Sunday, February 7, 2010
David Round: Is the Treaty of Waitangi Holding New Zealand Back?
There were many important issues not covered at all or barely hinted at, and one or two of the questions and answers were perhaps a little peripheral, but on the whole, given television’s limitations as a medium of information and debate, it was a good start in considering a vital issue where political correctness usually does not allow any debate at all. I must add, though, that I do not think that the eventual vote of the studio audience (only 35% believing that the Treaty is holding New Zealand back, and 65% believing that it does not) reflects the attitude of the country at large.
Matthew Hooton’s argument was that the Treaty was not the thing holding us back; we were being held back by our lack of education, our growing social welfare dependency, a fragile economy which rested on only a handful of sources of overseas exchange (all of them liable to disruption) and so on. I would make two replies to this. One is that the motion was not that the Treaty is the one thing holding us back, but rather that it is something, one of the things, that is. The other reply is, as I have argued in the past, that all our problems are connected. Our preoccupation with the Treaty diverts us from our other problems. We do not worry as much as we should about these other things because we are worrying instead about more Maori language funding, or ‘celebrating’ a new Maori social initiative. More, these other things holding us back are intimately connected with the Treaty. We do not value the education necessary for modern life and prosperity because (among other things) it was not needed by ancient Maori. So our schools teach Maori language and stick games instead of anything useful. Increasing Maori addiction to the Treaty gravy train is just an aspect of our general social welfare addiction, and the sad Maori social welfare statistics arise out of Maori lack of desire to better themselves because they are constantly told that their plight is entirely someone else’s fault. Because we have not enough education and believe that the world owes us a living we do not get up and really work at other ways of making a living. And so on.
One most striking thing about the debate, though, was the absolute courtesy and good humour of practically everyone involved. I have noticed this before, for on various occasions over the years I have felt obliged to stand up and say things in front of a Maori audience which I have thought they might not like, and have felt a little nervous in doing so. My invariable experience, however, has been that Maori respect courage and honesty; indeed, I suspect that they may have more respect for people who are brave enough to stand up, look them in the eye and courteously say what they really believe than they have for the often-cringing politically correct.
Among our defects of character as a nation, however, is a tendency to be far too trusting. Perhaps it comes from living on islands ~ our native birds were trusting also, plump and flightless, and it did them no good in the long run. Perhaps it arises from our very fortunate lifestyle here, law-abiding, prosperous and comparatively well-governed, for the last century. But one of our national delusions is that as long as we’re nice to other people they will be nice to us. We are a gift to con-men. We judge entirely by appearances. If someone is courteous and clean, then there can be nothing wrong with him or his hard-luck story. We instantly put our hands into our pockets.
If I may digress for a second ~ there is an immense amount of wisdom in a little episode in Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, describing his childhood and youth growing up after the war on the Greek island of Corfu. At one point he makes friends with a local fisherman, who gives him a black-backed gull and supplies him with all manner of strange and wonderful marine life for his natural history collection. The fisherman is decent and gentle, but Gerald’s mother is horrified to learn that he has been imprisoned for murdering his wife (he is let out at weekends to fish) and insists on meeting him to vet him as a friend for her son. So some pretext is arranged for his visit to the Durrell villa, where Gerald’s mother of course accidentally meets him. She is rather surprised to find him ‘such a nice man; he doesn’t look a bit like a murderer’. To this observation Gerald’s brother Larry replies scornfully ‘What did you think a murderer look like? Someone with a club foot and a hare lip clutching a bottle labelled Poison?’
Indeed not, of course. Many murderers are just nice decent people like anyone else.
Now do not misunderstand me! I am not suggesting that Maori treaty claimants are necessarily anything like murderers. I am simply pointing out that it is very easy to be misled by appearances; to suppose that just because someone is courteous and speaks quietly, that therefore their requests of you are perfectly reasonable. This does not necessarily follow. It may well be the case that many Treaty claimants who are now pressing for further generosity genuinely believe that they are entitled to what they are asking for. That does not make their case any more meritorious either. It is very easy for people to convince themselves that they are hard done by. Sincerity is no guarantee of credibility any more than it is a guarantee of talent (I am thinking of some bad artists here!). I am quite prepared to believe that many Maori now demanding the foreshore and sea-bed, more funding for the Maori language, further rounds of Treaty settlements and now sovereign rule over non-Maori may well believe it to be no more than a reasonable claim for their just entitlement. (I do not think all of them do. There are some very unpleasant and hate-filled people whose desire seems chiefly to be the destruction of the European race and the New Zealand nation, and who do not scruple to manipulate facts and people to that end.) But sincere belief does not make an illegitimate claim legitimate. It does, however, have the unfortunate consequence that the claimants do not take a refusal well. Instead of slinking away saying to themselves ‘Ah well, it was worth a try’, they actually feel genuinely aggrieved. They may turn to violence to remedy the wrongs they think they have suffered, and already voices are talking of it.
This column has ended up being one on elementary human relations rather than on the issue of further treaty claims to radio frequencies, which will have to wait until next week. But let me finish by reiterating an old truth ~ and rebutting Matthew Hooton at the same time. He said in his speech that treaty claims would eventually be settled. Time did not permit disagreement with this. But it is clear they will not be. Even the historic claims, for past alleged wrongs, will not be, for numerous Maori leaders, of whom Margaret Mutu is only the most recent, have made it absolutely plain that every generation will have another round of claims. Even some Ngai Tahu leaders ~ and Ngai Tahu are among the most reasonable in Maoridom ~ have said the same thing. As we know, many claims now the subject of full and final settlements have actually been fully and finally settled at least once before. And those are only the ‘historic’ claims; claims will still continue to be made for new alleged wrongs. Nor do we ever get as much as a thank you for any settlements. Hone Harawira actually abuses us, and only reflects a widely-held attitude when he does so. Our generosity is not even improving good race relations. Nor is it, of course, improving the lot of many Maori outside a new small elite. I understand that Harawira complained to John Key at Waitangi that many Maori were starving. Well, leaving aside social welfare provisions which are among the best in the world, not to mention more than we can afford, were not Treaty settlements meant to enable Maori to look after themselves? I hope the Prime Minister is noting that his generosity to Harawira and his mates has not resulted in much gratitude nor any good attitude on their part.
We are too trusting. We think that if we behave reasonably, so will everyone else. We think that no-one will ever take advantage of our good nature. We think that because we have given someone something, they will not ask for any more; that a full and final settlement will actually be full and final. Let us not fool ourselves. Our generosity only encourages the recipients to try it on again.
It is indeed a pity we do not learn history at school. In my day we learnt of the Dane-geld, the tax imposed upon England to raise money to buy off the Danes, the Vikings, but which inevitably had the effect of encouraging the Danes, once they had seen how profitable this extortion was, to return again and again, breaking their word not to, to demand yet more tribute; and which led, eventually, to Danish invasion and subjection of all of England, which ended not all that long before 1066. Buying people off seldom works. Kipling wrote a poem about it, which a wiser generation often learnt by heart. Here are some of its verses:
It is always a temptation to a rich and lazy nation
To puff and look important and to say ~
‘Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away.’
And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.
It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray;
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say:
‘We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that plays it is lost!’
at 12:57 AM