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Turia Speech: Primary Functions of Govt Conference

Tariana Turia Speech to the Second Annual Conference on the Primary Functions of Government, Saturday 30 October 2004 Tariana Turia, Co-leader, Maori Party

‘Democracy is a Cultural Expression: Westminster Accountability and Trust’

I want to begin by raising the general query about this moment in history. Then I wish to share with you my reflections on how this moment has given me strength as a Member of Parliament. Then I want to close with what I observe to be one of the key questions about the Westminster model, as it operates here in Aotearoa.

This moment in history … The most depressing feature of the tirades on tangata whenua from our elected representatives is neither the mean-spirited attacks, nor the spineless silence of the liberals. Both unmask the unsurprising failure of most New Zealanders to talk candidly about race and racism. Rather, what most disturbed and continues to disturb me, is the low level of discussion in Parliament about the Treaty, tangata whenua and our future together, as citizens of this great land. There has been absolutely no leadership from Parliament on this issue.

In my view it has been a crude discourse and a cynical grab for poll ratings. As I have observed, it has left some communities fearful, others angry, but, fortunately more often than not, whanau full of vigour and a genuine solidarity. A solidarity inspired by one another’s deep commitment to freedom and cultural expression.

How did we, as a Parliament, get ourselves into this bind?

It is interesting isn’t it? According to some of my colleagues, being ‘Maori’ should have no meaning in the state sector.

I think it is also important here to note the distinctions between race as in an anthropological sense, and the unique status of tangata whenua as Partner, under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The elaborate political, ethical and cultural constructions developed over the last two hundred years, which mean that each young brown child is subject to potential institutional racism, have gone overnight. Tell that to a young brown male who is more likely to be picked up by the police than his Pakeha friend. Tell that to a brown female trying to get a special benefit from Work and Income – I listened several years ago to the Downtown Community Ministry who found that if you were brown, you were less likely to get a special benefit when you applied, than your Pakeha friends.

The other interesting thing about the attacks on the Maori partner to the Treaty, is that they ignore the divisions of class and sexual orientations in our communities – divisions, that I am learning, require attention and need to be taken into consideration. But the most interesting thing about, what for the purposes of this paper I will label the ‘race discourse’, is that Dr Brash and his ilk are obsessed by it.

It must be an awfully strange world to want to deny race, but on the other hand be obsessed by it.

In viewing the ‘urgent problem’ (which is Maori people), they see the ‘problem’ in strictly individualistic terms, and ignore the historical background and social context of the current crisis. They seem to think that the decline in the protestant work ethic has resulted in the high crime rates, the increasing number of unwed mothers, and the relatively uncompetitive academic performances of young tangata whenua.

I am not saying that these sad realities should not be candidly confronted. But nowhere in the race discourse is there an examination of the pervasiveness of the market and the use of the mass media to stimulate consumption - especially strategies aimed at our people that project sexual activity as instant fulfillment and violence as male identity.

My aim is not to provide excuses for behaviour or to absolve personal responsibility – it never has been. But when our elected representatives accent behavior and responsibility in such a way that the realities of tangata whenua and their families are ignored, they are playing a deceptive and dangerous game with the lives and fortunes of New Zealanders. Whether they like it or not they are in the trap of blaming poor people for their predicament. It is a predicament that will produce even more cultural disorientation and more devastated households.

Political parties have played their race card with success – the deep conservatism in middle-class New Zealand took over - racism, sexism, homophobia and fear of poor people. In some of our whanau, this conservatism takes the form of homophobia. It should be no surprise that the Destiny Church has come alive. In a time when these elected political activists are fanning and channeling rage towards tangata whenua, Destiny Church, which is full of brown people, are scapegoating gays and lesbians.

So what do these observations have to do with the Westminster system that we have come to talk about today? There are three aspects of the current model that have assisted to create the bind Parliament now finds itself in.

The first is that general elections effectively delegate to the leadership of one party enormous authority that is effectively unconstrained until the next election. As a consequence, subject to the Government holding the majority, opposition parties are limited to rhetorical attacks, designed by polls. The ‘race discourse’ is a rhetorical attack, which is able to appeal to the deep conservatism still alive in our communities.

The second aspect of the model, which is probably the one that I am most familiar with – is the doctrine of collective responsibility. As far as I can tell the doctrine works so as to shield individual ministers from being held accountable to the people who elected them. Ministers are not accountable to Parliament; they are accountable to the Prime Minister, who in turn is accountable to Parliament. That is all well and good, except when the people who elected you, staunchly believe, and rightly so, that you are their ‘elected representative’, accountable to them.

The third aspect of the model is the role of the courts. While I am no constitutional lawyer, I suspect that no matter how many times a Government is held to violate our unwritten constitution, the Executive does not need to seek a new mandate from the people who elected it. As long as the Executive maintains the numbers in the House, and cannot be defeated on a no confidence motion, it can stay in charge – hence the importance of strict party discipline – again, another part of the model I am more than familiar with.

As a Member of Parliament …

So, why did I stay, you are asking yourself. Why on earth did I come back?

The truth is I made a moral assessment. And I used one of few mechanisms in the Westminster model to enable that assessment. I stood in front of my constituency and asked them to confer representative status on me. In turn, I promised to work for their benefit. After all, it is for the benefit that this whole elaborate system is designed. Any authority I have flows from that moral assessment, which was endorsed by the people.

If I could encourage you to think about anything this conference, it is to remember that this thing we call democracy is a movement of passionate people who want to make their representatives responsible. It is a cultural expression. It is not just a system of governance, of complicated rules and conventions. It is not a market. It is not a simple series of transactions. It is not a simple machine. It is a cultural expression, and it will evolve. We must keep asking the question – does it serve the people?

I was interested in the definition of democracy provided by the Oxford Dictionary: ‘a form of government in which the people have a voice in the exercise of power, typically through elected representatives’.

A second definition provided is perhaps more commonly known: ‘control of a group by the majority of its members’.

I am interested in exactly how the primary definition, a form of government in which the people have a voice in the exercise of power, serves to actually redefine the nature of the Westminster system as we know it.

I also believe, that in spite of the critics of the Westminster system, who say it panders to and encourages party politics, just remember it is the same system that allowed an energised group of people to make me responsible for what I did and answerable to them.

There is room for accountability in a Westminster system. There is also room for authentic grass-roots leadership beyond the limits of strict party discipline.

I know that the people I represent are the leaders that we are all looking for. In fact, most of the major leaders in my community are grass roots leaders. That is what Eva Rickard was. That is what Moana Jackson is. That is what Whatarangi Winiata is. And, it’s the possibility of that high quality authentic grassroots leadership spilling over into this Westminster system that has brought me back.

There is something else that brought me back - the young people. The ones who ask ‘why do they hate us Nanny Tari’? Or who yell from their cars ‘Go Aunty Tari’. I came back because, if we want a future together, we have to capture the spirit of these young people, so that each and every one of us can tackle the future on their own terms.

In spite of this, what I dearly hope is an ugly phase we are going through, the truth is that the most valuable source for hope is the common history that ties tangata whenua and Pakeha people together. We must find new ways and new frameworks for working together. We must also focus our attention on the public square – the common good that underpins our individual and collective destinies.

The plight of some of our children reveals our disregard for the public square. Some of our children are ill-equipped to live lives of spiritual and cultural quality. How do we ever expect to rebuild vibrant whanau, if our children are not taught to love, care and serve others?

It seems to me, that one essential step forward is meaningful coalitions both among and between our whanau. The Maori Party is an example of a meaningful coalition, and is bringing families together. In our Constitution for the Party, one of the nine key values embedded in our kaupapa statements, is that of whanaungatanga, the principle of collective organisation of whanau, hapu and iwi.

The other critical step forward is to generate new leadership – whether that is academic, business, political or tribal leadership – we in the Maori party are generating a new generation of leaders. Leaders who can look beyond their own self-interest. Leaders who can sit comfortably within their own tribal narrative, while at the same time being able to grasp the complex dynamics of the market-place. Leaders who can imagine a future based on the very best of our past. It is a leadership grounded in the grassroots organisations and institutions. My challenge and the challenge of our Party is to nurture those leaders.

Your challenge is to look beyond the old clichés and ask whether or not we have the right system, to ensure those leaders, and many more like them will also have an opportunity to contribute to our future.

Accountability and trust …

In laying that challenge with you, I want to offer you something, which I myself am still working through. While I welcome the move towards accountability and transparency that the public sector is making, I don’t think more performance standards, indicators and outcomes, and more audits is really the answer.

This is unless they are measured against kaupapa Maori. It can be done. I understand that in the charter, the profile statements and the outcomes negotiated with the Tertiary Education Coalition and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, Te Wananga o Raukawa is asking these agencies to base their audits on kaupapa Maori.

Confucius once said that there were three things needed for good government: weapons, food and trust. Trust, said Confucius, should be guarded to the absolute end.

Is it possible that the answer to a more accountable Westminster system lies with Parliament itself?

Is the question, really, how do we as Members of Parliament ensure that we build trust in the system of government by refusing to lie and telling more of the truth. Is it possible that the slogan endorsing so favoured by some of the Opposition parties and their half-truths is what undermines the system?

Well perhaps I’ll leave you with some alternative slogans to ponder over.

Trust and accountability go hand-in-hand. Trust is destroyed by deception. Destroying deception builds trust.

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