Straight From Central Casting: The millionaire Invercargill businessman and Act Party donor, Louis Crimp, has instantly become the pin-up boy of the Liberal Left's anti-racist agenda. But, loathsome though they may be, is the Left's confidence in the social and political marginality of Mr Crimp's views on Maori culture really justified? Recent local government polls on seperate Maori representation suggest otherwise. Is it possible that the bi-cultural project and democracy are essentially incompatible?
LOUIS CRIMP could have come straight from Central Casting. His narrow face, those pinched features: all the Invercargill businessman needed to complete the quintessential red-neck ensemble was a greasy pair of denim overalls and a shotgun. Certainly, his reported assertion that: “All the white New Zealanders I've spoken to don’t like the Maoris, the way they are full of crime and welfare”, fitted him out perfectly for the red-neck role.
How did New Zealand’s liberal intelligentsia respond to this “racist” eruption from the Deep South? Curiously, with considerable satisfaction. Here, in all its brutal honesty, was living proof of the Left’s fondest prejudices. In Mr Crimp they were confronted with the sum of all their cultural fears.
“But wait,” (as they say on the infomercials) “there’s more!” Not only was Mr Crimp guilty of (ahem) cultural insensitivity, but he was also a millionaire and a major donor to the Act Party. Talk about your “three-strikes” policy! Strike One: Guilty of being a redneck. Strike Two: Guilty of being a rapacious capitalist. Strike Three: Guilty of donating $125,000 to the Act Party’s election campaign. For the promoters of a bicultural, decolonised, anti-capitalist New Zealand, Mr Crimp is the political gift that keeps on giving.
But are those for whom Mr Crimp’s unapologetic expressions of racial unease constitute a weird sort of vindication genuinely representative of majority opinion in New Zealand? What if the dream of bi-culturalism, now so deeply embedded in the social policy agenda of the political class, is most emphatically not the dream of those who live outside the magic circles of elite policy formation and its unmandated bureaucratic implementation? What if, three decades of bi-cultural propaganda notwithstanding, a majority of New Zealanders continue to harbour attitudes toward Maori not all that dissimilar to Mr Crimp’s? What then?
Before answering that question, let’s see if we can find any evidence which might help us to determine whether the bi-cultural message has been accepted by a clear majority of New Zealanders; or, if it is only among Maori that the concept of a Treaty of Waitangi-based “partnership” between coloniser and colonised continues to resonate.
On the same day as Mr Crimp’s remarks were published, the people of Nelson, in one of those curious historical coincidences, concluded a postal ballot on whether or not their city council should guarantee Maori representation around the council-table by creating a special Maori ward. According to The Nelson Mail, the voters’ answer to this bi-culturally-based question was an emphatic “No!” Of the 15,387 votes received, 3,131 were in support of the proposal, with 12,298 in opposition. The turn-out was 43 percent. At 79 percent of those participating, the result was within 1 percentage point of the findings of The Nelson Mail’s own opinion poll on the issue.
Nelson City’s response matches closely the response of voters in Waikato District who, in a similar ballot, concluding on 5 April 2012, voted 80 percent to 20 percent against separate Maori representation.
Nor is this opposition to separate Maori representation limited to provincial New Zealand. A survey of 1,031 New Zealanders conducted by Consumerlink (a department of the Colmar Brunton polling agency) found that 72.4 percent of Pakeha who answered Yes or No supported the abolition of both the Maori roll and the Maori seats, with 70.08 percent also favouring the abolition of the Waitangi Tribunal. On the question of separate Maori representation on local bodies, 73.29 percent of Pakeha voted against.
It would be quite wrong to extrapolate these figures into some sort of confirmation of Mr Crimp’s caustic assertion that most “white” New Zealanders “don’t like the Maoris”. They do, however, raise serious doubts about the actual level of support for the entire bi-cultural project. It is at least arguable that what most Pakeha New Zealanders really “don’t like” is the whole notion of Maori separatism. Were Pakeha given a choice between the present approach to race-relations, and one which advanced the principle of undifferentiated citizenship in a unitary and colour-blind state, all the evidence suggests that the latter option would win the support of more than two-thirds of the General Electorate.
In other words, the bi-cultural project cannot withstand the audit of democracy and must be imposed from above. That, at least, is the opinion of Race Relations Commissioner, Joris de Bres, who responded to the Nelson ballot by saying that the law should be changed so Maori seats are a right, rather than subject to a vote of the majority: “To put it to a general vote without a very informed electorate, I think, always runs the risk of the minority being told where to get off.” Better, presumably, for a minority to tell the majority where to get off?
Call me a red-neck if you will, but I “don’t like” that at all.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 22 May 2012.