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State of the nation

Rather than a dangerous "drift towards racial separatism", all the evidence points in the other direction.

Last week Rip Van Winkle breezed into town to give a state of the nation address to an organisation called the Orewa Rotary Club. He must have fallen asleep in 1950 and missed all the exciting and liberating transformations from our colonial past that have occurred in our nation over the second half of the 20th century. Consequently his catalogue of the nation's woes has a strange disconnection from reality.

He talked about a dangerous "drift towards racial separatism", when all the evidence points in the other direction. The first significant change occurred when Maori migrated from their isolated rural hinterlands to Pakeha towns and cities in search of work. With the exception of a small minority unable to find work, following the restructuring of the economy by monetarist ideologues in the last two decades, the majority are now firmly integrated into the political economy. As early as 1960 an anthropologist found that as many as 50 percent of the marriages contracted by Maori were cross-cultural. The lizards of our colonial past are being laid to rest in the bedrooms of the nation. That is certainly the case in my family, which is not exceptional. Our children, who could have assimilated into the social mainstream, opted to identify as Maori of their own volition. They brought into our life an Irish son-in-law, a Thai daughter-in-law, one Maori daughter-in-law and nine mokopuna. All nine of our mokopuna identify as Maori. Five of the adult mokopuna have Pakeha partners. We love them all. My Pakeha sister-in-law has three Maori daughters-in-law, one Pakeha son-in-law and one European son-in-law. The offspring of the unions in our whanau are the new New Zealanders, the browning of the country by a new generation who see no future in the oppositional discourse towards Maori that pervades our media.

When Mr Winkle woke up he did not like what he saw in the "divisive trend to embody racial distinctions into large parts of our legislation" in health care, education and local government. Take health, where Maori have a lifespan 10 years shorter than their Pakeha compatriots. There are now 198 Maori doctors among the 8615 registered doctors in New Zealand. Many of those Maori doctors work with Maori health providers. Because there are so few of them, they are overworked and have little time for advanced study to qualify as fellows of the Royal NZ College of General Practioners. They also suffer burnout because they are unable to get locums. Instead of lamenting that the number is well short of parity with Pakeha, Mr Winkle would deny Maori access in future by closing down MAPAS, the Maori and Pacific Island Admission Scheme, because he perceives it as separatist favouritism. He would also shut down the Maori admission scheme into law school that in recent years has produced four judges for the Maori Land Court. Perhaps Mr Winkle does not like having Maori in the professions and wants to return to the 1950s when Maori were out of sight, out of mind and out of contention in an island universe run unilaterally by Pakeha.

Mr Winkle, being an economist, reduces what he calls the "Treaty process" to an economic transaction to put right historic injustice by making a "gesture at recompense". He said that "it could be no more than that". He has obviously missed the Waitangi Tribunal's statement of its mission as seeking truth and reconciliation between Maori and Pakeha. Perhaps bringing Maori and Pakeha together in a unified nation is not in Mr Winkle's vision. He has no idea how transformative the Treaty has become in our education system. Treaty audits of universities and polytechs are now de rigueur. Tertiary organisations are interrogated on what they do in their charters and profiles to improve the recruitment, retention and graduation rates of Maori students. The objective is to bring Maori and Pakeha closer together by closing the education gap. The Tertiary Education Commission goes a step further, exhorting tertiary institutions to integrate Maori into their governance and management structures. Thus the Treaty, often referred to as a charter for "partnership", is belatedly doing what the Maori signatories envisaged when they signed it 164 years ago.

In local body politics, councils and regional authorities have throughout our history been largely run by Pakeha. Only four percent of people elected to local councils are Maori. This reflects a flaw in the ideology of democracy, that one of the founding cultures dominates local government while the other is marginalised. The consequence of this marginalisation is that tribes at the top of the South Island are being shut out of participating in marine farming by the Marlborough District Council. Those tribes had no option but to fight for their rights through due legal process, thereby precipitating the unnecessary furore over the foreshore and seabed debate. One regional council, Environment Bay of Plenty, found there was no consistency in the election of Maori to the council. The council decided it needed Maori members to give guidance on requirements to take cognisance of Maori culture and values under the Resource Management Act. Environment Bay of Plenty accordingly sought legislation, which went through the house last year, for the establishment of Maori representation on the Regional Council based on the Maori electoral roll. That was a voluntary decision made by Environment Bay of Plenty and approved by Parliament. That legislation is not binding on any other local body, but if it is proved to be successful, then it is their choice whether they follow suit or opt for the status quo of Pakeha-only councils.

Although Mr Winkle appears to have missed out on perusing the recent scholarly literature on the Treaty of Waitangi because of his somnolent affliction, it did not deter him from making authoritative pronouncements condemning its contemporary interpretation and application. He condemns Parliament for creating a "new concept" - the "principles of the Treaty of Waitangi", which he asserts were never defined. There is nothing new about the Treaty having underlying principles. Consider the word kawanatanga, understood by the chiefs of 1840 to be "governor". Kawanatanga is what they ceded to the British Crown, the right to govern and make laws. For the coloniser, the first clause of the Treaty encompassed much more than the single entity of a governor. Embedded in that one word were the Pakeha principles that encompassed the complete apparatus of a modern nation state. That included a militia, civil service, judiciary, law enforcement officers and a charter to divide the colony into districts, counties, towns, parishes and reserves. Once these rudimentary elements were in place they were expanded to include a constitution, a house of representatives, local bodies, a system of state education and departments of state to manage the political economy. These were the Pakeha principles underlying the Treaty that were developed progressively between 1840 and 1854.

For Mr Winkle to deny the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi is to deny the foundations of our nation. That is not, of course, what he had in mind. But to deny the equal application of Treaty principles to Maori under the guarantee of "tino -rangatiratanga" in article two of the Treaty is a denial of equality. Furthermore, implicit in the guarantee of citizenship under article three are other rights and principles including Magna Carta, habeas corpus, the Bill of Rights and the democratic values of freedom, equality and justice. In other words, the Treaty is a charter for equality between Maori and Pakeha. It legitimates strategies for "closing the gaps" between Maori and Pakeha, the Equal Education Opportunities provisions in our tertiary institutions, and the Equal Employment Opportunities policies being followed in the whole of the state sector.

Far from being separatist, everything that the government, whether Labour or National, has done has been to level off the playing field for Maori so that they can participate equally in the life of the nation. Mr Winkle would abolish the Maori Television Service, the Maori Language Commission, the Ministry of Maori Development and Maori representation in Parliament. This is a recipe for cultural genocide. The only thing missing in his policy is euthanasia.