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David Round

It’s Quiet; Too Quiet

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There is always that pause, that moment of silence in the movies. The baddies all appear, to the unwary observer, to have been fought off. The barbarians have been flung back from the castle walls, the savage monsters driven away snarling; the eye of the hurricane lends an uncanny silence to the still seething seas, and the Red Indians have withdrawn from circling the wagon train. It is then that John Wayne or one of  his younger avatars gives us some version of the immortal words:

‘It’s quiet. Too quiet.’

Then all hell breaks loose.

I used to think that this was just a movie cliché (as well as a very effective dramatic device), but now I am thinking that it is true to life. This is because of the public and official reaction to the ‘finding’ of the Waitangi Tribunal that Maori, when agreeing to the proposals of the ‘Treaty’ of Waitangi, did not understand themselves to be ceding sovereignty. (Leave aside that this ‘treaty’ was understood at the time, and for most of our nation’s history, to be no more than a general preliminary understanding; it was not understood by anyone, Maori or settler, to have been a precise delineation of rights. Let us not forget what a recent and largely unhistorical phenomenon the whole Treaty mania is.)

But that aside; the most remarkable aspect of the reaction to this amazing, this revolutionary ~ I shall get back to that ~ ‘discovery’ by the Tribunal has been ~ that there has not been one.

Such is my unscientific observation. I think the Christchurch Press had only one article, of about fifteen column inches on an inside page. The news media reported the Report, certainly, but thereafter the matter quickly and completely disappeared.

But here’s the thing. This ‘discovery’, if one thinks about it for a split second, is utterly momentous. Here is an official body, which believes itself, anyway, to be very firmly ensconced as a national institution, raising the standard of rebellion. One can argue forever about the precise nuances of its ‘findings’ ~ and there is always the possibility that it will ‘find’ some more things in the future, of course ~ but no-one is going to worry about the nuances. Here is an open declaration that ‘Maori’ ~ whoever precisely they are ~ are still entitled to ‘sovereignty’ ~ whatever anyone chooses to make that mean.

As you and I know only too well, gentle readers, this discovery follows close on the heels of the labours of the official Constitutional Advisory Panel, established by this National government at the behest of the Maori Party, which had exactly the same agenda as the Tribunal’s. Thanks in no small part to our input, the official Panel was obliged to tone down its own advice, and was somewhat more muted in its Maori sovereignty advocacy than we had feared. But no sooner do we cut off one of the monster’s heads than another appears to bite us. It is déjà vu all over again.

To speak of the Waitangi Tribunal’s agenda is no exaggeration. It is now nothing but a grandly-titled taxpayer-funded Maori lobby group, whose continued existence is increasingly perilous to the country and indefensible on any rational grounds. It has, to put it politely, grown into its role. When it began in 1975 ~ even, I daresay, in 1985, when its jurisdiction was backdated to 1840 ~ the agreed understanding of everyone, descendants of  Maori and settler alike, was of far more modest Maori grievances than a claim that they were robbed of sovereignty. No Maori at the time would have claimed such a robbery. Indeed, the Tribunal accepted, in the Muriwhenua Fishing Report, for example, that ‘we are satisfied that sovereignty was ceded’. And indeed for the Tribunal to discover that the Crown did not have sovereignty would be to deny the authority of the Tribunal itself, which is derived from that very sovereignty. And as I have to keep pointing out, even when the latest round of Treaty settlements was recently in full swing, we were constantly assured that that was the end of all Maori claims. After that we would all put the past behind us and move forward together as one nation. How about the Tribunal taking that as a more recent agreed understanding? But no.

All this being the case, one might reasonably have expected that the reaction of the Crown and the public ~ and, of course, of Maori ~ would be clamorous. Yet there has been virtually nothing. When you think about it, this is amazing.

Actually, if I may digress for a moment, there is something else that is amazing. That is the bland statement in the last paragraph of 10.4 of the Report, where the Tribunal says that ‘what this means for Treaty principles’ is ‘a matter on which counsel will no doubt make submissions in Stage II of our inquiry, where we will make findings and, if appropriate [!], recommendations about claims concerning alleged breaches of the Treaty’s principles’. So ~ what this sovereignty actually involves is yet to be decided! The Tribunal has decided that Maori still retained sovereignty after 1840 ~ and, I suspect they might claim, retain it to this day ~ but it has not yet been decided by the Tribunal what that sovereignty actually is. So the Tribunal has recognised something as existing without actually knowing what it looks like or how to recognise it!

How is such a thing possible? This is nonsense; it is a put-up job. The agenda is clear.

It will be interesting to see exactly what the Tribunal ‘discovers’ Treaty principles require by way of making redress for this grievous wrong done by the wicked white man. In the scarcity of responses to the Report the only Maori voice I heard suggested not, at this stage anyway, a claim for political independence ~ that might have been the obvious course, but would have the disastrous effect of cutting off the funding before all public assets had been transferred ~ but rather the perhaps surprising interpretation that this sovereignty extended to water, seabed, gas and oil. In other words, the use of any natural resource will now involve paying a royalty to the local tribal elite, who will fatten themselves while doing no more than clipping the ticket on the use of once-publicly owned resources. (And rest assured the Maori environmental gene will not be operating to reduce exploitation for environmental reasons.) But that is, we can put money on it, only the beginning. I am sure we can expect a lot more of the racist nonsense propounded by the current mayor of New Plymouth; he has recently proposed that those of Maori descent, although only a minority of the New Plymouth population, should be entitled to a full 50% of seats around the Council table. And there will be claims for Parliamentary representation far in excess of democratic population entitlement. Democracy and equality are out the window.

And then, if Maori did not agree to the sovereignty of the Crown, it follows that all Treaty settlements so far ~ even though they are based on reports of the Tribunal ~ are actually based on a completely false premise.  Those settlements were based on the assumption that those tribes had agreed to cede sovereignty. But the Tribunal ~ silly old thing! ~ has now discovered something completely different. Those settlements will all have to be re-opened. They were based on a complete misconception of the situation.

Far-fetched? How much money will you wager that these things will not happen? If I were a gambling man ~ which thank the Lord I’m not sir ~ I would be hedging my bets on this one. But actually, there is no need to wager money. We are wagering something rather more ~ the future of our country and of our own descendants. Our momentum towards a divided apartheid state is visibly quickening.

And so to return to my main point, the silence. This report, after all, is breath-taking. It is an announcement that the leaders of the increasingly strong Maori separatist movement now consider themselves strong enough to make a completely fresh claim, to some sort or other of ‘sovereignty’. It is impossible to know exactly what is meant by that ~ but there is no doubt that it will mean far-reaching fresh demands for money and permanent undemocratic power. This is momentous. Every New Zealander concerned about the erosion of our democracy, our prosperity and our polity should be up in arms about this. Every public servant should be deeply concerned about this erosion of fundamental constitutional principles, and every member of our intellectual class should view with horror the establishment of a new undemocratic principle of inherited racial privilege.

And, equally significantly, every Maori with any separatist aspirations, with any grudge, with any sense of injustice, justified or not, with any desires of enrichment ~ and that covers a great deal of Maoridom, high and low ~ should be shouting hallelujahs from the rooftops at the vindication of their supposed ancient liberties.

Would not these be the natural reactions? Yet none of them have occurred. After a very quiet and understated announcement, considering the contents of the Report, it has ~ for the meantime ~ vanished without trace.

I find this very peculiar; every bit as significant as the curious incident of the dog in the night-time[1]. I am disappointed, but ~ in the light of their behaviour hitherto ~ not so surprised at the silence of ordinary New Zealanders. You and I, readers, see which way the wind is blowing, but some frustrating combination of complacency, generous instincts and stupidity means that the nation as a whole resembles that famous frog not noticing the gradually heating water and so eventually allowing itself to be boiled to death. In fairness, we should apportion part of the blame to the usual shallow frivolity of our pathetic news media. If something doesn’t happen on television, it doesn’t happen; and if the media fail to report this adequately, then who will know about it? But surely our political and intellectual leaders should have had a more vehement response ~ a more visible one, anyway. If they disapprove of the Report’s implications ~ the denial of the sovereignty of the Crown, the ultimate entrenchment of racial ancestry in law, the further transfer of public resources to tribal control, and who knows what else ~ then surely they should be loudly saying so. If they approve of such momentous steps, they should be saying so too. But they are silent. The Press’s fifteen inches reported Professor Paul Moon as being shocked by statements in the report; but that has been that. Why this silence? To suppose that if the issue is ignored it will go away is fatuous. Is the plan to deprive it of the oxygen of publicity? That just will not work. Unless there is a vigorous rebuttal right now the Report will rapidly pass into the category of undisputed truth.

‘Twill be recorded for a precedent;

And many an error, by the same example,

Will rush into the state.[2]

But even if we explain the silence of these groups of people as nothing more than some sorry mix of apathy, ignorance, the pressure of more urgent matters, a dash of cowardice and the treason of the educated classes, the silence of Maori cannot be so explained. This is why I suggest that it is too quiet. Unless I have failed to notice quite a lot, not one of the usual suspects, our umpteen part-Maori radicals and malcontents, has entered into any public rejoicing at all. When you think about it, this is incredibly unusual. These people are vocal on every occasion. They must be beside themselves with glee at this Report. Yet not one of them is saying a word. This cannot be by coincidence; it must be as a result of a generally agreed plan, or understanding at least. And why? I can think of only one explanation. And that is, that the plan is that the majority of the people of this country are not to be alarmed yet. They are not yet completely in the trap. Only when more time has passed, and more ‘authority’ from the Tribunal has been invented, will the trap be sprung and the celebrations begin; and when we complain, the response will be an ingenuous ‘But this is all established. The Tribunal found this years ago. There’s no dispute…’ And then there will be nothing that we can say.

The momentum is building. Everywhere, completely new claims pop up, like so many orcs unexpectedly bursting out of the earth. In June this year Te Papa hosted a two day hui, opened by the Minister of Conservation, on Co-Governance and Co-Management of Parks and Environments. Whether it be a national park or our own backyard, Maori are now using those bland words about Treaty principles in sundry statutes ~ the Resource Management Act, the Conservation Act ~ as the pretext for the next power and money grab.

Again, the Tribunal, in its openly recognised rewriting of history, has just alleged that the 1962 Maori Community Development Act, the statutory authority for the Maori Council and the simple sensible homely institution of Maori Wardens, actually ‘embodied a compact that gave statutory recognition to institutions set up by the Maori people for  their own self-government’. That is news to many of us, but there you are. The Tribunal took the Crown to task over the lack of Maori oversight of wardens.  Maori appear, then, to be on their way to getting their own independent police force under their own control.  It is worth googling section 18 of the Act ~ it will only take a moment ~ to look at the functions of the Maori Council, which include the ‘conservation and promotion of harmonious and friendly relations between members of the Maori  race and other members of the community’, and encouraging and assisting Maori ‘to assume and maintain self-reliance, thrift, pride of race and such conduct as will be conducive to their general health and economic well-being’ and ‘to accept, enjoy and maintain the full rights, privileges and responsibilities of New Zealand citizenship’. Also ‘the fostering of respect for the law and law-observance’ and ‘the prevention of excessive drinking and other undesirable forms of conduct’ among the Maori people. I wonder if the Council has read that recently.

Needless to say, the Tribunal found that the Maori Council ‘requires more resources so it can review and refine its role….’

And so it goes on. And who in this country, apart from you and me, gentle readers, appears to be aware of these trends or worried about them? If I may borrow another line from the movies ~ ‘Where is everyone?’ Are you and I ~ metaphorically speaking ~ just crazy old men, impotently shaking the lapels of the nation and spattering our saliva as we scream ‘Listen to me’? I do wonder at times, but I do not think so. I do have faith in, as well as sorrow for, our people, bamboozled by lawyers, betrayed by their governors and cheated out of their birthright by plausible rogues. But going by the evidence so far, it is still going to be some time before they wake up to what is going on. We are too nice, too innocent, too trusting, too generous. It is a lovely quality, but it is our downfall. As the Duke of Wellington said of the English, we are ‘a quiet people’. But the quietest people can be moved to anger. Let us hope that Chesterton’s words[3] will one day come true about us also:

We hear men speaking for us of new laws strong and sweet,
Yet is there no man speaketh as we speak in the street.
It may be we shall rise the last as Frenchmen rose the first,
Our wrath come after Russia’s wrath and our wrath be the worst.
It may be we are meant to mark with our riot and our rest
God’s scorn for all men governing. It may be beer is best.
But we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.
Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.

[1] ‘Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?’
‘To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.’
‘The dog did nothing in the night-time.’
‘That was the curious incident,’ remarked Sherlock Holmes.

[2]The Merchant of Venice

[3]The Secret People