New Zealand? Or the new Australia?
1 September 2005
New Zealand? Or the new
I have now spent some time reading Don Brash's speech from Monday, and have reluctantly come to the conclusion that Don Brash doesn't actually understand what he is talking about.
The speech is so deeply flawed that there is no point in rebutting it piece by piece. It would take too long and the problem with it is not the words; after all, as one would expect, it is a well-written text and superficially hangs together quite well.
No. The problem is the frame of mind of the dangerously deluded people who put the speech together.
It is clear that Brash is still trying to dog-whistle his way to power. Unfortunately he is doing so on a range of arguments and ideas that are totally false, but which the public think have been driving Treaty policy for a long time. If you were to sum these up you would say they go something like this:
- Maori culture is just a
nice "tack on" and is not worth protecting
- The law and the government treat Maori as first class citizens, and the rest as second-class.
- The law provides for differential treatment of Maori and non-Maori New Zealanders
- The settlement process is divisive.
That is why I liked the post on FrogBlog
yesterday about Brash teaching illusion
http://blog.greens.org.nz/index.php/2005/08/29/teaching-illusion/. The National leader, knowingly or unknowingly, is totally on the wrong track.
Let's try thinking about this in a way that is designed to build a united nation, not to commit cultural assimilation upon Maori. Consider the following statements, which are comments out of Brash's speech, and the obvious responses to them. * "The treaty process is out of control,"*
Is it? Major settlements have been made, the focus in Maoridom is moving to issues of development and growth, not grievance, and an end to historic claims is in sight. The process is not out of control. It may need more resources to speed it up, but of course if you're doing mammoth tax cuts you won't have money to make a difference. Far from being divisive, as he has elsewhere alleged, the process has been about healing the past. That is not always comfortable but it does not seek to divide people. It seeks to bring us together.
*"race-based political correctness is infecting the institutions of our society,"*
This is hard to respond to because it's meaningless. It is a dog whistle aimed at those who whinge about "bloody maaarreees" and then disengage their brains. What has infected our society is an inability to debate issues, and sometimes in Treaty issues as in so many areas, we strive not to cause offence - and thus patronise by mistake. That's not PC, that's just Kiwi paranoia about offending people. I feel it's insulting to people not to be able to have a barney with them. Maybe this is what Brash is talking about.
*"we are headed towards a racially divided nation, with two sets of laws and two standards of citizenship."*
This is *fiction.* By recognising the wrongs of the past, and by putting them right, we are removing the grievances that have held Maori back for so long. Nobody can deny a range of services - Maori-language education and broadcasting key among them - have helped Maori out of the terrible place they were by the end of the 1960s.
Even more infuriating, nothing that anybody has done or proposed to do leads to two sets of laws for *anyone*. All New Zealanders are equal under the law. They always have been and they always will be.
The question is simply how you recognise the social structures of a different culture in your European-based legal framework; whether you force 'assimilation' (or perhaps more accurately 'cultural genocide') by ignoring that reality or not is up to you, but it's a really, really dumb idea. * "I said that the Treaty did not create a partnership: rather it was the launching pad for the creation of one sovereign nation."*
I am reminded of King Canute, ordering the sea away. Events, life, practice, law, politics over the past forty years have firmly established the notion of the partnership at the heart of the Treaty, and at the heart of New Zealand. We have been engaged in a very interesting and important experiment: how do you meld two cultures without abolishing either of them.
Don Brash is a throwback to an earlier era, the old assimilationist impulse which wants to abolish any collective sense or reality of Maori social organisation, and reduce all to a European individual basis. He is now at least being up front about this. It is not going to work, because Maori will not wear it.
Were he ever in a position to pursue it, then he will be treading down the path to creating the divided nation he rails against but is constantly striving to create. You cannot deny what actually exists; you cannot bury the past or ignore the hopes and aspirations of 15% of the population. It simply cannot be done - and it simply *should not *be done.
The extracts above are just from Brash's first page. He had three major areas in the speech. He argued treaty settlements are out of control. Clearly they are not and he is wrong. I agree with one of his points: that more resources should be given to OTS and the Tribunal. His stupidly over-optimistic timetable cannot be met and should he happen to win the election, he'll be left with mud on his face.
Second, Treaty references. I have already said I don't think there's a point to waffle fodder statements of that sort in the law. If in acknowledging special partnership matters for public services or related process such references are required, then they should be there. Wiping the Treaty out of the law is part of a cultural project to abolish Maori out of their place in our national life; to relegate them outside mainstream society. That would be shameful, and dangerous. More on that below.
Third, he talks about the "damaging political correctness" issue. Here I will say this: liberal New Zealanders should never shy away from an argument, from seeking to learn, thrash out issues, etc. The cringe I have about Treaty issues is feeling that asking an ignorant question might somehow be seen as offensive; and I get really angry when I see people being called racist simply because they disagree with someone who is Maori. That has happened in a few situations I've seen and it stinks.
Particularly in the public sector, there needs to be much more careful thought about how best to deal with matters Maori. People need an understanding of the language and basics of the culture if they are to be working with Maori; in Canada, you have no hope of working in the public service unless you can speak French and know a lot about the francophone history of Canada. I do not see why requiring the same thing here should be anything other than expected, and ordinary.
New Zealand is an amazing country. We have done best of the post-colonial countries in building a generous and fair legal recognition of indigenous rights, social organisation and political aspirations. We have treasured the inheritance we get from the powerful ideas of the Enlightenment, and our European forebears.
We have also come to acknowledge, and to start to treasure, Maoridom. Culture, language, resources, skills, mana, and all the other aspects of the indigenous people in these islands. The interactions between the Maori and later comers is what makes us New Zealand, and not Australia; what makes us New Zealand, and not the United States.
The heart of where and what we are as a nation is more than our place; it is about *who* we are.
Don Brash has presented voters with a stark choice.
Do they wish to listen to the siren calls of racist dog-whistles; to turn their backs on massive and sustained progress in building what is, arguably, the best country in the world in dealing with these issues?
Or do they wish to tread down a path that relegates the indigenous people of these islands to a sort of historical curiosity, banished to the museum and the marae, trapped without their own language and public institutions - removed from the public life of the nation?
I call the first scenario progress. I call the second scenario assimilation gone mad. It's close to earning the soubriquet 'cultural genocide'.
The second scenario is what National wants. It is wrong. It is immoral. It is backwards. It is the past. It will not work. It is playing with the future of New Zealand for cheap political gain.
The only question remaining is whether a souffle will rise twice. Will voters hook into the seductive wiles of the leader of the Opposition for the second time, and vote to destroy the progress New Zealand has been making? If they do, all I'll say is "buyer beware" - because the consequences will not be good for any one of us.
To restate. Let's have all equal under the law. Let's recognise the partnership at the heart of our nation, continue to build a united nation where we are NOT all forced into conformity, but where our different backgrounds and talents are a source of pride and strength.
Let's keep being New Zealand.