Waitangi Day has become national Maori Grievance Day. The Maori sovereignty flag, symbolising the desire of radical Maori to take over ownership and control of New Zealand, now flies from official buildings – with the blessing of the Prime Minister. What was once a family day – and a day of celebration for our unique identity and place in the world – has become a day of protest and division. Threats and intimidation are now the name of the game. The ugliness of the modern Waitangi Day is a reminder of how distant the vision of unity and togetherness that most New Zealanders aspire to has become.
This deepening divide is not driven by ordinary Kiwis. It’s driven by the iwi elite and the Maori Party MPs who represent them, along with Hone Harawira and Treaty activists who hold influential positions within academia and the public service.
Over the years this drive for Maori sovereignty has led to a proliferation of race-based preferences in our laws and throughout our public institutions. Mainstream New Zealanders remain opposed to these developments and it is reputedly a factor in the record number of Kiwis who are emigrating to Australia. Many Maori leave the country as the only way to escape the whanau: A study carried out in 2008 by Te Puni Kokiri found that of the one in six Maori who were living in Australia at the time, many had moved there to escape tribalism: they expressed an overwhelming sense of relief on being “free of Maori culture”, of being able to “get away from the rigid beliefs of our elders”, of getting “away from tikanga Maori and whanau dynamics or pressures associated with being whanau”; and “you know the story marae, whanau hui, whanau politics, continuously fighting each other but still whanau in the end. It feels like we are able to live our lives without being answerable or having to think is this good for the rest of the whanau”.1
This year the Waitangi Day performance had an added dimension – Waitangi is now Mana Party territory. It is high ground for Hone Harawira and a centre stage platform from which to incite hostility. Meanwhile the Maori Party – no longer top dog at Waitangi – is searching to create a new perception of its place in the Maori world. It will be keen to shake off the label that it is nothing more than a National Party poodle.
The new dynamic within Maori politics is that the Maori Party represents moneyed Maori – in particular a well educated iwi elite – while Mana represent disadvantaged Maori who still blame everyone and everything else (and especially colonisation) for their lack of good fortune.
The self-seeking demands made by the Maori Party last week, as it threatened to pull out of the coalition unless a Treaty clause was inserted into the asset sale legislation, is a good example of this dynamic. The debate over asset sales rests on Section 9 of the State Owned Enterprises Act 1986, which stipulates that “the Crown cannot act in a manner that is inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi”. The Treasury position, and the initial position of the National government, is that since private companies are not bound by the principles of the Treaty, nor should privatised SOEs. That means there should be no Section 9 clause in the new legislation.
Iwi leaders were quick to condemn this position since it would obviously deny them their privileged status to make future demands of the four SOEs in question – Genesis Power, Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, and Solid Energy. A discussion paper on the Maori Party website explains the significance of Section 9: “It captures not only land issues, but can also capture issues around other natural resources and the wider spectrum of Maori rights and interests such as partnerships and governance.Not including section 9 in the proposed new legislation would effectively take away the SOE’s responsibility to act in good faith toward Mori.Not only does the removal of this section give greater power to the Crown but it creates uncertainty for the future of economic growth and social cohesion in this country and not just for Mori. This is about the livelihood of all New Zealanders today and into the future.”2
By suggesting the private benefits of tribal corporations are in the best interest of the country, iwi are hoping to win support for preferential treatment. And it seems to be working. Of the three options for the new legislation – inserting section 9 in the new legislation, including a more specific Treaty clause, or having no Treaty clause at all – the Prime Minister is now favouring a new Treaty clause. The issue here is whether a Treaty clause will reduce the sale value of the partially privatised SOEs – and therefore reduce the proceeds of the sale and the benefits to the country.
For Maori however, the critical underlying issue is not about value, it is about rights – water rights. Now that the Treaty grievance process is coming to an end, Maori leaders have for some time been changing the nature of their demands – from compensation for past wrongs, to that of rights and privileges. Money, not mana, remains the motivation.
An important part of their agenda has been to gain access to the lucrative funding stream that would come from securing ownership rights to New Zealand’s fresh water resource. They have been running a low key campaign – no doubt to avoid “scaring the horses”. Nevertheless, their goal is the ownership, management and governance of freshwater within New Zealand – as an indigenous and Treaty right. And while they have made some progress – especially over the last three years under a National government – they have not as yet gained ownership of the water feeding our hydro power stations. That means that National’s proposed partial privatisation of three power stations could deny them a right they are expecting to win – which is why the Maori Council has just announced a legal challenge against the government’s asset sales programme. They will lodge a Waitangi Tribunal claim arguing that energy companies should not be privatised until the rights to New Zealand’s fresh water resource has been decided.
Unless New Zealanders wake up to what is going on, there is a very real danger that Maoridom will gain the rights to New Zealand’s freshwater supplies. Before National repealed public ownership of the foreshore and seabed to allow private Maori ownership and control, few would have believed that such an outcome was possible. But we now know politicians will compromise any principle to stay in power – even giving away public rights to common property owned by us all.
Just as Maori wanted private ownership of the public foreshore and seabed, they now want private ownership of New Zealand’s public water supplies. They cite spiritual beliefs, not money, as the justification – namely that water is their “life force”, and that it lies at the heart of their spiritual and physical wellbeing, and their tribal identity and culture. What is astounding is that they have made such progress in their assertion that spiritualism should influence commercial decisions. In the past, Maori spirituality has been used to hold power stations to ransom over resource consent applications, with objections based on the potential damage to spiritual values caused by water right consents. Strangely, spiritual damage can be mollified with cash! In 2010 Ngati Waewae’s dropped an objection to Meridian Energy’s Mokihinui hydro dam as a result of a generous payout; a few years earlier Contact Energy had to pay Ngai Tahu $1.6 million for water rights for the Clyde Dam, and Genesis Energy had to pay Ken Mair’s Wanganui iwi for resource consents for the Tongariro power scheme.
And again, before you shake your head and say Maori claims for water won’t see the light of day, just remember that their “life force” argument secured Waikato tribes a deal with the National government worth upwards of half a billion dollars for the on-going co-management of the Waikato River.
National needs to be challenged about water rights now – we deserve to know where they stand on this issue. Will they even countenance giving control of water to Maori? Or will they take a principled stand like Helen Clark did when Maori were pushing for Treaty rights to oil and gas, by ruling it out and stating categorically that the resource is owned by the Crown in the national interest.
The political landscape has changed of course, since the days when the Maori Party got their way over the foreshore and seabed – Winston Peters is back in Parliament. If National looks to be giving in to Maori radicals, New Zealand First would stand to gain!
All of these developments are of course occurring against a backdrop of Treaty claims. Just over a week ago Te Aupouri in the Far North announced a settlement worth over $20 million that involves a new co-management deal for 90 Mile Beach as well as cash, property, and other deals including changing the name of 90 Mile Beach and Cape Reinga.
It was a flood of such Treaty settlements expected over the next few years that led the NZCPR to embark last year on a project to make Treaty settlements more transparent. Thanks to the efforts of this week’s Guest Commentator, NZCPR Research Associate Mike Butler, the Treaty Transparency: settlements 1989-2012 report has now been published and shows that as at February 2012, the value of Treaty claims that have been settled or agreed is almost $2.5 billion. As Mike points out, this value is on a growth path:
“The National-led government had an election promise of settling all Treaty of Waitangi claims by 2014, but has since said it would not meet that deadline. With 30 settlements completed, 16 awaiting legislation, four awaiting tribal ratification, 16 agreed but at the detailed negotiations stage, a further 15 under negotiation, and a number of others yet to be negotiated, it is obvious that there is a long way to go.”
History shows that the National Party lacks the courage and conviction to stand up to Maori demands. The results of settlement deals show they are becoming more and more generous. Not only that but they are no longer full and final since they include co-management deals and rights of first refusal for surplus Crown property for up to 172 years! National is proving to be a push over. Given the challenge that faces them now – keeping Treaty obligations and private property rights separate in the new asset sales legislation as well as killing off any notion that Maori could own, manage and govern New Zealand’s water supplies, how they respond will be crucial. It will signal whether New Zealand is destined to become even more deeply divided by race, or whether a unified future is a possibility.
- Paul Hamer, One in Six? The Rapid Growth of the Māori Population in Australia ↩
- Maori Party, SOE Consultation Primer ↩