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Not many months after the 2020 election freed the Labour Party from the constraints which New Zealand First had placed on them between 2017 and 2020, the Government admitted to commissioning the most radical plan for over-turning New Zealand’s constitution since the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840.

It was called He Puapua, and I have written about its quite extraordinary implications previously. In short, it envisages New Zealand’s moving away from being a Parliamentary democracy in which all adult citizens have an equal vote to one in which those who chance to have some Maori ancestry – always now with some non-Maori ancestry – have a much larger say in how things are run. The ultimate aim was to put the small minority with some Maori ancestry on a par, politically, with those without such ancestry.

“Not Government policy”, the Prime Minister declared, but continued with policies designed to achieve exactly that goal.

The most blatant example of He Puapua in practice currently is of course the Government’s Three Waters proposal, the ministerial responsibility of Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta. Under that proposal, all of the three waters assets – those involved in providing drinking water, disposing of sewerage and controlling storm water, paid for by generations of ratepayers of all ethnicities – would be confiscated by central government and moved into four enormous regional bodies drawn along tribal boundaries in which tribes would have half of all board appointments. With key decisions requiring majority support, tribes would have effective control of all of these assets.

Initially, the Government pretended that this scheme was to be voluntary, and local governments spent time providing feedback on the proposal – most of it negative. Then the Government admitted that the scheme was always going to be compulsory, and the “consultation” was just window-dressing. Even the former Leader of the Labour Party and now mayor of Auckland, Phil Goff, declared the proposal totally inconsistent with any concept of democracy.

Flying under the radar to some degree – perhaps because of the noise being created by the Three Waters proposal – is an equally obnoxious proposal to break up the taxpayer-funded health system into two, one serving those who are Maori (though to my knowledge there has been no clear definition of who will be regarded as Maori for this purpose) and those serving the rest of us, with both parties having to agree on the allocation of resources and other major decisions. The Maori Health Authority will be headed by the sister of Nanaia Mahuta, though we are assured that her appointment has nothing to do with that family relationship and that she is the best person for the job.

The Government referred the legislation which will establish this segregated health system not to the Health Select Committee but to a specially selected Select Committee with a heavy weighting of Maori Members of Parliament. And then that Committee paid not the slightest heed to any submissions which were even slightly critical of creating such a racially segregated system.

One of the most powerful submissions was a lengthy one made by former All Black Lawrie Knight. In that submission, he noted that there are five claims presented by Maori when demanding a separate health authority:

1. That Maori die seven years earlier than other New Zealanders.

2. That Maori have poorer health services than non-Maori.

3. That decolonizing the health system will improve Maori health and longevity.

4. That a primary contributing factor for Maori ill health is “systemic racism”, “white privilege”, and “unconscious bias” in the New Zealand health system.

5. That non-Maori are not affected by inequitable health provision and services.

In his submission to the Committee he demonstrated that all five of those contentions are incorrect, or caused by other factors.

For example, he noted that while on average Maori New Zealanders do have a life expectancy some seven years less than the life expectancy of European New Zealanders, the life expectancy of Maori New Zealanders is closely similar to the life expectancy of Maori living in the Cook Islands; and while the Cook Islands were colonized many years ago, that colonization ended more than half a century ago. He noted that Chinese New Zealanders had a life expectancy some five years longer than that of European New Zealanders, again strongly suggesting that there is a major genetic component in life expectancy.

He quoted interesting figures for the life expectancy of Samoans in Samoa and compared that with the life expectancy of Samoans living in New Zealand – those living in New Zealand using the supposedly racist New Zealand health system of course – and found that on average Samoans living in New Zealand have a life expectancy 6.4 years longer for males and 6.9 years longer for females.

The reality is that there is absolutely no evidence that the New Zealand health system discriminates against Maori and plenty of evidence that the health system works hard to treat all New Zealanders equally, regardless of race.

So without any robust evidence that there is a problem to be fixed, the Government is on track to create a racially segregated health system where the tribal elite will be given power and influence over the health system of the whole country. It has to be one of life’s great ironies that a country which was the first in history to guarantee equal rights to all its citizens is now succumbing to pressure from people who have some Maori ancestry to create a society where ethnicity is the most important determinant of political power.

The Labour Government is pushing this agenda aggressively. The Maori Party has explicitly stated that it will only go into coalition with a party which affirms the primacy of tribal rule – because that is what the Maori Party’s interpretation of the Treaty means. So far, the ACT Party has made it clear that if that is the Maori Party’s “bottom line”, then there is no way that ACT could be part of any Government of which the Maori Party was also a part.

The challenge for the National Party is to state clearly whether they believe in “equal citizenship”, as the Party’s constitution proudly asserts, or whether they would be willing to concede the field to those who want to change our constitution so that tribal power-brokers have power equal to the rest of the country.

This article was first published at e-local magazine

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