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Mike Butler

Maori politics – rights without responsibility

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Which New Zealand political party poses the greatest threat to harmonious race relations? The parties that assert one law for all, or those demanding entrenched Maori seats, automatic enrolment of Maori on the Maori electoral roll, have Maori language compulsorily available in schools, or an independent Treaty of Waitangi Commission elected solely by Maori voters?

Before we look at the Maori issues wish lists of the various parties for the upcoming election, it is worthwhile to recap the policy initiatives of the past three years and some new research that has undermined a few assumptions in our fraught race relations.

The National Party’s quaintly titled “Maori affairs” policy for the 2008 election both celebrated 20 years of treaty settlements as providing an economic basis for Maori but noted that “a lack of access to relevant quality education, learning and skills, to good health, and to quality housing that is permanent and affordable”, meant too many Maori families were being left behind. (1) National’s bland 2008 policy contrasted with the Don Brash National Party in 2005, which campaigned on claims of preferential treatment of Maori, and opposition to Labour Party policy during the row that erupted over the foreshore and seabed.

An unexpected agreement between the National Party and the Maori Party after the 2008 election brought a number of the latter’s pet schemes to fruition. Prime Minister John Key gave approval to fly the red, black and white “tino rangatiratanga” flag on the Auckland harbour bridge and other official buildings on Waitangi Day 2010, possibly without realising he had agreed to a goal of the Maori sovereignty movement.

New Zealand woke up one morning in April 2010 to find out that we had been signed up to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples had flown to New York without revealing he was to sign up to the declaration that the previous Labour Government had shunned. Sharples said the announcement restores our mana and our moral authority to speak in international fora on issues of justice, rights and peace, (2)

The next Maori Party initiative involved more devolution of welfare to tribal social service agencies. The Whanau Ora Maori welfare scheme was launched in May of 2010 with $134.3-millionallocated to 20 Maori organisations. The scheme fits Nation Party privatisation of social services and Maori Party “Maori control of all things Maori” beliefs. A further $30-million was channelled into the scheme in the 2011 Budget.

Part of the confidence and supply agreement was a review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004. More than a review, the Maori Party achieved the controversial Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act, which was passedin March of this year, 63 votes to 56, with Labour, Act and the Greens voting against it. A stacked review panel and patchy nationwide consultation led to what was presented as an enduring solution. However, the Maori Party says it is just a first step, and the Greens accused the Maori Party of betraying Maori. The whole tawdry process sparked the formation of the Coastal Coalition, which is collecting signatures to trigger a referendum. (3)

The Maori Party achieved a step towards a Maori upper house, or a Maori congress, or a Maori parliament, or a co-governance cabinet, entrenched Maori seats, and entrenched Treaty of Waitangi when a constitutional review was launched last December. The inclusion of Sir Tipene O’Regan and Ranginui Walker on the 12-member advisory panel that was announced in August raised questions that the body was as ideologically tilted as the foreshore and seabed panel had been. The panel will make a final report to Cabinet by the end of 2013. The Government is to respond to that within six months.

Hone Harawira finally left the Maori Party in February of this year after nearly two years of personal antics part of which involved skipping a taxpayer-funded conference in 2009 to go sightseeing on Paris. He is possibly most well-known for his “white man bull****. . .white motherf***ers” comments leaked from a private email. His defection led to a by-election in Te Tai Tokerau that he won under the banner of his new Mana Party.

Treaty negotiations minister Chris Finlayson energetically pursued the National Party goal of full and final settlements of historical grievances by 2014, and boasts that in three years has signed 103 deeds of mandate, terms of negotiation, agreements in principle, and deeds of settlement whereas the Clark-Cullen government achieved 94 in nine years.

Meanwhile, a total of 29 Treaty of Waitangi settlements totaling $2.078-billion had been completed to July this year. (4) The fact that settlements exceeded the $1-billion mark will trigger relativity clauses in the 1995 Waikato-Tainui settlement of $170-million and the 1997 Ngai Tahu $170-million settlement, bringing both tribes a percentage of all settlements over $1-billion. The current round of settlements are on top of earlier full and final settlements. Ngai Tahu, Waikato-Tainui, Taranaki tribes, and Tuhoe all agreed to and accepted final cash settlements to their grievances between 1944 and 1958. Ngai Tahu received its first settlement in 1906. (5)

Despite claims to the contrary, treaty settlements were never going to solve Maori financial woes. If a total financial redress sum of $2-billion were divided among the total Maori population of 663,900, a payment of $3012 would be provided for each – hardly enough to change anyone’s financial situation.

A worrying aspect of the treaty settlement process is that large payouts have been captured by the entities set up to receive them, leaving some to grizzle that the current government is following the same divide-and-rule strategy that created the grievance in the first place. Distribution of financial redress has started to become an issue. Harawira’s Mana Party called for an independent Treaty of Waitangi Commission to oversee the recommendations of the Waitangi Tribunal to ensure distribution of benefits to the people.(6)

A new trend of co-management deals constitute an even bigger flow of cash for tribal corporations. For instance, cash payments to the five tribes in the Waikato River co-management deals total at least $400.8-million over 27 years, combining to dwarf the 1995 Waikato-Tainui settlement of $170-million.

As more research has been published, treaty orthodoxy has taken a few hits. Evidence shows that colonisation revived Maori population growth instead of causing its decline. Dr John Robinson, who analysed Maori demographic and land information for the northern South Island for the Crown Forestry Rental Trust in 2000, provided evidence to show that the 19th century Maori population was decimated, not by British disease and land-taking, but by the 1807-1842 intertribal wars that reduced the Maori population by 40 percent, from 120,000 to 70,000, plus female infanticide. Robinson shows that the Maori population actually began to recover as British settlement widened during the 19th century. He describes the treachery, the burning of villages, prisoner killings, torture, slavery, and cannibalismof those Musket Wars as criminally insane.

The interesting thing is that the Crown Forestry Rental Trust emphatically rejected Robinson’s report, because it would obscure the “true nature” of the supposed “cataclysm” which afflicted northern South Island tribes between 1850 and 1900. He was required to rewrite it or not be paid. Robinson’s original research was published this year in “The Corruption of New Zealand Democracy”, Tross Publishing. (7) If white colonisation helped revive a declining Maori population, as his research indicates, instead of destroying it, the grievance industry would be totally undermined.

Robinson, who earned his PhD at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology and who has done extensive statistical research on Maori issues, also noted the scale of investment of government money in grievance propaganda. Total assistance from the Crown Forestry Rental Trust to claimants was $34.5-million in 2010, which, he noted, is seriously big money and has a considerable impact on the direction of research into Maori history. How many other academics have been required to customise their research to fit government treaty orthodoxy?

Pre-1840 Maori were not caring guardians of the environment, according to a study by scientists from Landcare Research in Lincoln and Montana State University in the United States, released in December of 2010. A few deliberately lit, intense fires more than 500 years ago destroyed much of New Zealand’s lowland forest, the study shows. The fast-spreading fires encouraged the growth of starch-rich roots of bracken fern – an essential part of Maori diets – and made it easier to travel to find food and stones for tool-making. Earlier work by Landcare palaeo-ecologist Dr Janet Wilmshurst and Landcare senior scientist Dr Matt McGlone showed closed forest covered up to 90 per cent of the country before the arrival of Maori about 800 years ago. (8)

Maori may have reached New Zealand later than previously believed, according to research based of radio carbon dating, released in December 2010. The study High-precision radiocarbon dating shows recent and rapid initial human colonization of East Polynesia, published in the American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and led by Janet Wilmshurst from New Zealand’s Landcare Research, more than 1400 radiocarbon dates were analysed from 47 Pacific islands. The results indicate New Zealand was first colonised by humans between 1210 and 1385 AD, contradicting Maori oral histories that recall lists of ancestors to date the first arrival in New Zealand as early as 800 AD. (9)

A report intended to turn the tide of Maori child abuse sparked an outcry when Dr Hone Kaa tried to blame Maori family violence on the type of discipline brought by English missionaries. The report, titled Traditional Maori Parenting, (10) funded by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner released in May of this year, emphasises the view that traditional Maori parenting involves loving care and indulgence because children are sacred, and delves into mythology and spirituality to illustrate the view.

Maori history professor Paul Moon, of the Auckland University of Technology, dismissed the idea that missionaries were to blame for violence. In his book on cannibalism, “This Horrid Practice”, Moon pointed to the wide occurrence of infanticide: “particularly the killing of baby girls (who would never grow into warriors), taurekareka (slaves captured in battle), and half-caste children.” (11) The comment blaming missionaries is not in the report currently posted on the Office of the Children’s Commissioner website. Neither is there any reference to infanticide.

Election manifestos show a conspicuous absence of Maori issue policy by the National and Labour parties, with wish lists by the Green, Maori, and Mana Parties that are big on asserting rights and small on taking responsibility. .

The National Party’s only specific Maori policy concerns treaty negotiations. The party has set the aspirational goal of completing full and final settlements of historical Treaty grievances by 2014, and boasts the already mentioned 103 deals signed in three years. It also boasts that the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011 is an enduring solution to the divisive foreshore and seabed issue. (12)

The Labour Party has no mention of specific Maori or treaty related policy on its www.ourownfuture.co.nz website although Labour’s Maori spokesperson Parekura Horomiasays the party’s Maori policy will focus on the needs of families, young people, and of Maori business, as well as support for kohanga reo and for iwi radio. (13)

The Green Party has an extensive Maori policy. They want entrenchment of Maori seats, Maori to switch from general to Maori roll and vice versa at any time. The Greens want to guarantee Maori participation in local government, increase a tribal role of guardianship in rural areas, support equal opportunity programmes to get Maori into higher-paying jobs, work towards having Maori language and custom taught in all schools and prisons, to organize nationwide meetings to ask Maori women what they want, to fund separate research that benefits Maori health, and a range of other ideas. (14)

The Maori Party has 21 pages of policy all of which concerns Maori issues. The party would require all Maori organizations to provide two jobs for Maori people, wants all legislation measured against the Treaty of Waitangi, a parliamentary commissioner to monitor the progress of treaty settlements, as well as the performance of the Office of Treaty Settlements and the Crown’s commitment to the treaty, monitor cultural competency in all government agencies, and appropriate resources for tribes to test the coastal area act.

The Maori Party would have all Maori automatically entered on to the Maori roll with an option to transfer to the general roll, to increase claimant funding in treaty settlements, eliminate rates debt to local government, have Maori language compulsorily available in schools by 2015, treaty studies taught in all schools, from Year 7 on, starting in 2014, end Maori family poverty by 2020, establish a $16 minimum hourly wage, extend the tax credit to all low-income families, enact a power rebate for low-income Maori families, install low-cost heating and insulation, bariatric surgery for at least 1000 more people each year to address obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and so on. (15)

The ACT Party would allow more choice in education and health, accelerate the Treaty compensation process, remove any special requirement to consult any named racial group, discontinue separate racially based boards such as the Maori Statutory Board set up in Auckland, abolish Maori seats, and remove the option for local governments to establish wards on a racial basis. The ACT Party criticizes the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act for potentially giving some tribes developmental and veto rights over vast tracts of foreshore and seabed – beyond the customary rights they might be entitled to if left to the common law to determine. (16)

United Future would establish a new national day separate from Waitangi Day, settle outstanding historical grievances by 2014, ensure that settlements do not give one class of people greater rights than others, ensure that settlements recognize hapu and whanau structures, ensure that robust governance structures be set up as a pre-requisite for settlements, and work with Maori to phase out Maori seats by 2014. (17)

New Zealand First has no specific Maori issue policies listed on its website (18) although leader Winston Peters stresses the importance of one law for all and observes that New Zealand had two flags, had signed up to the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a review looking at making the Treaty of Waitangi the cornerstone of the constitution, and emerging separate sections of the penal and social welfare systems, all of which he disapproves of. (19)

The Conservative Party wants theMarine and Coastal Area Act be repealedand the foreshore and seabed returned to crown ownership. (20)

Hone Harawira’s Mana Party wants to establish an independent fully funded authority elected by Maori voters to protect the Maori language and knowledge, would remove the 2014 deadline for lodging historical claims, increase the resourcing and expand the jurisdiction of the Waitangi Tribunal, introduce a graduated system of settlements rather than a one-off packages, establish an independent Treaty of Waitangi Commission elected by Maori voters, and transform the way in which political and legal power is structured in New Zealand.

The Mana Party would give hapu and iwi decision-making powers equal to government and local government in developing environmental policies relating to biodiversity, prospecting, the management of coastal areas and RMA plans so they can exercise “kaitiakitanga” (guardianship) over lands, coastal areas and waterways, build 20,000 more state houses within the next two years, introduce a “warrant of fitness”

for all rental housing, and provide a one-off hardship grant of $1000 for every person aged 18 and over who is on an income of $30,000 or less by this Christmas, and so on.(21)

The Green, Maori, and Mana parties appear to target an impoverished welfare group while it is interesting to note that only 29 percent of working age Maori fit that profile – fewer than 190,000 individuals who may or may not vote. The Maori Party achieved a result that far exceeded its 2.4 percent share of the party vote in 2008, only possible because of the existence of the anachronistic Maori seats.

Meanwhile, independent research is changing the assumptions that appeared to make treaty settlements a good idea. The wheel of fortune has moved on for the Maori Party, which is likely to return to parliament with fewer MPs, and for the Greens if they should ever end up in government, at a time when the government will be more battle hardened and less likely to implement costly schemes. Sources


1. National Party Maori affairs policy 2008

2. Sharples: UN charter restores mana, Tuesday, April 20, 2010

3. New foreshore bill passed

4. Money for nothing – treaty settlements 1989-2011

5. Final settlements repeated 

6. Mana Party wants independent Treaty of Waitangi Commission

7.  Rewriting History

8. Deliberately lit fires destroyed forests

9. Study questions date of Maori arrival in NZ

10. Traditional Maori Parenting

11. Research debunks Maori abuse

12. National Party treaty negotiations policy

13. Labour Party policy

14. Green Party Maori issues policy

15. Maori Party policy

16. Act Party manifesto

17. United Future Party manifesto

18. New Zealand First

19. Winston Peters slams ‘disgusting’ NZ media

20. Conservative Party manifesto

21. Mana Party manifesto