Decisions should be made by local government elected by all citizens
“Several decades ago . . . we started the nonsense of imagining that the Treaty contained ‘principles’ that nobody has yet been able to find in the document itself.”
IN THE Wanganui Chronicle of May 20, Whanganui MP Chester Borrows made a number of assertions, including about me, which require a reply.
First let me say that I have long admired Mr Borrows. He has a genuine concern for the well-being of all our citizens, especially those who have had a tough upbringing. I was delighted when he became a Member of Parliament in 2005 when I was leader of the National Party.
But in my opinion he is quite wrong on Maori issues. He accuses the “same old culprits — Don Brash, Muriel Newman, Winston Peters, Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all” — of having “not a shred of evidence” for claiming that “the Government is about to sign away to Maori the ownership of water”.
But the consultation document which the Government itself issued makes it abundantly clear that, if the proposals in that document are adopted, iwi will have a significant say in the allocation of water.
What is ownership if not the right to decide what happens to an asset? To date, decisions about the allocation of water have been made by local governments, elected by all citizens regardless of race, and that’s how it should be. The Government’s proposals envisage a radical change in that arrangement, with iwi “able to participate in decisionmaking about fresh water in their rohe”.
The consultation document notes that proposed amendments to the RMA provide for so-called “iwi participation agreements”, which will “require councils to invite iwi to discuss and agree on how iwi may participate in planning” [my emphasis].
The Treaty of Waitangi gave Maori rights over the property they owned in 1840. Some of that property was sold by Maori, some was taken unfairly by the Crown — and for this reason compensation has been paid more than a century later. And that’s appropriate. But at no time have Maori claimed to own water, and even had they made such a claim, the Water and Soil Conservation Act of 1967 made it abundantly clear that water is owned by nobody.
Mr Borrows quotes a comment I made in a 60-second conversation we had as we met very briefly a few weeks ago, and notes that I want to take race relations back 40 years ago. What I was trying to assert was that for most of our history successive governments have taken seriously Governor Hobson’s statement as Maori chiefs signed the Treaty that we are now all one people.
Several decades ago, in the late 80s actually (so 30 years ago), we started the nonsense of imagining that the Treaty contained “principles” that nobody has yet been able to find in the document itself, nor to adequately define. We started to pretend that the Treaty really involved a “partnership” of equals between Maori chiefs and their descendants on the one hand and the Crown on the other.
But the very first clause of the Treaty states that “the chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes and the other chiefs who have not joined the confederation, cede to the Queen of England forever the entire sovereignty of their country”. Doesn’t sound like a partnership of equals — or any other kind of partnership — to me!
In defending the proposal to introduce Maori wards in New Plymouth, Mr Borrows asserts that “wards have been part of New Zealand democracy forever”. But those wards were never based on the ethnicity of one’s ancestors except in the case of the Maori electorates in Parliament. And those Maori electorates, established in 1867 for five years, have long outlived their relevance. There are just seven Maori electorates but more than 20 Maori Members of Parliament.
Mr Borrows protests that “no Maori has ever won a general seat campaigning on Maori issues”. But what, pray, are “Maori issues”? For most Maori, I suspect the issues they most care about are the ability to access healthcare when they need it, the quality of the local school, and the ability to afford adequate housing — exactly the same issues which everybody else is concerned about.
Bill English committed a future National Government to scrapping Maori electorates. I agreed with him then and I agree with him now. It’s well past time when we should be treating all New Zealanders as equal before the law, and dealing with need where required, not on the basis of the race of one’s ancestors.
By Dr Don Brash
Wanganui Chronicle 7/616