Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Bruce Moon: “Lies, damned lies and statistics”

In a paper published in the refereed journal, “Social Science and Medicine”, Arthur Grimes, Professor of Wellbeing and Public Policy at the School of Government and Senior Fellow at Motu Research, together with Rowan Ropata Macgregor Thom offers his opinion, which he states is that of “many New Zealanders” on “why Māori experience inequity across several social outcomes and why these inequities seem to occur in perpetuity”.  

While asserting that “other examples abound” he gives “as just one example”  Māori adult smoking rates (at 22.3 per cent) are much higher than for the general population (9.4 per cent).  They do not elucidate this statement further.

“Inequities”??  Synonyms for “inequity” given in my dictionary, the “Shorter Oxford”, are “want of justice” or “unfairness”.  So where exactly, I ask, is the unfairness or want of justice in any individual’s decision to have a smoke and just who is it who suffers accordingly?  (Not, surely, an unfair question?)

I offer to the thoughtful reader a little scenario which many, if not most citizens will have observed, perhaps today and particularly in those parts of the country with a considerable proportion of part-Maori inhabitants.  I offer no unneeded references and I exclude specifically those part-Maori  residents whom I may meet on an ordinary day in my own South Island town and who are assuredly as well-integrated into its life as any other citizen.

My picture is of a group of young part-Maori women, each with a toddler at her feet and perhaps a baby on an arm and each, without exception, smoking a cigarette or lighting up a new one.  All this is despite the clear warning on the cigarette packet to all who can read that smoking is harmful to health, as indeed it is, particularly to unborn babies who may suffer permanent damage in consequence.

Many of these young women will, one suspects, have been advised by their own mothers or grandmothers, or those of their friends, to get pregnant so that when the day duly comes they may live on the Domestic Purposes Benefit and thereby absolve themselves of the need for any other way of earning a living.

This Domestic Purposes Benefit is provided (need I say?) by New Zealand taxpayers, predominantly white descendants of wicked white colonials, in accordance with legislation or other diktat passed by a Parliament, again composed of predominantly white descendants of wicked white colonials.  So how much thought do these privileged young women give to this fact of life or do they just consider that what they receive is some sort of fundamental right?

Meanwhile, the young bucks who willingly impregnated many of them are nowhere to be seen.  They have of course been absolved of all responsibility or even need to be identified, by lawmakers, once again predominantly white descendants of the aforesaid wicked white colonials.

Now just who should be accountable for this state of affairs?  Probably the aforesaid earnest white do-gooders will in due course be blamed by some sociologist or another for failing to anticipate the inevitable consequences of their actions, and in that, (don’t you see?), lies the “inequity” to part-Maoris, the unfairness so perceptibly observed by Messrs Grimes and Thom

Here endeth that lesson, but of course Messrs  Grimes and Thom go on.  At this point they take up their theme of “land loss” and this is what they say:

“An important feature of the history of Aotearoa New Zealand is the loss and confiscation of Māori land (whenua) in the 19th and 20th centuries. Before the arrival of European settlers and the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840, Māori owned all land; todayMāori own just 5 per cent.  All iwi suffered immense land loss. One form of loss was the raupatu, or confiscation of land, associated with the New Zealand Wars in the 1860s.”

We have not identified Grimes and Thom’s source for this deeply flawed statement, an all-to typical example of the idiom of today’s apologists.  It merits a little analysis.

First of course is its obeisance to “aotearoa”, despite the fact that before the arrival of European settlers and indeed for several decades afterwards, our country was never called by such a name  - try to find it in the “treaty of Waitangi” - its original name being “Nieuw Zeelandt” bestowed upon it in 1643.

They continue with:  “Before the arrival of European settlers and the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840, Māori owned all land”.

The profound ignorance in this statement by anybody holding the rank of professor is a stark example of the intellectual decay accelerating in New Zealand’s universities and institutes of higher learning today.  Have no doubt of that.

With the superior foodstuffs readily available to Maoris from European sources, the tribes no longer needed their extensive “rohes” for hunting and gathering activities. A veritable frenzy of land selling by the tribes began in exchange for the white man’s goods and the benefits of his technology.

In the South Island alone a total of 179 land sales (by my count) were registered before 1840, the documents of sale continuing to exist in Sydney today.  Evidently Messrs Grimes and Thom do not know this.

Then of course, before the white men arrived, apart from New Zealand’s vast areas of mountain and almost impenetrable native bush in which few, if any, Maoris ever set foot, there was everlasting warfare between tribes, often with slaughter and cannibalism on an immense scale.  Lesser tribes’ women, land and goods were taken at the victors’ fancy and their surviving men and boys in slavery.  For many life was a constant state of fear and terror.  As Polack, a keen observer noted: “Not a single family on [sic] the country is exempted from reciting its tales of horror and dreadful suffering inflicted on them in some period by distant enemies or near neighbours. Revenge is as dear to these people, as the greatest enjoyment of life.”

So, even if, before any white man set foot in the country, Maoris hypothetically “owned all land” as Messrs Grimes and Thom’s bland statement says, then for many of them it was on very provisional terms, with the ever-present fear of loss to more powerful neighbours and enemies.  “Raupatu”, land confiscation by Maori tribes, was rampant.

They fail to give a true account of the state of land-holding in New Zealand before the White Man came.  When they say “[e]ffects of the trauma of land confiscation are passed down through generations” it is pre-European practice whose effects they could well consider seriously.

They refer to the confiscation of land in the tribal rebellions of the 1860s – falsely referred to by them as “the New Zealand Wars” ‒ following which some land was erroneously confiscated from loyal tribes.  Yes, mistakes were made but 314,364 acres were returned to Waikato tribes and 1,604,554 acres to Taranaki tribes.  They say nothing of this.

And so to their statistics.

It is a primary rule as any competent statistician knows, that “correlation does not imply causation”.

For instance, the steady increase in part-Maori life expectancy over the colonial and post-colonial periods correlates strongly with the “loss” of land which Grimes and Thom so deplore.  Does anybody suggest that either is the cause of the other?

They say: “We test whether modern-day outcomes for iwi members relate to each iwi’s land-loss experiences. The relationships are stark. We find that greater 19th century land loss is associated with a reduction in the proportion of an iwi who can speak te reo proficiently.”  It does not seem to occur to them that each separately may be a consequence of another trend – the large-scale move to the cities (not a pre-colonial option!).  A natural consequence of that, on one hand, is preference for the use of English, the language of cities, rather than a version of the Maori tongue used in a rural community.  Another is the sale of a redundant rural landholding to provide funds for a place to live in the city.

Little credence can be placed on the use of statistics which they employ.

As to the reality.

There will be many part-Maoris today who, like other New Zealand citizens, are owners of property held under the general or “Torrens” title but as records are not kept of the ethnicity of New Zealand resident owners, accurate estimates of the nature and extent of their holdings are difficult to make.

And so despite the dreadful consequences Grimes and Thom associate with the reduction in Maori land held on the archaic tribal basis, tribal interests keep on selling land quite merrily as it suits them.  Ngai Tahu is one of the richest tribes with assets of $1.5 billion at 4.10.21, largely the consequence of a “Waitangi Settlement” several authors have described as “fraudulent” and “a swindle”.  They sold 18,252 hectares of central South Island land to a Swiss company for a “consideration of $22,888,888” duly approved by the authorities and in November 2010 for several million dollars they sold Rakanui Station south of Kaikoura to an American citizen.

Are Messrs Grimes and Thom aware of what keeps happening out in the real world?  To this commentator at least their paper does little credit to one of professorial status and looks very much like a piece of politicking with a very dubious basis to transfer more and more assets to an increasingly privileged section of New Zealand society.

Comment  This article addresses the work of Grimes and Thom reported by “Stuff” and not the original journal paper.  Since perhaps one hundred will read the “Stuff” version for every one who reads the latter, it was deemed more appropriate to take this approach.  

Bruce Moon is a retired computer pioneer who wrote "Real Treaty; False Treaty - The True Waitangi Story".

The views expressed are those of the author alone. The blog is administered by the New Zealand Centre for Political Research, an independent public policy think tank at - register for the free weekly NZCPR newsletter HERE.

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