Thursday 15 February 2024

Luxon Rejects The “Rejection Election” At His Peril.

Fitting Right In: National retailed a reactionary manifesto of right-wing, racially-charged policies to the electorate throughout 2023. No talk back then of ignoring the overwhelming political preferences of the voting public and making a strong stand on principle. If Luxon’s pollsters and focus-groups were telling him that the public was in a mood to discipline and punish – then discipline and punish it would be.

MUCH HAS BEEN MADE of Prime Minister Chris Luxon’s definitive rejection of Act’s Treaty Principles Bill. Why? Because Luxon not only confirmed that National will vote against giving David Seymour’s bill a second reading, but at the same time acknowledged that the only reason he agreed to support it to the select committee stage was because he did not want to precipitate an unscheduled general election so soon after 14 October. In addition to providing us with a useful gauge of Luxon’s prime ministerial fortitude, Luxon’s “slap-down” of Seymour’s bottom-line policy also betrays his fundamental misreading of the election result’s meaning.

The General Election of 2023 was a rejection election, and rejection elections are powered, overwhelmingly, by popular anger. Not only was there a broad-based and vociferous element within the electorate determined to punish the incumbent Labour Government, but also a coterminous movement to roll back what was perceived to be Labour’s extreme, ideologically-driven, cultural agenda.

At no time during the election campaign did either Christopher Luxon or the National Party attempt to draw a clear distinction between themselves and the other right-wing parties – Act and NZ First – on matters relating to Māori sovereignty.

When Winston Peters announced his party’s policies in relation to removing Treaty principles from legislation, and reframing the mission of the Waitangi Tribunal, Luxon did not recoil in horror. Nor did he remind New Zealanders that it was National, under Jim Bolger and Doug Graham, that kicked-off the Treaty Settlement process back in the early-1990s. Or recall with pride that it was John Key who sent Pita Sharples to New York to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

To be sure, when questioned directly about Act’s desire to clarify the principles of the Treaty by way of a binding referendum, Luxon described his most obvious coalition partner’s policy as “unhelpful and divisive”. That this response was a sop to the liberal wing of Luxon’s party, and to its more “moderate” voters, was made clear by his promotion of policies that unequivocally aligned the National Party with the right-wing populist mood of the nation. Most notably, National’s policy of curbing co-governance by abolishing Three Waters and the Māori Health Authority.

A National Party willing to send that sort of reactionary message to the electorate was not in the least bit concerned about being seen as “unhelpful” or “divisive”. And neither was the National Party committed to reinstating English at the top of official government stationery.

But those were only the most openly acknowledged efforts to align National with the majority’s determination to reject, repeal, rip-up and remove the ideological advances of Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori. Voters who understood the secret language of New Zealand conservatism were in little doubt that National had plenty more punishment in store for Māori New Zealanders.

Conservatives have long exploited the tendency of the racist Right to associate the social pathologies of drug use, domestic abuse, gun violence, aggravated robbery, juvenile delinquency, and truancy with Māori New Zealanders. That these are the pathologies of poverty, afflicting the lives of Pakeha as well as Māori, cuts little ice with right-wingers, who reject structural explanations for anti-social behaviour in favour of those highlighting personal and/or racial deficiencies.

Nor does the Right care overmuch that “cracking down hard” on crime will send Māori New Zealanders to prison in disproportionate numbers, leaving behind broken families and ruined lives. Even though, historically, “tough on crime” policies merely ensure that the cycle of crime and incarceration continues, most National Party voters regard the policy not as “a fiscal and moral failure” (as Bill English described it) but as a necessary evil.

National retailed a reactionary manifesto of right-wing, racially-charged policies to the electorate throughout 2023. Spooked by Act’s record poll numbers, and watching NZ First’s steady rise with alarm, Luxon and his team were in no mood to front-foot National’s liberal traditions. No talk back then of ignoring the overwhelming political preferences of the voting public and making a strong stand on principle. If Luxon’s pollsters and focus-groups were telling him that the public was in a mood to discipline and punish – then discipline and punish it would be.

Not that Luxon, himself, was personally suited to playing the Hard Man. Robotically positive, with his happy-chappy platitudes playing on continuous loop, Luxon left the dog-whistling to his lieutenants. The nearest he came to playing rough was when he dressed up as a pirate – and even then he had to be instructed on how to wield his sword. Even so, when all the votes had been counted and there was a three-way coalition to negotiate, Luxon struggled to locate his inner-thug. The National Party leader’s priority (in almost every setting) is to get whatever he is doing, done – whatever it takes.

And what it took was Luxon’s commitment to Seymour that his Treaty Principles Bill would be backed by National and NZ First to the select committee stage. What that meant was that Act’s coalition partners were supportive of the broad, open-ended debate that sending this particularly controversial bill to a select committee was certain to set in motion. It defies all logic to sanction this course of action if, in utter contempt for the consultation process, and regardless of what the debate reveals about the wishes of the New Zealand people vis-à-vis Te Tiriti o Waitangi, your Party’s next move is to vote it down.

Such a profoundly cynical political strategy would be dangerous at the best of times – and these are not the best of times. New Zealand is in the early stages of the same populist distemper that has polarised and paralysed the United States. Luxon and his party opted to climb on the back of this populist tiger, getting off it will be no simple matter.

To the hundreds-of-thousands of right-wing voters who backed National, Act and NZ First to bring together a government committed to disciplining and punishing Labour and its allies, it looks like Luxon’s National pony has refused its very first fence. Spooked by hui, hikoi and haka at Turangawaewae, Ratana and Waitangi, and bowing to the relentless bullying of the “legacy media”, Luxon has publicly slapped-down the Right’s young champion which, as far as they’re concerned, is the same as slapping them down – the people whose votes put National in power.

But that is not how populism works. You can’t just switch it on and off like a lightbulb. Nor can you boast about ignoring the wishes of the “overwhelming majority” of the New Zealand people. Not if you want to remain the dominant right-wing party.

The sharp up-tick in Act’s support in the latest Curia poll should be taken as a warning. So, too, should the findings of the latest Research New Zealand survey. Against all the confident prognostications of the punditocracy, a solid plurality of Men, New Zealanders aged 18-34, Kiwis living north of Taupo, and (astonishingly) Māori, are in favour of confirming the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi by referendum.

Small wonder then, that in spite of Luxon’s very public slap-down, David Seymour is not at all disposed to giving-up the fight.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 12 February 2024.


The Barron said...

Wiser people than me have said, 'elections are won by those that turn up'. The 2023 election had a 77.51% turn out of those enrolled, NZ has a credible 92.11% enrolled. Both turn out and enrollment increase with each age band. Maori, Pasifika and new migrant groups are less likely to either be enrolled or vote than Pakeha. Of that 77.51% of 92.11%, ACT got 8.64% and NZ First 6.08%. Hardly a movement demanding that the Parliament unilaterally overturn 184 years of a bilateral agreement and become an unconstitutional extra-judicial body over turning the courts jurisprudence and international law.

While not all Maori think politically the same, few would not suppose that only a very small number of the 17.3% of the population that identify as Maori support the ACT proposal. Pasifika leaders and public have been clear they support tangata whenua on the issue, that is the majority of the 8% that is Pasifika. More so, both are young populations that will become increasingly important as voting blocks. This also goes for Pakeha and possibly then next generation of new migrant communities as they mix in the school systems and have a greater awareness of the Treaty and NZ history.

Bill English recognized that National does not have a future unless it understands and embraces the demographic realities of NZ. This seemed abandoned as a National Party focus, until it was given a reality check at Turangawaewae, Ratana and Waitangi. With this came an understanding that drunk uncle politics were in its death throes. Seymour's folly is already viewed as an outdated ploy, National knows that the real politik is in future relationships, and that a government cannot govern on division alone.

Anonymous said...

So, Mr Luxon agreed to ACT's treaty principles review to the first reading to get a deal and that was it? Then planned to renege thereafter? How untrustworthy are you?

Call me old fashioned Christopher, but don't be surprised if ACT now treat you and your government with equal cynical contempt!

Matt W said...

"Hardly a movement demanding that the Parliament unilaterally overturn 184 years of a bilateral agreement and become an unconstitutional extra-judicial body over turning the courts jurisprudence and international law."

What a silly thing to say
1) Parliament is supreme. If past case law is at odds with parliamentary statute, statute wins.
2) States are sovereign. International law is a strange term which implies it has more of a hold than it does.

LittleKeith said...

I suspect that in his busy life of family building, financial portfolio creation, career building and chasing promotion, Luxon was blissfully unaware that the Treaty industry or that it was reaching its zenith with real world consequences. Most of us could be excused also, none of it was publicised by Labour, rather it was deliberately hidden. If a real estate agent can lose her licence for 5 years because she refused to take a "Te Kākano" course, instructing real estate agents on te reo Māori, tikanga, and the Treaty of Waitangi, that has zero to with her job and or many of her clients who will be from other cultures, then it's reached that rotten point already!

But Christopher has no such excuse now. He should know of these insidious mandatory requirements that have been sneaked into daily life by Labour and that litter the landscape like unexploded bombs. The same Labour who just so happened to not tell the rest of us in a demonstration of how NOT to take the people with you! There will have been many a job applicant who also missed out on a government job for similarly stupid reasons and many in those jobs who shouldn't be there but are because they played the game.

I'll give him space to prove himself smarter than he currently presents. A classic third way manoeuvre might save his government and put the problem to bed, not that I for a moment think the Treaty gravy train will just go away. Because Luxon does not have the luxury of burying his head in the sand on this problem like his predecessors!

new view said...

There is no doubt Luxon is playing politics with the Treaty principals bill. His commitment to rule out any further action on it other than to hear the first reading was to keep a lid on the growing ill feeling towards the Government and especially Act, from Maori interests. Regardless of public feeling now, I don't believe the voters were pushing for the principals bill at the elections, they were voting for the status quo and against co government 3 waters etc. In my view the carry on at waitangi and Ratana has had a backlash of public opinion against the uncompromising aggressive way Maori have come out against the Bill when really a properly discussed bill can do nothing but good. For me the latest poll increasing Acts fortunes by four points reflects this. Luxon, not wanting to stir the pot has been left red faced by emphasising his no vote. He has misread the room on public opinion of what has happened at Waitangi. Where I think Luxon is right, is that he knows that centre and right wing NZ will have the numbers to out vote Maori interests if it came to adopting changes to the Treaty Principals either by referendum or any other way, and only bad feeling and resentment will come out of that. Any changes have to be accepted by both factions if any semblance of racial harmony is to exist. Luxon wont be judged by the policies he introduces, he will be judged on what those policies do. All the ranting and raving from the left means little if Luxons policies have a good effect on those lower economic classes Chris talks of. Beneficiaries may not end up worse off under Luxons reign if the dollars those beneficiaries have buy more. In other words get inflation down.

David George said...

"Hardly a movement demanding that the Parliament unilaterally overturn 184 years of a bilateral agreement"

As opposed to Labour's sleazy "under-the-table" co-governance agenda?

It's a referendum proposal; not a coup d'état .

The Barron said...

As the former Home Secretary, Ken Clark said a few days ago about similar UK Parliamentary plans to over-rule the home courts and international courts regarding a ruling of fact regarding Rwanda -

I continue to be completely flabbergasted by the constitutional implications of a government acting in this way.

"I would ask the minister whether he has been able to find any precedent for this occurring, has any government in a similar situation ever decided to reverse any legal defeat by just passing legislation saying the facts are what we say they are, not the facts that the supreme court has found on the evidence? I think it’s unlikely.

For that reason, I think it’s an extremely dangerous precedent. I very much hope that there will be a legal challenge which will enable the supreme court to strike it down as unconstitutional in due course, but the better step would be for parliament not to pass the legislation in the first place."

CXH said...

Barron, Helen Clark did exactly that with the foreshore judgement. Ken Clark is showing his arrogance if he thinks the courts can override parliament.

NZ now has the same situation where the judges feel they can change the law to what they feel should have been intended, rather than what Parliament passed. They are losing the trust of many with their arrogance of knowing what is best for us.

The Barron said...

I agree that the Clark government legislated away court findings. I did not agree then and I do not agree now.
The point both Kenneth Clarke and I are making in regard to the Treaty and Rwanda is that the courts have made determination of fact. Parliament in saying Rwanda is safe when courts have concluded it is unsafe is unlawful and unconstitutional
It makes Parliament above the law, it breaches international law and agreements, the Magna Carta and constitutional convention.
Similarly, the NZ courts, Privy Council and international courts have all upheld the principles of the Treaty as derivative of the Crown obligations in the Treaty.
Courts have overridden Parliament before and this has been accepted and honoured. Factual findings by the judiciary can be challenged through the court system, but not over-ruled.
The mistrust and rejection of expertise, and those that adjudicate fact leads to a breakdown of civil society. Those that wish to replace expertise and fact with popularism and 'alternative fact', or replace truth with each person's "own truth" are post modern fools.