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Mike Butler

Turning around race-based policy

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Race-based policy has been a feature of governance in New Zealand as long as the nation has had a government, and race-based affirmative action has been with us since the 1980s. Where is this heading and can anything be done to stop it? This column seeks to describe what the likely costs will be: when historical redress is agreed to and paid; when co-management agreements are set up with all tribal entities; and when all tribes have social service agencies operating, including Whanau Ora. I also suggest what could be done to reverse the process.

Total historical redress, whenever it is completed, may reach a grand total of around $3.9-billion. This may be calculated by multiplying the number of likely settlements, which may reach 87, by the average financial redress amount so far, which is $44.75-million.

Each tribal entity would have investments in land, buildings, forests, farming, aquaculture, and an array of businesses. Many assets that make up the financial redress quantum come with gold-plated leases to government departments, guaranteeing cash income far into the future. Each tribal entity would have the rights of first refusal to buy surplus state-owned assets for up to 172 years which gives tribal entities first dibs on any surplus government houses, land, commercial buildings, farm land, forest land, and aquaculture resources in their area for the next three or four generations.

Control of these assets, and generous management packages, would be concentrated in the few involved in running the businesses. Years ahead, most tribal entities would have parlayed this into a larger asset base although some could have lost it all, as Ngati Tama has done already.

Co-management became a part of settlement packages from 2000 and this brings a separate stream of funding. For instance, the Waikato River settlement will cost $400.8-million over the next 25 years. Five tribes shared in that agreement, giving an average amount of $80-million per tribe over the next 25 years. With 87 tribes, each probably claiming a river ancestor, the total amount over the next quarter century may be around $7-billion.

Numerous tribes have agencies that receive government funding to deliver social services. For instance, the Hastings-based Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga is a charitable trust governed by representatives of each of the 13 marae in the area. The Taiwhenua, as it is known, had an operating revenue of $8.4-million in 2009, employed up to 150 people delivering medical, dental, and mental health services as well as help for unmarried teen mums, insulation for houses, exercise programmes, and other social services which includes a helper type of service that provides a car and a social worker who is able to find housing, arrange interviews, and provide a free taxi service.

If there were 87 such social service entities throughout New Zealand, the total annual spend would be $730-million. There are also a range of new helper agencies that came into existence under the one-stop-shop Whanau Ora social services policy which will cost $39.6-million this financial year. Treaty settlements, co-governance, devolved social services, and Whanau Ora combined probably currently cost more than $1.1-billion a year.

What can be done to stop this on-going handover? The short answer is to: Abolish the Waitangi Tribunal; remove references to the treaty and its principles from legislation, and drop the principles for Crown action on the treaty; and abolish the Maori roll and separate Maori seats. More specifically, the hand-over may be stopped by reversing each step that created the hand-over process, and Geoffrey Palmer details that process in his book “New Zealand’s Constitution in Crisis”.

Palmer set up processes, procedures and principles upon which Maori policy decisions should be based. He said he did this because addressing Maori grievances was politically unpopular, and legislation to address grievances ran the risk of being outvoted. I contend that the grievance-redress policy should be put to a direct vote, maybe by way of binding referendum, which could either legitimise or dump the policy.

He ushered though retrospective powers for the tribunal through the Treaty of Waitangi Amendment Act passed in 1985. These retrospective powers have multiplied grievances from nine listed in 1882 to 2,034 in 2008. I suggest that the granting of retrospective powers to the tribunal was an epic blunder.

The president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Robin Cooke, conjured up the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in1987, and these principles have largely superseded the treaty. The Principles for Crown Action on the Treaty of Waitangi, that were created on Palmer’s watch, were adopted by the Cabinet he was a part of in 1989, and became the reference point for government policy. I suggest that both sets of principles should be dropped.

The unelected members of the Waitangi Tribunal have interpreted the Treaty of Waitangi in such a way that the chiefs who signed both ceded and did not cede sovereignty. By dropping the preamble and postscript to the treaty, the tribunal removed the treaty from its 1840 context and turned it into a living document, a kind of gospel that must be referred to in making any decision.

Treaty policy is based on the Maori text of Te Tiriti and an English language version written by clerk James Freeman who added phrases (such as “estates, forests, fisheries”) that do not appear in the Maori version. I suggest that the commercial fisheries settlement of 1992 and the Central North Island forestry settlement of 2008 were epic policy blunders that were made based on faulty interpretation of the two divergent treaty texts.

Current race-based policy makes little sense without the underlying grievance-redress ideology combined with the drive for tribal control of all things Maori.

However, any close look at the confiscation grievances reveals that tribes who sustained land confiscation were those who fought against the colonial government in the 1860s and had land confiscated as a punishment. I suggest that most other grievances came into existence after 1985, when tribes were empowered to pick over the bones of history to create an argument to justify compensation. I also suggest that any analysis of the “Maori control of all things Maori” ideology shows that it stems from a gross misinterpretation of the treaty.

What do people think about these issues? A Consumerlink/Colmar Brunton survey this year showed that of the 1031 people surveyed 68 percent favoured abolishing the Waitangi Tribunal, and 69 percent thought that Maori seats and the Maori electoral roll should be abolished.

The New Zealand Election Study of 2008 found of the 2700 voting-age New Zealanders surveyed, 37.4 percent wanted the treaty removed from New Zealand law, 19.7 percent were neutral and 36.8 percent wanted the treaty kept in law. A total 39.7 percent agreed Maori deserved compensation, 15.7 percent were neutral, but 41.2 percent thought that Maori did not deserve compensation

Where is race-based policy heading and how can it end? I suggest that race-based affirmative action is a special-interest-group agenda and part of a wider problem that can be seen in the existence of a range of government departments that exist solely to satisfy the demands of special-interest groups. Indulging such groups is costly, and all adds to our current government’s Budget blow out.

Race-based policy will end either when the money runs out, or be brought to a close when it is no longer politically viable to continue, or be left to carry on quietly without public scrutiny in the hope that the people paying for it will not notice. Unfortunately for the under-the radar types, the policy is under scrutiny, and it is unpopular.

Details of settlements to date can be found in the Treaty Transparency Report.