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"RACE RELATIONS" - Speech -- Richard Prebble

"RACE RELATIONS" --- Richard Prebble


A Speech to Terrace End Rotary Club, Palmerston North "RACE RELATIONS"

Thursday 28th Sep 2000 Richard Prebble Speech -- Governance & Constitution

Tonight I want to deal with what is the most difficult issue to debate nationally, race relations.

Those who dare to question the direction the coalition is taking us in are ruthlessly labelled racists. As Winston Peters observes, there is nothing that a sickly white liberal hates more than being called a racist. As a white liberal I can testify that it is most unpleasant.

I persist in raising the issues because as a parent of children who are not white I am passionately committed to creating a successful multi-racial society.

The evil of racism, once out of the bottle is hard to recork.

It is one of the unwritten rules of international investment – never invest in a nation with bad race relations. We have the examples of the Balkans, Northern Ireland, or closer to home, East Timor and Fiji, to tell us that this is an issue of first importance.

My message today is not to claim New Zealand is another Fiji in the making, but to say that New Zealand is not.

We need people in leadership positions to say that race relations in New Zealand are good. They could be better, but they are not bad.

I do not say it in the rose-tinted way the media gushed in the 1950s that New Zealand had the best race relations in the world.

In the 1950s we were guilty of being too optimistic, now we are being too pessimistic. This pessimism view comes from our nation’s leaders.

Let me give you a reminder of what you have been bombarded with. The Speech from the Throne this year, the coalition’s programme: “As long as the economic and social gaps between Maori and other New Zealanders remain large, the government of New Zealand cannot claim to have addressed the needs of all New Zealanders. My government is committed to closing the gaps.”

Or the Rt Hon Helen Clark’s speech to the Maori Women’s Welfare League Conference just last week: “We have much work to do. From the 1980s on New Zealand has had faster growth in inequality than almost any other country in the developed world. That is shameful. In our country, that inequality has had a unique and unfortunate dimension. There has been growing disparities between the life chances of Maori and other New Zealanders … we committed $240 million over the next four years to address these yawning gaps.”

Or the speech of the Hon Michael Cullen in the budget: “I want to say now a word about the government’s commitment to closing the gaps. In the 1980s and 1990s in New Zealand inequality deepened greatly. Many research studies have pointed to that, including one recently commissioned and released by the New Zealand Treasury. Unfortunately New Zealand has had faster growth in inequality than any other country in the developed world. That is shameful. In our country that inequality has had a unique and unfortunate dimension. There has been a growing disparity between the life chances of Maori and other New Zealanders, and Pacific peoples and other New Zealanders.”

All New Zealanders of goodwill would be horrified by such statistics and deeply concerned for the future of our country.

I personally believe that this days’ pessimism over race relations has contributed to a mood of depression deeper than any I have experienced in my adult life.

I come bringing good news. It is just not true. The gaps are not widening. The gaps are closing. The government’s own research reveals a very optimistic picture.

Let me quote from a government research paper by the Labour Department’s senior research analyst, Simon Chapple, published this month. These are direct quotes: “The post 1970s Maori population is in absolute terms larger, per capita materially wealthier and has a higher life expectancy than at any time in New Zealand’s history”.

“A frequent articulated belief is that over the last decade, the relative social and economic position of Maori has worsened. As shall be shown, this belief is a misconception. Take three indicators of socio-economic outcomes that most of us would consider to be key: employment rates, median incomes and education levels. By all these indicators, gaps closed over the 1990s”.

“Using household labour force data on d`ifferences in employment rates as the best single measure of Maori Labour market disparity shows that today employment rate disparity peaked in the early 1990s at over 14% and thereafter has fallen. It rests currently at 6%”.

“Given ongoing declines in the employment rate disparity between 1996 and 1999, further reductions in median income disparity when data becomes available from the 2001 census seem likely”.

“Finally consider the educational qualifications of the Maori population relative to non-Maori. Data from the HLFS [Household Labour Force Survey] show that there has been a slow progressive decline in the differences between the population shares of Maori and non-Maori without qualifications between 1985 and 1998. More sophisticated measures of the education gap between the two populations show a very similar pattern of slow convergence”.

This is wonderful news. Chapple’s research shows that while there are poor Maori, there are also poor whites. He also points out there are Maori who “already have jobs, skills, high incomes and good prospects”.

The 6% gap is not an absolute gap, it’s an average gap. There are in fact over 40% of Maori who are on incomes above the New Zealand average income.

The NBR rich list shows that there are Maori multi-millionaires.

Chapple’s research shows that where you live, your age, gender, education and skills explain how well you are doing – not race. So people living in Northland, both Maori and non-Maori, are poorer than people living in Wellington, both Maori and non-Maori.

Students, regardless of race, are poor.

The well-educated have higher incomes. Indeed, well-educated Maori have slightly, but not statistically higher incomes than non-Maori.

Chapple points out that in New Zealand you are Maori if you identify yourself as such.

Between the 1991 and 1996 census over 100,000 people who in 1991 identified themselves as non-Maori, decided in 1996 that they were Maori.

People respond to incentives. It also shows that there is no socio-economic stigma in being Maori, which must show that race relations in New Zealand must be better than our leaders believe.

I put it to you – if New Zealand was holding the Olympics no one would doubt for a moment that the opening ceremony would be a celebration of our bi-cultural heritage. Most New Zealanders are very comfortable with that. I have seen tough middle-aged suits overseas become all weepy when hearing the haka.

How has the government reacted to this great news that the gaps are rapidly closing?

Helen Clark ignored Chapple’s research when giving last week’s speech.

Your local MP, Steve Maharey, attacked ACT’s Muriel Newman – let me quote: “Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey, tonight accused ACT Party list MP Muriel Newman of wilful distortion in her comments on a research report.” “The ACT Party are claiming the Chapple report, … support the ACT Party’s position on the `closing the gaps’ and Treaty issues”.

He goes on to say – “The ACT Party would dearly love to find some respectable research justification for the unsavoury politics they are pursuing.”

As I commented, when you try to debate race relations you are immediately subject to vicious personal attacks.

Maharey goes on to say: “The report needs to be studied in its entirety, and its conclusions given a measured and considered treatment.” “It is noteworthy that, on Page 1 of the report, the author has this to say:

“it remains a well-established fact that significant socio-economic gaps still remain between Maori and non-Maori in New Zealand in education, health, income and labour market status.”

“ACT might like to wish this away – misrepresenting the research betrays a lack of political integrity”.

What Mr Maharey did not say is that the quote from the Chapple report is itself a quote from Te Puni Kokiri’s 1998 Closing the Gaps report. It is cited by Chapple as an example of misconceived official perception.

Either Minister Maharey had not read Simon Chapple’s report, or the government has decided to ignore the facts and is mis-representing research which, to quote the Minister “betrays a lack of political integrity”.

The whole factual, intellectual and moral basis of the coalition’s cornerstone policy “Closing the Gaps” has turned out to be false.

A courageous government will face the facts and do a U-turn. I for one will not criticise them if they do so.

It will not be easy. Over the last few years a wealthy and powerful grievance industry has developed. There are over 500 people who earn their living, and I might add, a very good living, solely from the grievance industry, the real number is probably much higher.

These people have no incentive to settle anything, or to improve race relations. They are like divorce lawyers who profit by poisoning the air between disaffected partners. They have even spin-off support industries – like the law schools that are teaching grievance law to students who have every reason to believe they will be able to make a career in perpetuity from their industry!

The claims become more imaginative and, as there is money in it, more extreme.

The decision that a pan Maori Trust be given part of the 3G spectrum shows the bankruptcy of present policy.

To quote the government press release, the Hon Trevor Mallard “access to spectrum is not a Treaty right ……[but] to contribute to a strong economic base for Maori”.

“For a decade, Mrs Shipley and her government stood by and watched the social and economic gaps between Maori and other New Zealanders widen”.

What is Trevor Mallard’s justification for giving away this taxpayer’s asset today?

ACT is calling on the coalition to respond to the Chapple report. It’s not just that present policies reward people who are already on above average income.

How can we justify denying a poor student a place at university in favour of a student with as little as a 32nd Maori blood?

The Rt Hon Douglas Graham has stated he has some Maori blood. How could anyone say - and I am sure he doesn’t, that his children should receive government largesse.

Money can’t be spent twice. Today money that should be targeting the real gaps is being diverted. Much of the $240 million committed to closing the gap will be wasted. In Simon Chapple’s words – “Broad based policies which target the Maori population, which may be thought to close the gaps (such as fisheries settlements, other treaty settlements, cheap access to the radio spectrum etc.), risk being captured by the considerable number of Maori who already have jobs, skills, high incomes and good prospects."

But there is a more important reason to change direction. By fostering the myth that there is a growing gap we are creating a stereotype that Maori are doomed to failure. The propoganda is poisoning race relations. It is affecting our self belief as a nation that believes strongly in being fair.

Let me set out for you what the ACT Party does say. ACT stands for a colour-blind government – for one law for all.

Let’s settle outstanding Treaty claims quickly and generously and finally. Then let us remove all racial discrimination from the statute books.

Successful nations are colour blind. It is a core ACT principle, one of the reasons for the founding of ACT, that there be one law for all.

ACT believes in choice, freedom and personal responsibility.

ACT says if people want to identify as Maori, learn Maori at school, organise their own health schemes, that is the right of free choice. They should have as much choice, freedom and responsibility as any other New Zealander.

If Maori want to use the airwaves, good on them. They are free to buy it from the taxpayer just like anyone else. When Ministers give away the spectrum then they are widening the real gaps that exist in our society, because that is money we can no longer use to target the really disadvantaged, both brown and white.

Finally, let’s celebrate the fact that the gaps are closing. That’s a reason to be proud, to be proud to live in a nation where how well you can achieve does not depend on the colour of your skin, but your effort.

I would not have it any other way.


For more information visit ACT online at or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at

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