Six months ago, I wrote a column about the five local referenda which defeated the attempt of five district councils to foist separate Maori wards on their districts. And about the open letter which Local Government New Zealand had written to the Government urging it to change the law so that citizens would no longer have the right to have a say on this issue. I decided to give the whole “Maori issue” a rest for the balance of the year.
But a number of things have made me change my mind.
First, we now have a Bill before Parliament which would “entrench” the separate Maori electorates, meaning that, if passed, it would require a 75% majority of all Members of Parliament to scrap those electorates, almost certainly guaranteeing their continued existence for all time.
This is nuts. The Maori electorates were originally established for just five years in 1867 and gave all Maori men the vote, even if they owned no property. They should have been scrapped in 1879 when all men got the vote, or in 1893 when all adults got the vote. The Royal Commission on the Electoral System recommended in 1986 that they should be scrapped if New Zealand adopted MMP, and of course we’ve now had MMP for more than 20 years. A quarter of all Members of Parliament now have Maori ancestry, proving beyond a shadow of doubt that Maori are as capable of being elected to Parliament as anybody else. To suggest otherwise is patronising nonsense. It is surely significant that almost half of all New Zealanders who identify as Maori are on the general electoral roll, not the Maori roll.
Second, there is another Bill in the works, sponsored by the Canterbury Regional Council, which would provide that there could be two appointed members of the Council from the local tribe, Ngai Tahu. That would mean appointed – not elected – tribal members making up some 12.5% of the Council, even though the 2013 census suggested that all Maori made up only 8% of Canterbury’s population, and one must assume that some of that 8% would not be Ngai Tahu. But why should there be any entitlement for tribal appointees on the Council? No other ethnic group has such an entitlement, and there is absolutely no suggestion in the Treaty that those who chance to have a Maori ancestor (always with ancestors of many other ethnicities also of course) should have an entitlement to local government representation in perpetuity.
Third, there are some 600 claims by tribal groups for rights over the coastline, covering literally the entire coastline. Indeed, two of the claims are themselves for the entire coastline. The National Government assured the public, when the Marine and Coastal Area Act was passed in 2011, that it would be extremely rare for any claims to succeed because claimants would have to establish that they had had continuous and largely exclusive use of the relevant piece of coastline since 1840. And then they offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to each claimant to help them mount their claim. No financial assistance is offered to those who want to object to those claims and we have already seen instances of some very aggressive behaviour against those who “trespass” anywhere near coastal areas claimed by some Maori, even before claims have been settled.
Fourth, the Government has made a big effort to recruit more teachers overseas to fill vacancies in our schools, only to have the teachers’ union argue that overseas teachers will need to undertake a year-long course in cultural competence to prepare them for teaching in New Zealand – which means, they will require indoctrination in Treaty mythology before they can be trusted in front of our children to teach maths or English or science. This again is nuts.
Recently, I came across a document issued by the Ministry of Justice entitled “Crown/Maori Relations: Summary of Submissions”. It summarised the reactions which Kelvin Davis, the Minister with responsibility for Crown/Maori relations, had got in touring the country to get views on how people saw the Crown/Maori relationship. But as Mr Davis made clear in the Foreword to the document he hadn’t really made any attempt at all to get the views of those without a Maori ancestor on this issue. He had, he said, had “20 hui in centres across the country and held 12 smaller focus group hui, engaging with around 1600 people kanohi ki te kanohi” (whatever that means).
He then claimed that the overwhelming feedback from “New Zealanders” was that they “do value the Crown/Maori relationship”. He expressed the hope that the relationship between Maori and the Crown could move from one focused on historical grievance to one focused on “true partnership”.
In the summary of the submissions it was noted that the “key theme of feedback was that the Crown/Maori relationship is underpinned and guided by the Treaty of Waitangi, which set up a partnership of equals”. This is, of course, unmitigated garbage, though no doubt certain Maori radicals and their Pakeha allies wish it were not.
There is absolutely nothing in the Treaty of Waitangi – in any version of it – suggesting that a relationship in the nature of a partnership of equals was envisaged by any of those who signed the document in 1840, and politicians as different as David Lange, Bill English and Winston Peters have made that point repeatedly. The idea that Queen Victoria saw herself entering into partnership with a group of mainly illiterate tribal chiefs, almost none of whom she had ever met, is quite literally absurd.
Finally, though I hesitate to mention the Maori language again after all the trouble I got into earlier in the year when I complained about the increasing use of Maori on Radio New Zealand, I find it irksome – no, actually I find it rude – that at almost every occasion these days hosts feel obliged to invite some Maori man (always a man) to say a few sentences in Maori at the beginning of the affair, even though often there is not a single person in the audience who understands what is being said. I am trying to pluck up courage to call out: “Excuse me Mr Chairman, could we have a translation please?”
Dr Don Brash is an economist and former Member of Parliament. He served as the Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand from 1988 to 2002.