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Dr Muriel Newman

Time to face the truth

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Ironically it has taken the South African Rugby Union (SARU) to expose the fact that racism exists in New Zealand. Sadly, in these politically correct times, anyone who dares to comment on this dark national secret risks being attacked as a racist. With successive governments entrenching racism under the guise of cultural sensitivity and bogus Treaty partnerships, it is indeed a tragic indictment of our society that it has been left to South Africa to expose the truth.

This issue has arisen because the New Zealand Rugby Union has requested that SARU agree to a visit by the New Zealand Maori team. While the request is presently being considered, it presents SARU with a major problem. Given South Africa’s history of apartheid, the South African President’s Council has a long-established ruling which forbids SARU from allowing South African national teams to play against opponents that have been selected along racial lines.[1]

The issue has sparked a heated debate about whether or not the nationally selected New Zealand Maori rugby squad is a racist team. With a key selection criteria being whether or not players identify as Maori, there is no doubt that this is a racist team. Players who do not identify as Maori are not eligible for selection – in other words non-Maori are not eligible.

Those who have been asked whether limiting selection to a particular race is racial have replied that such selections are not racial but are based on “ethnicity and diversity”. This is the argument being advanced by the Race Relations Commissioner, who in a letter to SARU acknowledges that while racial discrimination in sport existed in South Africa under apartheid, “there is no such discrimination in New Zealand: people of all ethnic backgrounds are eligible to play in New Zealand’s national, regional and local representative teams, and alongside that, consistent with the principle of freedom of association, people are free to play together in any other combination”.[2]

Joris de Bres goes on to state, “As Race Relations Commissioner, I have no problem with the concept of a Maori rugby team, or a European rugby team, or a Chinese rugby team, as long as our national, regional and local representative teams are open to people of all ethnicities. This is ethnic diversity, not racial discrimination”.

The Minister of Maori Affairs puts it this way, “The New Zealand Maori team does not claim to be a national team representing people who have been excluded on the basis of race. They represent New Zealand Maori as a matter of indigenous identity and pride”.[3]

These weasel words are designed to confuse in order to conceal a big lie: New Zealand is a country where race has increasingly become the basis of civil, political and democratic rights.

What’s worse is that politicians have skewed the criteria for determining Maori racial privilege so that the number of people who are able to call themselves Maori and take advantage of the special benefits conferred, will continue to increase forever deepening the racial divide and creating an ever-more-influential power base.

The reason for this is a legislative change introduced by the Labour Government in 1974. Until that time, all legislation affecting Maori dealt with individuals of Maori descent, who had 50 percent or more of Maori blood. But The Maori Affairs Amendment Act 1974 changed that by extending the definition of who could “officially” be considered Maori to include anyone who had Maori ancestors, no matter how distant.

The explanatory note to that bill states, “Clause 2 alters the definition of the term Maori. At the present under the principal Act, the term ‘Maori’ applies to persons of half or more Maori blood, all other persons being ‘Europeans’. The proposal is that a person with any Maori blood at all shall be a Maori for the purposes of that Act, and thus for the purposes of the many other Acts which incorporate that definition by reference”.

As a result of this widened definition, growing numbers of people, who through two-centuries of intermarriage are of an increasingly multi-ethnic heritage, are claiming special privileges reserved for Maori. This has created the untenable situation where people whose ancestry is almost wholly non-Maori are not only claiming benefits not available to the majority of New Zealanders, but are demanding more.

The question that must be asked is, with the Treaty of Waitangi guaranteeing that all New Zealanders are equal under the law, and human rights laws preventing discrimination based on race, why are Maori-only sports bodies and laws that discriminate against non-Maori lawful in this country? It is a very important question in light of the increasing powers of such race-based laws like Maori consultation under the Resource Management Act, the special rights of Maori to control rivers, lakes and other waterways, their management rights over the foreshore and seabed, access to special Maori health and education services, and of course, the Maori seats in Parliament, to name but a few.

The reason we have government sanctioned racial discrimination is largely due to two major factors. The first is the separatist notion of a Treaty “partnership” governance role shared by Maori and the Crown, which has gained traction in spite of the fact that the Treaty of Waitangi specifically established equality before the law for all citizens and rejected racism: “He iwi tahi tatou” – “we are now one people”.[4] And the second, is the preferential treatment provisions that exist in human rights law.

In 1966 New Zealand signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race. Under this convention it is however acceptable to discriminate on the basis of race when “special measures” are needed to help a disadvantaged racial group catch up with the rest of society. The caveats are that such “special measures” must not lead to the maintenance of “separate rights” for different racial groups, nor should they be continued “after the objectives for which they were taken have been achieved”.[5]

In other words, as outlined in New Zealand’s 1971 Race Relations Act, positive discrimination is allowed, but only in cases where a particular race needs assistance to achieve “an equal place” with other members of the community.

While it might have been possible to make the case that Maori were racially disadvantaged in the past, it is certainly not possible to do that today. As Simon Chapple, a senior research analyst with the Department of Labour, pointed out in 2001 in his report on “Maori Socio-Economic Disadvantage”, Maori ethnicity is not a general predictor of poor social outcomes: “Generally speaking, being Maori does not appear to directly cause observed average earnings and employment gaps”. He explains that age, education, literacy and local labour market conditions are the most important factors in socio-economic disadvantage – along with “sub-cultural associations with benefit dependence, sole parenthood, early natality, drug and alcohol abuse, physical violence, and illegal cash cropping”.

He concludes that “racial discrimination” does not explain socio-economic failure and is not a good basis for wider policy prescriptions: “Broad based policies which target the Maori population, which may be thought to close the gaps (such as fisheries settlements, other treaty settlements, cheap access to the radio spectrum etc.), risk being captured by the considerable number of Maori who already have jobs, skills, high incomes and good prospects”.[6]

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, Dr Philip Joseph, Professor of Law at Canterbury University, touched on these issues in a recent speech that he gave during the annual Te Papa Treaty debate series. In his speech, “The Maori Seats in Parliament” he explained that while Maori experienced electoral disadvantage in the nineteenth century, such measures to justify preferential treatment are long gone:

“This brings me to my second argument, which is fundamental: the [Maori] seats represent a discriminatory privilege. The seats contravene the principle of electoral equality – “one person, one vote, one value”. Representative democracies must avoid barriers for the representation of minorities. Maori confront no such barriers. In 1867, they did; they failed the property qualification and could not vote. But in 1893 New Zealand moved to a universal adult franchise under which all citizens had the right to vote. Maori are free to compete for parliamentary representation. There are no impediments. The retention of the Maori seats amounts to reverse or indirect discrimination. There is no justification for the difference in treatment.

“For the courts, a discriminatory benefit on racial or ethnic grounds is as unlawful as a discriminatory disadvantage. One court described discrimination thus: Discrimination means differential treatment [denoting] failure to treat all persons equally where there is no reasonable distinction to justify different treatment. The discrimination may be positive, such as conferring a benefit, or negative, for example, by imposing a restriction. Yet in each case there will be discrimination.”

“Preferential treatment on grounds of race or ethnicity is discriminatory and ethically wrong. To discriminate on those grounds deeply offends the right to equality of treatment under New Zealand’s human rights legislation”.

With a global economic crisis upon us, it is not in the national interest to condone racism. Racism has the potential to blight our good character on the world stage. Indeed at least one South African commentator mentioned during a radio interview last week that non-legal apartheid exists in New Zealand.[7] It is long past time that institutional racism was expunged from the statute books. It is long past time that we faced the future, as one people – New Zealanders.

1.SARU, Media Release 18 February 2009 
2.Joris de Bres, Letter to the SARU Board
3.Maori Affairs Minister, NZ Maori not race-based team 
4. In his book, The Treaty of Waitangi, the great Maori leader Sir Apirana Ngata, explained that Article 3 meant “Maori and Pakeha are equal before the law, that is, they are to share the rights and privileges of British subjects”. The book is available from the NZCPR – click here: https://www.nzcpr.com/support.htm 
5. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
6.Simon Chapple, Maori Socio-economic Disparity
7.Morning Report, NZ Maori Rugby Tour