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Heather Roy's Diary

Heather Roy's Diary

The $900,000 dollar question: What makes your family tick? Peter Dunne’s $28 million Families Commission has proven it is a budget in search of a job. The Families Commission, in trying to justify its existence, has decided to find out just what makes a family tick. Its research has included asking families to respond to questions like what is important to them, what makes family life difficult and what choices they have made for the sake of a better family life. Most families though didn’t seem to think it was worth their while to respond. Despite TV, radio, print advertising and a campaign launch, just 2,500 of the country’s 600,000 families (0.4%) responded. The project cost $900,000 – that’s $360 of our taxes per response. So why the appalling response? Well I guess most families are just getting on with being families and don’t see any need for the naval gazing.

Gerry Eckhoff – Take a Bow Last week I outlined the issues surrounding the protest by landowners to retain authority over who would have access to waterways through private land.

ACT’s Gerry Eckhoff has spent months traveling around New Zealand in the yellow ACT bus campaigning against Labour’s proposed legislation to allow public access through private land. Gerry’s efforts were rewarded this week with the Government’s spectacular back down – they have decided to abandon the idea with an election looming because polling has shown it was causing “too much conflict”. This is the second time Gerry’s efforts have caused the Government grief. The last time was when he stopped the FART tax, a proposed tax on methane emissions from cows, dead in its tracks.

Opening the Gaps Parliament is currently in recess for four weeks. On the last day of the house sitting, Co-ordinating Minister, Race Relations Trevor Mallard released a report looking at evidence of racial discrimination in government policy. The report was released to journalists but embargoed until 2.15pm - a tactic to avoid any parliamentary scrutiny of this report, as accusations of “flip-flops” would have abounded. The ploy worked and after just one day’s publicity the matter has been quickly forgotten despite recommendations that many government departments rethink their policies giving racial preference.

To refresh your memory on the issue, the current Labour Government began its parliamentary term with “Closing the Gaps” as its flagship policy. The stated aim was to decrease income disparities between Maori and non-Maori and to tackle disparities in other areas such as health. ACT published some research at the time that showed that when corrections were done for age the income disparities disappeared. The Maori population is younger than the European population and as we have a tendency to become wealthier as we get older, a direct comparison between Maori and European is misleading. It was research that the Government intended to ignore. Cynics felt that this was pay back for Maori throwing out the New Zealand First MPs and returning to the Labour fold at the 1999 election.

Labour party strategists were always aware that special deals for Maori were hugely unpopular with traditional blue-collar supporters but a show of unity was maintained. Things began to fall apart in late 2003 when a Nelson hapu took legal action to establish that they had traditional access to an area of coast. The Court of Appeal ruled that they could take their case forward and the Government panicked promising new legislation – the Foreshore and Seabed Bill. At the time shellfish farming was establishing itself as a profitable industry and ownership of the seabed was potentially very lucrative. Fearful that Maori would gain ownership of the seabed as a result of the Court of Appeal decision and worried about alienation of traditional pakeha supporters, the legislation was introduced. But blatant interference in the legal process by the Government set a dangerous precedent as strict separation of powers between courts and government is a cornerstone of democracy. ACT opposed the Foreshore and Seabed Bill on the basis that anyone with a grievance regarding a property right should have their day in court. However our opposition was nothing compared to Maori who were incensed. Tariana Turia resigned from the Labour Party and stood in her seat for the Maori Party. The Labour Party did not contest the election for fear of being humiliated. In my opinion the political impact of the Maori split from Labour is still greatly underestimated.

If this were not bad enough Don Brash began 2004 with a speech at Orewa. You will recall that he attacked Maori privilege and set off a storm of indignation amongst political commentators. Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove, in a press release, likened Don Brash to Pauline Hanson and the Sunday Star Times ran it as a front-page story with photographs of Brash and Hanson side by side. It was just too preposterous and Brash’s popularity soared.

The Labour party hierarchy quickly realised that it was badly out of touch with public opinion on the matter and began a frantic attempt to return to the centre ground. John Tamihere gave a speech saying that it was okay to be a red-blooded heterosexual man and Trevor Mallard said that the people of Wainuiomata were indigenous too. These banalities were run as front-page news by our major newspapers and no commentators pointed out that Labour was playing both sides of the street. They accused their opponents of racism for demanding an end to race privilege and set about a task force to remove race privilege. ACT believes and has always believed that our legislation should be reformed to remove all mention of race. Equality before the law is a prerequisite for a just society. I should point out that the National Party is a late convert to this view. In 1998 Derek Quigley put forward legislation that would have imposed a time frame for Treaty of Waitangi claims and it was defeated by 112 to 8.

Only ACT MPs supported it and were called racists for doing so.

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