Friday, 29 April 2022

No Good Options. Will Co-Governance Break Our Democracy?

A Dangerous Moment: Given the intense preparation which has gone into raising Māori expectations of co-governance, it would now be extremely dangerous for any political party to bring its institutional evolution to a halt. That said, the lack of any serious preparation of the non-Māori population for the revolutionary implications of setting New Zealand’s democratic political system aside in favour of “parity” between the Treaty “partners”, has already set in motion the growth of potentially massive electoral resistance to the co-governance project.

THERE ARE MOMENTS IN HISTORY when all the options available to political leaders are bad. The British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, faced such a moment in the late-1930s. New Zealand’s current political leadership is facing an equally fraught range of options. Already, there is no course of action available to either Jacinda Ardern or Christopher Luxon that does not, ultimately, end in tears.

How did we arrive at such a dangerous moment?

For the beginnings of an answer we must look to the Bicultural Project developed by the New Zealand Left in the 1980s. In its essence, this project was an attempt to retain the coherence of the New Zealand working-class by building a much greater level of cultural understanding between Pakeha and Māori workers, thereby ensuring that any improvements in living standards and political influence would benefit both ethnicities equally. In its first iteration, at least, the Bicultural Project was about class and culture. A rising economic tide, born of working-class unity, would lift all boats – and waka.

Māori nationalists were having none of it. From their perspective, the original Bicultural Project was just another Pakeha ruse for remaining in charge of the evolution of the New Zealand state. From the very beginning, nationalist writers – most notably Donna Awatere – were at pains to make it clear that the acquisition of Tino Rangatiratanga, Māori Sovereignty, would be achieved in spite of, not by the grace and favour of, the “White Left”. Māori nationalists of aristocratic lineage evinced only scorn for the trade unions and the left-wing parties. Their goal was always admirably clear. They wanted their country back. All of it. Now.

Perhaps, if Rogernomics had never happened, some sort of compromise might have been reached. We’ll never know. The Neoliberal Revolution smashed the unity of the New Zealand working-class into a thousand pieces. As always in this country’s history, massive economic change hit Māori communities the hardest. Meanwhile, what was left of the traditional Pakeha working-class was demobilised and disarmed by the Employment Contracts Act. Within a few years the White Left had ceased to exist.

Biculturalism 2.0, however, neither needed nor wanted any sort of Left. Māori nationalists found Neoliberalism’s take on the Bicultural Project much more encouraging than the Marxists’ version. Lord Cooke of Thorndon’s 1987 “partnership” formulation of the Treaty relationship dovetailed neatly with the neo-tribal capitalism mandated by the Crown/Iwi-based Treaty Settlement Process. The resulting quasi-autonomous ethnic corporations, working hand-in-glove with the Executive Branch of the New Zealand state, were now on course to produce an entirely new set of constitutional possibilities.

The relentless promotion of the so-called “Partnership Model” within those institutions directly controlled by, and/or beholden to, the State, combined with a young Māori elite, educated by the Iwi corporates, and strategically located by sympathetic public servants at the myriad power-points of the state apparatus, transformed the human resources of the Crown into a powerful ideological force. In alliance with the free-floating Iwi corporations, the New Zealand state and its appendages – especially the major political parties, the mainstream news media and the universities – were now ready to proceed to the next phase: Biculturalism 3.0 – also known as “Co-Governance”.

Given the intense preparation which has gone into raising Māori expectations of co-governance, it would now be extremely dangerous for any political party to bring its institutional evolution to a halt. That said, the lack of any serious preparation of the non-Māori population for the revolutionary implications of setting New Zealand’s democratic political system aside in favour of “parity” between the Treaty “partners”, has already set in motion the growth of potentially massive electoral resistance to the co-governance project.

On the Pakeha Right the expectation is that the National and Act parties will, between them, bring the “anti-democratic” innovations of “Māori radicals” to a shuddering halt. The vehicle for this moratorium is the Act Party’s “bottom-line” referendum on co-governance, the result of which the Right (almost certainly correctly) regards as a forgone conclusion. Should National indicate in any way its reluctance to adhere to Act’s bottom-line, then its grip on the right-leaning electorate will be weakened profoundly – boosting Act’s support and quite possibly bringing the NZ First Party back into Parliament.

On the Centre-Left, by contrast, there is a growing level of apprehension that its steadily declining level of support – as registered in the opinion polls – will require not only the seats of Labour and the Greens, but also those of Te Pāti Māori, if “progressives” are to retain possession of the Treasury Benches. With support for Te Pāti Māori rising (at the Greens’ expense) neither Labour nor the Greens will be able to signal any retreat from their commitment to the co-governance project.

Even within Te Pāti Māori, fears will be growing that the support it is attracting in the polls may not end up being reflected in the polling-booths. Younger voters are notoriously difficult to mobilise, especially when compared to older voters (who can be relied upon to cast their votes with an almost religious devotion). To get these younger voters “off the couch”, Te Pāti Māori will need to present the coming election as an existential threat to the future of tangata whenua in Aotearoa. Co-governance will thus be elevated to a non-negotiable component of the nation’s future.

Labour and the Greens will find themselves being dragged further and further to the left in order to keep this nascent Red-Green-Brown coalition together. To distract their still dubious working-class Pakeha supporters from the co-governance question, Labour may lay before them reforms aimed squarely at dismantling the neoliberal economic order in favour of “real Labour policies”. With the Greens and Te Pāti Māori shouting “Me too!”, it will be the turn of National and Act to paint the forthcoming election as not only an existential threat to democracy, but also to the socio-economic status quo.

Clearly, not everybody’s expectations can be fulfilled in a democratic election. Historically, the voters on either side of the political divide have understood and accepted this state of affairs. There is always next time.

The risk New Zealand runs in 2023 is that the policy promises of the contending parties will be come to be seen by their respective supporters as critical to the survival of the nation. On the Right, the introduction of co-governance will be equated with the death of democracy. On the Left, a racist referendum endorsing the elimination of co-governance will be construed as an all-out assault on the Treaty of Waitangi and the indigenous people it was intended to protect.

In such circumstances, the uncompromising partisans on both sides begin to believe that if they concede defeat there will be no “next time”. At that point the cry goes out for a “continuation of politics by other means”. Bullets replace ballots, and peace ceases to be an option – for anybody.


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 22 April 2022.

13 comments:

Odysseus said...

"A house divided against itself cannot stand". We have indeed reached a critical point. Justice Cooke's widely misrepresented metaphor of "partnership" has now morphed into "co-governance" between the tribes and the Crown, with non Maori New Zealanders relegated to little more than onlookers.

Labour's covert agenda has however received its first major setback in the effective defeat through the public submissions process of the odious Rotorua (Representation Arrangements) Bill which would have abolished "equal suffrage". Let us hope the race-based provisions of the imminent Three Waters Bill meet with the same fate. Despite the media maintaining an effective news blackout on the Rotorua bill, New Zealanders are now very much aware of the threat posed by Labour to their democracy.

The "co-governance" agenda is a constitutional fraud. The Treaty made Maori British "subjects". Subjects owe obedience to the Crown, they do not "co-govern" with it. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is non-binding and New Zealand made clear its considerable reservations about its relevance. At most, it would support greater autonomy in the management of their own affairs by Maori.

Does Jacinda Ardern really want to be remembered as the Balthazar Johannes Vorster of New Zealand by installing an apartheid regime?

Phil Saxby said...

Very thought provoking.
One thought being that under MMP, Maori (along with many other demographics) have gained fair representation for the first time in the history of New Zealand, prompting vehement calls for majority rule to be upheld. FPP thinking is very much alive within the ACT party; can National rise above kind of winner-take-all politics?

Max Ritchie said...

Some times you have to put your money where your mouth is. But violence will not originate from the Right, and if those wanting an end to democracy have any brains then they won’t start it either.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"But violence will not originate from the Right, "

Hahahahahahahahaha – Right-wing violence is already with us, it wasn't the left that tried to overturn the results of the US election.
And it's not the left that is trying to turn the United States of America into an authoritarian dictatorship.

Kat said...


"Labour's covert agenda............"

"The "co-governance" agenda is a constitutional fraud......."

And Christopher Luxon is the long lost love child of Roger and Ruth..............

Delirium and dementia abounds.......

sumsuch said...

'Violence will not originate from the Right', biggest laugh ever. Oh, the stupidity.

We wrinkle unnecessarily from beetle-browing at dumb/rich folk who don't understand. Don't remember, but that's the whole basis of their mindless money-making til they look up when stopped a bit, and find mindless politicking.

We've done 40 fucken years of letting the rich be the rich. America's democracy is dead on the limb and we've let loose, to be honest, the 'lower' 80 percent. It hasn't worked.

sumsuch said...

Reading more your post you were well ahead of me re co-governance. And I'm often not up with the play, the newest issues. I just can't see the Left going beyond democracy. Which is our foundation.

Of course I remember your previous 30 years of columns, but along with my comments. Nuclear disarmament Bertrand Russell recommended a strategic nuclear war against the Soviet Union in the 1940s before they could build up their stocks. We all put it out there and are often later found to be 'wrong'.

As to the speech-marks, I don't think Russell was altogether wrong -- the moment and the action is vital. As per Napoleon. All I can tell you from me is systems, inboxes and outboxes, can often not be up to the immediate situation. You apparently have to be interested in life to navigate it -- who knew?

The major discard card in my purview is my laziness. Why I recommend the grand man Robert Reich's 4 minute youtube posts over me.

Auahatanga and the burning light said...

An insightful post whose final speculation I hope never comes to pass.

David George said...

The fear that "there will be no next time" are certainly valid if the anti democratic initiatives currently underway come to full fruition. Few will be comforted by Willie Jacksons assertion that democracy in 2022 is “broader and more expansive than just one person, one vote”. The direction of travel is obvious and, once implemented, the road back fraught and dangerous, maybe impossible to achieve peacefully.

To give some context to Waititi's "caucasity" outburst: Tamati Coffey's bill to enshrine disproportionate representation (three councillors each for the 21K Maori roll voters and the 55K general roll voters) in Rotorua, according to the Attorney-General, Hon David Parker, "appears to limit the right to be free from discrimination affirmed in s 19 of the Bill of Rights Act and cannot be justified under s 5 of that Act.” So support for democratic principles is a manifestation of "caucasity" according to Waititi - the fact he felt sufficiently emboldened to say something so ugly and offensive says it all.

Despite it's obvious antidemocratic implications the Labour, Green and Maori parties all voted for this bill. The issue for all of us come the next election is clear: an existential question for our democratic nation.

Anonymous said...

Winner takes all is Ardern, changing our constitution, with zero mandate, Phil Saxby. Talk about blind! Winner Takes All, in every way since her covid induced win of 2020.

Mike

Anonymous said...

Ha. Democracy isn't something that comes naturally. It has to be worked at. Very few people vote against their own interests and I think that it's important to realise that the political movement that considers itself Maori first and everything else second, has no interest in making a democratic NZ work. Other people are not important. NZ is not a concept that concerns them. Leave now while your money is worth something...

David George said...

The young are taking an interest in the preservation of our institutions and in democracy though Chris.
Interesting that Le Pen won 49% of 25-34-year-old's vote. There is certainly a swing, a nascent movement even, towards a new right wing typified by people like (ex Dem) Tulsi Gabbard and J D Vance in the US and hugely popular influencers like Bari Weis or Joe Rogan or J B Peterson. A people, family and community first conservativism perhaps.
Liberal without the identity politics and authoritarianism of the modern left, conservative without the corporatism and globalism.

Mary Harrington: "For inasmuch as there is energy on the Right, it is in this febrile movement, which fizzes with energy — but is wholly estranged from the modern Tory Party, whose aggregate actions (accidentally or otherwise) look more like part of the problem than the solution."

"The online Right, meanwhile, is so internationally ebullient it’s making the New York Times anxious: it was described as ‘reactionary chic’ by Michelle Goldberg. Unlike the cringy Young Tories of old, this youthful New Right is (according to Vanity Fair) “quietly edgy and cool” in increasingly prominent circles. And it has plenty to say about farming, food standards and animal welfare."

"The philosopher Byung-Chul Han described capitalism — in other words, the Tories’ sainted value of “growth” — as “aggravating the pornographication of society by making everything a commodity and putting it on display”. Parish’s stumble from “Dominator” tractors to who knows what more titillating form of domination is evocative of the hopeless dilemma faced by such old-fashioned Tories. For a political stance capable of squaring growth with conserving anything at all is now radically untenable. Especially in farming."

"And nor does Parish have an obvious home in the “reactionary chic” subculture now busy celebrating all those problematic things like farmers’ markets, beauty, classical literature, procreation and so on (along with, in some cases, a side order of fascist aesthetics). This movement may be “edgy and cool”, and it may produce strange and sometimes agricultural fruit, from the ‘Doomer Optimist’ neo-homesteaders preparing for collapse in the USA, to the far-right “Anastasian” back-to-the-land movement in Germany.

But such experimental forms of reactionary futurism also flourish largely in the iridescent, dematerialised, borderless digital maelstrom that’s now mostly replaced the politics of places, constituencies and the material world. And there’s little room in this reality for an old-fashioned Tory with a Labrador and a family farm."

David George said...

I see J D Vance has now won the nomination for Ohio.

Some further reading - long but well worth it - on the New Right in America.
https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2022/04/inside-the-new-right-where-peter-thiel-is-placing-his-biggest-bets