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David Seymour: The Kiwi Identity

The following is an excerpt from ACT leader David Seymour's State of the Nation speech delivered in Wellington today.

At the centre of nearly every Labour policy, from the school curriculum to the management of three waters infrastructure is an obsession. The Labour Party is obsessed with the Partnership State, putting the Treaty at the heart of everything.

Interestingly, the Treaty is not at the heart of the Labour Party. Its 123-page constitution mentions the Treaty only three times, and in passing. There is no co-governance in the Labour Party; its first principle is that ‘All political authority comes from the people by democratic means, including universal suffrage, regular and free elections with a secret ballot.

Why might that be? Because the idea of co-governance is incompatible with democracy. Democracy means one person, one vote. It’s the basis of New Zealand’s one globally significant political achievement, realising the idea that every adult New Zealander should have the vote.

The opposite of that principle is being rolled out in healthcare, with two systems. It is being rolled out in infrastructure, with co-governance of Three Waters. It is being put into resource management law. The three bills replacing the Resource Management Act will be filled with co-governance provisions. The history curriculum is being designed to tell the next generation that everything in New Zealand is about colonisation and most of the students are guilty before they open their textbook.

People came from England to escape class. From India to escape caste. From China to escape the one-party state where party members get special rights. From South Africa to escape apartheid. If you were to sum up New Zealand’s history, it is people dreaming of an equal chance.

'We have moved towards the light of liberty by removing distinctions in law that once treated people differently depending on their religious conviction, their gender, or their race, and most recently [parliament] decided to remove gender from the marriage laws. Many countries have never achieved that, but it is extraordinary that as if engaged in some form of historical shuttle run, we who were first to touch the cone are now rushing back to create new distinctions in law. I refer to those who claim that the only way to achieve a material equality between the Māori side and the British side of my ancestry is to create more legal inequality. No doubt they have noble intentions, but public policy should be measured only by results.'

Now I realise people might be skeptical about a party leader giving a speech on nationhood at this point in the political cycle. That last paragraph is lifted word-for-word from my Maiden Statement to Parliament in 2014.

Here is another passage from my 2017 book Own Your Future:

'In the Auckland Town Hall, 456 people from 58 different countries take an oath and accept New Zealand citizenship. You can’t avoid feeling emotional as these 456 souls proudly throw their lot in with New Zealand. Many of them are tearful as they get something most of us reading this were born with.

A great showman, if nothing else, Mayor Len Brown stops [the] ceremony for a new citizen whose birthday is that day. He leads the crowd in an impromptu singing of Happy Birthday, the old Town Hall has a carnival atmosphere. At the end of the ceremony the MC asks people from each country to make some noise. Huge cheers for South Africa, the United Kingdom, and China. Everyone gets into it with an Estonian couple, a family from France, and a guy from Namibia doing their best. Then it comes to Australia, and there’s a low nervous murmur from the crowd before the whole hall erupts into applause. In a split second these new New Zealanders show they understand that the Aussies are the butt of our jokes and our best friends, too.'

That’s New Zealand at its best. Four hundred and fifty-six people from 58 countries uniting as true Kiwis. The idea that one group of people should be Tangata Whenua, elevated above all others, seems alien in this environment.

Labour forgets that New Zealand is not just Māori and Pakeha. There are now as many Asians as Māori and half as many Pacific Islanders calling New Zealand home. We need to reinvent the Kiwi identity as an outward looking, multi-ethnic nation state committed to liberal democracy above all else.

No society where people have different political rights based on birth has ever succeeded. Actually, all the good political movements of the past 400 years have been about equality. This pervasive drift to division has to stop.

That involves a blunt reality. Nobody is born special in New Zealand. There cannot be two types of people, Tangata Whenua, here by right, and Tangata Tiriti, here by the grace of the Treaty. All people born in this country, and who immigrate here, have a right to one five millionth of the opportunity it has to offer.

The next Government will not be able to simply stop doing new things that divide New Zealand. We will have to actively push back against the divisive idea that there are two kinds of New Zealanders.

We will need to remove the constant references to the Treaty from the law and replace it with a commitment to liberal democracy. One person, one vote, and equality for all in a multi-ethnic nation state.

It means removing co-governance structures from healthcare, from resource management, infrastructure, and education. It means going through the statute books and removing the distinctions in law that hold my Māori ancestors as legally different from my European ones.

It doesn’t mean that there cannot be devolution of services. Charter schools were a shining example of devolution. There is no reason that a school such as Te Kopuku High in Hamilton cannot thrive, but on the same basis that any other group of New Zealanders might choose their own style of education, like Pacific Advance Senior School, just up the road.

It doesn’t mean that we are not deeply concerned about making sure that opportunity truly is equal, but Māori do not have any unique challenges, just bigger versions of what everyone faces. We need to make housing more accessible. We need to reduce recidivism in the justice system with better prison rehabilitation. We need to close the yawning gap in University Entrance between decile one schools and decile ten schools, and all those in between.

The difference is that we are committed to uniting rather than dividing New Zealand.

We should be proud of our history, even as we learn from it. Our laws and traditions, based upon justice, individual freedom and equal opportunity are the best way to ensure everyone gets the same chances. This isn’t an either/or choice with our Māori - and other - heritage. We should celebrate them ALL.

You can read the entire speech here

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