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Gerry Brownlee Column: We are all New Zealanders

Yesterday Don Brash signalled changes National would make that would see all New Zealanders treated equally on the basis of need, not race, and that would speed up the Treaty of Waitangi grievance process.

New Zealand is one country with many peoples, not just two peoples living in some form of partnership. For too long, we have put up with a Treaty process that is undermines the essential notion of our democratic society of one law for all. There should be no racial basis for government funding, no basis for separate Maori electorates, no basis for introducing Maori wards in local authority elections, and no obligation for local government to consult Maori in preference to other New Zealanders.

The main difference between National and Labour is our determination to get the process concluded quickly, and a willingness to make the changes necessary to achieve that.

National is committed to completing the settlement of historical grievances. We will ensure that the process is accelerated and brought to a conclusion. Claims must be lodged by the end of 2006, with grievances settled by 2010. We must put this behind us if all of us – and Maori in particular – are to stop looking backward and start moving forward.

There are more than 1200 claims still awaiting a Waitangi Tribunal hearing. The current process almost seems designed to slow the settlement process down. Members of the Waitangi Tribunal are not even full-time. Indeed the chairman of the Tribunal is also the Chief Judge of the Maori Land Court, and the Deputy Chair also serves on the Court. We will make full-time appointments to the tribunal and increase its capability so it can get through its work more quickly.

This will place additional work on the Office of Treaty Settlements and we will increase its capacity as required. But that is not enough. We cannot allow the bureaucratic approach associated with the Waitangi Tribunal to delay settlements which, given the experience we now have with previously settled claims, could be completed quickly if we have the will and determination. Previous settlements have set the parameters of future ones, and that should allow us to shorten the existing cumbersome process.

National will speed the process up by empowering suitable people to act as direct negotiators with claimant groups. We will challenge claimant groups to come directly to the table, to do the deals, and end the grievance, and allow their people to get ahead.

Another problem for race relations in this country is that we have littered throughout our legislation the requirement that a huge range of activities must be conducted in reference to the “principles of the Treaty of Waitangi”. Initially that might have seemed harmless enough, like a feel-good mission statement. But nobody knows what it could possibly mean, or how you could comply with it if you tried. After all, the Treaty contains just three short clauses, and deals with the government of New Zealand, property rights and citizenship.

Right now there are 39 statutes that contain references to the principles of the Treaty. These principles are the thin end of a wedge leading to a racially divided state and we want no part of them. We will remove these divisive race-based features from legislation and government documentation. Changes to the Resource Management Act and the Local Government Act will be the highest priority.

No other group within our population is so governed and regulated as Maori. There are no less than five government agencies specifically set up to deal exclusively with Maori or with Maori issues. They are Te Puni Kokiri, Te Mangai Paho, the Maori Land Court, the Waitangi Tribunal, and the Office of Treaty Settlements.

In our first term of government, we will be looking very closely at each of these agencies: first to assess what they’ve achieved over the last few years, and second to determine what changes should be made to ensure we move quickly toward our goal of ending Treaty grievances and ensuring that all New Zealanders have equal rights under the law.

While obviously judgment calls about funding for Maori programmes need to be made by people with an understanding of things Maori, it is not at all clear that accounting and management functions need to be duplicated, as is currently the case with Te Mangai Paho and New Zealand on Air.

Te Puni Kokiri itself also duplicates a large number of functions carried out by other agencies. Our goal in the medium term has to be to provide all services to New Zealanders through agencies that are not ethnically based. We will not be rushing that process, but we will start moving down that path.

It is National’s commitment to treat all New Zealanders as equals before the law. Maori have nothing to fear from that. We will work with Maori in good faith. But we will have no time for political correctness, or for suggestions that Maori New Zealanders should be treated differently from other New Zealanders on the grounds of race. There is much to be pleased about in Maori development. We have witnessed a renaissance in economic, social and cultural development. A booming world economy has led to a reduction in Maori unemployment.

But we need to move on from the position where Maori unemployment always seems to be higher than that of non-Maori. That requires a strong focus on education. This will be major focus for National, where we must challenge the culture of low expectations. All children can learn. We need an effort-based culture, we need aspiration, we need goals.

But we also need a government that will stop patronising Maori; that will stop thinking that a bunch of second-rate educational programmes is good enough; that will stop being satisfied with parking a significant part of the Maori world on welfare; that will start being outraged by the fact that 40% of all new recipients of the DPB are young Maori women; and that is appalled that more than 90,000 Maori children are being raised in households dependent on welfare.

National will form a government that is in the interests of all New Zealanders, young and old, rich or poor, no matter what their race. The opportunities available to most can be available to all. Treating everybody equally, and giving everybody the chance to get ahead. That is the way to build a prosperous multi-cultural society.

This is the sort of New Zealand the National Party represents and will be fighting for at the next election.

Gerry Brownlee

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