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Dr Muriel Newman

Equality for all

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Next week the Waitangi Tribunal will be hearing the Maori Council’s claim for the ownership of New Zealand’s freshwater. To most people, water, like air, is part of a natural cycle and is regarded as a ‘common good’ –managed by the Crown on behalf of us all, through Regional Councils.

Once we would have been surprised and somewhat scathing of an attempt by any group to claim the ownership of water. Not so now. This claim for water is the iwi elite’s latest grab for public resources. It follows last year’s success in opening up the coast for claims by tribal corporations through the repeal of Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed.

However, these sorts of claims for public good resources trespass on the goodwill that some still have towards iwi. For decades, there has been a prevailing view that what’s good for iwi is good for all New Zealanders. It has led to a more relaxed public attitude towards the current round of historic Treaty of Waitangi settlements – in spite of most people realising that many of the claims are repeats of previous ‘full and final’ settlements. This attitude has been shaped by a belief that the proceeds of the settlements were being used for the benefit of all tribal members. However, time has exposed the reality that the settlement process has delivered a two-tier Maori society. At the top are some immensely rich and powerful iwi elite controlling $37 billion worth of assets. The bulk of Maori however, have received no benefit from the lucrative settlement deals – with many remaining shamefully poor and disenfranchised.

Not even the 1992 fisheries settlement, worth $170 million, resulted in the jobs for Maori that were being promised by iwi leaders at the time. The jobs from iwi controlled fishing quota have instead been contracted out to foreign vessels with foreign crews and offshore processing. 

This latest claim for public resources is of course orchestrated around iwi opposition to the partial privatisation of state owned assets. Maori Party MP Te Ureroa Flavell explained to Parliament, “Let me make it clear that we are strongly opposed to the removal of the four State Owned Enterprises from the SOE act and to the proposal to sell 49% of these important Crown assets until historical treaty settlements are concluded with all claimants who may wish to include these assets into their redress packages.”

In other words, the reason for their opposition is not that they want to preserve the assets for all New Zealanders, but that they want the assets for themselves, with tribal leaders standing to make massive gains from such settlements. 

Self-interest too was clearly the central factor in the Maori Party’s opposition to the Crafar farm deal. In January, co-leader Pita Sharples, strongly criticised the government’s approval of the sale to Chinese investors stating, “The Maori Party is absolutely against the sale of our land to overseas interests”.1

In the next breath however, it was revealed they were asking the government to bring in legislation that would give Maori the first right of refusal over any land sale to overseas interests: “Last August, we asked the Minister of Finance to introduce a regulation to direct the Overseas Investment Commission to check whether the seller had consulted with, and/or offered land to the appropriate iwi before offering it on the open market”.  In other words, their interest was for Maori privilege ahead of their concern for the national good.

Pita Sharples explained their opposition to the Chinese buyers: “Our view has always been that we must protect and preserve our land to keep it from falling into foreign ownership.   We do not believe selling off our land to offshore investors such as Shanghai Pengxin is an act of good faith in iwi as Treaty partners. Land is not just an economic asset to be exploited for maximum profit. Papatuanuku is the nurturer of all life, and her care must rest with people who are committed to her for all time. Today a great wrong has been done to New Zealanders. Our land is not just a commodity, it is a living, breathing part of our history, our culture, and our people. We just sold a piece of ourselves.”

Within a few months of making that statement Dr Sharples was ready to leave on a Maori-only junket to China. Marae Investigates asked him, “There’s been a huge back lash about the purchasing of the Crafar farms by Chinese entities and yet you are going to China is there any kind of conflict in your mind about going?” Dr Sharples replied, “The Maori Party is against the selling of land to people who don’t live here that’s all and it’s got nothing to do with Chinese or Americans or anything. If you want to buy land come and live here and work the land and be New Zealanders.” (It’s a shame Dr Sharples does not take the same view when it comes to Maori controlled fishing quota!)

On his return from China Dr Sharples changed his tune after the news that Shanghai Pengxin intended offering two of the Crafar farms to the same Maori trusts involved in the rival bid: “Any agreement is a matter between the parties, and the Government is not involved in negotiations.  It is up to the parties to decide when and how they might release details of their agreement, and I will not be making any further comment.” In other words, his opposition to land sales to foreigners evaporated once he thought that iwi would gain a slice of the action. He justified this self-serving about face by claiming that such a deal “will benefit not just Maori, but all New Zealanders”.2

This is the same sloganeering that is used by the government to justify their affirmative action agenda, which allows them to discriminate against other New Zealanders in favour of Maori. While Human Rights conventions require that all citizens must be treated equally under the law regardless of race, governments can use affirmative action programmes to justify special treatment based on race – as long as such programmes are being used to improve the circumstances of an underprivileged group, equal to the general population. Affirmative action programmes are meant to be a temporary, but typically, such government programmes that deliver special rights and privileges to one race of citizens at a cost to the rest of the population remain entrenched – unless they are challenged.

In the case of Maori, affirmative action programmes are not only deeply entrenched, but there remain serious concerns about whether such programmes with funding tied to disadvantage, can ever reduce disparity.  

The reality is that race-based funding is a flawed concept. The rapid intermarriage that has always gone on within the New Zealand population has broken down racial barriers to the extent that ethnicity is no longer a defining characteristic of disadvantage. Instead it is family instability, poor parenting, long-term welfarism, substance abuse, educational failure, violence, crime and so on. While many people who identify as Maori are over-represented in these negative social statistics, it is not because of their race, but because of these other factors. Race should not be used as an excuse.

For the sake of the future of this country, it is time to put this fixation with race behind us. New Zealand should become a nation where equality before the law is a defining feature.   

In his article Turning around race-based policy, this week’s Guest Commentator NZCPR Research Associate Mike Butler writes, “Race-based policy has been a feature of governance in New Zealand as long as the nation has had a government, and race-based affirmative action has been with us since the 1980s.”

Mike’s analysis shows that with regard to Treaty of Waitangi settlements, “Total historical redress, whenever it is completed, may reach a grand total of around $3.9-billion. This may be calculated based on the number of likely settlements, which may reach 87; and the average financial redress amount so far, which is $44.75-million. Each tribal entity would have investments in land, buildings, forests, farming, aquaculture, and an array of businesses. Many assets that make up the financial redress quantum come with gold-plated leases to government departments, guaranteeing cash incomes far into the future. Each tribal entity would have the rights of first refusal to buy surplus state-owned assets for up to 172 years which gives tribal entities first dibs on any surplus government houses, land, commercial buildings, farm land, forest land, and aquaculture resources in their area for the next three or four generations. Control of these assets, and generous management packages, would be concentrated in the few involved in running the businesses.”

Mike concludes his article by asking, “What can be done to stop this on-going handover? The short answer is to: Abolish the Waitangi Tribunal; remove references to the treaty and its principles from legislation, and drop the principles for Crown action on the treaty; and abolish the Maori roll and separate Maori seats.”

Many New Zealanders are deeply concerned that successive governments have turned their back on our right to live in a country free from racial discrimination and racial preference. The increasingly race-based path that we are going down is an anathema to a progressive democracy. So what should we be doing to turn the situation around?

Clearly, after 30 years, affirmative action programmes have shown they are not working and should be terminated. As Mike has suggested, a sensible plan for legislative change would involve:

  • · Abolishing the Waitangi Tribunal by repealing Sections 4-8 of the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, leaving any final historic settlements that are still in the pipeline to be negotiated directly with the Crown – since more and more iwi are choosing to do that anyway. 
  • · Removing references to the Treaty and its principles from legislation, by examining modern-day statutes to identify and repeal the relevant clauses.
  • · Abolishing the Maori roll so all New Zealanders are on one electoral roll as equal citizens, by repealing Sections 76-79 of the Electoral Act 1993; and
  • · Abolishing the Parliamentary Maori seats by repealing Sections 45 and 269 of the Electoral Act 1993, and abolishing the local government Maori seats by repealing Sections 19Z-19ZH and 24A-24F of the Local Electoral Act 1991. 

In other words, bringing about equality under New Zealand law would be a relatively straight forward legislative process, as things stand today. It is this fact that is no doubt a driving force behind the Maori Party’s plan to entrench into law a new Treaty-based constitution. Such a constitution would provide special status and privilege to those of Maori descent, above all other New Zealanders.

The Maori Party’s plan is well advanced. Their hand-picked Constitutional Review panel has already been selected. Incredibly the panel does not intend to hold open public meetings to hear the feedback of all New Zealanders. Instead, they are intending to hold special Maori-only hui, and invitation-only meetings – a strategy that was extremely effective at minimising public scrutiny and awareness of the foreshore and seabed changes. Alarmingly also, is the fact that government Ministers have already indicated that any final changes to our constitution may be approved by Parliament rather than having to be approved by the public through a binding referendum. The bottom line is that New Zealand will again be facing a fundamental constitutional shift in favour of Maori and a further advance towards the politics of racial privilege that the public will be largely unaware of.