Former Waitangi Tribunal member and Labour Minister Michael Bassett writes about the Maori ‘power grab’ for local government under the report with “flatulent phrases and portentous utterances” on proposed local government law reform and the politics behind it, saying it is ‘racially-charged’ legislation.
Michael Bassett* Recently we saw how the government’s proposed health structural reforms have little to do with improving health care for all New Zealanders. They are essentially a power grab by Maori who will control their own health authority and effectively be given veto rights over the health structure for everyone else. Seventeen percent of the population will ultimately control the health of the other 83% of us.
The recent interim report into the Future of Local Government: Arewa ake te Kaupapa comes out of the same mould. Fifty-nine pages of flatulent phrases, portentous utterances, and false assertions about the Treaty, lead the reader eventually to the real purpose of the report: more power for Maori. This time local government is to be restructured to “create conditions for shared prosperity and wellbeing” for Maori.
Once more it is Nanaia Mahuta, Jacinda Ardern’s in-house Rasputin, who is driving the power grab.
Why The Change Now?
Why a need for local government change right now? You might well ask. In 1989 the Fourth Labour Government reduced 817 small units of local and special purpose government to a more realistic set numbering 78 today. In 2002 the Fifth Labour Government fine-tuned some of the legislative details and requirements.
One struggles through this interim report to discover why the Sixth Labour Government needs more changes. In thirty pages of platitudes, interspersed with the occasional untranslated Maori word, the authors argue that current local authorities aren’t contributing enough towards the “wellbeing of their communities” and that prosperity isn’t being “shared equitably among New Zealand communities”, that is, Maori.
We are told that major – but as yet largely unspecified – changes are needed to our local authorities’ structures and powers.
As one who sat for a decade on the Waitangi Tribunal and who knows a bit about New Zealand history, I certainly have a better handle on both the Treaty and our country’s history than the average Maori, many of whom, sadly, are prone to make up the Treaty and claims about it as they go along.Michael Bassett
‘Bulls’ Wool About The Treaty
It’s not until page 33 that more is revealed. Bulls’ wool about the Treaty of Waitangi being a “partnership” is wheeled out yet again. As usual these days, the report fails to acknowledge Article 1 of the Treaty where the chiefs gave “absolutely to the Queen for ever the complete government over their land”.
These days the Treaty is said to contain obligations that were never in the document. Disconcertingly, the hapless writers of this “interim report” tell us that in recent years Maori have been doing well under existing legislation, settling historical claims and increasing their representation in local government. Which immediately raises the question: why fix it if it ain’t broke?
Because, we are told, “current statutory and institutional arrangements do not provide for adequate Maori representation or input into decision-making, or for sufficient protection of Maori rights, interests, and wellbeing”.
The same could be said of course about Pacific Islanders’ interests, and those of Asians who now number as many amongst the Kiwi population as Maori. But Mahuta and her carefully chosen review panel of Jim Palmer, Penny Hulse, Gael Surgenor, Antoine Coffin and Brendan Boyle seem not to care a fig about any of them.
Lack of Understanding
The problem with the current local government scene, we are told on page 37, is that Iwi representatives and Maori are unable to form “effective partnerships” with councils because councillors and staff “lack the necessary cultural competence, or lack understanding of Te Tiriti and New Zealand history”.
As one who sat for a decade on the Waitangi Tribunal and who knows a bit about New Zealand history, I certainly have a better handle on both the Treaty and our country’s history than the average Maori, many of whom, sadly, are prone to make up the Treaty and claims about it as they go along.
This report is just another example, and it suggests a lamentable lack of knowledge by its authors.
The underlying problem with this report is that if one believes in democracy, a key element of which is one person, one vote, Maori with only 17% of the population can’t conjure up a majority to run every aspect of New Zealand life. And even if they could, they can never produce equal outcomes in life for everyone.
People behave differently; some are careful with their bodies, others are careless. Some smoke and drink too much, or engage with drugs or other risky behaviour. Luck doesn’t favour everyone; besides, DNA in our make-up can vary enormously. No change to the health or local government systems can guarantee equal outcomes for Maori, or for anyone else. Changes to personal behaviour, on the other hand, could assist.
The authors of this report would have more success improving outcomes for Maori if they could engineer that!
Why is the Ardern government rushing ill thought-through, racially-charged legislation? Rasputin understands this better than most. With both the Labour caucus and the cabinet currently over-represented with Maori, plus Labour’s unprecedented MMP parliamentary majority that the polls tell us isn’t going to last, Nanaia has convinced her colleagues to bring forward all their racist legislation while there is still time. She and they know enough about politics to realise that a National Party in government has nearly always been wet, and is unlikely to wind anything back. Nanaia is urging her colleagues to legislate as soon as possible.
Try to give 17% of Kiwis the powers of 51% because of their ancestry, and they will run the country for ever. The pitifully weak Labour caucus will be driven like blind sheep into the lobbies to vote for this pernicious nonsense
Why are the rest of us so slow to understand this deliberate racism? This is where the Ardern Government’s most cunning sleight of hand assists them. The so-called Public Interest Journalism Fund that channels taxpayer money to newspapers up until the 2023 election so long as the recipients play ball means that the racist health legislation, and now the proposed local government reform, don’t get a public airing. The New Zealand Herald has become the next best thing to a mouthpiece for this Labour ministry, ignoring difficult, racially-charged issues that might embarrass its paymasters.
By 2023 we could be living in a New Zealand with a permanent racial divide embedded in its governance. Meanwhile, the Maori Party seems to be lining up to cut a deal with Luxon’s National Party in the way that it did with John Key’s government, hoping this time to lock the racial divide into New Zealanders’ lives.
This article was first published in Bassett Brash & Hide
Dr Michael Bassett is an historian, author of 15 books and academic. In 2004 he won the Qantas Media Award for Best Political Columnist in New Zealand. He was New Zealand’s Minister of Health and Local Government between 1984 and 1987, and then Minister of Internal Affairs, Local Government, Civil Defence and Arts and Culture between 1987 and 1990. He has taught history at the University of Auckland and was J.B. Smallman Professor of History at the University of Western Ontario during the early 1990s. He was Fulbright Professor of New Zealand History at Georgetown University in Washington DC in 2002. He spent ten years (1994-2004) as a tribunal member of the Waitangi Tribunal that deals with claims by New Zealand’s first settlers, the Maori. Between 2009 and 2013 he was a Board member of the Museum of New Zealand: Te Papa Tongarewa.