CHRIS HIPKINS found himself in an impossible situation yesterday (24/1/23). He had come to the tiny village of Ratana at the side of his Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. At what would be her last official public engagement in that role, he could not possibly upstage her. His job was to smile and mouth platitudes. He was there to “introduce” himself to the assembled leaders of Maoridom and convince them that he will be a fitting replacement for the most accommodating prime minister Māori have ever had. He knew that this would be Jacinda’s day – her final opportunity to bask in the unalloyed love and support of her followers. He simply could not afford to be seen to overshadow this last chance for his former boss to shine.
The other Chris, however, National’s Christopher Luxon, was under no such obligation. He came to Ratana with a message to deliver. That message was not for the assembled Māori leaders, or, at least, not primarily for them. Luxon’s message was aimed squarely at all those Pakeha conservatives who have for many months been openly sceptical of National’s willingness to take a strong stand against Co-Governance, He Puapua and Three Waters. Ardern’s resignation and the uncontested election of Chris Hipkins to replace her had made the delivery of an unequivocal repudiation of all three of these racially-charged propositions a matter of urgency. Luxon and his advisers knew that if National didn’t stake out its position immediately, then the Hipkins-led Labour Party would beat them to the punch.
And Luxon did stake out a clear – or should that be clearer – position. His remarks concerning co-governance, recorded by RNZ-National’s reporters, left little room for misunderstanding:
I think it has been quite a divisive and immature conversation over recent years,” Luxon told the Ratana crowd, “and I personally think it’s because the government hasn’t been upfront or transparent with the New Zealand people about where it’s going and what it’s doing […..] We believe in a single coherent system – not one system for Māori and another system for non-Māori – for the delivery of public services. Things like Health, Education, and Justice, and critical infrastructure like Three Waters. It doesn’t mean that we don’t want Māori involved in decision-making and partnering with [non-]Māori, [but] we have a princip[led] objection because New Zealand has one government: it’s elected by all of us, it’s accountable to all of us, and its public services are available to anyone who needs them.
Clear enough for the Pakeha conservatives? Possibly. But, for many on the Right, National remains the party of John Key. The same John Key who secretly dispatched Te Pāti Māori’s Pita Sharples to the United Nations in New York to sign on behalf of all New Zealanders the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The very same UNDRIP that Labour’s Helen Clark had refused to sign, because, with her much deeper understanding of the indigenous debate, she understood that the Declaration posed a direct threat to the constitutional integrity and sovereignty of the New Zealand state.
Those same conservative Pakeha also know that National is the party of Chris Finlayson who, while New Zealand’s Attorney-General and Treaty Settlements Minister, did more to hasten the fulfilment of the Māori nationalist agenda than any politician not named Mahuta or Jackson. The Right understands that an extremely radical reading of te Tiriti o Waitangi has already been deeply entrenched in the New Zealand Public Service (bolstered by legislatively enforceable Treaty principles) and is steadily transforming the way in which New Zealand is administered, as well as raising serious questions about the long-term future of private property rights.
There is also serious doubt on the right of New Zealand politics that Luxon and his advisers have even read – let alone understood – the He Puapua Report. Their fear is that, as the Māori nationalist, Donna Awatere, observed back in the early-1980s, Pakeha politicians will continue to remain blind to virtually every aspect of the nationalists’ project, and that this, the Pakeha’s racist refusal to take Māori sovereignty seriously, is what offers its promoters their best chance of success. Moreover, when two Labour prime ministers in a row have proved themselves incapable of answering basic questions about the content of te Tiriti o Waitangi, it’s difficult not to concede that Awatere and the conservatives have a point!
While it is certain that Luxon’s statements at Ratana constitute a direct conceptual challenge to the transformative constitutional project posited by the authors of He Puapua, what is much less certain is whether the National leader – unlike the leader of the Act Party, David Seymour – grasps just how much of the basic infrastructure of co-governance has already been constructed. Having drawn his line in the sand at Ratana, Luxon cannot now avoid arriving at the same political destination Seymour reached more than two years ago. The point where he realises that the progress towards a racially bifurcated, co-governed Aotearoa can only be halted by enshrining a conservative reading of te Tiriti in law, and by rooting-out with ruthless thoroughness all of the structures and procedures that have grown out of the radicals’ reading of te Tiriti’s meaning.
The daunting challenge confronting Chris Hipkins is how to regain the initiative from Luxon without locking himself into the same conservative logic currently drawing National and Act inexorably towards a maximalist, Pakeha-driven, revision of the Treaty’s constitutional, political and cultural significance. Between now and the October General Election, Hipkins and his party are going to have to learn to take Māori nationalism seriously. Because Luxon is right, to date Labour’s handling of this issue has been divisive and immature. The new prime minister could, therefore, do a lot worse than to sit down with an old one, Helen Clark, and learn a few home-truths about the deadly seriousness of the indigenous forces seeking to take their country back.
Hipkins’ first and most obvious move is to announce that the Three Waters legislation will be repealed, pending a broad and thorough examination of the project’s all-too-obvious political and economic shortcomings. Pushing the pause button on this extraordinarily unpopular project will be good, practical, “bread-and-butter” politics. Were the new prime minister to follow it up with a promise to initiate an equally broad and thorough democratic debate about the moral and practical status of the Tiriti/Treaty in twenty-first century New Zealand, the public response might be even more positive – especially if the right of all schools of historical and constitutional thought to freely contend with one another was guaranteed by Hipkins’ Government.
Jacinda Ardern’s greatest contribution to her country’s evolution was to reinvigorate the idea that politics should be about more than conventional administration and “responsible” financial management. She made us believe again that a person’s reach should exceed their grasp. “Jacinda” was a ray of sunlight through the drear neoliberal darkness. In that shaft of sunlight she showed us a new and wonderfully different nation. The task she has bequeathed to her successor – and her people – is to create the road that will take them there.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 26 January 2023.
"The task she has bequeathed to her successor – and her people – is to create the road that will take them there........."
Only if we can leave all the rotten tomato throwers, the haters and the wreckers, the psychopaths, the sociopaths and the rabid right to take responsibility and travel their own far away distant road to redemption.
Actually, Chris, the section in your last paragraph about Ardern showing us a 'new and wonderfully different nation' is categorically, factually wrong. The Achilles heel of her Labour government hasn't been dealt with by most left-liberal commentators. I urge readers to look at the stuff.co.nz article of 10 May 2020 , 'Time for Chinese NZers to be heard'. Here there is a telling quote, "In Jacinda Ardern's speeches about the arts, she'll often mention support for Maori and Pasifika, but nothing at all about Asians. We're often still invisible."
Let that sink in, Chris. In Auckland where I live, where the 2018 census showed that 28% of the population had Asian ethnicity [ and where the overwhelming majority of the Asian popn ie over 95% prefer to refer to the city as 'Auckland' ], 16% PI, and only 11% Maori, the Minister of the Arts made NO speeches valuing Asian culture alongside Maori or PI culture. Asians are slowly, and inexorably, becoming more and more annoyed about White proclamations about 'biculturalism' which is nonsense, since 'biculturalism' and 'co-governance' are political statements.
'Non-maori' is NOT a culture; it is a political and social Frankenstein construct born out of the White postcolonial guilt of the 1980s [ back when I remember Mr Trotter working at the Otago Uni bookstore when I was a high school student]. With the growing Asian population slowly shifting towards voting preponderantly for National and Act,[ with an anecdotal major shift in Indian voters against Labour with the recent dairy worker killing ], the Asian vote is the major long term weakness of the left parties. And I write as someone who has always voted Labour in general elections, but will no longer.
PS If the above comment is too serious, then as some light relief, think about the promo photo of Margot Robbie in 'Babylon' as a picture of the ex-PM in post-resignation party mode. Same red dress as she wore on her last day as PM, but now slightly frayed. Big puppet behind that uncannily looks like Helen Clark.
The Right understands that an extremely radical reading of te Tiriti o Waitangi
ie the Treaty in Maori that the non English understanding Maori agreed to and signed. Quite reasonably, the international community (and not just the West that we keep calling the IC) recognise that it is the indigenous understanding of such treaties that should hold the most weight.
Couldn't you save this honeyed nonsense for your newspaper columns. Ardern, we Leftists know, is a continuance of Roger Douglas's 'short-termism'.
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