We, the living, are not ruled from beyond the grave by those who lived before us in different times. It is for us to decide our way of life, our culture, our government, our laws.
Let go the shackles of the past
The Treaty of Waitangi was set down, agreed upon and signed in 1840, now (in 2022) 182 years in the past. In the last half-century, the text has been argued over, translated to and fro between English and Maori multiple times with massive changes in the meaning of many Maori words — such as taonga going from property taken at the point of a spear [Hongi Hika: tao, a spear] to “treasures” [Kawharu]), and given newly introduced add-ons (such as “partnership” and “principles”) so there are many and contradictory versions of what was meant and what should guide us today.
Once, Europe was governed and directed in a similar manner. The Bible, another sacred document, was the rule-book, not to be questioned, with the interpretation handed down by the Pope in Rome and savagely enforced. Thus, when scholars came to recognise that the earth goes round the sun, Bruno was burnt at the stake in 1600 for saying so, and Galileo was questioned by the Inquisition and sentenced to house arrest until his death.
It was very different in England, where papal authority had been formally abolished in 1534. The consequence of freedom from Papal suppression was shown by the work of Frances Bacon in the early seventeenth century; his stress on new, unconfined thinking and inductive methods gave a considerable impetus to subsequent scientific investigation such as the work of Isaac Newton later that century (while Galileo was silenced). There can be no more dramatic example of the practical difference between freedom of thought and control by a powerful central agency.
The resultant increase in understanding of the world, the new capabilities and technologies, have completely transformed our lives – including advances in life expectancy, travel capabilities, household comfort and business enterprises, the new technologies. The many benefits are now basic features of our civilisation.
So too with social policy and government. To get ahead and deal with problems of today we must escape the control of ancient dogma and no longer be held captive by distorted messages from a very different past, but free to think for ourselves. That is the major challenge to New Zealand in 2022. It is time for the country to come of age and seize its own destiny, to open the debate and make the choice of who we are, who we want to be.
The Treaty of Waitangi has been shredded and lost its meaning, to now present a variety of divergent ideas; it must no longer be treated as a sacred document, and it must be set aside, no longer a controversial and contradictory blueprint for the future. Free of that roadblock, we can gather, debate and decide as equals – to determine our own future together.
What sort of a country do we want?
The many critics of this drift into racism come from all parts of the political spectrum. Apart from a call for equality, there are great differences in ideas of what is needed and of which policies to follow. Those who call for equality then differ; this is healthy and only to be expected in a free democracy. We here set aside our many differences and focus on the basic idea of what it is to be a New Zealander – one people, where everyone gets a fair go. What matters in this critical time is to assert the ground rules within which we debate and decide, so that we can then compromise our differences and live together in peace and prosperity. On one thing we agree; there can be no compromise on the goal of equal citizenship.
This is not a proposal for a complete answer to the question of what sort of country we desire, it is a demand to set the basic ground-rules for a rigorous debate. This is a first step, far from a written constitution. The first need is to assert just one clear over-riding defining principle, equality. The current destruction of equality in law and government has made that a challenge of central, overwhelming, and immediate importance.
We are one people
The concept of equality has long been accepted as key to human society.
The recognition that we are all kin, members of the human family was voiced by Antiphon, an Athenian orator and thinker, around 2,700 years ago, when Polynesians were moving across the Pacific, to lose contact with the majority of humanity, out of touch with the birth of civilisation – so that these ideas are lacking from Maori tikanga. “For by nature we all equally, both barbarians and Greeks, have an entirely similar origin: for it is fitting to fulfil the natural satisfactions which are necessary to all men: all have the ability to fulfil these in the same way, and in all this none of us is different either as barbarians or as Greek, for we all breathe into the air with mouth and nostrils.”
Calls for equality have been central to the development of modern society.
“Liberté, égalité, fraternité”, French for liberty, equality, fraternity, is the national motto of France, acceptable to many governments since, of both the right and the left; the glue holding the republic together.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is the first principle of the American 1776 Declaration of Independence.
Such calls have come from many peoples, including left socialists and right conservatives. This is the common ground, the universal accord, as made clear in Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Equality has been widely recognised as the key to the fight against racism. Article 1 of the American Declaration of Independence (noted above) was quoted by Martin Luther King in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, calling for an end to racism. In 1964, Nelson Mandela speaking at his trial, when accused of sabotage against the apartheid regime, called for equality, not special rights for the subjugated black majority. “Above all we want equal political rights. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites of the country because the majority of the voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy. But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all.”
A forceful and comprehensive condemnation of inequality based on race is found in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in a statement by the General Assembly: “Affirming further that all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust”.
This admirable statement contradicts the body of that document, which proposes comprehensive separation and special powers and rights to indigenous people who are defined by the very attributes that are here condemned – superior position and special treatment based on ethnic and cultural differences. This contradiction at the heart of the declaration is further emphasised by the very last paragraph, which makes it clear that any claim to indigenous status is secondary to the fundamental principles of equality and democracy: “The provisions set forth in this Declaration shall be interpreted in accordance with the principles of justice, democracy, respect for human rights, equality, non-discrimination, good governance and good faith.”
Yet that document is used to support the separation, discrimination and inequality in the current New Zealand policy of co-governance.
The basic belief that we are one people was once common ground here in New Zealand, but the idea of equality has been steadily nibbled away during the 47 years of the Waitangi Tribunal and now has been dumped by both major parties, which have signed up to a policy of racial discrimination – National with the repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 and its replacement by the Marine and Coastal Area Act 2011 to please their Maori Party allies, and by signing on to the divisive United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Labour with a full commitment to racial separation.
A democracy is a system of government where the all adult citizens choose and elect those who will write laws and run the many collective national enterprises – such as police, education, health services, water and electricity provision, seas and national parks. This system is based on equality of all citizens, with decisions are made by a simple majority, with each vote being of the same value. There can be no inherited aristocracy or any other such privileged class.
New Zealand has a broken, unequal ‘democracy’. There are separate seats in Parliament and in local bodies for Maori. Maori representation, as well as being divisive, has a greater power than would be required if there was a system of “one person, one vote” in which each would have the same value. This has been achieved by a play on numbers. In the 2018 census, 625,600 responded that they were Maori by ticking the Maori descent box (13% of the population). This number was then increased, to provide a “Maori descent electoral population” of 896,600 (18% of the population). Consequently, there are 7 seats for those who have chosen to be on the Maori electoral roll, instead of 5 seats, and Maori Members of Parliament are elected by fewer votes than those in general seats. The disparity is also found in local government. That could not happen if we were all equal, and voting on the one roll.
Inequality has been established across much of New Zealand society. Such divided standards of citizenship and separate powers of control are found in many further aspects of community life – such as regarding foreshore and seas, rivers and lakes, conservations lands, science, universities, education curriculum and within government departments.
Calls have been made to entrench the disparity and to introduce Maori pre-contact cultural norms, tikanga, which demand a further destruction of democracy and a return to tribalism with its class differences and power to the tribal elite – rangatiratanga ruled by rangatira. Elisabeth Rata has pointed out that this is an attack on the very basis of democracy. “Tribalism and democracy are incompatible – they cannot exist together as political systems in one nation. The condition for democracy is everywhere the end of tribalism with its birth-ascribed inequality and exclusive kin membership.”
We must ask ourselves, is such race-based division acceptable or is it racism, to be abhorred and done away with? A simple definition recognises three key features of racism.
First is a belief in the existence of separate races. This has been written into New Zealand law since 1975 with the explicit racial definition of Maori: “A Maori is a member of the Maori race”.
Second is the division of people by race in law: here, into Maori and the rest of us (referred to by a variety of labels, often as “pakeha”, a Maori term for the white inhabitants of New Zealand, which ignores so many New Zealanders).
Third is the provision of different treatment, with unequal rights and powers, to the two identified racial groups.
The policy and actions of the New Zealand government are, according to this straightforward understanding, racist.
That has been the situation up to 2021. Now, in 2022, and into the future, the government system of New Zealand is under far greater threat, with plans for two separate governments, formed by two totally different government systems – one democratic and the other tribal – to co-govern the country. Note that Maori would retain an unequal position in the common government as well as having their separate government, so that this minority would hold significantly more than half the power – the effective oligarchy of the tribal elite (whakapapa, loyalty above all to the extended family, which is widely recognised as part of contemporary tikanga, provides legitimacy for nepotism in government).
The requirement for separate systems of government (as proposed in the He Puapua report to government) has been made clear in the “Three Waters” proposal, which would take the control of drinking water, sewage and waste water from local bodies and hand this to four imaginative regional structures, ‘entities’, to be governed through an absurd, complicated structure. At the base are four regional authorities, where, to quote the proposed Bill, “Iwi/Maori will have a joint role with councils in the oversight and strategic direction of the proposed new water services entities, with mana whenua having equal representation alongside local authorities on a Regional Representative Group for each entity.”
This suggestion that these fundamental facilities, built up over many decades, should be taken from local communities and handed over to these strange organisations by central government fiat is deplorable. It is made far worse when the control is to be taken from all and placed in Maori hands: not only that oversight but also a water services regulator, Taumata Arowai, which will operate from a te ao Maori perspective.
There is no definition of how this is to be organised, how it will work, of just who hold the special rights. The legislation makes use of three separate words, with their three very different meanings, to identify the new authority. Is this grouping, which stands apart from the democratically elected councils, to be all Maori? Or, will it be all iwi? Or will it be the selected iwi of mana whenua, the dominant iwi in each local region? How will the members of the decision-making group be chosen? Will this be done within a democratic framework or following the dictates of tikanga? Those essential questions are simply ignored.
The government is currently passing a bill demanding plain speech, requiring that words in English must have a clear meaning, understood by all – as defined by the government authority. It is made clear there that “only documents in English must use plain language”, while “nothing prevents or restricts a reporting agency from including te reo Maori in any relevant document” – there is no requirement for plain, clear and understandable language when Maori is used. We are not told what is intended, who and how it will be done. But this is the heart of the matter.
What is clear is that whichever Maori are dominant will be required to set up a government structure to take the control handed over by this and other co-government legislation. Some form of Maori government must be formed to satisfy the requirements of the Three Waters proposal, and of co-governance.
Co-governance requires two separate governments based on race; this is apartheid formalised and set into the New Zealand government structure. It is the full implementation of the He Puapua recommendations.
A minority in a disorganised tribal system – the tribal elite – will rule the country. How much further from democracy can we get?
Freedom of speech
In order to correct the move to apartheid, there must be an opportunity to describe and criticise what is being done. Those currently in power have placed many restrictions on freedom to think, to speak out and to debate in today’s New Zealand. Our thinking is controlled.
- Media are subsidised, with the demand that they stick to government guidelines. Two criteria are for a “Commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and to Maori as a Te Tiriti partner”, and a “commitment to te reo Maori.” Government sources, such as that most readily accessed on Google, wrongly report two different versions of the Treaty of Waitangi. Who decides just what version must be followed? The practical consequence is a ban on any knowledgeable discussion of the Treaty.
- Science must be guided by the non-science of a primitive society. The government science policy framework demands that scientists be guided by “Vision Matauranga” and the Royal Society of New Zealand “strongly upholds the value of matauranga”.
- Government proposals for changes to the school curriculum include the requirement “to ensure parity for matauranga Maori with other bodies of knowledge”.
- Such requirements have been accepted and taken up by many organisations. Otago University has a policy for research consultation with Maori: any researcher (in any topic, in a wide range of subjects unknown to tikanga) is required to ‘consult’ so as to assure that their work satisfies “the needs and aspirations of Ngai Tahu for Maori development and benefit in Ngai Tahu Vision 2025”. Waikato University places considerable emphasis on tikanga: “The world is looking to Indigenous knowledge to solve modern-day issues.” “The University of Canterbury has announced five new professor positions and the introduction of a new treaty partnership office, building on its commitment to strengthen Maori leadership and relationships. Ka Waimaero (the Ngai Tahu Research Centre) will be the foundation for the new office of treaty partnership, believed to be the first of its kind among Aotearoa universities to embed mana whenua – Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu – into the structure of Te Whare Wananga o Waitaha University of Canterbury.”
- Government departments, and local government, must pay particular attention to poorly specified Maori demands, with many practical consequences such as the partnership of the Department of Conservation with various groups, so that in many cases iwi now control and effectively own public lands.
- The Three Waters proposal not only demands the separate and unequal Maori control of facilities, with no clarity of what is meant (as discussed previously) but sets up a control agent that will operate from a te ao Maori perspective.
- A previous effort to control “hate speech” has evolved into a current demand to express policies in “plain speech”. As noted previously, words in English must have a clear meaning, understood by all – as defined by the government authority”, but te reo Maori is exempt from any such requirement. This allows open slather, as with the confusion noted in the Three Waters proposal, where half of the group controlling these facilities are to be “Maori”, or iwi, or mana whenua. These are vague terms and the meaning is nowhere clear. Is New Zealand to be directed by the pre-contact culture of a primitive tribal society (matauranga Maori is traditional Maori knowledge, hauora is a Maori view of health, te ao Maori is the Maori worldview)? New Zealand society is now very different; are these words to be understood in the light of changed circumstances, and who then has the controlling power to tell us what it all means? The lack of clarity allows a small group of Maori to define the meaning of our law, much to their advantage.
Such unclear criteria are used to limit the debate to what is allowed by iwi authorities and by parliamentary “Big Brother” control agents. Debate on the current official racism has been nobbled, as for many years opponents to separation by race (those fighting racism) have been labelled racist in a successful propaganda campaign. Many New Zealanders have come to believe that it is racist to question Maori exceptionalism.
Always, the critical issue is the control agent, who decides, who is Big Brother here, defining, judging, punishing proper behaviour and accepted thought. This is a great leap backwards into a distant and unhappy past, akin to the authority of the Pope in seventeenth-century Europe which was used to interpret the ancient Bible and to silence those who dare to disagree.
It is essential that we continue the effort to rip off the gag, to attack this monster for what it is, and to get back the freedom to speak out clearly – to challenge dogma and lies and to assert the truth.
Dr John Robinson is a research scientist, who has investigated a variety of topics, including the social statistics of Maori. His recognition of fundamental flaws in the interpretation of nineteenth century Maori demographics led him to consider the history of those times in several books.