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Don Brash Address - A New Agenda For Maori

Don Brash MP
National Party Leader

16 May 2004

Address to National Party Northern Region Conference

A New Agenda For Maori

May I begin by thanking you all - the President Judy Kirk, regional office-holders, electorate office-holders, delegates, Parliamentary colleagues - for the tremendous effort you have all put in over the last year. It has been a turbulent year. But because of your hard work and persistence, we are now in a position were it is possible to contemplate a National, or at least a National-led, Government before the end of next year. And that is obviously very good news for New Zealand. Thank you for all your hard work.

That is the good news! But of course the bad news is that there is still a lot of hard work ahead. We must not allow recent opinion polls to lull us into any sense that the election has already been won. It has not. The Government is making plenty of mistakes, and many New Zealanders can now see its arrogance for what it is. But it still has an enormous Budget surplus from having over-taxed New Zealanders over the last several years. And we'll see in just 11 days the way in which they will use the excess taxation they have taken off hard-working New Zealanders to buy themselves votes for the next election. It is imperative that we point out to New Zealanders what the Government is doing - bribing us with our own money!

Since the beginning of the year, we have had a national debate on the Treaty and related issues. In spite of the sensitivity of the issue and the passions that inevitably accompany such a debate, for the most part it has been conducted rationally and calmly - more so by ordinary New Zealanders than by some of the media, I have to say.

The heat associated with the foreshore and seabed issue means it won't be going away any time soon.

Even so, I want to move the debate along today.

Settling historical grievances is important, and the National Party is committed to accelerating that process, but then bringing it to an end. I believe that all historical claims should be lodged by the end of 2006, and all claims should be settled, fully and finally, before the end of 2010.

But today I want to suggest that settling historical grievances - important as that may be in order to acknowledge some specific injustices in the past - is actually a relatively trivial matter compared to the real issues facing Maori, or at least facing that minority of Maori who figure in our worst social indicators.

What we as a country have been doing is not working. We need a new agenda.

The next National Government will engage with Maori to find a new way forward, to build on the undeniable gains that have occurred in the Maori world in the past two decades.

While we must address the outstanding issues of welfare dependency, we should not obscure the fact that most Maori, like everybody else in this society, are getting on with building a better life for themselves and their families, and doing it successfully. There is a terrible danger that, in focusing on Maori deprivation, we misleadingly give Maori youth a sense that failure is the norm - because demonstrably it is not.

Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the fact that for a significant minority of the Maori population current policies are failing - and not just failing a little bit, but failing abysmally, failing tragically.

The next National Government will be working with Maori to ensure that theirs is a culture of aspiration, that their children are succeeding in our schools and that their youth are not wasting away on welfare.

In a speech in March responding to critics of the Orewa speech, I concluded by challenging the moderate Maori leadership to stand up and be counted, to become part of the solution.

I may be listening to the wrong radio stations, but so far I have scarcely heard a sound.

How could that be?

How can Maori leaders read the papers each day and not respond to the outrageous examples of race-related politically correct nonsense we have all been reading of?

How can they read the stories of appalling misuse of public funds for the education of young Maori and remain silent?

Where is their sense of outrage at some of the patronising nonsense that passes for education in this country?

How can they not express anger that the Government considers this sort of thing good enough, or that it is an adequate response to the areas of Maori deprivation in some of our communities?

Do they think that having good intentions is all that counts? Do results not matter? Does their traditional allegiance to the Labour Party blind them to the spectacular failings in much of Labour's policy?

Because the plain fact is that money that should be focused on giving Maori children and youth a decent education is instead giving many of them a fake one. And that simply steals their future from them.

There can be little doubt that much of what we are hearing about is a systematic patronisation of Maori. Some of the scandalously second-rate courses offered by polytechnics to young Maori, the hip-hop tours and all the rest, are an abuse of public

funding and a tragic selling short of young Maori who, like everybody else, should be offered an excellent education, not some 21st century version of blankets and beads for land.

And if we steal their future by putting up with such travesties, then we have set the wheel turning once again for another cycle of deprivation and resentment.

We need a much stronger statement from Maori leaders; we need a forceful condemnation of Government waste; and an all-out assault on the patronisation of Maori people by the politically correct.

Let me say this to the moderate Maori leadership: we want to engage with you because if, as seems increasingly likely, we form the next government of New Zealand, we want to be able to move quickly and decisively to deal with the real problems which face your communities.

A National Government will be fair. 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.

And don't expect a National Government to roll over in the face of an outrageous or ludicrous demand.

We will expect an engagement on the fundamental issues of education, welfare and families.

And I will say this. If a National Government delivered to Maori youth the sort of pathetic excuses for educational opportunity that we have seen recently - the evening golf courses, the grooming, the sing-along in Maori tapes, etc - I would expect Maori leadership to be banging on my office door and demanding better. Much better.

That Maori leadership can sit quietly and let this Government get away with it is almost beyond belief.

We have had a hikoi to Wellington to complain about the foreshore proposals. But in terms of Maori economic development, that is a trivial issue. How about a hikoi about the quality of educational opportunities on offer?

So, what is important for the future of Maori? Let's do some arithmetic.

Consider the Treaty settlement process. If we assume for the moment that the Treaty settlement process results in a total of $1 billion being transferred from all taxpayers to Maori, this would provide an average of just $2,000 to the roughly 500,000 people who identify as Maori. Put that money in the bank and you get about $100 a year in interest income.

Even if we doubled the amount from Treaty settlements to $2 billion, the annual income which the average Maori might gain from such settlements would be just $200.

This is utterly trivial when compared to the extra income people can earn by getting a good education and a good job - in the trades or professions, or any of the numerous opportunities in the modern world.

At the moment, the average income of Maori in the private sector is some $6,500 less than the average income of other New Zealanders in the private sector. In other words, by raising the average income of Maori to the average income of other New Zealanders the benefit to Maori would be tens of times greater than any benefit Maori are likely to get from the Treaty settlement process.

So we have to wonder why all the focus is on Treaty settlements. And why we see hikoi to Parliament on the foreshore issue, but not on other much more significant issues.

Only those engaged in the fantasy of the Maori sovereignty movement would imagine they are going to achieve significant property rights over the foreshore and seabed. Even by the late 19th century, when a tight tribal society still existed, the notion of extensive tribal ownership of the foreshore and seabed was a dubious proposition. It is a nonsense in 21st century New Zealand, when the vast bulk of Maori are urban, and when Maori have intermarried with non-Maori for generations.

I venture to suggest that what is really driving this is two things: one is simply the result of the overblown expectations that this Government has fed; the other is, as I said at Orewa, that much of this is a negotiating strategy for a payoff a bit further down the track, for that minority of Maori still closely associated with traditional iwi organisations.

But even under Labour that would be trivial relative to what Maori can achieve by themselves, with the right attitude and a focus on the education of their children.

In order to maximise the value of Maori labour, Maori must invest in training and education. And government must have policies that encourage and facilitate that investment, and allow all New Zealanders to make the very best of their potential.

National's policies will achieve that. We need state-of-the-art education and vocational training if we are to lift New Zealand incomes and build a future where our children will want to make their future in New Zealand.

In a number of speeches recently, I have spoken of the trend under this Government to embed throughout the institutions of central and local government a wide range of consultation requirements on, and veto rights for, tribal organisations. This Government did not start that process, but they have certainly accelerated it.

Most Maori will get no benefit from this, and our society as a whole will be harmed by the approach.

The foreshore and seabed proposals announced at the end of last year were merely the latest manifestation of this trend. For more than a century it was the common understanding that for the most part the Crown owned the foreshore and seabed. Within that understanding, limited recognition of customary rights was possible.

In spite of all the sound and fury associated with the foreshore and seabed issue, I doubt whether many really know what it is all about.

Most New Zealanders will not be aware of the detailed legal history, and would be amazed at the judicial process that has led to the current impasse.

Most are not even aware that by the foreshore we mean that tiny strip around New Zealand which lies between high and low water mark.

The Court of Appeal in a 1963 decision reaffirmed existing understandings going back to the late 19th century by holding that where the Maori Land Court, in investigating blocks of land along the coast and issuing titles, had not stipulated that the foreshore was included in the title, then Maori rights to the area must be treated as having been extinguished.

That decision has bounced back and forth between different courts ever since. The vast majority of New Zealanders would surely agree with the common sense view expressed by one judge, when dissenting on this very point from the 2003 Court of Appeal decision, namely that:

"Interests in Native lands bordering the seas, after investigation by the Native Land Court ..... were extinguished and substituted with grants in fee simple. It does not seem open now to find that there could have been strips of land between the bordering the sea and the sea that were not investigated and in which interests were not identified and extinguished once Crown grants were made."

But in fact the Court of Appeal last year did leave open the possibility that there might be some Maori customary property right to the foreshore which might not have been extinguished.

All the Court of Appeal did was to accept that the Maori Land Court had jurisdiction to investigate this. The Court noted that the assertion that there is such land faces a number of hurdles in fact and in law.

The issue we have all faced, as members of Parliament, is whether we should allow the legal process to continue in a context where existing law and custom were being strained to breaking point; where the apparent intention of Parliament was not adequately written into law; and where the fundamental social structure of our society had changed radically over the past century.

To simply leave it to the judges to make what they could of the situation was not good enough - we had previously done that with the phrase "the principles of the Treaty", and look what a mess resulted. To just leave it to the judges would likely have set up decades of uncertainty. That is why the legal process was not allowed to continue, as normally it should.

The judges have opened the can of worms that history, social change and legislative oversight has filled.

It is up to us, as legislators, to put the lid back on.

And in doing so we are going to have to deal with the ridiculously overblown sense of entitlement that has been fostered over the past three decades.

The Government, in not dealing with the situation decisively, has allowed the situation to spiral out of control.

In the process, the Government has ended up adopting a variety of positions on the issue, resulting in the latest foreshore and seabed proposals - a Beehive con job cooked up by Labour and NZ First.

Together, they have taken the previous proposals roundly rejected by the public, changed the terminology, dressed the old ideas in new clothes and put out a revised policy with pretty much all the problems of the original.

While they are telling all New Zealanders we own our beaches, they are telling Maori that they will have control. Maori are offered a deal whereby they can only benefit by infringing the property rights of the rest of the community. It is what has been described as a poison pill, and it will massively undermine race relations in New Zealand.

Where do we go from here?

There is a discussion to be had about what the long-term relevance of the Treaty might be, other than as an important founding document in the creation of our nation, as we go forward as one nation with one law for all. But first we must finish off the Tribunal claims process, set a cut-off date, and get the settlements out of the way, as I have proposed.

All of that can happen under current arrangements.

We don't need a Royal Commission to strip out references to the "principles of the Treaty of Waitangi" that are in legislation largely as a gesture of good intentions, without anybody really knowing what they were supposed to mean or why they were put there in the first place. National will strip those out of our legislation.

We don't need a Royal Commission to know that political correctness about race issues has led to the entire fabric of our society becoming riddled with a presumed reverence for everything Maori. The result of that hypocrisy is that genuine respect is in danger of turning into disdain. And that would be a tragedy.

We don't need a Royal Commission to decide on the future of Maori seats. The rationale for the creation of those seats back in 1867 - to give Maori men a right to vote at a time when only men who owned property were allowed to vote, and of course at that time most Maori property was owned communally - no longer exists, and indeed hasn't existed for many decades.

Thus, we don't need a Royal Commission at all.

What we need is a Government with the backbone and the will and the determination to make these changes.

And we 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 is outraged by the fact that 40% of all new recipients of the DPB are young Maori women; that is appalled that more than 90,000 Maori children are being raised in households dependent on welfare; and that is not content to see 20,000 able-bodied Maori men on the dole, without insisting that they get up each morning and make themselves available for useful work.

We need a government that is not content to keep doing the same old thing when it is plain to everybody that what we have been doing is simply not working.

What we need is a government that is not smug, self-satisfied, complacent and intellectually lazy.

What we need is a National Government.

I will be doing everything in my power to convince the New Zealand public that 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.

I won't be patronising Maori or any other groups; I won't be telling them one thing and doing another; and I won't be sitting on my hands while these problems continue to fester.

A major focus will be education, 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. We need to measure student performance and we need to reward teachers that can motivate students to perform to the best of their abilities, and to help students discover where their talents lie.

With a bit of imagination and a lot more resolve, the opportunities available to most can be available to all.

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


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