In recent weeks, Gareth Morgan has written several articles for the “New Zealand Herald” promoting his book on the implications of the Treaty of Waitangi for modern New Zealand. Then a couple of days before Waitangi Day I had a call from David Fisher of the “Herald” telling me that Dr Morgan would be going to the Orewa Rotary Club to give a speech criticising what he called “ignorant Brash-think” about the Treaty. I made some comments suggesting that I disagreed quite fundamentally with his views and they appeared in the “Herald” the following day. Later that day, I got a phone call from one of Dr Morgan’s staff (Gareth must have been too busy to call me himself) inviting me to attend the speech and make some comments in reply. After giving the matter some thought, I accepted the invitation and have no regrets that I did so.
It was obvious that Dr Morgan had chosen the venue for maximum media impact, with my attendance also designed to increase the media appeal. And there were certainly plenty of media in attendance – arguably as many media people as other audience members. It turned out that, while we spoke at the premises used by the Orewa Rotary Club, this was not a meeting of the Orewa Rotary Club, which no doubt explains why the audience was so tiny.
Because the “debate” – really a speech by Dr Morgan and a relatively brief reply by me, followed by a small number of questions from the audience – attracted some media attention, I accepted Muriel’s invitation to write a brief piece on why I disagree with Dr Morgan.
Let me first acknowledge that Dr Morgan and I agree on some issues. He is opposed to separate Maori electorates, Maori wards in local government (and by implication the Maori Statutory Board in Auckland) and quotas for Maori in educational institutions. Granting any group special rights is contrary to Article 3 of the Treaty he believes, and I totally agree with that.
Having these special rights is also patronising, and implies that Maori aren’t quite competent enough to have their voices heard in the political arena, or get into some university courses, without a special leg up. Of course that is nonsense: when I was in Parliament, there were 21 Maori in Parliament – roughly the same percentage of Maori Members of Parliament as Maori are in the wider population – only seven of them elected in the Maori electorates. The other 14 were elected in general constituencies or were placed in a winnable position on a party’s list. (Ironically, the person who chaired our debate in Orewa personified that fact – she was Georgina Beyer, herself Maori, who won the rural electorate of Wairarapa for the Labour Party in competition with Paul Henry.)
Similarly in Auckland: the first election of councillors after the super-city was established in 2010 saw three people of Maori descent elected – not in Maori wards but on their own merit – and again three Maori out of a total of 20 councillors meant that Maori on the Council were in roughly the same proportion as Maori in the general population.
But as explained in his recent Ngapuhi speech, Dr Morgan’s basic position seems to be that –
“.. the Treaty is whatever a reasonable person’s view of the following four taken together leads them to – not any one taken in isolation, but all taken together:
1) Treaty of Waitangi
2) Te Tiriti O Waitangi
3) Principles of the Treaty
4) Post-1975 Consensus on the Treaty.”
And I think that that is nonsense. The so-called principles of the Treaty have often been referred to, frequently in legislation, but have never to my knowledge been fully explained, let alone agreed. And to refer to a “post-1975 consensus on the Treaty” is again a meaningless concept – I know of no such consensus, and the whole reason for the ongoing debate is that there is no consensus about what the Treaty means, or should mean.
In one of his “Herald” articles Dr Morgan talked about Maori having a partnership with the Crown, making us, in his words, “one nation, two peoples”. I also think this is nonsense, Lord Cooke notwithstanding. The idea that Governor Hobson envisaged the British Crown – the representation of the most advanced country in the world at the time – forming a partnership with a disparate group of Maori chiefs who were, at that time, scarcely out of the Stone Age, is ludicrous. Moreover, to speak of New Zealand in 2015 being “two peoples” is equally silly: the overwhelming majority of people who identify as Maori also have some non-Maori ancestors, frequently a non-Maori parent, while “non-Maori” are no longer exclusively European but embrace a very wide range of ethnicities.
So I disagree with Dr Morgan’s starting point, and as a result I disagree with many of his conclusions.
I think making the teaching of te reo compulsory in primary school, as he advocates, would be a complete waste of valuable teaching time for most New Zealand children, many of whom can’t even read and write well in English – which is not just the dominant language of New Zealand but is also the dominant language of the whole world. Being able to read and write in English is of fundamental importance to all New Zealanders, whatever their ancestry. And yes, there may be merits in terms of brain development in learning a second language at an early age, but if a second language is to be learnt it should be one which would be of benefit in the wider world, such as Mandarin or Spanish. (Interestingly, I took part in a Maori TV programme a few years ago, on a panel of six people discussing whether te reo should be a compulsory subject in primary school. Even though I was the only non-Maori on the panel, the panel voted by clear majority against making the teaching of te reo compulsory.) Of course if resources were infinite – so that we could teach te reo without crowding out anything else in the school curriculum – then why not learn a whole bunch of languages? But as an economist Dr Morgan should know better than most that resources are not infinite: teaching te reo would have an opportunity cost – something else would have to drop out of the curriculum.
The idea of having an Upper House with 50% of its members being Maori, which Dr Morgan also advocates, strikes me as utterly absurd, and totally at odds with any concept of democracy.
Many of our problems today stem from the way in which Te Tiriti O Waitangi – the real Treaty, which Maori chiefs signed – has been reinterpreted to suit the desires of modern-day revisionists. But its meaning is totally unambiguous.
The first clause involved Maori chiefs ceding sovereignty to the British Crown, completely and forever. And there can be not the slightest doubt about that. That Maori chiefs understood that at the time is abundantly clear from the speeches made by the chiefs themselves, both those in favour of signing and those opposed to it. This was further confirmed by a large number of chiefs at the Kohimarama Conference in 1860, and confirmed again by Sir Apirana Ngata in 1920.
The third article of the Treaty provided that all Maori – “tangata Maori, katoa o Nu Tirani” – should receive full citizenship rights – and this included the many slaves of other Maori, most being held in abject conditions and often the victims of cannibal feasts. Today, we tend to see this clause as no big deal but in 1840 it was an extraordinary thing for the Queen’s representatives to offer – nothing similar happened for the Australian aborigines, or the American Indians. All Maori, no matter their status, were offered the “rights and privileges of British subjects”, putting them on a par with every other British subject – not, it may be noted, ahead of other British subjects but on a par with them.
The second clause is what has caused so much angst. Actually, the clause is redundant since all it does is guarantee the right of citizens to own private property, and British subjects have this right anyway. But note that the guarantee was made to all the people of New Zealand – “tangata katoa o Nu Tirani” – in clear distinction to the third article which specifically applied only to Maori – and “all” means “all”. In other words, rights of ownership were guaranteed to all New Zealanders, not just to those with one or more Maori ancestors.
There is ongoing debate about what “tino rangatiratanga” meant at the time but it is impossible to believe it meant what modern-day revisionists try to take it to mean. Why on earth would Hobson have asked Maori chiefs to sign a Treaty involving the complete cession of sovereignty in the first clause if the second clause contradicted that first clause?
Let me say that I have always supported the payment of compensation by the Crown to any New Zealander, Maori or non-Maori, who can establish with a reasonable degree of certainty that their property has been illegally confiscated by the Crown. There are clearly suspicions that some of the claims which have been settled in recent times have in fact been settled on several previous occasions, and that brings the settlement process into disrepute. But in principle nobody can object to the Crown paying compensation to any New Zealander whose property has been illegally confiscated.
So in summary, I like the Treaty: it is a very simple document recording the cession of sovereignty by the Maori chiefs who signed it; extending to them in return the full rights of British subjects; and guaranteeing to all New Zealanders the right to own property.
But it does not require us all to learn te reo; it does not provide for separate Maori electorates or Maori wards; it does not give Maori a power to veto RMA resource consents; it does not give Maori any preferential rights over natural resources; and it certainly provides no basis for an Upper House with half its members being Maori.