Thursday 19 August 2010

Fighting Them On The Beaches

Effective propaganda: Is it fair to condemn the Coastal Coalition for having the wit to recruit master propagandist, John Ansell, to the cause of keeping New Zealand's beaches in public ownership?

KIWIPOLITICO’s "LEW" has challenged me to denounce John Ansell’s billboards and the Coastal Coalition’s campaign against the Government’s plans to repeal the Foreshore & Seabed Act (FSA).

Were I to do as he suggests, I would be guilty of the most appalling hypocrisy. From the moment the Maori Party’s hand-picked review panel released their findings on the FSA in 2009, I have very publicly opposed the repeal of the 2004 legislation.

Why would I denounce a group of citizens for expressing views which everyone who's taken an interest in this issue knows I support?

I suppose Lew would say that it is the presence of John Ansell (author of National’s notorious Iwi/Kiwi billboards for the 2005 General Election) that renders the Coastal Coalition ideologically toxic.

I disagree.

Mr Ansell may be a formidable practitioner of the dark arts of agit-prop, but that, surely, is an irrelevant objection. The Coastal Coalition has a case to make, and Mr Ansell's assistance will ensure that it's persuasive.

Few people in New Zealand have a more acute understanding of the power of the well-conceived political image than Mr Ansell. His depiction of the Prime Minister, clad in a ceremonial Maori feather-cloak and waving a little Maori sovereignty flag, is a powerful example of his technique.

In that single image a host of National Party voters will see all their worst fears about the Government’s relationship with the Maori Party brought startlingly to life.

Persuading the Government that the repeal the FSA will cost them the support of hitherto loyal voters is, I presume, one of the Coastal Coalition’s prime objectives. Is it fair to criticise them for being lucky (or shrewd) enough to recruit someone capable of scaring the bejesus out of the Nats?

It seems to me that Lew and all the others who have thrown up their hands in horror at the Coastal Coalition’s campaign are only doing so because they're mortally afraid it will work.

Up until the appearance of Mr Ansell’s billboards, supporters of a restoration of Maori customary rights have been relying on the presence of a cross-party parliamentary consensus in favour of the FSA's repeal to starve their opponents of what Margaret Thatcher called "the oxygen of publicity".

There is, however, something rather off-putting (even sinister) about this strategy. Though a very large number (Mr Ansell cites a Stuff poll putting it at 74 percent) of New Zealanders oppose the Government’s plans to give Maori customary title to the foreshore and seabed, this informal cross-party consensus means that within the House of Representatives only a handful of MPs are willing to voice their concerns.

The frustration of FSA supporters is intensified by the fact that both major parties have reneged on their earlier, pre-election, pledges that the foreshore and seabed would remain in public ownership. No wonder the Coastal Coalition is making its appeal directly to the people.

Faced with the prospect of their parliamentary allies no longer being able to marginalise the debate, and with the appearance of the Coastal Coalition and its master propagandist, Mr Ansell, Lew and his colleagues are left with little option but to try and intimidate their opponents into silence by branding them racists.

That certainly won’t work with me, nor Mr Ansell, nor (I hope) with the Coastal Coalition. Indeed, the spectacle of so-called "21st Century liberals" attempting to silence citizens exercising their democratic right to free expression is only likely to increase the Coalition’s public support, and give its campaign to keep New Zealand’s beaches in the hands of all New Zealanders a very welcome boost.


Scott said...

I hadn't heard of Ansell until he turned up at RTM recently and debate race relations in this thread:

To give him his due, Ansell was polite and prepared to respond to the points of those who disagreed with him. But I don't see how the views he expressed in the thread I've just cited could be palatable to anyone on the left. I don't even think many decent right-wingers would want to sign up to Ansell's ideology in 2010.

Ansell argued that people who identify as Maori yet aren't 'pure-blooded' are Maori only because they have made individual choices to be so. Maori is therefore, he suggested, effectively a 'religion', like Catholicism or Islam. Just as the state should not be in the business of recognising and funding Islam and Catholicism, so it should not be in the business or providing any funding to the Maori 'religion'. State funding for perversities like te reo is no better than state funding for madrasses, or for the Latin Mass.

What Ansell has done, whether he fully realises it or not, is rework and weave together a number of motifs developed by Kiwi bigots over the past century and a half. He invokes the scientific racism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when he claims that the only really authentic Maori were the 'pure-blooded' types that signed the Treaty back in 1840. He reworks the assimilationist ideology which such a part of Pakeha state policy for so long when he claims that the descendants of the 'real' Maori who signed the Treaty have become honourary whites, because they have been absorbed into New Zealand's capitalist economy and use modern technology.

And Ansell draws on the paranoia that surrounded anti-Fenianism, anti-Asian racism, and the Tohunga Suppression Act when he presents contemporary Maori culture as the product of a perverse and irrational desire to reject the modern world - as a neurosis, that is, rather than a way of living.

One only has to look at the billboards Ansell has designed to see the nature of the worldview they express. The boards treat 'iwi' not as Maori descent groups, but as as sinister cabals plotting to do ordinary New Zealanders out of their rights. Such a bizarre understanding of the term 'iwi' is only possible if one defines Maori identity as the product of a perverse and dangerous personal choice, rather than as a product of whakapapa and culture.

The billboards take a feather cloak, an item regarded as a taonga by virtually all iwi, no matter what their geographic location, history, and traditional political loyalties, and make it into a strongly negative symbol. Ansell can only make this appalling error of taste because he labours udner the delusion that Maori are, without exception, converts to a 'religion' which opposes and threatens all that is good in contemporary New Zealand society.

It is worrying that Ansell is not simply a deluded individual, but a man with some degree of influence over an organisation of some size. We will all be in trouble if Ansell's belief that Maori identity is the product of an irrational personal choice, and thus unworthy of state recognition and support, ever becomes part of the programme of a sizeable political movement.

Apparently there is a shortage of Maori members of the Coastal Coalition. I imagine that lefties would feel pretty lonely there too.

Chris Trotter said...

Dr Elizabeth Rata makes a pretty convincing case that the advent of "neo-traditionalist tribal capitalism" is indeed the product of a quite conscious effort to subsume the progressive bi-culturalism of the 1970s in the profoundly undemocratic "brokerage politics" made possible by the state-sponsored reconstitution of tribal elites which began in the 1980s.

Her research is a powerful antidote to the ahistorical romanticism of the culturalist position you so energetically defend, Scott.

And, if Mr Ansell inspires a sizeable movement against the transfer of public resources to private interests it will only be in reaction to the hefty denigration heaped on those who dare to step outside the liberal consensus on race relations.

Among the people, Scott, one is never lonely. Perhaps you should ask yourself why those who share your opinions on this issue have so many friends in high places?

maps said...

We are all romantics at heart, Chris. But is there anything more absurdly, sentimentally idealist, anything further from the materialist and historically-informed temper of the best thinking in the socialist tradition, than Ansell's bizarre idea that individual Maori have 'chosen' their ethnicity, in the way that born again Christians have chosen their religion?

Are you really prepared to line up with the people hatching this campaign - people like Ansell, Muriel Newman, the demented racist Dave Mann, the Celtic New Zealand/One New Zealand Foundation, and the rest of the crazies that haunt the discussion and organising threads at Newman's site? Among people like that you will indeed feel lonely, if you expect anything resembling rational discourse.

Anonymous said...

Ansell's view that being Maori is akin to religious belief is not somehow confuted by the claim that being Maori is a product of Whakapapa or culture, since the same is often true of religious belief.

The issue Ansell has hit upon is that there appears to be no account of "identity" that does not generate obvious and absurd counterexamples if you attempt to use it to justify political action. A great deal of NZ political commentary consists of attempts to ignore this problem.

Tiger Mountain said...

Beside a fleeting feeling of “how does it feel Mr Key?” upon first sighting the Ansell image, I get a very uneasy vibe from this campaign aimed at the lowest denomination of political thought.

The instinctive reactionary who rarely undertakes any meaningful personal research, and is more than happy to see their conservative prejudices reflected back at them from a billboard. “Key is soft on Maarees” is a refrain at many a rural BBQ or gathering.

This issue has layers of complexity and the fact that people still seriously introduce the “true maori” angle, almost takes us back to the US and the “one drop” law enacted in 1924, not overturned till 1967, that categorised a person as coloured if they had ‘any’ African ancestry. The point of that law of course was to assist in preventing miscegenation.

The CCNZ ads ignore the fact that there are plenty of non Maori owned coastal areas that are both no go zones for ‘kiwis’ and having the hell developed out of them. So why is Ansell letting this sector off the hook by omission but fingering potential Maori capitalists? Thought so.

The NZ post colonial sort out has a long way to go yet.

Lew said...

More's the pity, Chris.


Anonymous said...

Strategically challenged as ever, Chris. It's time that the broad left put the Seabed and Foreshore Act debacle behind us, grew up constitutionally and signed up for a written constitution that includes the Treaty of Waitangi.

To go down the self-described "Coastal Coalition" route risks the political reincarnation of Winston Peters, and we all remember how politically prehensile and populist he can be. Or is your lowest common denominator anti-monetarism still operative when it comes to him?

Craig Young

Roger said...

Interesting article Chris - as always and worth reading and thinking about. I have followed your ideas on race/socialism for some time and although I have profound disagreements with your political philospohy I do appreciate your comments and enjoy the stimulus your articles promote.
What I always find alarming is the tendecy of the left in the comments (as above) to label everyone they disagree with 'crazies' 'bigots' and so on rather than addressing the underlying arguments. Shows a strange lack of regard for democracy I think.
As a older citizen I cannot see a successful society based on such racial divisions as the FSA act envisions and I do wonder how it is that the National Party can, every so often, throw up someone who can promote policies that differ so fundermentally from that of the majority of it's members.
I wonder why no Treaty claim prior to 2004 failed to even mention the seabed and foreshore?

markus said...

Elizabeth Rata is excellent, also see Evan Poata-Smith. I first discovered their analyses last year - summarised in Keith Barber's "Breaking the Consensus". Their critique should be required reading for all on the political Left / Centre-Left.

jon said...

Maori consume more govt. funding per head of pop than any other group, so I would say they are already getting more than their fair share of the resources of the crown owned foreshore and seabed.
Any sane person who can look at the treaty objectively would consider its articles to be unavoidably prone to self-contradiction in practice. It is silly to use such as a basis for any modern policy.
We now have a billion dollar "industry" based on this nonsense.
It's insanity and can only lead to bad results for most NZers ((of any race)how I hate having to add that))

jh said...

"We are all romantics at heart, Chris. But is there anything more absurdly, sentimentally idealist, anything further from the materialist and historically-informed temper of the best thinking in the socialist tradition, than Ansell's bizarre idea that individual Maori have 'chosen' their ethnicity, in the way that born again Christians have chosen their religion? "
That was the inference I took from this piece by Catherine Delahunty:
"Last issue a letter commenting on "Self determination" under Te Tiriti o Waitangi suggested we are too small a country to address issues of colonisation and we should "forget" about them. The thesis was that few Maori are "pure bred" anyway. My tangata whenua "part Pakeha" mates find this concept quite amusing as they cannot find any pure Pakeha, English, Scots or Irish people
either. The concept of "race" is inherently "racist". Part of self determination is a human right to define your own cultural identity. And collective self determination has already been exercised by the hapu of Tuhoe and others whether the rest of us understand it or not. This is not athreat to anyone.
We may be a small country but we can lead the world if we have the courage to face our issues and embrace the opportunity Te Tiriti offers us to make peace between peoples. The economic marginalisation of tangata whenua in my home town is a heartbreaking example of a failed system privileging one culture.
I am glad the Green Party constitution upholds Te Tiriti. Let's keep talking about how we can make it real.
Catherine Delahunty, Turanga nui a
Kiwa (Gisborne)"

jh said...

As David Round says: "words are a blank cheque for whoever interprets them ~ and Maori words will, of course, be interpreted by Maori.”

Where there is doubt or a reliance on discretionary behaviour "Maori would never [something bad]", to hold any other view is "racist"!

jh said...

3rd comment (sorry)

When one makes observation such as "(so and so) is protesting about the foreshore and seabed (eg occupying the holy shrine of Brighton Pier) and 'tis pointed out that he has 7 European ancestors and 1 Maori, a retort is received (complete with spit, scorn and B.A in anthropology) along the line that this is a straw man argument: you can't take him and point to a "whole population and culture".
Yet this is what the dark side (thinking Star Wars here) are doing when they make claims themselves? For example Tariana Turia talks about Maori as a "colonised people" and (seeing) everything about them having been "stolen".

Some relevant facts here:
The European population of New Zealand grew from about 1,000 in the 1830s to nearly 60,000 in 1858, when parity with Maori was reached, and then rocketed to 500,000 by the early 1880s.

jh said...

This is interesting as Eugenie Sage was/is spokesman for Forest and Bird but also a Green Party member. I wonder how dizzy Catherine Delahunty would see this one?:

Eugenie Sage says

It could be EXCEPT THAT we understand that Ngai Tahu and the Akaroa taiapure management committee are moving quickly to have the taiapure which covers 90% of Akaroa Harbour extended to cover the Dan Rogers area without public consultation.

Legally you cannot have a dual regime over the same area of sea space i.e. a marine reserve and a taiapure because they are established and managed under different legislation. (A taiapure is a fisheries management tool under the Fisheries Act). If Ngai Tahu is successful in extending the taiapure, it would then be impossible to re-apply for a marine reserve. You can write to Fisheries Minister, Phil Heatley asking him to not extend the taiapure.