Massive Resistance: The people behind Hobson's Pledge do not appear to have given any thought to what would happen to New Zealand if their programme was implemented in full. Can they really be so naïve as to believe that the nation's bicultural heritage could be legislatively dismantled without tipping the country into the most bitter civil strife since the land wars of the 1860s?
LET US SUPPOSE, purely for the sake of argument, that Hobson’s Pledge speaks for the majority of New Zealanders. That Captain Hobson’s famous response to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, “Now we are one people”, continues to reflect the bedrock of the Pakeha electorate’s understanding of New Zealand’s essential character.
Let’s further suppose that Hobson’s Pledge achieves all of its objectives. That, in an orgy of majoritarian recklessness, Parliament repeals every piece of “race-based” legislation. Affirmative action programmes are discontinued. All references to the Treaty of Waitangi and its “principles” are expunged from the statute books. Iwi representation on Crown entities is ended. Special Maori representation on local and regional councils disappears. And, finally, the Maori seats, a feature of New Zealand’s electoral landscape since 1867, are abolished.
Now let’s try to imagine what would be happening across New Zealand as this majoritarian assault on New Zealand’s bicultural heritage was taking place?
Because, rather surprisingly, no such imaginative exercise appears to have been part of Hobson’s Pledge’s deliberations. It’s as though its members believe that the implementation of its programme could be introduced without anyone, Maori or Pakeha, making any serious attempt to prevent it. Even though nearly all the people whose faces appear on the Hobson’s Pledge website look old enough to remember the 1981 Springbok Tour, how to handle the inevitable public opposition to their programme is not explained.
This is either a manifestation of Hobson’s Pledge’s political naivety, or evidence of a much darker purpose. If a general election delivers a majority committed to enacting Hobson Pledge’s programme, then public acceptance, and acquiescence, is simply taken for granted. It will be the law of the land, and the rule of law must be upheld. At any cost.
New Zealand has already been given a glimpse of how high that cost might be. On 5 May 2004, the streets of Wellington were filled with Maori protesting at the imminent passage of the foreshore and seabed legislation. Estimates of the demonstration’s size vary, but there were certainly enough angry activists on the streets that day to have trashed New Zealand’s capital – if the word had been given. That the word was not given is due, in no small part, to the existence of the Maori Seats, and to the opportunity they offered Tariana Turia and her confederates for lawful and peaceful redress.
Consider the response of the late Sir Paul Holmes to the images of that historic hikoi: “No New Zealander, frankly, could have watched proceedings today without a sense of pride, without being gripped by the heart, could have watched it without love.”
Would ‘pride’ and ‘love’ be the watchwords on the day a New Zealand parliamentary majority prepared to relegate the status of the Treaty of Waitangi to “a simple nullity”? To outlaw special Maori representation? To abolish the Maori seats? Or, would the streets of the nation’s capital, and every other city in the country, be filled with tens-of-thousands of angry citizens? Not all would be Maori, alongside the tangata whenua there would be an equal number of equally distraught young New Zealanders: all of them as determined as their Maori brothers and sisters to prevent the extinguishing of Aotearoa’s bicultural dream.
Those New Zealanders old enough to remember the clearing of Bastion Point in May 1978 will also recall just how far the operation stretched the coercive forces available to the Crown. Hundreds of Police and NZ Army personnel were required to ensure that the removal of just a handful of protesters was accomplished without serious injury or loss of life. This country simply does not possess the resources to enforce the passage of Hobson’s Pledge’s programme without resort to deadly force. To make it happen, the state would have to order police and soldiers to kill their fellow citizens.
Would they do it? Would police officers use deadly force on crowds that, in a nation this small, are bound to contain friends and relatives? Can the old kupapa tribes who still make up a large part of the NZ Defence Force, still be relied upon to kill their fellow Maori in large numbers – for the Crown? And, if they can, where would that leave us? Could we still call ourselves one people?
Hobson’s Pledge has forgotten that Captain’s Hobson’s words were uttered in the act of solemnising an agreement that bound together two peoples. Maori at Waitangi did not agree to hand over their lands, forests and fisheries and simply disappear. But that, in the end, is what Hobson’s Pledge is asking them to do – without a fight.
The Settler Government of the 1860s asked Maori to do the same. They refused then, and they refuse now. And, in this century, Pakeha can’t call on 12,000 imperial British troops to make it happen.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 4 October 2016.