By Rowan Sylva
In a recent herald “hot seat” interview, John Key was asked if he would consider implementing the long standing National party policy of abolishing the Maori seats. He replied that such a move would mean, “hikois from hell.” Key’s comment, typical to his evasive style, did not answer the question. This should set off alarm bells to Maori, and pakeha who sympathise with indigenous rights because 2014 election is looking likely to result in a government to NewZealand’s world leading indigenous programs and settlement processes. Four parties in the election have decidedly racist agendas and policy – New Zealand first, the Conservatives, Act and National. With abolishing New Zealand’s “race based laws” being on of NewZealand First’s “bottom lines,” and that party looking increasingly likely to hold the balance power, it may indeed be time to start sharpening the tiaha.
In 1860 Maori held, in legal title under the crown, over 80 percent of the North Island (approximately 23.2 million hectares). After the hugely expensive New Zealand Wars 1860s, new views of scientific racism which held that the Maori race destined to extinction were applied in New Zealand. Through military seizure and forced land sales Maori lost half of their land by 1890. This was accompanied by drastic demographic decline which the government did nothing to arrest. Maori were forced off their land and employed as labourers on the land they had once owned. By 1910 only 27 percent of land in the North Island remained in Maori hands. Land seizures continued throughout the twentieth century and by 1938 Maori land had been reduced to nine percent, and by 1970 only four percent. During much of the nineteenth century the government pursued a policy of assimilation where Maori cultural practices would be stamped out, and Maori would europeanised. Such measures included banning Maori language in schools, the mass burning and destruction of sacred sites and the criminalisation of tohunga and traditional lore (this happened especially under the tohunga suppression act 1907).
Since the the maori revival beginning in the late 80’s maori have been able to regain some of the ground lost to over a century of colonial abuse, however, economically little has been achieved. The New Zealand deprivation index published this month, shows that NZ’s most deprived areas correlate precisely with areas that are predominantly Maori, areas where people live well below the poverty line. One of the most shocking things about the index is that it shows no improvement for Maori in the twenty years since the index was first created. With a 2012 prison population of 8700 New Zealand has one of the highest rates on incarceration in the developed world, and that rate is rising. Maori make up roughly 14 percent of New Zealand’s population but comprise 51 percent of our prison population; many are in prison for drug offences. The median maori annual income is $14,800, while the national median is $35,650. In addition to this shocking evidence of racial inequality, Maori are a rapidly growing demographic, suggesting that number of people living that are deprived of economic opportunity along racial lines is growing. These are the people that Jamie Whyte, leader of the Act party, described as analogous the French aristocracy on the verge of the 1789 revolution. That someone with doctorate in philosophy could spout such nonsense makes one doubt the academic rigour of Cambridge where Whyte lectured.
Fortunately for New Zealand, despite Act’s disproportionate media coverage and large amount corporate funding, nobody give a shit what they think, and the party consistently polls under one percent. A much more dangerous threat to Maori sovereignty comes from NZ First (consistently polling over six percent). In a statement to the media in January, Winston Peters attacked Maori party policy as “apartheid,” and insisted his party would work to dismantle programs such as specialised assistance to Maori prisoners and whanau ora. He would review the need for maori seats and work to finalise settlements under the Waitangi Tribunal. Peters has also ruled out working with “race based parties,” (Mana and Maori parties). If NZ first holds the balance of power, and such a scenario looks increasingly likely than even a Labour /Green government may be forced into making concessions to Peters’ racist policy agenda. Further to right is the new rising star of the right wing minor parties – the Conservatives (the preferred coalition partner among national voters )– which have polled as high as 4.6 percent. Their “One law to rule us all” policy (I wonder if Craig realises the Sauron reference in his policy title) makes Peters look like a regular tohunga. The Conservative Party would seek not only to abolish the Maori seats but the Treaty of Waitangi as New Zealand’s founding legal document. They would seek to abolish the Waitangi tribunal, reverse the seabed and foreshore legislation and essentially all the programs Maori have fought to establish. All of this is glossed over on their website in languge that looks likes targeted to five year olds. (let us pray that such insidious party never reaches the five percent threshold.)
For the last two terms in office, Key, to his credit, has played the moderate when it comes to Maori affairs,while pursuing economic polices which further entrench Maori deprivation. His strategic alliance with the Maori party allowed him to keep National’s core racist policies at arm’s length while retaining them on paper. The National government negotiated a historic agreement with Tuhoi and supported the token whanau ora program. However, a third term looks likely to spell the end to National’s soft approach to Maori issues. If Key requires NZ First or the Conservatives to form a government, the Maori party will not have a seat at the table. National, bleeding votes to the Conservatives, are already under pressure from their core constituents to end perceived Maori privilege. The conciliatory mask will slip and Maori will see their programs slashed or axed, while mineral exploitation brings the National party into conflict with Moari Tikanga and another three years of neoliberal polices will entrench New Zealand’s economic segregation. National is and always will be an anti-Maori party, and a third term for National is certain to see NZ’s racial wounds reopened. What is clear from history is that Maori cannot depend on pakeha voters to protect their communities. Maori must deliver on Key’s fear and give National hikoi from hell. For the rest of us, who want to see New Zealand remain a positive global example of post colonial race relations, we need to vote for those parties who will protect that status – the Greens, Labour, and Internet Mana.