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Dr Muriel Newman

Tribalism vs democracy

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New Zealand is at a crossroad between tribalism and democracy. The Maori tribal elite, backed by the Maori Party – and now the National Party – are gaining momentum, pushing the country towards a future where corporate iwi will control our key institutions and resources.

Thanks to decades of overly-generous taxpayer funding of Treaty of Waitangi claims, the Maori aristocracy has grown rich. Under their new protectorate – the National and Maori Party government – they are becoming New Zealand ’s new power base. With race-based laws to elevate their status and a willing government keen to buy into the ‘Treaty partnership’ myth, the tribal elite are becoming the privileged class. Unless something changes, all other non-iwi New Zealanders are destined to become second-class citizens in our own country

The Iwi Leaders Group consists of the chairmen of 57 iwi. It is the driving force behind the resurgence of tribalism. With wealth estimated at $25 billion, the days of iwi being able to claim victim status have long gone – and with it, surely, the need for generous taxpayer-funded subsidies.

To her credit, Helen Clark had the sense to limit the demands of Maori tribal leaders. She ended the right for iwi to submit historic Treaty claims in 2008, and refused to give them the foreshore and seabed four years earlier in spite of aggressive advocacy. In taking such a strong stand she did the country a service.

No-one should forget that tribalism is based entirely on greed and self interest. The good of the country does not matter one iota to them. As their wealth grows, so too do the demands of the tribal aristocracy.

Tribalism is something all modern societies have moved beyond. It is unbelievable, and ominous, that New Zealand law makers are now embracing it.

Tribalism is a closed hierarchical system, underpinned by ancient supernatural beliefs and outdated customs, and characterised by nepotism, cronyism, and corruption. Standing in the community is determined by birthright, not achievement, and while those who are part of the aristocracy prosper, others can never get ahead.

A study carried out by Te Puni Kokiri in 2008, found that one in six Maori were living in Australia, with many having 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]

In light of this reality, it is unbelievable, that under John Key’s leadership, the government is about to give tribalism its biggest boost in modern times through a massive transferof public property rights and national wealth.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, law lecturer and Treaty expert David Round, describes the Prime Minister’s plan to repeal Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed in favour of Maori tribal ownership and control as a “monstrous crime” and “horrific sacrifice of public property and public prosperity”. He warns that this “theft of our common heritage” is pushing New Zealand towards an increasingly “apartheid state”. He states:

“This new law will be the most indescribable gift to Maori of an enormous part of the remaining public property and public wealth of this country. It will deprive the rest of us of any possibility of enjoying the immense economic opportunities which the sea affords and which, heaven knows, we so desperately need… We must understand too that even this act of suicidal renunciation is not going to bring peace to this country, is not going to end Maori clamour for yet more and more, and indeed will not even be the last word on the foreshore and seabed.”

In his article A Crime Against the Public, David raises some very serious concerns about “tikanga”: “This new customary title is going to be granted if it can be established according to ‘Maori tikanga’. Now this tikanga is known to Maori alone. They have it ~ or say they have it. They do not give us any details. If they do not have it, they invent it. We will never know. The introduction of tikanga alone is the handing-over of a blank cheque. You can bet your bottom dollar that a surprising amount of the coastline will be considered by Maori ‘to be ours now, really. I mean, we let people go there, and we don’t stop them or say anything to them, but we always feel, you know, its our beach, that’s just our tikanga’ ~ and he’ll keep a straight face, and the whole thing will be in the bag. In response to questions, both the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General are already refusing to say categorically that even popular Auckland beaches (certainly not ones ‘exclusively occupied’ by Maori) will not have customary title awarded over them.”

A document prepared for the elitists Iwi Leaders’ Group, outlining their preferred options for the foreshore and seabed verifies David’s concerns. It says ‘tikanga’ should “not be defined by statute.” Drawing on the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, they want tikanga to hold “first law status” – but they wanted to ensure that such suggestions do not “scare the horses”.[2] New Zealand’s affirmation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was, of course, authorised by John Key in secret, in spite of Helen Clark staunchly opposing it on the basis that it was totally inconsistent with New Zealand’s domestic laws. While John Key tried to claim it was only symbolic, clearly Maori don’t agree since it is now being used to shape and justify domestic policy.

The whole foreshore and seabed debacle would certainly ‘scare the horses’ – if only the public were aware of what is going on. From the beginning, John Key issued devious assurances that nothing much would change as a result of the new law. Then there was the calculated way the public review document was released over the Easter break to coincide with a highly controversial mining review that totally overshadowed any debate about the foreshore and seabed. Public meetings were barely advertised and there was little opportunity to ask questions. Four stakeholder groups with interests in the foreshore and seabed that need to be protected were identified – recreational and conservation interests, Maori customary interests, business and development interests, and local government interests – but in spite of the claims that all would be consulted only Maori were.

Then there is the sticky issue of submissions. The Review document clearly stated that “The Ministry of Justice will publicly release your submission, a summary of submissions and a list of names of submitters onthis website after the consultation process has finished”. Yet here we are, nearly four months after submissions closed, and no submissions have been published. When asked last week when we could expect them to be published, the Attorney General’s office replied: “No decision has yet been made about when the submissions relating to the review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 will be made public. It will be some time after the new Bill has been introduced to the House of Representatives”. So here we have censorship of the worst kind: 1500 submissions, many of which will have raised serious concerns about the repeal of Crown ownership, being withheld from public view – no doubt to further stifle public debate.

Removing a major public property right over the 10 million hectares of the foreshore and seabed, through the repeal of Crown ownership, is a significant constitutional issue. There are massive strategic implications for New Zealand ’s Territorial Sea , yet there has been no public debate about how it will affect defence, trade, infrastructure and other crucial matters. And what about the country’s national wealth that is tied up in the foreshore and seabed – where is the debate about what should happen to that? Crown Minerals has estimated the iron sands alone to be worth $1 trillion – is that going to end up in the coffers of private Maori tribal corporations, instead of the consolidated fund for the benefit of all New Zealanders?

What about the conservation values of our wild and beautiful coastline? Will it become littered with spiritual and cultural exclusion zones imposed by competing iwi that will prevent non-iwi from freely enjoying their birthright? [If you are concerned, you might like to read Michael Coote’s Breaking Views blog: “Whale vetoes point the way on foreshore and seabed legislation”.] And what will “mana tuku iho”, the “universal recognition” that will be applied to the whole of New Zealand ’s coastline as a right of tribal co-management mean in practice – especially regarding consents and leases? Will it involve the setting up of iwi co-management committees, with fees paid to the un-elected representatives, and will that money have to be recouped by way of a Maori tax on all coastal activities?

The way John Key is trying to rush this monumental change through Parliament by Christmas is scandalous. Presumably he is hoping we will have forgotten all about it by the time the election comes around!

But this will change the future of our country forever. Not least because it will take us down a slippery slope – according to the Minister some 2,000 km of coastline can initially be expected to be transferred to Maori tribal ownership and control (the distance from Cape Reinga to the Bluff wrapped around the coast and stretched out to the 12 nautical mile limit) but this will only be the start. Over time, future governments will undoubtedly be persuaded to lower the bar until eventually the whole of the foreshore and the Territorial Sea (and possibly even the entire Exclusive Economic Zone!) will be owned by corporate iwi.

As concerned citizens, our options are to either accept this backwards step to tribalism or fight back! In the absence of a Parliamentary party speaking out in opposition to John Key’s plan and championing Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed, the Coastal Coalition was formed. The Coastal Coalition is a grass roots movement of people of all ages and political persuasions who are united in our love of this country and our desire to protect the beaches and Territorial Sea as the common heritage of all New Zealanders. If you care, please join us in our campaign to inform the New Zealand public about what’s going on – you can help as a volunteer or send in a donation: already we have high profile billboards in Auckland and Wellington and we are planning more initiatives once John Key’s bill has been tabled in Parliament and submissions called for.

Doing nothing and hoping for the best is not enough. Neither is acquiescence an option. New Zealand as a country will only prosper and grow if we build on the governance and institutional arrangements that strengthen democracy. Powerful Maori tribes are doing everything they can to undermine our democratic state, using the country’s resources and institutions to foster the Maori tribal world view. If you want to join us in drawing a line in the sand and saying enough is enough, then help us now – because the only way we can stop the juggernaut is if we all band together.

1.Paul Hamer, One in Six? The Rapid Growth of the Māori Population in Australia 
2.Iwi Leaders’ Group, Outline of Possible Alternative to the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004