Sunday, August 28, 2022

Chris Trotter: A Bridge Of Insufficient Strength.

A great deal can be learned from the metaphors politicians choose to illustrate the challenges they are required to overcome. At the recent gathering of Māori and Pakeha leaders at the Māori King’s Turangawaewae marae, the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, gave us the metaphor of te Tiriti o Waitangi as a bridge. Somehow, she suggested, New Zealanders must be brought safely across this fragile structure. Her job is to lead them.

Listening to the Prime Minister, I was reminded of the compelling final scene of the movie The Man Who Would Be King, in which Sean Connery strides bravely towards safety across a swaying rope bridge. Behind him, enraged tribesmen hack away furiously at the anchoring cables. Beneath him, a yawning chasm waits to swallow-up the foolhardy Scottish soldier.

Certainly, it is difficult to escape the notion that the Prime Minister perceives this present moment to be one of considerable historical danger.

Behind us lies the old society of colonial New Zealand. A society based upon assumptions of racial superiority. A society founded upon the dispossession of the Māori. A society riven by multiple inequities and injustices. Ahead of us lies Aotearoa – the new bi-cultural nation in which a “partnership of the races” will expunge the inequities and injustices of our racist past.

Across this perilous gap between yesterday and tomorrow, the Prime Minister has suspended the Treaty. She offers us her hand – and bids us cross.

The problem with Prime Minister Ardern’s metaphor is that far too few New Zealanders believe the Treaty is strong enough to carry them across the chasm. They fear the chaos into which their country will be plunged if the bridge proves unequal to the burden imposed upon it. They simply do not share the Māori people’s unwavering confidence in a document once referred to by a Chief Justice of New Zealand as “a simple nullity”.

Even those enthusiastic about a bi-cultural future for Aotearoa-New Zealand are beginning to express their doubts about the “official” interpretation of the Treaty as a “partnership between races”. Dame Anne Salmond, for example, writing for the Newsroom website, reminds us that race is “a colonial idea with an ugly history, associated with slavery, genocide and the dehumanisation of others, and utterly inimical to respecting [New Zealanders’] ‘tapu and mana’.”

Pakeha conservatives, on the other hand, listen to what they judge to be the exaggerated and essentially self-serving claims of Māori historians and lawyers who would have us believe that te Tiriti o Waitangi is Magna Carta and the United States Constitution all rolled into one unchallengeable fragment of Holy Writ. Their reading of New Zealand history and New Zealand law simply cannot be squared with what is fast becoming the “official” explanation of the Treaty.

For far too many New Zealanders the Prime Minister’s invitation to step onto her bridge to the future is an invitation to catastrophe.

Perhaps there would be a higher level of confidence in the Treaty’s strength if the Prime Minister was better able to explain its corollary – “co-governance”. So eloquent on other subjects, Jacinda Ardern becomes uncharacteristically tongue-tied when invited to “sell” the concept behind what her critics characterise as Labour’s racially-charged and electorally unmandated policies – most particularly Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s “Three Waters” project.

This inability to explain co-governance is not restricted to the Prime Minister. The attempt by her Māori Development Minister, Willie Jackson, to reassure New Zealanders that they have nothing to fear from this “new” variant of democracy has succeeded only in frightening the bejesus out of them. If this is what lies on the other side of the chasm bridged by the Treaty, then the Sixth Labour Government should not be surprised at the number of Kiwis declining to make the journey.

In the wise words of Dame Anne: “Rather than seeing the Treaty as a ‘bridge’ across a chasm of misunderstanding, in the spirit of ‘pernicious polarisation’, perhaps Te Tiriti can be visualised as a meeting place where different groups of New Zealanders come together in a spirit of tika/justice, pono/truth, and aroha to share ideas, resolve injustices and seek peace with one another.”

There is no short-cut from our colonial past to a bi-cultural future. Surely, following this flood-ravaged fortnight, the Prime Minister realises that, when the waters rise in fury, bridges get swept away.

Chris Trotter is a political commentator who blogs at


Doug Longmire said...

The labyrinthine manipulation of the Treaty that is being used by the racist tribal elites has created post 1980 fictions that were never part of the Treaty signed in 1840.
Many pages have been written by latter day revisionists, activist judges and lawyers, twisting the Treaty to try and read meanings into the Treaty that quite simply are not there.
One only has to go back and read the actual words of the Treaty document:-
NO "partnership"
NO "principles"
YES – sovereignty/governance was totally ceded to the Crown. Read the actual words of the Treaty. This total ceding of sovereignty was actually welcomed and was confirmed by a gathering of the chiefs at the Kohimarama Conference 1860.
Therefore the modern “co-governance” based upon racial grounds, is actually a clear BREACH of the Treaty !!
The notion that the sovereign of the most powerful empire in the world would enter into a shared sovereignty with a group of illiterate native chiefs is, simply, laughably ridiculous. Queens of the empire never had "partnerships"

Janine said...

The treaty is pretty unambiguous. It guaranteed all New Zealanders equal rights, not one group superior rights. Maori could have been completely overwhelmed and wiped out by the British who could have mustered an overwhelming military might if they had chose to do so. That is the historical truth which all these so called "present day judges" seem to ignore. Where to from here? Vote for a political party who restores equality to all citizens regardless of their skin colour, I say. We are multicultural now not bi-cultural. No co-governance as that will create great disharmony.
We all have as much right to our say as Jacinda Ardern or any other politician.
Tis country belongs to all of us.

Anonymous said...

Bridge? More like a cliff with a huge drop into totalitarian woke oblivion. No one wants this, maori, or others, or in fact let's call us nzers as most of us are all mixed race and are not happy to be put into boxes. This incidentally is what hitler tried to do in the 1940s - put people into ethnic groups. This is just absolutely dreadful and anathema to the way kiwis are.
The election can not come soon enough. It needs to be now in fact.

DeeM said...

It's a bridge to nowhere you'd want to go, in my view.
Like the Auckland Harbour cycle bridge it's also a huge waste of time and money and will not deliver the promised outcomes. The exact opposite in fact.

NZ needs to move on as one nation and lose its obsession with different ethnicities, or in the Treaty's case part-ethnicities.

Never has a case for co-governance had such a flimsy justification as this one. NZ may be a young nation but it needs to grow up fast and our current crop of "leaders" are mostly not up to the task.

Mudbayripper said...

Lately, I have on this forum made some rather derogatory comparisons between the Maori elite working through the Waitangi tribunal and a curtain well known Italian crime organization who have been using violence, corruption and intimidation for centuries to line their pockets. Needless to say they haven't been published. Although when looked at now. Considering all that's being pushed through the authority of government, councils and the tribunal etc ( 3 waters many millions of taxpayers dollars to maori initiatives and settlements) I can't see I'm far off the mark. The bridge of which you speak is made up of lies, deceit and a complete disregard for unity and democracy only a fool would dare cross.

Anonymous said...

We, as New Zealanders, would be well advised to read ‘One Sun in the Sky’ by Ewen McQueen. It presents a well-researched view that there have been injustices done to Maori. We are on the right path when we restore lands to the different groups. However, at no time is it suggested that there should be co-sovereignty and dual regency. We do need a partnership between the various groups in NZ. The treaty is not a partnership between the various peoples of NZ. It is recognition of the agreement between Maori and the Crown the entitles Maori to all the rights and privileges of pakeha New Zealanders. We are equal before the law.

Robert Arthur said...

Does anyone nowadays ever hear from Geoffry Palmer on these matters, to which he contributed? He normally has endless to say on constitution type matters. Or, as with others, are his law firm commercial interests better served by allowing the morass to grow without question?