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New Zealand's attitude to indigenous rights

As the week draws to an end, and as the sad events in Suva drag on, it is time perhaps to reflect on some of the things that Maori can learn from it all. I've been writing this week about the extraordinary emotional reaction from our government to the coup. To fully understand their reaction we need to examine what they are doing in Maori Affairs.

This Labour/Alliance government came to power towards the end of last year with thirteen Maori MPs, effectively giving Maori the balance of power in the government. Four of them were made ministers, two inside and two outside Cabinet. The Maori Affairs parliamentary select committee is now dominated by Maori.

A Pakeha, Margaret Wilson, has the powerful Treaty Negotiations portfolio. There was a clear message for Maori in that appointment, given that Wilson is a close friend and confidante of Prime Minister Helen Clark.

The message was not only that Helen Clark thought the portfolio very important, but also that she wanted to keep the lid on the indigenous claims process, and that she wanted to maintain tight control over it, and that consciously or sub-consciously, she didn't want it to fall into Maori hands.

Helen Clark then set up a "Closing the Gaps" cabinet committee, which she chairs, comprising a large group of ministers in key appointments, including the four Maori ministers. This of course signified the importance of the Maori vote if Labour is to stay in power for more than three years. Allied to that though is the imperative to keep the lid on potentially explosive Maori issues, and to keep tight presonal control over the Maori Affairs portfolio.

It also signified the intent of the Government to move Maori Affairs policy further away from being based on indigenous rights, towards the more politically pragmatic and less problematic issues of social and economic disparities. These are the negative disparities or gaps between Maori and non-Maori achievement or non-achievement against a wide range of social and economic indicators.

It was a deliberate move away from issues of Maori and indigenous rights, into more manageable and less volatile social and economic policy.

The twin straitjackets of Labour caucus rules and cabinet collective responsibility have meant that the Maori ministers and backbenchers in the government have had to struggle against the odds to promote issues based on indigenous rights.

Recently the Maori MPs have managed to gain some concessions by gaining guaranteed access to part of the electro-magnetic spectrum that is about to be auctioned. However, the government has gone to great pains to assert that this concession has not been made as an affirmation of indigenous rights, but as a measure which will contribute to the closing of the gaps.

The issue of electro-magnetic spectrum was raised by Maori as an indigenous rights issue, and under pressure from Maori MPs it was adopted by the government, but as a social and economic closing the gaps programme. It was a deliberate negation of indigenous rights.

So what has all this got to do wth the Fiji coup?

The extraordinarily emotional outbursts by Helen Clark and Phil Goff in response to the coup have clearly demonstrated that this government's foreign policy is values based rather than pragmatic. Those values are Anglo-European and have no regard for indigenous values. They are based on a commitment to a culturally defined European version of individual human rights, and to a culturally defined Westminster-style democracy. They have used the culturally defined and Anglo-European dominated Commonwealth as their power base to berate Fiji.

Once again, I must point out to non-indigenous readers that I do not condone the coup in Fiji, and that I personally think that George Speight's pronouncements on indigenous rights are narrow-minded and extreme. However, I also do not condone the narrow-minded and extreme reaction of this New Zealand government.

This Labour/Alliance government has shown in both its Maori Affairs and Foreign Affairs portfolios that its worldview has no place for the concept of collective human rights, and more specifically, for indigenous rights. Both Maori Affairs and Foreign Affairs are based in Anglo-European values. That is the clear message for Maori.

I have sugested elsewhere that Fiji should welcome the Australian and New Zealand impetus to expel them from the Commonwealth.

We Maori should seriously consider an active campaign to have the Commonwealth disestablished. One by one the planks which support New Zealand's promotion of Anglo-European values and concepts, at the expense of indigenous values and concepts, must be removed.

Ka whawhai tonu matou.

This article is available at http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/rhimona/karere/fiji009.htm Heoi ano, na Ross Nepia Himona, Editor, Te Karere Ipurangi - Maori News Online, http://go.to/karere

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