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Tamihere speech to National Press Club

John Tamihere speech to National Press Club, Parliament

One standard of citizenship?

I want to talk to you today about one standard of citizenship. When it comes to talking about Treaty-related and Maori-related matters, I'd probably have a starting point of 1975 which saw the Treaty of Waitangi Act passed around the time of the end of the Rowling Government. Nothing much happened with that piece of legislation till 1982 with the Motonui decision up in Taranaki.

Our nation debate and the treaty process started for about that point in time. It was the first time that a Government had actually taken cognizance of the 1975 legislation and had a very well-structured report submitted to it from the tribunal with a range of recommendations. From 1982 we then come into the Lange Government, which radicalised Treaty jurisprudence and took Treaty claims back to 1840 onwards, and so it turned the clock back dramatically.

Since the Motonui decision we are now 20 years into this nationhood debate. For a whole range of reasons we deferred the nationhood debate regarding Maori capacity and rights right up until this last 20 years. So I think we have done something extraordinary and dynamic over a very busy time in the history of this nation, particularly when you look at the restructuring that occurred during the Lange Government and the continuity of that with Ruth Richardson and the like, and the way which it rolled out under the National Government of the 1990s.

Some very significant things happened regarding our treaty jurisprudence and our constitution. It doesn't matter what political party you are in. Any leader leading any political party in this House today voted in favour of Treaty clauses. Every politician of any merit and standing in their party today oversaw the implementation and application of Treaty-related matters.

With the settlement of claims we now have a national framework in place that has been carefully Treasury-modelled. So settlements are concluded with regard to dollar values. This thing has got a clearly defined budgetary framework now. The reason for that is that every claim has got a dollar value against it now and every iwi grouping has signed up for a final settlement in that regard.

So the argument about a final settlement is over and the National Government funded it for about $100 million a year to settle that sort of settlements. The fisheries settlement is worth about the thick end of a billion dollars and the forestry settlement is worth about $700 million. We are looking at major dollar values going into the hands of Maori communities and addressing a number of the grievances that they have had.

Where we are going in the next 10 years will be as follows. In the next 10 years the argument will be what are the reciprocal rights that Maori owe to the nation under the Treaty? Because we have gone through this wonderful process of nationhood building with Maori, and now Maori are coming out the other end. Their leadership is going to have to stand up in the next 10 years.

Why the next 10 years are important is as follows: 75 per cent of Maori are under the age of 25. Fifty-five per cent of Maori people are of school age. In the next 10 years as positive and progressive citizens, as we desperately need them to be, we are going to have to start to stand up and be counted on that very benchmark. What will that mean? Will it mean that the Government will have to sort that out? No. What it will mean is that we have to sort it out with Maori leadership. And the Maori leadership will make it or break it on the basis of the huge resources that are going to them.

In the next 10 years there will be significant intra-Maori difficulties over that. Those are the issues, obligations and responsibilities of Maori leadership. We should be honest enough to stand up and start challenging ourselves about that, rather than always being able to excuse difficulties in our community and pointing the finger at others. The days of that are over as far as I am concerned.

It was probably over by the year 2000, easily. We settled two major settlements by 2000 and that was Tainui and Ngai Tahu. Subsequent settlements have come through under this Government and we are locked and loaded on the historical stuff.

We are ready to rock. Our communities are young and ready to go. No longer can we be led by people who are able to walk into our classrooms and tell our babies why they should fail because of others and the difficulties they perpetrated on us. We need to clearly tell them that.

Equally in terms of leadership out of this building it is imprudent and inappropriate for any politician of the day to use opportunistic policies and politics to divide the nation merely to conjure up a support base in their political numbers game.

We are too mature now in this process to use opportunistic politics about one standard of citizenship. I would trade the standard of citizenship of the people I represent in Auckland tomorrow with yours, if that's the debate. I think that's a very silly debate.

Twenty years ago I was involved in student political activism on the campus at Auckland University where we got affirmative action programmes in place. No less than 25 places at the Auckland Law School had to be reserved for Maori. I no longer support that, because we have come of age.

There was a time when our numbers coming through were so narrowly defined where we needed to engage in a number of sectors, and we didn't have the opportunity or the capacity, where affirmative action programmes were arguably OK. Now our demographic spike is coming through, our numbers are OK and we can start to succeed on merit rather than through quotas. Equally on the debate about the Maori seats: they will go. It's a matter of when, not if. They will go as the maturity of our community and society and MMP continues on.

It is because we have deferred our nationhood debate for so long, till the last 20 years. And we have done marvellously well at it. We should pat ourselves on the back. We don't often do that as Kiwis. And we don't often do that as Maori - though after the disaster of last night I can see why (referring to Maori team's loss in the rugby).

The reality is that when we look back on the period we have just gone through, if you look at the gene pool that underwrites this nation's cultures, it has all been born out of islanders. Whether you are British islanders, or Pacific islanders. And island-based people are quite plucky people. You take the Brits – and that is one of my underlying genealogical paths – they are forceful people, and so are we. Sir Edmund Hillary put it far more eloquently than me, but we have been bowed and bloodied but never beaten. We are a very feisty people.

We don't have a bill of rights; we have an incremental, evolving constitution from the courts, the legislature here, the Government and the Fourth Estate. As it evolves, of course the Treaty debate will come up, because the Treaty question comes up as to whether it is applicable to whatever piece of legislation we are reviewing.

I'm down here to counterbalance what I call iwi fundamentalism - which will lead to separatism. The pendulum has swung through the 80s and 90s that has affirmed people who suffer from iwi-itis too much. Like all good things in New Zealand, you pitch down the middle, not too far over there or not too far the other way. We are very moderate people who like very moderate types of things.

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