On the night before the 2002 election, when I was a list candidate for the National Party, I was attending a black-tie event in Napier. Before we sat down to eat, the host asked the local vicar to give thanks.
The vicar gave thanks for the food and the drink which we were about to consume, and then said that we should give thanks also for the fact that, in just 24 hours’ time, we would have elected the members of the next Parliament “and nobody will have been shot, nobody will have been beaten to death, and the Army will still be in its barracks”. Let’s give thanks, he said, that we can say that with absolute confidence – “and we are one of only a tiny handful of countries in the entire world where this can be said with confidence”.
He was right, and we should all be profoundly grateful that what the vicar gave thanks for that night is still true. Recent polls suggest that a majority of New Zealanders are opposed to the present Government. And it is clear that a great many New Zealanders abhor the Government with an intensity that I haven’t previously witnessed. But nobody seriously suggests overthrowing it by armed rebellion. And nobody imagines that if, as I hope, the Government loses the next election in a landslide, it would attempt a New Zealand equivalent of the January 6 attempt by former President Trump to overturn that election result.
So yes, we have a robust democracy and we’ve had that for a longer period than almost any other country in the world. It’s a democracy where almost every vote counts equally, unlike the First-Past-the-Post system in the United Kingdom, or the system in the United States where the votes of those living in tiny under-populated states have vastly greater weight than the votes of those living in populous states like New York and California.
But that democracy is being aggressively undermined, not in our case by calling on armed thugs to come to the capital in an attempt to overturn an election result but rather by a succession of legislative and other attempts to destroy the most fundamental principles on which any robust democracy must rest.
Again and again we are being fed the lie that in signing the Treaty of Waitangi Governor Hobson committed the Crown to some kind of partnership with the Maori chiefs who also signed the Treaty, even though neither the word “partnership” nor any synonym for partnership appears in the Treaty.
And this lie provides the basis for all kinds of mischief – like the crazy notion that Maori electorates are somehow a requirement of the Treaty, that separate Maori wards are also somehow a requirement of the Treaty, that honouring the Treaty implies racially-defined health systems and half of all the directors controlling the proposed Three Waters infrastructure entities being New Zealanders of Maori ethnicity.
A recent report issued by the Community Boards’ Executive Committee, on Local Government New Zealand letter-head, urges the creation of “community boards, local boards, and other forms of ‘local community’ or neighbourhood governance”. When doing so “the default membership [of such bodies] should be such that 50% are elected by residents on the Maori roll and 50% by residents on the general roll”.
This is a wild distortion of any concept of democracy. Not only are those with a Maori ancestor (always now with ancestors of other ethnicities as well) only some 16% of our total population, those on the Maori roll are roughly half of that 16%, since there are nearly as many Maori New Zealanders who choose to be on the general electoral roll as choose to be on the Maori roll.
So what we see here is Local Government New Zealand – in theory representing all the local authorities in the country – arguing that 8% of the population should have 50% of the membership of “community boards, local boards, and other forms of ‘local community’ or neighbourhood governance.”
It now appears beyond any reasonable doubt that this Government is determined to undermine, and eventually destroy, our democracy.
In 2019, when Labour was still in coalition with New Zealand First, the Government commissioned a report by a group of Maori radicals to advise on the implications for New Zealand of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, signed by New Zealand in 2010, soon after John Key became Prime Minister. The report was finished later that year but not shared with the New Zealand First part of the coalition. Indeed, it was not shared with the public either: had its recommendations been known to the public prior to the election, the results of that election would almost certainly have been very different.
Why do I say that? Because the report, known by its Maori name He Puapua, proposes the most radical attack on New Zealand democracy which has ever been contemplated – indeed, probably the most radical attack on democracy which has ever been proposed in any democratic country. The report proposes that in large parts of our national life those with a Maori ancestor would be separated off from the rest of the community into what would amount to self-governing enclaves, though with these Maori “enclaves” (my word not one used in the report) having authority broadly similar to that enjoyed by the much more numerous non-Maori parts of the society.
The report became more widely known in April 2021, months after the 2020 election. “Not Government policy”, the Prime Minister tried to reassure us. Given what Government has been doing over the last 15 months, it is impossible to believe her. Much of what the Government has been doing recently comes directly from the He Puapua playbook.
This first became clear last year when the Government had Parliament reverse a provision written into law by a previous Labour Government. The Helen Clark Government had provided that, if a Council decided that Maori wards should be created, citizens and ratepayers could demand a local referendum on the issue. Over the years, a number of such referenda were held. In every referendum bar one, having separate racially-based wards was overwhelmingly rejected by citizens. This Labour Government decided that citizens could not be trusted with this decision, and changed the law to ban referenda on the issue.
Since that time, we’ve had more and more attempts to separate us by race.
I’ve already mentioned the Maori Health Authority. That was created because of the alleged racism in the health system, apparently justified by the perfectly nonsensical argument that because Maori life expectancy is shorter by a few years than that of European New Zealanders, this proves that the health system is racist. It was pointed out to the Government that many factors explain life expectancy – genetics, lifestyle choices around smoking and eating, quality of housing, etc. It was noted that Chinese New Zealanders have a life expectancy several years greater than that of European New Zealanders, yet nobody assumes that that is because the public health system favours New Zealanders of Chinese ethnicity. The co-chair of this Maori Health Authority is Tipa Mahuta, the sister of Minister Nanaia Mahuta.
I’ve also mentioned the legislation which will create four enormous entities covering the entire country to confiscate the Three Waters infrastructure of all local bodies. Initially justified by an expensive taxpayer-funded propaganda campaign designed to convince people that our water infrastructure was in dangerously bad shape throughout the whole country, and put forward as a scheme which local authorities could choose to join if they wished, it is now unambiguously a compulsory scheme.
Local authorities will get trivial compensation for the confiscation of their assets and, though nominally still part-owners of the infrastructure, the “ownership” is a complete nonsense, given that individual local authorities will have absolutely no say in how those assets will be managed. The entities will be “co-governed”, with iwi having 50% of the voting power. The Minister in charge of this legislation, Nanaia Mahuta, has refused to rule out that this structure may lead to a charge for the use of water being paid to iwi. And her sister, the one who is also co-chair of the Maori Health Authority, has been appointed to chair the Maori Advisory Group of Taumata Arowai, the new water regulator which will directly regulate the four water services entities.
There are many other examples which illustrate the Government’s determination to give wildly disproportionate political influence to those who chance to have some Maori ancestry.
Why is this? I can only assume it is because of some deep-seated notion that the arrival of European civilisation in New Zealand in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was enormously detrimental to the Maori who were here beforehand, and that therefore we “colonisers” owe a huge debt to those earlier inhabitants.
Yes, some bad things were done by some of those European settlers and I for one have always supported the so-called Treaty settlement process to provide some measure of compensation where it can be established beyond reasonable doubt that an injustice was done.
But it is impossible to argue with a straight face that the arrival of European settlement in New Zealand was on balance negative for the previous inhabitants. European settlement meant the end of the hugely destructive inter-tribal wars, wars during which something between 30,000 and 50,000 Maori died – dwarfing the number of those killed later in the so-called New Zealand wars, or indeed in any of the other wars in which New Zealanders have been involved since.
European settlement brought the end of slavery and of cannibalism. It brought the rule of law. It brought a huge increase in the range of foodstuffs, and in particular of the type of protein available (think sheep and cattle). It brought access to the scientific method and modern medicine. It brought the wheel, previously unknown in New Zealand. It brought access to the English language which, in turn, provided access to a huge range of knowledge.
And of course it’s worth recalling that none of those who claim Maori ancestry in New Zealand today would even be alive had it not been for the arrival of Europeans and people of other ethnicities. They too are the ancestors of today’s Maori.
So let’s all commit to the preservation of the democracy which we have collectively created over the last century and a half: it is one of the finest democracies in the world today.