So much has happened since I wrote my last column for the February edition that it’s hard to know what on Earth to focus on both internationally and here in New Zealand.
In the February edition, I expressed the view that Donald Trump was the worst US President in my lifetime. And since then we have seen Trump’s impeachment, for the second time, this time for inciting the insurrection of 6 January. The Senate voted 57 votes to 43 to find him guilty, but fell short of the two-thirds majority required to convict him.
But what an extraordinary spectacle. There can be little doubt that those who watched the evidence presented against him were convinced he was guilty as charged, even though on a legal technicality (or for lack of courage) they failed to vote to convict citizen Donald Trump.
The Republican Party now faces some very serious challenges. It is clear that many millions of Americans still believe Trump’s lies, and are furious with elected Republicans – seven Senators and ten members of the House of Representatives – who voted against the former President. But the saner people, like Senator McConnell, and former Republican darlings like the former US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, face a considerable fight. There is even talk of the Republican Party splitting.
Meanwhile, back in New Zealand, the Government has decided that, since it is clear from almost every poll that voters do not want race-based wards in local government, they will just change the law under urgency to prevent ratepayers having the right to demand a vote on the issue.
In 2001, a Labour Government of which Nanaia Mahuta was a member passed a law dealing with local government which provided that councils could do a number of things without reference to ratepayers, but that if they wished to change the voting system (say, from First Past the Post to some other system) or introduce race-based wards, ratepayers could demand a referendum on such action if at least 5% of ratepayers demanded it.
Over the years since that time, only one council which voted to create Maori wards was not challenged by ratepayers (Waikato Regional Council) and only one council survived a challenge by ratepayers (Wairoa District Council). In every other case where a council decided to create race-based wards, ratepayers have succeeded in getting a referendum and those referenda have overwhelmingly rejected race-based wards. The vast majority of New Zealanders do not want a bar of race-based representation – and roughly half of Maori New Zealanders don’t want it either, as reflected by their being on the general roll, not the Maori roll.
Not good enough for Nanaia Mahuta, so she decided early in February that the law needed to be changed under urgency so that ratepayers would no longer have the right to object to race-based wards. Despite the fact that there was no whisper of this law change in Labour’s election manifesto just a few months ago, and despite the fact that in nine districts around the country signatures were already being gathered to force a referendum on the issue, a Bill was introduced under urgency to override the referenda – and with just 29 hours in which to make a submission on the proposed legislation.
But surely, it’s important that the “Maori voice” is heard? Well, the Maori voice is no more important than the Asian voice, or the European voice, or the Pacific Island voice, and in any case every piece of law relating to local government already requires councils to give special heed to the concerns of part-Maori New Zealanders in their districts. Moreover, in 2019, the latest year for which data is available, 13.5% of all elected local government officials were Maori – closely corresponding to the 13.7% of New Zealanders who, according to the 2018, identified as Maori. There was simply no justification for changing the law.
I also commented in the January issue about the increasing use of Maori words when there are perfectly adequate English equivalents, and noted in particular the increasing use of Aotearoa as the name for our country. A couple of weeks ago, the draft report of the Climate Change Commission was released and in its 180 pages, the words “New Zealand” do not appear at all. Everywhere one might expect to see “New Zealand”, Aotearoa appears instead – though “New Zealanders” does get a very occasional mention.
Finally, a couple of issues back, I commented on the outrageous price of houses in New Zealand and the utter failure of the Government to do anything about it. In the middle of February, the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand announced the result of their survey of January house sales. The survey showed that the median price of an Auckland house had risen by 17.7% over the year to January, to an eye-watering $1 million; while outside Auckland the median house price had risen by 20.4% to $602,000. And to judge from their total inaction on what is the most serious source of social distress in the country today, the Government doesn’t care at all. Indeed, both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance have admitted that they would like house prices to keep rising “though more slowly”. Scandalous.
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.