Monday 13 September 2010

Sowing Dragon's Teeth

Sowing discord: In Greek mythology Cadmus, the bringer of civilisation, slew the dragon that guarded the sacred spring of the war god, Ares. Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, bade Cadmus sow the dragon's teeth and up sprang the spartoi - an army of ferocious warriors. Painting by Maxfield Parrish

FROM A STRICTLY POLITICAL PERSPECTIVE the details of the Government’s innocuous-sounding Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill don’t matter. The numbers on the floor of the House have already been assembled to secure its First Reading, and once that crucial first hurdle has been cleared the news media will rapidly lose interest. The Parliamentary Press Gallery, in particular, is likely to assume (quite rightly) that if Labour doesn’t oppose the Bill at its First Reading it’s not going to oppose the Bill at all. And if Labour doesn’t oppose this bill it is absolutely certain to become law.

Tactically-speaking, the Labour Opposition’s indulgent attitude towards the repeal and replacement of its costly (in terms of the Maori Vote) Foreshore & Seabed Act is a huge mistake. It’s own supporters will be outraged at Labour’s facilitation of what is likely to prove this country’s most significant privatisation of public property. And it is difficult to conceive of an issue more likely to divide conservative voters than the National Government’s apparent willingness to award thousands of square kilometres of New Zealand’s coastline and territorial sea to a multitude of Maori tribes and sub-tribes.

By highlighting the Bill’s most controversial aspects – most particularly its failure to retain the current legislation’s guarantee of free public access to the seashore – the Opposition could drive a mighty wedge into National’s electoral base. To date, Labour’s spokesperson, David Parker, has limited himself to making a virtue of his party’s refusal to "play the race card". Exactly how many New Zealanders end up thanking him for it remains to be seen.

The Bill’s opponents will, of course, get their moment in the sun at the Select Committee hearings on the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill. The media coverage of their submissions is, however, highly unlikely to be either extensive or sympathetic. Most of the news media remains strongly supportive of the Key Government and it is not about to undercut National’s poll-ratings by dispassionately analysing the legislation’s dire implications for the future economic and social well-being of New Zealand.

Were the legislation being introduced by Labour the media’s attitude would likely be very different. Ironically, such blatant partisanship would, on this occasion, be in the public interest. But, by sanctioning only the most cursory and politically sympathetic reportage of the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill the media is going to sell its readers, listeners and viewers short. In their myopic determination to protect "their" government, New Zealand’s media bosses will shirk their all-important duty to inform the citizenry of a direct threat to its rights.

Because, as the eminent New Zealand economist, Professor Roger Bowden, puts it: "In the present context, the [Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill] will effectively have the status of a constitutional change for the country. The Bill satisfies two of the classical tests for an uncodified constitution such as New Zealand’s: it creates property rights, and it cannot be easily reversed."

Once again, Labour’s abdication of political responsibility is baffling. A measure of such vital importance to the nation’s future should not be passed without the active consent of the electorate (in the form of either an unequivocal electoral mandate or referendum). That National is not availing itself of these alternatives, intending, rather, to secure the passage of the legislation in advance of next year’s general election by using the votes of members elected on explicit promises to keep the foreshore and seabed in public hands, is something Labour should feel constitutionally obliged to oppose. At the very least, it should be making the case for the passage of the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill to be delayed until after the voters have delivered their verdict on its merits through the ballot-box.

That Labour shows no signs of doing this can only mean one of two things: either it is tactically inept; or, it secretly fears the judgement of the electorate on this issue. If it’s the latter, we are faced – as was the case with Sue Bradford’s anti-smacking bill – with a measure massively deficient in popular support, but which the Labour caucus is going to vote for anyway on the grounds that its moral judgement is superior to that of the electorate’s.

In other words, Labour is planning to do what John Key did in relation to Section 59: preserve its social-liberal credentials by piggy-backing on it’s rival’s determination to pass an unpopular measure no-matter-what. No doubt they're calculating that such a show of bi-partisan support will leave their MPs unscathed; Maori voters in a more forgiving frame of mind; and their extra-parliamentary opponents with nowhere to go.

Perhaps. But every time the two major political parties behave in this way they dramatically increase the levels of anger and alienation in the broader electorate. Worse still, they engender a sense of betrayal, and the conviction that there is indeed such a thing as "the political class" – an arrogant and self-congratulatory elite with nothing but contempt for the opinions and aspirations of ordinary people.

It staggers me that this political class does not appear to understand that, by swelling the ranks of those who feel alienated and betrayed by their country’s nominally democratic political system, they are placing the rights of all citizens – and most especially those belonging to ethnic minorities – in grave danger.

Those who cast their vote in favour of the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill will be casting dragon’s teeth into political soil already richly fertilised by the reek of earlier betrayals. And when, in true mythic style, these seeds of the dragon’s mouth call forth a harvest of angry political spartoi utterly unresponsive to reason or pity, then the suddenly powerless and personally vulnerable members of New Zealand’s political class will have no one to blame but themselves.


Anonymous said...

I think you are being too kind to Labour- I doubt they have a plan- I think they are just clueless.

And I wish that the New Zealand populace would rise up against the elite (white and brown and yellow) who govern this country in their own interests but I cannot see it happening.

The ancestors of the people who had the intelligence and drive to make this country first world have left for better opportunities overseas. The people who are left by and large seem to be a stupid, apathetic bunch.

Like frogs slowly being brought to the boil, most New Zealanders don't seem to realise what is happening to them. They will vote again for the nice Mr Key (who runs the education system into the ground and then sends his daughter to Europe to be educated) and wonder all the while why life seems to be getting harder and harder for them.

I agree with Matt McCarten- we are going to be a third world country fairly soon. Everything has been sold off overseas, the remaining jewel in the crown -the land- will be gone soon and then New Zealanders will be the dirt poor slaves of the foreign elite who own the country lock, stock and barrel.

I expect non-Asian New Zealanders to become a minority in the next decade or so. Once the farmland is owned by the Chinese you can expect political pressure on the government from the Chinese to open the immigration floodgates( the New Citizens party is a worrying early sign of what is to come politically). Much too late to fight then- the time to fight against our politicians is now- but it won't happen.

dave said...

While I largely agree with your sentiments I tend to recall that you also praised John Key and co for not backtracking on the anti-smacking bill. While in many cases governments make decisions unpopular with the public, it can be argued at times that they are making them from a position of greater knowledge of the issues. The anti smacking bill was not one of these-the public understood perfectly and despite that were over-ruled by (as you say) an arrogant and out of touch governing class.

It is therefore now difficult for anyone who thinks the anti smacking bill (or other favourite bits of legislation that they personally agree with) should have been forced through despite the overwhelming will of the public to argue against similar decisions. On some complex policy maybe government does know best but on moral issues and broad philospical points the public will should prevail.

Personally, I belevie the whole race thing is driven by fear of the civil unrest that will result if Maori are told that they will no longer be favoured under law. Both parties are to blame for unleshing sepratisum in the first place and then their cowardice in addressing the issue of telling all citizens they are equal before the law and that tiny snippets of DNA should not entitle differing rights. I blame Labour more as they really started the trend of politics of identity and capturing the votes of minorities to further their political base, however National should have long since stood up for its own base and have failed.

I think the ruling class across all parties now realise they are on the back of the Maori Tiger and are too scared to get off. Living in the Far North and seeing the growing distrust between the races I fear there will certainly be civil unrest and probably violence if Maori are told that there is a change in the prevailing political winds. But at some point our political masters will have to confront a freshly awakened and angry Pakeha giant.

It has been a long time since we were truely democratic and longer still since we were free indviduals able to live our lives as we see fit. There is an underlying anger in many people and if combined with the seeds of racial discord already planted we will reap a bitter harvest.

Anonymous said...

New Zealand needs a economic plan, not to do more free trade with china, loosing our clean and green reputation in the process.

Bolivia and Korea are co operating on Clean Tech (Bolivia has a lot Lithium) Korea is investing in Clean Tech. Denmark exports wind technology, and China is becoming a Clean Tech powerhouse, it is overtaking America on renewable energy.

Where does New Zealand want to go? We have land, and lots of oportunities.. Yet instead there is no vision or plan from National outside of Motorways and digging up National Parks, and Labour is still not facing up to a lot of issues it needs to, if it wants to be trusted back into Government.

Labour needs to stop beeing scared of Rednecks and show some vision. Who dares wins...

Anonymous said...

Oops- typo on anon comment at 10.14- third paragraph should read descendents not ancestors...

Anonymous said...

"its [the Bill's] failure to retain the current legislation’s guarantee of free public access to the seashore"

Can you point to this guarantee in the current legislation?

jh said...

"Green MP Dave Clendon also opposed the bill, saying it was based on the premise that customary title was the Crown's [= the rest of the 4.3 million]to give.

He said the legislation would make Maori "supplicants" in their own country."

Anonymous said...

Labour is floundering. They are presenting no vision or credibility for dealing with New Zealand's problems. The only economic policy they seem to promote is to borrow and spend more money.

"Like frogs slowly being brought to the boil, most New Zealanders don't seem to realise what is happening to them."
Like citizens in third world countries without responsible governance, New Zealanders have learned to stop caring about things outside their immediate social circles. For decades governments have been elected that didn't do what they said they would do, didn't do what the people wanted them to do, and did their own thing, badly.

The Seashore and Seabed issue gained traction because people imagined there'd be the personal consequence of being banned from Maori-owned beaches, as unlikely as that was.

"I expect non-Asian New Zealanders to become a minority in the next decade or so."
You are correct that New Zealand's present immigration policy makes it probable New Zealand will become an Asian-dominated country but that timeframe isn't realistic. It should take 25 years at the very minimum before Asians become the majority but much will depend on how much influence immigration has on the emigration rate.

"you can expect political pressure on the government from the Chinese to open the immigration floodgates"
The floodgates were opened two decades ago

Anonymous said...

"The Seashore and Seabed issue gained traction because people imagined there'd be the personal consequence of being banned from Maori-owned beaches, as unlikely as that was."
"I don't care who owns the beaches as long as I can use them"
These people make assumptions about the Maori character, demonstrated very clearly in this piece:

"Recent developments in the Bay of Plenty that involve iwi landowning groups terminating leases at Little Waihi are evidence of a culture that still has the guts to put long-term principles before short-term gain. This is inconvenient for the few affected residents in this case, but, seen from a distance, is better for the estuary involved. I have never seen a Pakeha corporation that thinks like this."