“We are now one people”: Governor Hobson's pledge a challenge to the Prime Minister

14 February 2017

A speech to the Orewa Rotary Club on behalf of the Hobson's Pledge Trust

It’s almost exactly 14 years since I first addressed the Orewa Rotary Club, and almost exactly 13 years since I gave a speech here as Leader of the National Party which, for a time, converted “Orewa” from a place to a date, so that people spoke of “before Orewa” or “after Orewa”, rather than north of Orewa or south of Orewa!

A lot has happened since January 2004.  At that time, it was just 18 months after Bill English, then Leader of the National Party, gave a memorable speech on the Treaty of Waitangi.  He noted that:

“Hobson and the missionaries took great pains to explain to Maori the decision they had to make, and the kind of sovereignty and order the British would create…  Maori were prepared to cede their sovereignty because of the anticipated benefits of a common, non-segregated polity in New Zealand… The solution to the challenges that the Treaty presents to all New Zealanders lies in a single standard of citizenship for all.”[1]

In May 2003, Bill English committed a future National Government to the abolition of separate Maori electorates, as had been recommended by the Royal Commission on the Electoral System in the late eighties if MMP were adopted.

In 2005, believing that having the resolution of historical grievances drag on endlessly was damaging to race relations in New Zealand, I committed a future National Government to resolving these grievances within six years of a National victory at the polls, and also pledged to scrap Maori electorates.

John Key made similar commitments during his election campaign in 2008.

Tragically, we’ve been moving in exactly the wrong direction ever since.

  • The National Government has certainly accelerated the resolution of historical grievances but the process still drags on, and too often involves conceding not just financial redress but also so-called “co-governance”, the right for unelected tribal appointees to have a decision-making role in local government.
  • Maori electorates – originally established for just five years in 1867 to give all Maori men the vote, irrespective of whether they owned property or not – are still with us 150 years later.  The Government has quietly abandoned any suggestion that they will be scrapped, and a Labour Party MP has a Bill in the Members’ ballot which would, if drawn and passed, “entrench” Maori electorates.  And this despite the fact that the need for Maori electorates to ensure Maori voices are heard in Parliament has long gone, with more than 20 MPs now in Parliament identifying as Maori.
  • A Bill to amend the RMA now wending its way through Parliament would, if passed in its present form, require all local authorities within 30 days of their election to invite their local tribes into “iwi participation agreements”, thus entrenching co-governance on a grand scale.
  • The legislation setting up the new Auckland super-city required that there be an Independent Maori Statutory Board, made up of unelected tribal appointees, and Auckland Council chose to give the members of this Board voting rights on most Auckland Council committees.
  • For the last several years, the Government has been talking behind closed doors with tribal leaders about how they will be given a special right, based only on tribal affiliation, to influence the allocation of fresh water, despite the Government’s long-held contention that “nobody owns water” and despite decisions about the allocation of water being traditionally the exclusive right of elected local governments.
  • In recent months, discussions have been going on, almost entirely below the radar, which are likely to lead to half of the members of the Hauraki Gulf Forum being tribal appointees.  This body has potentially far-reaching powers covering the sea area of the Hauraki Gulf and all of the extensive land catchments around it.
  • Last year, we saw the so-called Maori king expressing the hope that by 2025 Maori would be able to “share sovereignty” in New Zealand, and we saw no sign of anybody pointing out to Mr Paki that all Maori already “share sovereignty” because all adult Maori have a vote.  But I suspect that that was not what he had in mind.  Instead, he was continuing the myth that somehow Maori chiefs did not cede sovereignty when they signed the Treaty, despite overwhelming evidence that they did do so, and understood that that was what they were doing.[2]
  • Very recently, we’ve seen the Labour and Green Parties saying that they would make the learning of te Reo compulsory in all schools, even though for the great majority of New Zealand children learning Maori has no practical value – having everybody, including Maori children, learn to read and write good English would have much greater practical value for all children.  And of course that’s not just because English is the language of the vast majority of New Zealanders, but also because it is the only genuinely international language – the language in which most scientific articles are written, the language in which most international commerce is conducted, and the language of international aviation.
  • More and more we see propaganda claiming that the Treaty actually involved some kind of partnership between the Maori people and the Queen, and we see this idea of partnership promoted throughout society, most particularly in the education and health sectors.  Indeed, adherence to this partnership idea seems to have become an essential prerequisite to appointment to any kind of leadership position in the government sector.

    But as Winston Peters said in a speech in Paihia earlier this month:

    “If no-one in the British Empire was in partnership with Queen Victoria on the 5th February 1840, how come the New Zealand Maori was one day later? The expression ‘partnership’ is either creative and legally and constitutionally wrong or had to include every New Zealander regardless of ethnic background being in partnership with the Crown.”[3]
  • And we’ve seen one person who aspires to lead a new political party into Parliament so confused by this imagined partnership that he advocates the creation of an Upper House of Parliament, with half its membership being Maori.

Those of us who see these developments as totally inconsistent with any reasonable interpretation of the Treaty or the meaning of democracy are routinely abused as racists, even though of course what we are advocating is not only not racist it is in fact the very reverse of racism!  We are not arguing that any one race should have any kind of constitutional preference – on the contrary, we want to see New Zealand develop into a country where every citizen, no matter when they or their ancestors came to this land, has the same political rights.

To accuse us of being racist is the epitome of Orwellian double-speak.

It is important to stress that we are not arguing that Maori are “privileged” in any economic sense.   While a few Maori are among the wealthiest in the land, average Maori incomes are well below the average for other New Zealanders.  And of course because of that, Maori New Zealanders rightly receive a disproportionately large share of the government’s social welfare and education budgets.  Most government spending is rightly geared to need, and not to ethnicity.

But we are saying that constitutional preferences for those with a Maori ancestor are leading us down the road to racial conflict.

And who benefits from these unprincipled constitutional preferences?  Assuredly not most ordinary Maori.  Most Maori New Zealanders gain absolutely nothing from constitutional preferences, which overwhelming benefit only the Maori elite.  It is the Maori elite who draw the big directors’ fees, and the fees paid when consulting with Maori is a legal requirement.  It is the Maori elite who get to play with the large sums of money handed out in Treaty settlements, not the Maori truck driver, the Maori who works in the freezing works, the Maori who works in road construction.

And many professional Maori resent being patronized by current policy which seems to imply that, without constitutional preferences, they are not quite good enough to make it on their own.

Governor Hobson said, as each chief signed the Treaty, “we are now one people”.

Writing almost a century ago, Sir Apirana Ngata made it clear that the second part of Article III of the Treaty, making it clear that the Treaty “imparts to [all the Maori people of New Zealand] all the rights and privileges of British subjects” was the most important part of the Treaty.  “This article represents the greatest benefit bestowed upon the Maori people by Her Majesty the Queen…  This article states that the Maori and Pakeha are equal before the law, that is they are to share the rights and privileges of British subjects”.

Those behind the Hobson’s Pledge Trust share Governor Hobson’s vision that New Zealanders would become one people with the signing of the Treaty, a vision shared by great Maori leaders like Ngata in the years since.

We reject absolutely the notion that the Treaty created some kind of partnership between those with a Maori ancestor and those without.  We share Martin Luther King’s great vision when he said:

I have a dream that my children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

If you share that vision, we ask that you join Hobson’s Pledge and support us financially so that we can spread the word.

Tell your local Member of Parliament, and anybody thinking of standing for election to Parliament, that you want New Zealand to be a society where every citizen is treated equally, irrespective of when they or their ancestors arrived in this land.

Tell anybody asking for your vote this year that they will only get it if they are firmly committed to the principle of legal equality of all citizens.

And challenge our Prime Minister to explain how current policy is even obliquely consistent with the National Party’s longstanding commitment to equal citizenship, and to his own unambiguous statement in 2002, at the end of a lengthy and carefully argued speech, that: “The solution to the challenges that the Treaty presents to all New Zealanders lies in a single standard of citizenship”.

[1] Speech by the Hon. Bill English at the New Zealand Centre for Public Law, 7 May 2002.

[2] See for example “The Treaty of Waitangi, an explanation”, written by the Hon. Sir Apirana Ngata in 1922.

[3] Speech by the Rt. Hon. Winston Peters “The Treaty of Waitangi as it was and should be”, Paihia, 3 February 2017.

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Copyright © 2020 Don Brash.