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No Right Turn: No Place For Maori Under National

No Place For Maori Under National

Don Brash has rehashed his Orewa speech in laying out National's treaty policy, and in doing so made it crystal clear that there is no place for Maori under a National government. Instead, he wants to disband Te Puni Kokiri and Te Mangai Paho, expunge all references to the Treaty from legislation, abolish the Maori seats, and destroy the Waitangi Tribunal - returning us to the "golden age" of the 1950's when New Zealand had "the best race relations in the world" because it simply pretended Maori did not exist.

Things have come a long way since then. The Maori population has grown both in numbers and political power. Maori culture has undergone a renaissance which is still going on. Thanks to the 1985 amendment to the Treaty of Waitangi Act, the Waitangi Tribunal gained the power to investigate historical claims, and this has led to a settlements process which is finally putting to rest the grievances of the past. And we've seen governments taking Maori problems seriously, and trying - through organisations such as TPK - to ensure that Maori are full and equal participants in our society, with living standards and life expectancies equal to those of any other New Zealander.

Brash's divisive vision puts all of that in danger. Rather than working through and solving our problems, he would introduce new grievances. Rather than trying to close the gaps between Maori and Pakeha in health, education, and employment, he would leave Maori to rot at the bottom of the heap. And rather than try to ensure Maori were listened to, he would ensure they were ignored.

Worse, as his policy for Treaty clauses and the Waitangi Tribunal show, Brash would effectively tear up the treaty, and reduce it to "a simple nullity" which the government had no obligation to keep. Even if you take a minimalist view of the Treaty's meaning, there can be no question that it imposes continuing obligations on the government to protect Maori property rights and ensure that they are equal citizens. Yet Brash is proposing to do away with the very institution and legislative clauses which recognise and enforce this obligation, and instead leave it to "the conscience of the crown" - an approach shown to be manifestly inadequate in the past.

This may go down well with the rednecks in talkbackland, but its not a solution to race relations in New Zealand. You don't bring people together by pretending that one group doesn't exist, and you don't encourage harmony by stripping a people of their rights and systematically blinding government to their interests. Quite the opposite, in fact. And the result will be festering grievances and constant relitigation through the political system until these policies are changed. And on this, time and demographics are not on Brash's side.

Brash justifies all of this on the basis that the Treaty as a 19th century document cannot possibly have anything to say about the modern world. To the contrary, I think it has something very simple and important to say: that Maori must be full and equal participants in our society, and that their needs and interests must be respected and taken into account just as those of more recent arrivals - Pakeha, Chinese, Dutch, Pacific Peoples, Afghans, Zimbabweans - are. I'd prefer a government which took that message to heart and tried to make it real, rather than one which sought to deny it from the outset in the name of grubbing votes from rednecks.


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