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Don Brash responds to Vincent O'Malley

A review appeared at Newsroom on April 5 titled, "Book of the Week: The truth about 'Māori privilege'." Despite it containing an attack on Don Brash, he was refused right of reply by Newsroom editor Jonathan Milne who stated, "It’s a book review. Book reviews are meant to be opinionated. If we start getting into tit-for-tats over views expressed in book reviews, and theatres reviews, and restaurant reviews, then I don’t think we’ll be serving anyone well.”

Here is Don's response:


Once again, Vincent O’Malley is promoting a radically distorted version of New Zealand’s history (Newsroom, 5 April 2023). Normally I ignore his nonsense but on this occasion his distortions directly involve me.

He asserts that in 2004 “then Leader of the Opposition, Don Brash, delivered a blistering attack on race-based privileges for Maori and the ‘Treaty grievance industry’ during his notorious speech to the Orewa Rotary Club… Brash narrowly lost the 2005 election as a result of which his promises to tear up Treaty settlements and end Maori ‘privilege’ came to naught.”

Yes, I certainly argued in that speech that all New Zealanders, irrespective of ancestry, should be equal before the law. But I explicitly did not advocate “tearing up Treaty settlements”. Indeed, I urged that Treaty settlements should be accelerated and in the 2005 election campaign I argued that they should be finished within six years because, as long as they dragged on, they did two kinds of damage.

They created the (erroneous) belief on the part of many European New Zealanders that the Treaty settlements were of enormous size, and of course relative to government spending they were not. And they created a totally false expectation on the part of too many Maori that once a settlement had been reached the gap between average Maori living standards and the living standards of other New Zealanders would miraculously disappear.

I pointed out in that Orewa speech that once guns fell into Maori hands in the early years of the 19th century, ancient tribal rivalries saw Maori kill more of their own than the number of all New Zealanders lost in World Wars I and II. Probably 30,000 Maori were killed by Maori in the 1820s and 1830s. (I don’t see much evidence that this will be a focus of the new History curriculum.)

Equally, however, I noted that the initial Maori contact with Europeans was hardly a contact with the cream of European civilisation. The first Europeans that Maori encountered were explorers, whalers, escaped convicts from Australia, and then settlers hungry for land to build a new life. Many were none-too concerned about the niceties of the Treaty.

Any dispassionate look at our history shows that self-interest and greed featured large on both sides. Pakeha tried hard to separate Maori from their lands, and usually succeeded, although at various points the Crown endeavoured to ensure that proper procedures, consistent with the Article 2 guarantee to Maori that they were able to sell freely and fairly, were upheld.

Yet in spite of these problems, and in spite of all the turmoil, the shocks from the collision of two cultures and the chaos of unprecedented social change, the documentary evidence clearly shows that Maori society was immensely adaptable, and very open to new ways. That adaptability and resourcefulness, that openness to opportunity, that entrepreneurial spirit, is something that survived the trauma of colonisation, and is today reflected in a Maori renaissance across a wide range of business, cultural and sporting activity.

We should celebrate the fact that, despite a war between a minority of Maori tribes and the government in the 1860s and the speed with which Maori were separated from much of their land – partly through settler greed, partly through a couple of generations of deficient leadership by some Maori – our Treaty is probably the only example in the world of any such treaty surviving rifle shots. Those who said a hundred years later that New Zealand possessed good race relations by world standards weren't wrong. While we try to fix the wrongs of the past, we should celebrate the good things and shared experiences that underpin our nationhood.

All Maori got the right to vote, and had it long before 1900. Indeed, all Maori men got the vote before most European men did. By the 1930s, Maori possessed equal rights of access to state assistance, be it pensions or subsidised housing loans or access to education. One standard of citizenship was gradually working, and the gaps that existed in every other colonial country were closing here as Maori took advantage of full employment.

Although he listed a number of land grievances in his centennial speech at Waitangi on 6 February 1940, Sir Apirana Ngata told those present that in the whole world it was unlikely that any “native” (his word) race had been as well treated by settlers as Maori.

Let me be quite clear. As I frankly acknowledged in that Orewa speech, many things happened to the Maori people that should not have happened. There were injustices, and the Treaty process is an attempt to acknowledge that, and to make a gesture at recompense. But it is only that. It can be no more than that.

Despite the injustices and the mistakes, most Maori New Zealanders are undoubtedly better off today than they would have been had New Zealand never been discovered by Europeans. Indeed, I would contend that to argue the contrary is to be wilfully blind. European settlement ended slavery, cannibalism, and inter-tribal warfare. It brought the common law, the wheel, and metal tools. It brought a written language, new forms of protein, and new building materials. And one of the most obvious results has been a more than doubling of life expectancy for Maori New Zealanders.

That Maori New Zealanders now prosper in every walk of life is obvious to any casual observer. Three years ago, the Leader and Deputy Leader of the National Party were Maori; the Leader and Deputy Leader of New Zealand First were Maori; the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party was Maori; the Co-Leader of the Greens was Maori; and the Leader of the ACT Party was Maori. And nobody thought that was odd.

Vincent O’Malley and his radical friends may be reluctant to admit it but the reality is that New Zealand has absolutely no future unless it acknowledges what Article III of the Treaty made abundantly clear, that all New Zealanders have equal rights and responsibilities.

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