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What's a kiwi like me to think?

19 May 2004

Hon Jim Anderton MP, Progressive Leader

What's a pro-Treaty, pro-New Zealander, pro-Maori kiwi like me to think?

I consider myself pro-Treaty, pro-New Zealander, pro-Maori, anti-racist.

Not many Pakeha politicians have been bending over backwards to describe themselves that way lately – and maybe we’re not in the majority. But we are here in significant numbers and while Brash's ongoing attacks on Maori are clearly unacceptable to us, the foreshore and seabed debate creates a dilemma.

On the one hand, committed to partnership under the Treaty. On the other, reluctant to accept private ownership of our beaches in the hands of anyone.

On the one hand understanding Maori are sick of being victimised in political debate and demeaned by Pakeha politicians. On the other, tired of the radicalism of the Harawiras and repelled by the crassness of Tama Iti’s political style.

What are we pro-Treaty Pakeha to make of the hikoi’s arrival on the steps of parliament full of passion, distress and civility?

I suspect many progressive Pakeha have a question mark in their heads over whether the Foreshore and Seabed legislation is just, fair and forward-looking.

But pro-Treaty Pakeha are tolerant and understanding people; The foundation of tolerance and understanding is truth. So we need to search out the truth and consider the facts about the new foreshore and seabed law.

I have heard angry marchers call it a ‘new raupatu’. If there were a new raupatu, I would be on the barricades myself. But a raupatu is a confiscation, and this is not what has happened.

What the law is going to do is stop the chance of any future alienation of the universal right to access public beaches. What the law is doing is recognising that Maori have a right to legal determination of Maori customary claims. It is a law that is all about our shared rights and responsibilities. It is about the universal right to go to the beach because we all own it regardless of social or racial background. To describe this as ‘raupatu’ is to deprecate the enormity of the real raupatu scarring our history.

I heard one very genuine speaker assert Maori are kaitiaki of the beaches, and need to be steadfast against corporate exploitation and degradation of the beaches. When the dust clears, it will be possible for us to accept the first part of that sentence and recognise the second part is misplaced.

The legislation improves Maori input into the management of the foreshore and seabed; the assertion of Crown ownership makes commercial exploitation less likely. Those who want to exploit the beaches would find it easier if the government failed to pass a law and the beaches could be privately owned.

The government has neither allowed private title to be created over foreshore and seabed nor denied Maori connection to it. There has been something lost, of course. It is the right to go to court and argue for the existence of the English common law right of ‘title’.

To those who may have been able to prove an exclusive right of possession in the absence of the new law, provision has been made for compensation. For pro-Treaty Pakeha like me, it is a matter of justice that appropriate redress is provided once the claim is proved

I believe most of the pain expressed on the hikoi was not directed at the new law. It was an angry reaction to arrogance and abuse directed by too many towards Maori for too long. In that respect, I stand resolute at the shoulder of many of the marchers.

Guided by truth, we need to stand unflinching against politicians of any stripe who claim Maori live in privilege at the expense of other New Zealanders.

As a Pakeha I take seriously the responsibility of blocking the election of Dr Brash, who has sworn to burn the Treaty; who has claimed that there is no such thing as a real Maori any more. Yet were the government to entertain the prospect of private ownership of the foreshore and seabed, it would be swiftly removed from office and rightly so. The consequences for the Treaty – and for race relations in this country – would be dire, though only one single item on Dr Brash’s long and extremist agenda.

Haters of any shape are the enemies of tolerance and compassion, and the rise of angry, race-directed abuse on many sides in recent months is the greatest cause for sadness for all sensible New Zealanders. But we take for granted the peaceful way we resolve differences and we should be grateful. Months and years of talking about Treaty and race issues is hard – but it’s not as hard as any of the alternatives.

And lastly, pro-Maori, anti-racist Pakeha can be confident Maori will remain focused on realising the dream of a better future. I read a poll last year showing that the top concerns of Maori – by far – were not grievances, but education and jobs. Most Maori – more than other New Zealanders – are focused on the future, on the potential of young Maori, and on what we as a nation can become.

To someone like me, committed to creating a New Zealand where Maori and Pakeha flourish with each other, it is an inspiration and a clear signpost to where my energies should be directed.

ENDS


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