It was a very interesting debate on Close Up tonight between Hone Harawira and Don Brash, both men I thought stated their case well and conducted themselves in a manner complementary to politicians. In this article I am going to de-construct the debate, and highlight what were, for me, the important issues to come out of it.
The Opening Salvo’s
Predictable, the first question asked was whether Harawira stood by his comments comparing Brash to Hitler. Also predictably, Harawira stood by his claims. It is always a dangerous approach in politics to compare you opponent to one of the greatest mass murderer in the history of humanity and it remains to be seen what kind of impact this will have on Harawira’s support come November. The problem for Harawira is that he is attempting to be too subtle with what is a very inflammatory statement. He goes on to argue that targeting Maori with the aim of denying Maori culture and destroying Maori is like Hitler targeting the Jews. Putting to one side the more hyperbolic of Harawira’s language, he does pose a very valid question: do Brash’s policy prescriptions actively target Maori and seek to destroy our cultural heritage.
It certainly suits Harawira’s narrative to portray ACT in this manner. It provides an identifiable enemy and allows him to set himself up as the protector of Maori, and counter-balance to the ACT party within Parliament. It is a narrative which could well prove fruitful within the Maori electorates.
That is the perception of ACT in Maori eyes, but is it the reality? I think not. In any event, the ACT party is not as extreme as many on the left like to make out. It is a common ploy in politics to paint your opponents as extremists – it plays on the inherent fear existent within human societies of those who are different to us. Brash, in response, makes it quite clear that ACT is concerned about issues of inequality in New Zealand. Where he differs from Harawira is in the approach that we need to adopt in order to address the problem.
To Brash, issues of social inequality are best resolved by taking an across the board approach. To him, a poor person is poor regardless of whether he or she is Maori or Pakeha. An unwell person is unwell regardless of whether he or she is Maori or Pakeha. Brash recognises the over-representation of Maori in all the negative economic and socio-economic indicators, but argues against targeted assistance on the basis that the need for assistance exists regardless of race.
Te Tiriti o Waitangi and The Maori Seats
Following on from my participation in the Te Paparahi o Te Raki Waitangi Tribunal Hearings into the meaning and effect of He Whakaputanga (The Declaration of Independence) and Te Tiriti o Waitangi held last year, I found this aspect of the debate most fascinating. When it comes to Treaty jurisprudence, Harawira lives and breathes the issues and his understanding of Te Tiriti is vastly superior to that of Brash. To Harawira, the principles of Tino Rangatiratanga and Kawanatanga in Te Tiriti combine together to form a partnership between Maori and Pakeha.
This analysis of Te Tiriti was used by Harawira to justify the continued existence of the Maori electorates. While, as Harawira noted, the Maori electorates were initially implemented as “a racist decision to keep Maori in their place” (reflecting the existence of a Maori majority at the time), they have come to mean much more today.
I have always found this to be the great irony of the Maori electorates. Initially designed to prevent Maori representation from taking over Parliament, they evolved when Pakeha assumed majority status to ensure the representation of Maori voices within Parliament. I agree with Harawira that we need the Maori electorates to provide a voice for Maori, but I do disagree with him that Te Tiriti guarantees the existence of such seats.
I tend to take a more literal reading to a legal text then I do a subjective reading. When we talk of the spirit of a text, I do not believe that such spirit should be given legal weight – what matters are the words as written, and intended by those drafting the texts. A legal document, at its core, is a written manifestation of the intentions of two (or more) parties. Te Tiriti is no different. It is the written manifestation of the agreement made at Waitangi in 1840. Nowhere in that document is the notion of a partnership discussed, or the rights of Maori to representation within the Kawanatanga set out.
From hearing the evidence presented to the Waitangi Tribunal at the hearings last year, I would posit that what was agreed to by Maori at Waitangi was as much about the establishment of separate jurisdictional communities as it was about partnership. Te Tiriti granted the British the rights to settle and to govern the territory and their British subjects in the interests of peace and well-being. The State, as it exists today, is not what was envisaged by Maori in 1840. Te Tiriti was never intended as a document allowing the British to establish they system of laws in the manner in which they did.
Brash, on the other hand, finds no justification for the Maori seats in Te Tiriti. When you analyse the ACT position in relation to Te Tiriti it can almost be read as if it came from a moderate Maori. While many will recognise Brash as focusing on article 3 of Te Tiriti when he says that all New Zealanders are equal under Te Tiriti, he made it quite clear that he also believed in the protection afforded in article 2. He stated that the Crown is correct in paying compensation in cases where property was taken away from Maori. What is sometimes forgotten is that ACT, in its true form, believes in upholding Maori property rights because it believes in upholding property rights. In relation to the foreshore and seabed debate, ACT did not support the initial Labour Party legislation on the basis of this position: that it unduly took away property rights, without providing for adequate compensation.
It is only under the direction of Rodney Hide that ACT have sought to fill the populist, anti-Maori rhetoric gap left following Winston Peters’ exit from Parliament. It has not proven successful. But this is where Brash continues to walk a fine line and opens himself up to criticism from within Te Ao Maori. Brash will always talk about article 3 more than he does article 2. He focuses on the ‘one law for all’ mantra because he knows it is a much more effective political slogan then ‘one law for all, including the right of Maori to receive compensation for the land and resources that were taken from them”.
The Negative Statistics
As noted above, both Harawira and Brash agreed that Maori are over-represented in all the negative economic and socio-economic indicators. However, trying to get either man to state their position and response to improve such negative statistics proved a very difficult task. Harawira repeated his comment that people in New Zealand were starving and stated that we need to life the working class up. When asked whether such poor statistics was all a result of colonial oppression, Harawira (perhaps wisely) made no attempt to answer that question. It can be a losing battle sometimes trying to explain why Maori are in the position we are in today. Yes, colonisation has played an integral role in the negative statistics, but after 170 years Maori have to accept some responsibility for the problem and take active steps to improve it. What disappointed me was that instead of engaging with this question, Harawira resorted to political slogans about wasteful government expenditure.
To me, Tino Rangatiratanga is both a right and a duty. Maori are guaranteed our rights to our whenua, our kainga, and our taonga under Article 2 of Te Tiriti. Accepting, as we do, that Tino Rangatiratanga means the ability of Maori to decide for ourselves the approach that we take in terms of our land, our home (or more widely, territory and peoples), and those things we hold dear; there is also a corresponding duty on Maori to preserve such things. With issues such as these negative statistics it is important to acknowledge the role of colonisation in creating the problem, but it is more important for our leaders to stand up and take responsibility for addressing such problems. A true leader does not hide behind excuses of colonisation, a true leader works to remedy the failings of the State because it is the health and vitality of the individual, the whanau, the hapu and the iwi that is the most important to us as Maori.
The Mana Party
What then will the Mana Party bring to the New Zealand Parliament? Unlike at his launch, Harawira was talking more about the importance of upholding Maori rights and being an independent voice for Maori. He stated, perhaps to the relief of many within Te Ao Maori who were concerned with the overtly left-dominated approach, that the Mana Movement would be about Maori representation to defend Maori interests. That said, it is clear that there is already a crisis of identity within the Mana Movement. Harawira attempted to pitch his party as both a Maori kaupapa party and a left wing party. When asked to justify his rationale for that by Brash he responded with deflection. Where in areas such as his beliefs around Te Tiriti o Waitangi in which Harawira provided clear responses, here there was deflection – a clear indication that he himself has not fully worked out how the two paradigms are going to interact with each other.
Engagement with the Maori Party
Unsurprisingly, Harawira was not complementary in his description of the Maori Party, at one stage calling them the “Maori translation service of the National Party.” I take anything Harawira says about the Maori Party with a grain of salt nowadays given the nature of his departure and I would caution against reading too much into this comment. The Maori Party, in my opinion, continues to provide an independent voice for Maori within Parliament. On issues which it considers harmful to Maori, the Maori Party MP’s have exercised their right to vote against the Government. It is the nature of MMP politics that the minor parties are always going to encounter a majority-partner who dictates terms most of the time. What needs to be remembered is that National did not need to establish a relationship with the Maori Party. In 2008, we elected a National-ACT Government. An invitation was issued to the Maori Party to form a relationship with the National Party and that opportunity was taken up. It has allowed for small successes for Te Ao Maori that would not have been achieved otherwise, and this is not something to be lightly dismissed.
What will put a lot of minds at ease within Te Ao Maori were Harawira’s comments that it is not beneficial to Maori for a war to break out between the Mana Movement and the Maori Party. He appeared to make a clear statement that the Mana Party would target the Party vote and not contest the Maori electorates. This is the best approach for Maori. As Harawira noted, Maori have generally not been well served by having their Maori MP’s as part of either Labour or National. The existence of both the Mana Movement and the Maori Party provides two complementary vehicles for Maori.
Overall, we witnessed a somewhat constructive debate between two party leaders on opposite sides of the political spectrum. It was a debate conducted in a spirit of mutual respect that was sadly lacking during Brash’s debates with Helen Clarke back in 2005. Both men accepted the honesty and sincerity of the other, but believed the other to be wrong in their policy responses to the issues facing New Zealand. There is nothing wrong with that – politics is a field where we need competing opinions.
I also tend to think that not as much separates Harawira from Brash as both men like to make out. It certainly suits their political aspirations to drive a wedge between each other and while they will never work together in a Government, I feel that their debates through this election campaign are not going to be as vitriolic as first feared. Both men aspire to improve the lives of those at the lower ends of the economic system, and both are consistent critics of the excessive government spending and large amount of money we as a nation are borrowing each week. Both agree on the fundamental importance of Te Tiriti, but differ in their analysis of it. Harawira believes in the partnership created through the guarantees of Kawanatanga in article 1 and Tino Rangatiratanga in article 2, where as Brash focuses on the equal rights guaranteed to all New Zealanders in article 3.
I do hope that the rest of the debates this year live up to the standards set tonight. Issues were discussed, and positions teased out without too much recourse to empty political slogans. Our democracy is best served when we have a full and proper debate on the issues that matter to New Zealand. Tonight, we saw a pretty good example of that.