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Te Putatara: Racial Politics

Racial Politics

Te Putatara
a newsletter for the kumara vine
Maori news, views and comment
Tuesday, September 13. 2005

E hoa ma, I've been struggling for the last week to write something about the electioneering race card, something a bit more meaningful than just my emotional responses of anger and sadness.

Not having much luck though. It's an election tactic designed to provoke an emotional response in the ballot booth, based on what is perhaps New Zealand society's deepest fear; the fear of Maori.

It's working too.

Ive seen and experienced a lot of racism in my 62 years, but never such a full-on poll driven cynical assault.

And I realised just yesterday that my own overwhelming response is fear as well. I realised that I'm frightened about the consequences of that policy, and of the choices I might have to make that I don't want to make, if they try to implement it.

My memory of politics goes back before Holyoake. I'm sure the electioneering race card has never been used like this, not in my lifetime anyway. Not even by Muldoon.

Now Muldoon often took on Maori, and the Tuaiwa Rickard and Ngati Whatua battles are two of the most notorious, and he lost both, eventually. But he didn't launch a full-on frontal assault on Maori in general. He was a master at manipulating the fear of electors, and he pulled the "Reds Under the Bed" trick a few times, and created and played with the fear of imagined economic mismanagement. Ironically he fulfilled his own economic mismanagement prophecy. But he didn't go near the deepest and darkest fear in New Zealand society; the fear of Maori. I guess he knew the consequences were far too great.

I knew a few of the ministers in his Cabinets. They were of the World War 2 generation, the ones I knew served as officers in the war, and most of them were farmers. They were part of the elite but their life experiences had brought them into close contact with ordinary New Zealanders, and with Maori. They remembered and valued the contribution of 28 Maori Battalion to the war effort. They had a genuine if patronising affection for Maori. They would never dream of provoking the fear of Maori to win elections.

Sadly Parliament is no longer led by people of their broad life experiences.

It is said that in later years when Jim Bolger's strategists suggested playing the race card he responded that it might be OK to play it on the Saturday, but what would they do on Monday.

From the beginning of government in this country there have been a number of tried and true ways of keeping Maori under control. The bad old days of the gun and the legislative club seemed to have passed. Trickery and fraudulent misappropriation seemed to have passed. But right up to the present wily governments have always known that the most effective method was to buy us off. And that's what they have done.

In the early days it was a cheap ploy. Quite a few so called rangatira were bought off and tamed with government "pensions", and "friendships" with the old conman Governor George Grey. By Muldoon's time we were still quite cheap. Whina Cooper was bought off with a village post office, a damehood and a paltry $5000. But after the activism, protests and occupations of the 1970s, and after the 1981 Springbok Tour Civil War, the price of our compliance went up a little. Treasury and Jim Bolger tried to cap it at $1 billion, and that met with howls of indignation and protest.

Maori got right in behind the 1981 Civil War, not just to protest against racism and apartheid in South Africa, and against Muldoon. The 1981 Civil War was the culmination of all those years of consciousness raising and protest, and political agitation. It was where Maori showed the Government that the line between peace and chaos is very thin indeed. The blood that flowed in the streets reinforced the message. And Government listened.

It was the blood flowing in the streets that brought that message home.

And that's what frightens me about this election on Saturday. That and the choices I might have to make on Monday.

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