after he had conducted a series of hui with Maori groups all over the country in 2018 that he had heard many complaints from Maori that the Crown was making decisions without the agreement of Maori – as if it was obvious that the Crown should not be making decisions without getting the approval of Maori.
It is obviously crucial that any Government which wishes to get re-elected consults widely with the community, including Maori of course. But we are on exceedingly dangerous constitutional quick-sand if we concede to any group, ethnic or otherwise, a veto over the decisions of the duly elected government. As David Lange said 20 years ago:
“Democratic government can accommodate Maori political aspiration in many ways. It can allocate resources in ways which reflect the particular interests of Maori people. It can delegate authority, and allow the exercise of degrees of Maori autonomy. What it cannot do is acknowledge the existence of a separate sovereignty. As soon as it does that, it isn’t a democracy. We can have a democratic form of government or we can have indigenous sovereignty. They can’t coexist and we can’t have them both.”