The recent political poll announced at the weekend told us that Jacinda Ardern’s support, and that of her government in the wider community remains high. Given Covid and the high publicity surrounding Ardern’s every movement, this isn’t altogether surprising. Virtually all the editorial writers in the country, and even the Listener, support her in one way or another, either outright with their observations, or by suppressing counter arguments. And while a couple of TV political analysts have recently criticised the government’s conduct on several fronts, the tone of reporting has been generally supportive.
However, the question that Newshub-Reid asked about race relations, answers to which have so excited reporters since the poll results, was so badly worded that I doubt much can be made of the result. “Do you think Labour is being separatist?” was the question asked. Nearly 19% didn’t know. And I’m not surprised. It requires more than the average level of interest in race relations to know what it means. A more telling response might have come to specific questions like: 1. “Should the Maori Health Authority be given veto power over key public health decisions for all New Zealanders?” 2. "Should iwi be given equal management rights with elected authorities over water?” 3. “Should new Maori businesses receive government funding ahead of Pakeha businesses?” 4. “Should Maori housing needs be given priority over equally needy families of other races?” These questions could have been asked. At least respondents would have known what the pollster was talking about. As it is, results to the question asked by Newshub-Reid were virtually worthless. And they certainly weren’t sufficient to justify the media drum beat for a new National Party leader.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a National Party supporter nor a wild-eyed fan of Judith Collins. But she has, belatedly, raised legitimate questions about whether Jacinda Ardern and her colleagues have a separatist agenda they didn’t mention at election time and still aren’t prepared to share with the public. Careful scrutiny of announcements from the government suggest Labour is busy pouring resources over Maori in preference to other races in this country. As I’ve pointed out before, this runs counter to Labour Party traditions which have always been that public policy should be racially neutral. The reason for this is obvious. Need, not race, should decide entitlement to public assistance. While some Maori – possibly more than 30% - need assistance with access to healthcare, housing etc, many do not. People who can provide for themselves should not receive benefits simply because of the colour of their skin. Judith Collins is absolutely right to raise the issue.
Perhaps the biggest problem we face on racial issues is that sensitivity to them, and knowledge about the dangers if public policy favours one race over another, are today at a low ebb. The Springbok Tour of New Zealand which gripped the nation because black players were not eligible to play for South Africa’s national team occurred 40 years ago. Apartheid where 11% of South Africans ruled over the other 89% collapsed 27 years ago. More significantly, the teaching of world history has largely vanished, and if Jacinda Ardern’s plans for our new history curriculum transpire, few young people will ever find out about the evils that can be visited on majorities as well as minorities when one race or another exercises power that is not democratically based.
Ardern loves preaching her mantra about “being kind”. Having lived in the American South for several years during the civil rights era, and visited South Africa three times during the years of Apartheid, I have seen the evils of racial discrimination first hand. Believe me, there was nothing kind about it. When power is given to people on the basis of their skin colour the results can be frightening, and the injustices visited on innocent and deprived people are endless.
Little steps in the direction of racial discrimination have almost always led on to policy entrenchment and separation over wider areas of life – everything from access to hospitals, beaches, even toilets. There is no surer way ultimately to foster protest, and risk terrorism, than to embark on well-intentioned but careless racial policy. The United Nations recognized this 75 years ago; our own civil rights legislation, and Article 3 of the Treaty of Waitangi which was signed 181 years ago, acknowledged it. All races in New Zealand possess equal rights; special privileges to any one of them are a danger to us all. Need, not race, should always determine public assistance.