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On Treaty Principles, And Nikki Haley’s False Dawn


So the government wants to “debate” the principles of Te Tiriti, even though its own Māori Development Minister has been simultaneously assuring us that these principles are non-negotiable. Prime Minister Christopher Luxon appears to be delivering differing messages to different audiences. He seems to be playing the moderate good cop to David Seymour’s hardline bad cop, in order that the coalition government can eventually impose a more narrow definition of what Te Tiriti ō Waitangi will mean, from now on. If Seymour gets his way, this new reading will dissolve any sense of partnership between the Crown and Māori.

That’s the aim, anyway. The coalition parties are working together to drastically dilute the essence of bi-culturalism. According to the new government, no special relationship exists between Māori and the Crown, and Māori enjoy no special rights by dint of being the indigenous people of this country.

Articles of Bad Faith

Last week’s leaked Ministry of Justice draft document suggests that these radical changes will be dressed up in the soothing language of freedom and equality. The draft document cited three “Articles” relevant to the 1840 document, and the English translation of these “Articles” – aka Treaty principles - is as follows:

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Article One: “The New Zealand Government has the right to govern all New Zealanders.” This sounds innocuous. Yet by underlining the primacy of the elected government of the day, it leaves no residual room for co-governance or for a partnership between equals. In asserting the dominance of the government of the day, it subjugates all competing rights, and removes any sense that the concessions made by Māori to the Crown in 1840 and since, were conditional. The tino rangatiratanga rights of sovereignty enshrined in Te Tiriti are at risk of being extinguished.

In doing so, Article One expands the powers of an uncheckable Executive branch. New Zealand is already a fragile unicameral social democracy. Not much is entrenched behind a parliamentary super-majority. The Bill of Rights provisions for instance, can be readily over-ridden by the will of a Parliamentary majority.

In fact, Article One makes Te Tiriti ō Waitangi as flimsy and vulnerable to legislative over-ride as the Bill of Rights. Henceforth, Te Tiriti would merely have a “nice to observe” status, and no longer a “need to observe” status.

Article Two: “The New Zealand government will honour all New Zealanders in the chieftainship of their land and all their property. “ Again, this sounds innocuous. Yet by putting the land and property rights of all New Zealanders on the same legal footing, it would risk denying Māori the ability to claim compensation for prior confiscations, since current land ownership and property rights would be all on the same level playing field, legally speaking. I’m not sure how this would play out in practice, but until we do know more, a “proceed with extreme caution” approach would seem advisable.

Article Three: “All New Zealanders are equal under the law, with the same rights and duties.” This enshrining of mono-cuturalism – we all have the same rights and duties - would erase all forms of Māori customary law. It would also mean that any affirmative action programme undertaken by any future government to address the socio-economic disadvantages confronting Māori (thanks to the legacies of colonialism) would be open to legal challenge.

The new government has already scrapped the Maori Health Authority. Even Whanau Ora – which is a culturally based, whanau-centred system of service delivery meant to foster Maori wellbeing, would seem to violate the “same rights and duties” premises of this Article.

Sure, this is/was only a draft document, but it wasn’t created out of thin air. The document usefully signals the issues that the coalition government now wants us to “debate” and the misleading language likely to be used by the government to sell its toxic package.

Hitherto, the only people calling for this “debate” have been the racist ideologues in ACT and New Zealand First, and their red-neck followers. Just another example of how mainstream political discourse is being pulled sharply to the right.

Under the current government, the country is being marched backwards, in an effort to undo the past 45 years of progress that New Zealand has made in forging modern forms of the partnership model originally envisaged when Te Tiriti was signed in 1840. For all of the National Party’s language of equality and the a-political healing of divisions, this is actually a highly political, highly divisive attempt to turn back the clock to the days of mono-culturalism and assimilation. It is the same “one waka” message that National carried into the 2002 election. Make no mistake. There is no argument between National, ACT and New Zealand First over their plans to change the meaning of Te Tiriti, only differences in style.

By eliminating any manifestations of tino rangatiratanga, the government is not combatting the lingering evils of colonialism. It is recycling them, in the modern language of political P.R.

Footnote: At Ratana and at the Waitangi commemoration, “Kill the Bill!” has to be the strong message delivered to Christopher Luxon. After all, Luxon’s government claims to be dead keen on eliminating waste. So why is it wasting Parliament’s time and money on enabling ACT’s’s Treaty Principles Bill to be sent off to select committee - while simultaneously promising that it will not allow the Bill to be passed into law?

If National truly does oppose the Treaty Principles Bill process, it should be willing to step up and kill the Bill right now.

Nikki Haley’s False Dawn

Now that Ron DeSantis is out of the running for the Republican presidential nomination, the votes of college-educated conservatives in the upcoming primary in New Hampshire (Wednesday NZ time) are ripe for the taking by Nikki Haley. According to the Politico website though, New Hampshire could herald a false dawn for Haley.

Haley will significantly reduce Donald Trump’s lead in New Hampshire, but this may only reflect the peculiar nature of New Hampshire, which prides itself on its maverick tendencies. In the most recent CNN poll in the state, Haley had reduced Trump’s lead overall to single digits, mainly because she does very well among college graduates, and even better among those with an advanced degree.

No doubt, the media buzz for Haley will be magnified if she finishes close enough to Trump to look competitive. The sizeable bloc of moderate, well educated conservatives (a group once central to the Republican cause) no longer have a political home, and they also lack a viable candidate able to win votes beyond their circle.

Haley is their best long shot option still in the race. One key reason why the big donors – including the Koch family – have switched from DeSantis to Haley is that she is the GOP candidate best able to sell the Republican Party’s widely unpopular stance on abortion. As a woman, she will help to neutralise the Democratic Party’s strong advantage on this issue among female voters.

Here’s how Haley explained her own position on abortion at the NBC News debate last year: "As much as I’m pro-life, I don’t judge anyone for being pro-choice, and I don’t want them to judge me for being pro-life..” That’s a neat attempt to muzzle criticism, while vague enough to mean almost anything. On Face The Nation last year, Haley sought to portray abortion as an issue on which people could still find common ground: “Why try and divide people further?” she asked. ”Why not talk about the fact that we should be trying to save as many babies as possible, and support as many mothers as possible?”

Again, that sounds reasonable – while glossing over the harsh realities of the strict anti-abortion laws being passed by Republican state legislatures across America. Haley is offering absolutely nothing to anyone who wants to terminate a pregnancy. She opposes a federal ban on abortion, but only because it wouldn’t achieve the supermajority required to get through Congress.

Haley has given no sign that if elected, she would oppose the draconian state laws that forbid abortion after only a few weeks of pregnancy - and which, in several states, make no concessions for victims of rape and incest or where the pregnancy might be life-endangering to the health of the mother. Haley has also not opposed the plans that several Republican state legislatures have announced to restrict access to chemical abortion. In reality, she is the velvet glove on the Republican iron fist on abortion.

Back to the campaign

Unfortunately for Haley, the Republican Party is now captive to the tens of millions of blue collar Americans left behind by the last three decades of neo-liberal economics. Those people still love Trump and trust him to carry the fight to an Establishment that hates him, and despises them. The more legal troubles that Trump accumulates, the more they see him as their persecuted hero.

As Politico indicates, Haley is likely to find that New Hampshire will be an outlier. Its Republican (and independent) voters tend to be better educated, atypically wealthy, and less inclined to define themselves as being religious. That is likely to become Haley’s problem, beyond New Hampshire:

Haley’s challenge is that New Hampshire may only represent a false dawn, a blip before the primary returns to states with a downscale demographic more like Iowa. She may find hope in New Hampshire, but that would only tempt her to return home to South Carolina and discover that she’s Hootie and the Blowfish to Trump’s Taylor Swift.

The subsequent South Carolina primary will be a sterner test, and not merely because its demographics favour Trump. Haley used to be the state governor. While holding that position she supported the removal of the Confederate flag from the state Capitol, after a white supremacist had killed nine black worshippers at a church service. Put that flag ban together with her reluctance to pursue a federal ban on abortion, and that should cause the racist/evangelical Republican base to flock to Trump’s banner even more so than when DeSantis was the main alternative.

The New Hampshire Union Leader – the state’s leading newspaper – has endorsed Haley, describing her in this bizarre editorial as “the 
fireball from the heavens” sent to destroy those two dinosaurs, Trump and Biden. Alas, Haley has been no fireball on the campaign trail. Reportedly, she is a dull speaker rarely able to move beyond her stock talking points.

Later on, she might fancy herself as a potential “unity” candidate if she was picked as Trump’s VP running mate, able to bring older, better educated Republicans home to the Trump ticket – and to sell the GOP’s abortion message. Probably, there are other ultra-right wing contenders less inclined to upstage Trump. Mike Pence is a hard person to match on the blandness scale.

Gifts of Sadness

Big Thief is a happy place for its resident genius Adrianne Lenker. Alongside its many virtues, the group has always been a useful test kitchen for some of her solo work, and vice versa. In late March, Lenker will release a new solo album called Bright Future and the track listing includes “Vampire Empire” which may (or may not) be a solo re-working of the recent Big Thief concert favourite.

This new Lenker single leans into the country arrangements and harmonies sprinkled amongst Big Thief’s recent 20 track smorgasbord of musical styles. As usual, the lyrics on “Sadness As a Gift” deal with knotty issues of regret and loss:

Leaning on the window sill
You could write me someday and
I hope you will
We could see the sadness as a gift and still

Feel [its] too heavy to hold...

A few days ago, Mary Weiss, the lead singer of the Shangri-Las classic 1960s girl group, died at the age of 75. This leaves her older sister Betty as the only surviving member of the group. Here’s their first hit, which was also a showcase for writer/producer Shadow Morton. Some 55 years later, the “oh no nos” were sampled and sped up as part of Tik Tok’s devious plot to drive the West insane.

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