Sunday, June 13, 2010
David Round: Meaning of Maori Sovereignty
What might Maori sovereignty mean in practice? We will have to speculate, of course, but we will be assisted in our speculations by glancing at the possibilities raised in a very informative little book, Maori Sovereignty, The Maori Perspective (ed. Hineani Melbourne, Hodder Moa Beckett, Auckland 1995), from which I shall next week offer liberal quotations. We should not expect to find therein any coherent consistent guide as to the implications of Maori sovereignty; there is a jumble of many different views. All of them, however, point in the same general direction, which is the disintegration of our country. Those arguing for Maori sovereignty are not just wanting a little more local involvement in the delivery of ‘services’. Some of them might perhaps be satisfied by more genuine local self-government, and we might well hesitate to criticise that in principle. The general idea of ‘subsidiarity’ requires that decisions should as a matter of principle always be made at the lowest level possible in any hierarchy of decision-making, and that is not unreasonable. Subsidiarity might of course even mean decisions not being made by anyone at all, or at least leaving them to be made actually by the concerned individuals and communities themselves. When we hear people speaking of sovereignty we should listen carefully to what they say, for if they are only talking about a little more local self-determination we might have little cause to worry. Our state was not always as centralised and bureaucratised as it is now, and a good case can be made for some decentralisation and dismantling of expensive and cumbersome bureaucracy.
But most of those wanting ‘sovereignty’ want far more than local self-government. What they want, if their statements are any guide, is nothing less than the dismemberment and destruction of our country as we know it. Arguments over sovereignty are not like arguments over other items of property, or even ones over the foreshore and seabed. This person or that person may own this or that piece of property, but nevertheless the general legal and constitutional arrangements can remain exactly the same. But a change in sovereignty is more fundamental. Sovereignty is the question of who is actually in charge. Who, in the last resort, makes the decisions? Remember always that once sovereignty has changed, there is no going back. Once someone else is in charge, we will never be in charge again. A change in sovereignty is the first step down a slippery slope up which there is no returning.
Remember also that at present we are all in charge. Legal sovereignty lies now in Crown and Parliament, and that rests on the political sovereignty of all the people. That is recognised in the most basic way by universal adult suffrage. Each adult citizen has a vote, an equal vote in electing our supreme legislative body and therefore our government which is chosen from among Parliament’s members. We are all equal. Any change in sovereignty must of its very nature be a step away from that. Some people’s votes will be worth less than others. There is no secret about this. Every call now to have special reserved Maori seats on local bodies, for example, regardless of how many Maori might live in that place, is a statement that Maori are worthy of more consideration than anyone else, and that regardless of numbers of votes they should occupy as of right a position of especial and eternal favour. Other people’s votes and rights are consequently worth less. Once we accept the principle that anyone has special rights which are beyond question, then votes and representation becomes irrelevant. Where kings have a divine right, no will of the people can stand in their way. Where tribes have a divine right the same must be true. Is it not remarkable that we consider the divine right of kings absurd, but have no problem with the divine right of Maori tribes and brown skins?
This is the central problem. Our official national ideology does indeed admit the divine right of the brown skin. Treatyism is not just the attitude that historic injustices should be righted. None of us have any difficulty with that principle, although we can of course disagree about exactly what justice now requires. But Treatyism is the belief that certain citizens, simply by virtue of a certain genetic ~ racial ~ strain in their ancestry, are entitled for ever to a special privileged position in our national life. Once that is accepted, the only question is how that racial inequality is to be expressed. New Zealand is now officially engaged in the construction of a racist apartheid state.
When sovereignty is changed everything changes. We cannot go back. Moreover, once the principle is accepted that the longstanding sovereignty of the Crown is not absolute ~ once Nga Puhi, or Tuhoe, or whoever, establish their claim ~ then it is difficult if not impossible to prevent further erosion. Once the edifice begins to crumble it is too late to prop it up.
Daniel Defoe said that during the Popish Plot there were a hundred thousand Englishmen ready to fight to the death against Popery without knowing whether Popery was a man or a horse. In the same way, many of the poor brown innocent dupes calling for sovereignty do not know what they are asking for. As I think I may have mentioned in the past, I was, before the 2005 election, at a meeting at the Christchurch Polytech where representatives of political parties described their parties’ Maori and Treaty policies. Metiria Turei spoke for the Greens, and she said something which summarises magnificently the whole incoherence and stupidity of radical Maori aspirations. She said ~ I noted her words down ~
‘Maori want two things. They want independence ~ and they want more funding.’
There we are. Independence ~ no-one pushing them round and telling them what to do. But at the same time, we are still expected to support them. Independence does not actually include supporting themselves. It does not actually involve standing on their own two feet. They will still be depending on poor old muggins’ continuing generosity. It has never occurred to them that independence cuts both ways. No-one interferes with you. No-one gives you money either. You are indeed by yourself, for better or for worse.
If even the leader of a political party, in other respects doubtless quite an astute woman, does not realise this, what do the mass of Maori sovereignty advocates think? Do they seriously think that after they have acquired their sovereignty, whatever that exactly might be, whitey will still be putting his hand deeper and deeper into his pocket to support them in their feckless ways? I imagine they do think that. But if we have anything to do with it that will not be the way things will be arranged.
Stop. What is happening to me? I am having second thoughts about this Maori sovereignty. It might not be a bad idea. Give Maori Northland, and the Ureweras, and sundry reservations elsewhere. Put high fences around them and keep out, so they need have nothing to do with nasty old us. And leave your hands in your pockets. Let them look after themselves ~ no social welfare, no health care, education, no anything except what they do for and pay for themselves. That is what independence means. The saving to the New Zealand taxpayer would be phenomenal. Maori are responsible for dragging New Zealand’s bad statistics down, and are an inordinate drain on taxpayer generosity. Leave them to their own devices, and harden your hearts to the tales of woe from those unhappy foreign countries, as disease, violence, poverty, laziness and stupidity grind them down. We would have to be more vigilant than the United States in guarding the Mexican border, of course.
I’m sorry, something came over me. The fantasy of the last paragraph will not happen. But I just point out that Maori sovereignty will not be good for most Maori. There will be no democracy in these new Maori states. Just as most treaty settlements have gone to the enrichment of a small tribal caste and left most Maori little if any better off than before, so any future sovereignty will be exercised by a handful. (This is, of course, the traditional way of life guaranteed by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.) Starry-eyed left-wingers hoping that Maori sovereignty will bring the end of privilege and a reign of equality and brotherhood should think again. Our present arrangements will be very benign by comparison.
...to be continued.
at 12:56 PM