DON BRASH RESPONDS TO HIS CRITICS
An address to the Northern Club, Auckland,
4 March 2004
It is now over five weeks since my Orewa speech.
That speech struck a chord with the public; it touched a sensitive nerve with many commentators who have reacted with
knee-jerk hostility; and it certainly exposed the achilles heel of the Government.
They have a few others, which we will expose later in the year.
The Government should have seen it coming. Plenty of commentators had warned them that they were dangerously out of
touch with the wishes of the electorate.
In the Orewa speech, I argued that the Treaty process is out of control, that race-based political correctness is
infecting the institutions of our society, and that we are headed towards a racially divided nation, with two sets of
laws and two standards of citizenship. The Treaty is not remotely a blueprint for building a modern, prosperous, New
The Treaty did not create a partnership: fundamentally, it was the launching pad for the creation of one sovereign
I concluded that there can be no basis for government funding based on race, no basis for separate Maori electorates, no
basis for introducing Maori wards in local authority elections, and no obligation for local government to consult Maori
in preference to other New Zealanders.
I have stood back for the past five weeks and let the critics have their say, letting them give it their best shot.
And what ineffectual shots they were.
But I believe my critics deserve a direct response.
After the Orewa speech there were two quite distinct responses: the first was the scrambling sound of editorial writers
and commentators climbing on to their high horses; the other was an overwhelmingly positive response from the general
public, relieved that at last this issue was being put back on the table for debate.
The attacks on the speech, and directly on myself, can be grouped into several categories.
I have been accused of being racist, divisive and ignorant. This is the line of attack that came initially from
Government ministers and was obediently followed by some commentators. The common feature was a complete unwillingness
to discuss the principles at stake with even a modicum of seriousness.
As it became clear to the Government that they were by implication also accusing most of the public of the same
qualities, their various ministers shifted tack. Having spent a couple of weeks ridiculing the views of most New
Zealanders, they eventually realised the political difficulties associated with that approach and attempted instead to
publicise the fact that previous National Governments had introduced some of the legislation that I was pledging to
This was no great revelation, as I was quite open about the fact that both National and Labour Governments have
contributed to the mess that has developed. Most of this was done with the best of intentions, but as we know, the road
to hell is paved with good intentions. Sometimes it is the putting right that counts.
The behaviour of the other parties in the House has been an amusing study in political repositioning: United Future
seems to have been attempting to climb out of the Foreshore and Seabed waka they had only recently boarded; NZ First has
been trying to paddle on both sides of the waka, but in the House it seems to have a liaison of convenience with Labour;
the Green Party, at least, has stuck to its guns, and seems prepared to go down fighting on the whole bi-cultural,
partnership package, and we can respect them for having the courage of their convictions; while the ACT Party has been
consistent in its support of the views I expressed at Orewa.
A number of newspapers spectacularly misjudged their audience. A major Sunday newspaper, in comparing me to Australia’s
Pauline Hanson, launched one of the most extraordinary exercises in second-rate muckraking journalism that I have ever
witnessed. Presumably this idea was not conceived in the circulation department, because the polls showing wide public
support for the Orewa speech implied that the headline was also an attack on most of the readership of the paper. The
subsequent editorial attempts to defend this new low in the standards of New Zealand journalism were so lame as to be
laughable. One can have only contempt for the mind that conceived that front page spread, and sympathy for those
journalists that were unwittingly associated with it.
Others claimed that I was trashing the Treaty, consigning it to the rubbish bin of history, and denying that it was a
founding document of this nation. But the Treaty is concerned solely with sovereignty, property rights and citizenship,
and I stated clearly that those principles must be upheld. I said that where there was a clear breach of the Treaty,
then these should be set right. National will accelerate and then conclude the process of Treaty settlements. Moreover,
while it is simply a fact that the Treaty is a founding document, it is obviously not an adequate constitutional basis
for a modern state.
Some asked whether or not I believed in a “living Treaty”, notably without explaining what they meant by that much
abused expression. In upholding the concepts of citizenship and property rights embodied in the Treaty, I clearly did
consider it to be alive. But I suspect that what people who use this expression really want is not a ‘living’ Treaty,
but an ‘evolving’ one – one that evolves by virtue of the decisions of an unelected judiciary. That is simply
Another group argued that it was an outrage to suggest that Maori had no special status, were not unique, and so forth –
not that I had said any such thing. Once again, it all depends on what people mean by these terms. It is a simple
statement of fact that Maori are the indigenous people of these islands. But in the 21st century it is nonsense to
suggest that because Maori are the indigenous people, it somehow justifies race-based distinctions being built into our
institutions and Acts of Parliament.
Let’s be quite clear about this. Many aspects of Maori culture are important to all New Zealanders. But the part that
Maori culture plays in the future as our society evolves will not be the result of social engineering – I think it is
clear now that most New Zealanders are fed up with having bi-culturalism rammed down their throats and drilled into
their children. Maori culture will flourish if people – both Maori and non-Maori – value it. Government can help at the
margin with preservation but in the end these things have to stand on their own feet.
Some critics – focusing all their attention on two sentences in a 5,000 word speech – have attempted to demonstrate that
cases of ethnic favouritism in education and health are relatively trivial. The Government’s initial response was to
deny there was any such thing. But then, confronted with the unarguable fact of a race-based factor in PHO funding and
in the decile funding structure in education, the Government retreated to arguing that in most cases the effect was
relatively trivial and would make little difference to the allocation of funding. If that is so, we have to wonder why
those divisive features were included in the first place. National will remove them.
Several weeks after launching the initial attack on the Orewa speech, it seems that the Government has now decided to
join National and remove these features. ‘Needs not race’ is the Prime Minister’s new mantra. Or at least it was the
party line last week. Who knows what the future might bring.
Are these a series of considered U-turns, or is it just panic? It is hard to know for sure.
What those Labour ministers are not doing is courageously sticking to the principles they affirmed so vigorously only a
month ago. I think it was Will Rogers who said: “Politics is a great character builder. You have to take a poll to see
what your character is each day.”
The critics who have focused obsessively on these ‘race-based funding’ details give the overwhelming impression of a
group of people who cannot see the wood for the trees. Fortunately that does not apply to the general public, because
the plain fact of the matter is that the public is more concerned with the parade of race-based political correctness we
have endured over the past decade or more:
· cultural safety in nursing
· bilingual rebranding of the public sector
· Treaty issues getting tangled up in health and safety audits
· claims of taniwhas being used to block developments
· consultations with iwi being required in relation to resource management consents, and even to scientific research in
· the anomaly of Maori Parliamentary seats being expanded into local body politics and now to the representation on PHOs
· and so on in a relentless torrent.
Can we really believe that this simple 19th century treaty, which focused on sovereignty, property rights and
citizenship, also has something to say about today’s SOEs and national parks, today’s schools and universities, how we
go about approving or declining building permits, what science we should study, or how we should regard the new frontier
of genetic science?
This is simply madness, and it must be stopped.
What the public is concerned with is the way in which racial distinctions are penetrating the institutions and practices
that make our society what it is. Everybody knows this is happening. People are fed up with this Government telling them
how to think.
Behind much of this is the notion of Treaty ‘partnership’. The Treaty was an agreement between the British Crown and
Maori Chiefs. We cannot configure 21st century New Zealand in terms of 19th century institutions. The concept of
partnership arose out of the failure to define the term ‘the principles of the Treaty’ – an expression which is now
scattered like confetti throughout our legislation.
‘Partnership’ was a judicial creation to deal with a legislative oversight.
Yet my most recent critics have fallen for the concept, hook, line and sinker. Anglican and Catholic Bishops have come
out with a declaration which describes the Treaty as a Covenant, a living document. The Anglican General Synod celebrate
the fact that they rewrote their constitution in terms of a Treaty partnership. The Bishops’ statement asserts that the
Treaty creates a partnership and defines constitutional relationships. To the Bishops, self determination is the issue.
The Bishops may wish to buy into the whole bi-lingual, bi-partisan, partnership framework. That is fine. Their
organisations are voluntary ones. But there is no justification for forcing these concepts on the people of New Zealand,
or for driving them deep into the heart of the institutions of our country.
Our attempt to deal with late 20th and now early 21st century issues via the tribal organisational structures of the
19th century was always going to be problematic, but for major Treaty settlements there was no easy alternative.
Most ordinary working Maori have seen no benefit from the settlement process, and regard it as hijacked by lawyers and a
small elite group within the Maori world. More than 80% of Maori now live in urban areas, they are substantially
intermarried with European and other ethnic groups, and many have little tribal affiliation or identification.
It is surely now clear that the Government should be wary of focusing its approach to Maori through a static concept of
tribal organisations. But in fact that is the trend, because the Government is embedding throughout the institutions of
central and local government a wide range of consultation requirements on, and veto rights to, tribal organisations.
Most Maori will get no benefit from this, and our society as a whole will be harmed by the approach.
The foreshore and seabed proposals are merely the latest manifestation of this trend. For more than a century it was the
common understanding that for the most part the Crown owned the foreshore and seabed. Within that understanding, limited
recognition of customary rights was possible. There is no need to submit the country to a new and untested experiment
with something called “customary title”, a concept that, like a computer virus, is likely to spring to life and cause
great harm in the future.
So where do we go from here?
This is a debate that I am taking around the country, starting with the current tour of provincial centres. I have
already commissioned work on the complex process of disentangling race-based legislation from key Acts of Parliament,
starting with the Resource Management Act.
I recognise that there is a small part of the Maori world which faces real problems: there is entrenched welfare
dependency, educational failure, and over-representation in our crime statistics and thus prisons.
Some have listed those facts as if they were not widely known, and as if they were in some way a case against what I
have said. But in fact those observations should tell us one thing: current policies don’t work.
We cannot continue down this blind alley of racial division and failure.
Before the next election, National will be announcing a bold plan of action to deal with the entrenched problems of
underprivilege in our society, regardless of race.
But I want to challenge the Maori people, and in particular to challenge the moderate Maori leadership. There seems to
be a vacuum at the top, and that gap is being filled by the strident, by the radicals, and by self-appointed
spokespeople for Maori who in reality have no mandate to speak on behalf of anybody, let alone the Maori people.
It is time a new Maori leadership stood up to be counted. There is a job to be done here, and that job will start when
this Government is gone.
You should start to be part of the solution.
What is the challenge? Simply this. Answer these questions:
· Should universities have to check with iwi before doing routine research?
· Should medical research have to be checked against the Treaty?
· Should the Auckland College of Education graduating ceremony divide up the graduates into Maori, Polynesian and Tauiwi
· Should we pay for Maori elders to perform hikitapu ceremonies at NZ posts overseas?
· Should we pay for three kaumatua to accompany frogs from the Waikato to Christchurch so the frogs can be given a
powhiri when they arrive?
· Should we allow the supposed home of a Taniwha to hold up a roading project?
· Should we allow the supposed nearby home of a taniwha to halt the construction of a new prison?
· Should we require councils to consult iwi on every development in their district?
· Should Maori organisations enjoy a lower tax rate? Should Maori organisations receive special rates write-offs?
Frankly, when we get to the point where Maori leaders step forward and acknowledge these sorts of thing as the
destructive travesties they are, this country will be well on the road back to a robust sense of nationhood.
Our once vigorous and combative culture has been hijacked by a phoney sense of ‘offend-no-one’ biculturalism.
The reality is that, as a community, we are an assertive multi-ethnic, multicultural society. Based entirely on our own
choices and preferences, we have taken the values and spirit of our forebears – both Maori, and the European settlers
that came later – and added to them a range of ideas and symbols, sporting and cultural enthusiasms, even our
preferences for food and wine, from all over the world.
In recent decades that mix has been spiced up with migrant groups from Asia and elsewhere, and out of all of this we
have forged a unique national identity.
We are not all the same. We all have different preferences and interests and sympathies. But we are still all
unquestionably, and proudly, New Zealanders.
And there must be one law for all of us.