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March 8, 2004 | by  | in News |
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He Whakaaro Noa :: Kia tühono te pono me te tika Let truth and justice be joined

If you ever start a sentence with the phrase, “I’m not a racist, but…”, you are inevitably setting out to prove yourself wrong. Tagging “but” onto the end of a statement usually means that you are about to contradict yourself (ever used the line “I really like you, but….”?). Do yourself and the rest of the world a favour and pause for a moment to contemplate exactly what you are about to say.

Here’s a nice example: “I’m not ignorant, but I just don’t know much about this kind of stuff.” By failing to inform yourself you are allowing yourself to be ignorant. You don’t really have any excuse to remain that way, with everything you ever wanted to know about anything easily accessible, if you just went out and looked for it. Heard of the internet? For those of you who have already taken sides in the current political debate, have you actually read the full text of Don Brash’s Nationhood speech? It is readily available on the National Party’s website (www.national.org.nz). Would you be happy to sign a contract that you had not read? Or, conversely, how can you disagree with something if you don’t properly understand what it is you’re opposing?

It is possible that Don Brash himself did not properly understand what he was saying that evening in Orewa. He contradicts himself several times throughout the course of the speech. I identified one such contradiction last week – a rejection of “special privileges” for Mäori, including targeted funding in education and health, and then a promise to continue funding these initiatives that National reportedly finds so morally repugnant.

He does a similar thing when talking about the “now entrenched Treaty grievance industry”. In 1985, ten years after its establishment, the Waitangi Tribunal was given the power to consider historical grievances under the Treaty of Waitangi. Brash describes it as a “fateful decision”, ultimately allowing “a major grievance industry to blossom”. Yet he is quick to point to National’s “honourable record of resolving historical Treaty grievances”, praising former Prime Minister Jim Bolger and Treaty Negotiations Minister Sir Doug Graham for their “leadership” in “establishing a national consensus on the need to resolve historical grievances as part of the process of reconciliation”.

Am I missing something? Brash seems to be saying that he is against settlement of historical Treaty grievances in principle. But he also appears to concede that they are necessary. It could be that the economist in him doesn’t like the expense to the taxpayer. I think that the most obvious answer is that he is against the Treaty.

The National Party’s anti-Treaty sentiment is obvious throughout the Orewa speech. Unfortunately, Treaty issues are often mistaken for race issues. We need to endeavour to keep these two spheres very separate in our minds. The Treaty has never provided the foundation for a “birthright to the upper hand” for a certain racial group. I’m likely to end up sounding repetitive, but I cannot reiterate this point enough: the expense that is being incurred now in an effort to bridge the gap between Mäori and non-Mäori has been made necessary by the same out-dated philosophies that Don Brash is attempting to resurrect.

The Treaty established a partnership between Mäori and the state. That Treaty is a part of our constitutional framework, it is relevant, it is important, and the faster that people come to grips with that basic idea the better off our country will be.

I live in hope that the truth can set us free. Free from popular opinion polls that expose very little other than the failings of our media, our education system and our elected representatives in Parliament. Free from sensationalist journalism. Free from ignorance. Free from racism.
Nowadays, however, I am finding my optimism almost as hard to hang on to as Labour to its political mandate. I believe that the National party were as shocked as their rivals at the positive response that Don Brash’s speech has received. National’s new leader did very little other than regurgitate a tired old line that seemed to have been flogged to death by many a centre-right politician.

National’s current success cannot be attributed to their innovative policies on Mäori issues, because on inspection they simply do not exist. It is true that Don Brash enunciated many issues that have been playing on the mind of average Joes and Joannes all over the country. But it was the messenger himself who proved to be the successful variation in this equation.

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