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A Racial Divide?

Speech Muriel Newman MP...


When my family immigrated to New Zealand in 1958, I believe there was no racial divide. As kids, our friends were Maori and Pakeha; we were all alike.

New Zealand back then was a great country ' we had the second highest standard of living in the world. It didn't matter where you were born, which school you went to, or who your parents were. We all had an equal opportunity to get ahead. Our families understood the need for hard work. They valued education as a key to a better life ' parents read to their kids, insisted they did their homework, and threatened them if they didn't work at school.

Values were strong and children knew where the boundaries were. Most importantly, they were taught to strive for success in everything they did, secure in the knowledge that as long as they always tried their hardest, their parents would be proud.

In those days, there were few 'handouts'. If someone fell on hard times and needed help, they turned to their family, their church, or their community for support. State charity was a last resort.

Funnily enough, it worked. There was no unemployment and little crime. Sure, New Zealand had Britain as a major trading partner, and we were regulated to hell, but children thrived, families did well and the country was strong. There was no racial divide.

Past Labour Governments introduced two changes to legislation that significantly contributed to the disquiet that many New Zealanders now feel about the state of race relations. The first was a series of compassionate-sounding amendments to social welfare in 1973, which undermined the Maori family and created a dependency culture. The second was the 1975 Treaty of Waitangi Act, which spawned the grievance industry.

The Kirk Labour Government transformed Michael Joseph Savage's welfare safety net - which for thirty years had successfully provided people with a hand up to work - into a net that trapped a disproportionate number of Maori.

They firstly raised benefits so that anyone who was not working received a welfare income of similar value to a working wage. By doing so, they totally ignored human nature: people are driven by incentives. If it is possible to get the same income by not working as you could by slogging your guts out for forty hours a week, why would you bother working? That change created intergenerational welfare dependency, a major factor in the development of the 'underclass' which has ultimately resulted in tragedies such as the deaths of toddler James Whakaruru and baby Lillybing. Maori in particular, became over-represented in those statistics.

The Labour Government also ideologically believed that welfare should become a universal entitlement with a welfare cheque being available to everyone no matter whether they were an alcoholic, a drug addict, or an irresponsible layabout.

For the first time in our history, the state financed destructive behaviours and bad habits. Because a welfare income was not generous enough to properly finance those bad habits, some recipients - with plenty of time on their hands - turned to crime. In effect, the state began to support people involved in criminal behaviour. This again, had a disastrous effect on Maori, who are over-represented in all criminal statistics.

The Labour Government decided that if a woman with children was in a violent relationship, the state should pay her to leave. Again, the incentives in paying the Domestic Purposes Benefit were not carefully thought through. Instead of the estimated 20,000 sole mothers lining up for a reasonable income just so long as they didn't work or marry, the numbers doubled, trebled, quadrupled.

Today there are 110,000 sole parents on the DPB, a large proportion of them Maori, and New Zealand is a world leader in family breakdown. If present trends continue, by the year 2010 three-quarters of all Maori babies under a year old will be growing up in families where there are no fathers.

Welfare incentives corrupt people. Giving something for nothing in a world where there are no free lunches is wrong. Rewarding people who choose not to help themselves, while penalising those who try to get ahead, is wrong. Paying more to families on welfare to have more children even though parents may be struggling to cope, is wrong. Paying families to split up is wrong.

Welfare has done more to disadvantage Maori than anything else, and if this Government was really serious about 'closing the gaps' (rather than pandering to a voting block) they would put welfare reform at the top of their agenda: require people to do something in return for a benefit, bring in time-limits, give sole mothers child-care support so they can get off a benefit and become a working role model for their children.

The question we need to ask tonight is whether the Labour Government has done anything to put these problems right? The answer is a resounding no. They have made the problem worse. By increasing benefit levels it is now far harder for people to leave, particularly if they are unskilled. By bringing in a raft of new initiatives based on racial privilege, the government has made it more difficult for Maori to stand on their own two feet.

A recent letter in a Northland newspaper says it all: "I am of Maori decent and I know many Maori who, like me, are sick to death of prejudicial and politically-correct preferential treatment of Maori. What bureaucrats cannot seem to understand is that Maori want to be treated as equally as everyone else. Maori leaders however, are convinced that Maori need to be led to the water and shown how to drink".

The writer should have included Maori politicians in that statement, because it certainly appears that the MPs who hold the Maori seats are out to 'get what they can' for Maori. That only makes the situation worse.

The problem is that privilege corrupts the human spirit. Why would you bother doing something for yourself when you know that if you bleat, some do-gooding politician will rescue you. In a free society, people need to be treated equally under the law. State support should be there as a last resort, but it should be based on need, not race.

That is why the Maori seats in Parliament, a relic from the last century when only property-owning males could vote and joint-owners of Maori land were disenfranchised, is an anachronism and should be changed. The measure was always only meant to be temporary. There have now been four recommendations to abolish those seats by various Commissions of Enquiry. Yet under the stewardship of this Labour Government the number of Maori seats will be increased from six to seven at the next election and the number of general seats will fall.

But the Government does not intend to stop there. They have a clear intention not only to introduce Maori seat quotas on all Boards ' health, conservation and so on ' but on to local authorities as well. Both Maori and non-Maori alike see this as not only insulting but very divisive. In the year 2001 in a multicultural democracy, representation based on race is a historical relic that should go.

The lobbying by Maori Members of Parliament helped to drive the controversial 1975 Treaty of Waitangi Act, which not only set up the Waitangi Tribunal but also established the Maori land grievance industry. Fuelled by amendments in 1985 and 1987, the legislation was made retrospective, back to 1840, opening up a Pandora's box.

The problem was that the sovereignty formalised in the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi resided in Westminster and not in New Zealand. It wasn't until 1947, with the passing of the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act that full sovereign powers were vested in the New Zealand Parliament. This occurred some 95 years after the Treaty was signed. Asking today's taxpayers to compensate for grievances dating back to 1840 is unfair, unjust and ultimately, a nonsense.

Having said all of that, there is cause for the Crown to rectify legitimate grievances such as those where the government seized land for a particular purpose and instead of returning it to its rightful owners, sold it without paying fair compensation. But in reality, the settlement process has gone off the rails: taxpayers paid twice for the Tainui settlement and three times for Ngai Tahu. There are several hundred claims in now front of the Tribunal, which on the track record to date, will take hundreds of years to work through. These include claims for rivers, the seabed, flora and fauna and even the electro-magnetic spectrum. Every time a claim is settled, displaced hapu who claim to be the rightful owners of the land lodge a counter-claim.

In front of parliament right now is an ACT bill, designed to sort all of this out. The bill sets deadlines for the lodging of 'new' historic claims, time-frames for their consideration by the Waitangi Tribunal, and a requirement for the fair, full and final settlement of claims found to be legitimate. It seeks to abolish the Waitangi Tribunal once the job is finished, to repeal all laws based on race, and to abolish the Maori seats.

The ACT Bill's intention is to give New Zealand a fresh start as one nation, with everyone regardless of race, age, sex or creed, equal under the law; a nation finally liberated from the debilitating burden of privilege based on race.

While the ACT Treaty Settlement bill may not be the full answer to the problems I have outlined tonight, it is certainly a step in the right direction. What I do know is that it will not even get off the ground. All of the parties of Government will be desperate to ensure it does not get referred to a Select Committee, since the agenda of Governments of the left is to buy support by keeping people dependent on the state, bribing them with bigger and better taxpayer funded offers.

That is why the Government's 'closing the gaps' policy aimed at reducing the so-called disparity between Maori and non-Maori came under such heavy fire. To pledge some $240 million to Maori initiatives, treating Maori as inferior people not capable of shouldering it in the real world, is harmful. Whether it is scholarships only for Maori, reduced educational entry levels for Maori, rate reductions for Maori land, the need for special consultation and payment to Maori under the Resource Management Act, or special community group grants of thousands of dollars with no strings attached only if you are Maori, the message is the same: if you are Maori, you are a second class citizen.

The Government fended off accusations that their moves were blatant attempts to buy Maori voters by claiming "there is a disparity between Maori and non-Maori aIong a range of labour market outcomes and this disparity is growing".

A report published last year from the chief economist with the Ministry of Social Policy, Simon Chapple, refuted that claim. He showed that over the last decade the gaps between Maori and non-Maori had been reducing, not growing.

The reality is that disadvantage is cross-cultural, not cultural. It is associated with benefit dependence, sole parenthood, low literacy, poor education, drug abuse and violence. I restate what I said earlier: if the government is serious about reducing poor outcomes for Maori, proper welfare reform would be their highest priority.

Tonight's topic asked whether the government's race-relations agenda is dividing New Zealand. I believe the answer is a resounding yes. Yet New Zealanders feel uncomfortable in a divided society. We need our Government to recognise that.

We want to be equal under the law. We want to walk shoulder to shoulder and we want to work together to regain our rightful position as a world leading nation. ACT's agenda of welfare reform, ending the settlement process, abolishing the Maori seats and removing all racial privilege in legislation is a programme that could give New Zealand the fresh start we all so desperately want. I only wish the Government would listen.

For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at act@parliament.govt.nz.

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