Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Chris Trotter: The Choice

“INSULATION from the ravages of extreme opinion has been achieved. The settlements have become mainstream.” The words are those of former Labour Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer. The “settlements” he refers to are the Treaty settlements negotiated between the Crown and Iwi.

It is to Iwi, New Zealand’s officially recognised tribal entities, that the responsibility for reinvigorating Māori society has been entrusted. Palmer’s confidence that the process has been walled-off from the “ravages” of democratic interference is important. The critical political choice made by leading Pakeha politicians, jurists and bureaucrats in the 1980s and 90s was to halt the momentum of left-wing Māori nationalism by inserting a layer of elite Māori business-people between the Crown and the economically and culturally impoverished Māori working-class.

Only by fostering the rapid growth of a Māori middle-class could the Pakeha state avoid being compelled to negotiate with social, cultural and political forces with precious little to lose. Forces, moreover, whose lack of a meaningful stake in the capitalist system might encourage its leaders to contemplate sponsoring an entirely different set of economic arrangements.

Fostering a Māori middle-class would not only create social, economic, cultural and political forces with a great deal to lose, but, by frustrating kotahitanga – unity – it would protect the Pakeha state from a popular movement it could not defeat – except by the application of overwhelming military force.

Forty years ago, the vital moral truth that Geoffrey Palmer and, following him, Jim Bolger and Doug Graham, grasped was that a New Zealand state strong enough to, once again, frustrate Māori aspirations by force, would not be worth living in.

That historical choice: to forswear force; made by the more enlightened leaders of Pakeha society back in the 1980s and 90s, was crucial. The settlement process – led and controlled by the Crown – would empower and enrich only a fraction of Maoridom. But, this small, highly privileged group would, in their turn, guarantee the integrity of the core institutions of the New Zealand state.

The Iwi institutions constructed out of the capital transfers at the heart of the Treaty settlement process were modelled on the corporate structures of the Pakeha economy. The name given to this phenomenon by Professor Elizabeth Rata is “neo-tribal capitalism”. Like the Pakeha system which inspired it, iwi capitalism elevates a very small minority to great wealth and power, while consigning the majority of Māori to a life of exploitation, deprivation and desperation.

Like capitalism everywhere, it isn’t fair – but it works.

Ironically, the man who came closest to destroying this mutually beneficial system, in which the elites of both ethnic communities gave away a little to get a lot, was one of New Zealand capitalism’s staunchest defenders, Don Brash. Perhaps he intuited that, having indicated their unwillingness to contemplate the force majeure deployed at Bastion Point, the Pakeha elites would inevitably find themselves prevailed upon to transfer more and more power and resources to the iwi-based corporations and the Māori middle-class which serviced them. Perhaps he simply refused to contemplate the evolution of a “bi-cultural” state. Whatever the explanation, Brash’s controversial Iwi/Kiwi election campaign of 2005 brought him within a whisker of discovering exactly how much force it would take to trash the principles of the Treaty and restore the colonial state to its former glory.

Brash’s successor, John Key, moved decisively to restore the relationship between the Pakeha and Māori elites. His reaching out to the Māori Party, and the latter’s positive response, confirmed beyond dispute the truth of Geoffrey Palmer’s assertion that the settlement process had moved beyond the sanction of “extreme opinion” and become part of the mainstream.

Over the course of Key’s nine-year (nearly) reign, the rapidly expanding Māori middle-class grew progressively more nationalistic. That they would promote their language and culture with ever-increasing fervour was entirely predictable. Historically, it has been the practice of all colonised peoples to not only claim full equality with their former masters’, but also to elevate the achievements of their own culture well above that of their brutal conquerors. The strong symbiotic relationship in which erstwhile oppressors and oppressed typically become enmeshed is simply edited out of the ethno-nationalist discourse.

The New Zealand state thus finds itself in a position roughly analogous to that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the turn of the nineteenth century. The dominant group is no longer confident of exerting its formal (but waning) imperial authority without causing the entire ramshackle edifice to disintegrate. So uncompromising have the nationalist claims of its subject peoples become that meeting them would instantly dissolve the constitutional glue holding the state together. To resist their claims means war. Ultimately, there is no winning move – but surrender.

Certainly, it is difficult to read in John Key’s decision to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Jacinda Ardern’s decision to allow Nanaia Mahuta to commission a report on its implementation, as anything other than a capitulation to the political logic of Māori nationalism.

He Puapua is an imaginative and honest presentation of the steps necessary to establish a te Tiriti-based constitution based on the principle of co-governance. The fact that its recommendations, which included the elimination of majority rule, failed to elicit any significant protest from Ardern and her cabinet colleagues, indicates just how completely Labour has been persuaded that the future of Aotearoa will be driven by Māori.

The Māori nationalists ideological victory will not, however, be costless. Just as the leaders of Pakeha New Zealand were required to make a choice about the use of force, so, too, will the new rulers of Aotearoa.

It is difficult to see how a system of government permitting 15 percent of the population to determine the fate of the remaining 85 percent can end anything other than badly. Pretty early on in the piece, the Māori nationalists, like the Pakeha liberals of the 1980s and 90s, will also be forced to choose:

Do we preserve our ideological victory and defend our hard won political supremacy by force – or not?

Chris Trotter is a political commentator who blogs at
This article was first published HERE


Ross said...

If it means war, then so be it. The preservation of the democratic principle of one person one vote, every vote the same really is worth it. That is essentially what the treaty says: 3 clauses, the Queen is sovereign, everyone keeps their own stuff, everyone gets treated the same. How this most basic of ideas has been mangled into it's complete opposite beggars belief. That New Zealand is on the threshold of an apartheid government where a racially defined minority rules over all others is repugnant beyond words.

Jigsaw said...

It is usually so difficult to see that I even share a common country with Chris Trotter - his ideas are so based on some sort of fictional past and the conclusions that he draws are so often so weird as to be like some other made-up country. This article is no exception at all.
People like Trotter also insist on seeing Maori as some sort of separate but uniform group who all hold narrow and similar opinions. Truth is that they are as diverse a group as any other with generally ambitions typical of any middle class- and stability is surely a main ingredient.
If we have been avoiding violence by some sort of miracle in the past then we sure as hell are on a collision course right now and those middle class part-Maori -who have so far made little out of the Treaty settlements will have to choose which side to bet on- tribal domination in a Zimbabwe like failed state or a democratic state that with all its faults will at least provide some sort of future for them and their children and grand-children.
To quote anything that Geoffrey Palmer said about the Treaty process to just invite scorn. This is the man who promised that it would take 10 years and likely cost $1 billion. 40 years and $4 billion the task appears appears to drag on forever and the by-product is a distorted history and ordinary people feeling like strangers in their own country. And it is their country-whatever their ethnic make-up.

DeeM said...

If Chris is correct in his statement that “ It is difficult to see how a system of government permitting 15 percent of the population to determine the fate of the remaining 85 percent can end anything other than badly” then there is only one path Maori can take to preserve their gains. They will ultimately have to acquiesce to the demands of the 85% who quite rightly will feel like second-class citizens.
They can’t win that fight. They don’t have the numbers and quite frankly lack the nous.
The key point is when enough of the woke liberals cheering them on start to feel the personal pain of lost jobs, income, choice and opportunity and switch sides.
What Chris seems to completely miss is that the plan to co-govern equally between a small minority and the rest was doomed to failure from the start. It’s never worked in the past and it won’t work now.
New Zealand’s infatuation with race will be its downfall. It’s very sad but it shows how incompetent our political rulers and most of our so-called academics have been for the past few decades.

Ray S said...


TOny Noble said...

Well and bravely argued. I respect that. I also wonder if there is a less binary outcome provided a National/Act coalition wins the next election. Sir Bob Jones is taking bets on a National/Act victory. I would love to know what National’s polling is indicating as to the awareness of the He Puapua agenda among the swinging centre segment of the electorate. Any intelligence on that Chris?

RonS said...

So this article claims that if it were not for stepped-up treaty settlements that enriched a few Maori leaders who went on to quell burgeoning activists, New Zealand would have faced revolt that could only have been suppressed by use of military force. Another interpretation is that rather than confronting a few activists, possibly with the involvement of the police, the Government caved in, took the easy route and gave Maori what they wanted, with that cowardly strategy being continued and extended through to what we see today, pushing towards the destruction of democratic New Zealand.

Janine said...

The divide in New Zealand is no longer between Labour and National. I wish it were so as that would be more understandable to many.

The divide is now between freedom and totalitarianism. We are not so familiar with this phenomenon.

The workers, the bulk of New Zealanders, are definitely being disadvantaged as are our small businesses.Ardern and her elites seem to think they are supreme rulers over the masses.She has perpetuated the myth that non-Maori are wealthy exploiters over the poor Maori minority. Look around you people. The Maori are just as affluent in most cases where they choose to take advantage of the benefits available. I don't believe Maori wish to be portrayed as " the poor relative".

How much is the wealth of our Maori MPs again?

Chris, I always thought you were for the workers whatever their skin colour.

Phil said...

I note the comments saying it won't happen. We should know this year where things are at. The Maori health board legislation, Three Waters, local government reforms, the Government's cabinet paper on setting up an indigenous government are all happening. Is this really about Maori or is it about the next step towards Neo Marxist control of the country. Even democracy is now openly talked of as a white supremacist construct.

Bruce Moon said...

The Treaty/tiriti promised all Maoris the same rights as the people of England no more and no less and the same duties.

A truly "treaty-based constitution" would roll back a colossal amount of ever-increasing privileges part-Maoris (and these is no other sort) have today.

Any other sort is just a collection of lies and hypocrisy.

Greengrass said...

It appears that we are at this state of affairs today, because successive Prime Ministers have surrendered to the demands of Maori Nationalists who were the intimidating and belligerent, vocal elite representing 15% of the population.
Sure, nobody in their right mind wants civil war or racial violence, but the failure of those Prime Ministers to 'grasp the nettle' has passed that responsibility to the people. The government has failed us.

The Saxons paid the Vikings to preserve peace, and it resulted in on-going payments to a smaller force of belligerent aggressors.
History repeats.
It was not until the Saxons made a stand and fought the Vikings that long-lasting peace was restored. People died, but freedom has a price.

There are lessons to be learned from history, and we all need to learn.
If the people are forced by this government to fight to defend their democracy and freedom , then let the blame fall where it lies - with the Ardern Government. I do not want violence, nor does the average citizen.

Jacinda, do you want this to be the legacy that history attributes to you. Is this your ticket to a cosey number with the United Nations?

Nanaia Mahuta, will the 85% of the population triumph over the 15% of the population if it comes to armed conflict? Everyone will suffer regardless of the outcome. Then utu from both sides will be revived. We should have left this in the past.

The government needs to clean up the mess before the people have to.
The outcome of the next election is critical if violence is to be avoided. People! vote for peace and democracy!
It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword.
Let us hope that this is true.

bruce s said...

Janine, above, is on to it when she says the 'divide is now between freedom & totalitarianism". The 'Left' / 'right' dichotomy is wrong think perpetuated by deluded political scientists.
There is only 'more' government or 'less' government.
'More' government is held to be for the benefit of the poor and uneducated where the ruling elite hold that "we can spend your money better than you can" & "we can do your thinking better than you can".
'Less government' is by far the preference of the self reliant, the educated and informed, the free enterprise supporters who recognise the efficiency of free-markets over govt. control.
All Governments waste money. The bigger they are, the more they waste.