I have an enormous amount of respect for Annette Sykes and I like to think I have more than a few things in common with her. She was born and bred in Kawerau and witnessed “a thriving mill town reduced to a community that is dependant on the diminishing generosity of the welfare state”. This experience shaped her perspective. I was also born in Kawerau (in 1991) and I grew up witnessing the horrifying consequences of Ruth Richardson’s neo liberal fantasies and this experience shaped my perspective. Whenever I came back from boarding school and now university I always take time to reflect on the damage two decades of neo liberal policies have had on the town.
But anyway Annette recently delivered the annual Bruce Jesson lecture and spoke about ‘The Politics of the Brown Table’. It was an illuminating speech and well worth a read as she sheds light on the National Iwi Chairs Forum (NICF) and the Iwi Leadership Group (ILG). The Maori Party also cops substantial criticism. In the previous post I made a number of observations about the ILG from an outsider’s perspective. Annette is very active in Maori politics and her speech contains a collection of perceptive insights into the ILG and the NICF from an insider’s perspective. You can read her presentation here. This post is a further discussion of some of her points and neo liberalism.
Much of her address is a harsh critique of the so called ‘iwi elite’ and their neo liberal agenda. In my opinion her assessments are true and justified. Without doubt neo liberalism undermines Maori efforts for self determination. Neo liberalism encourages the privatisation of communal assets, the commodification of Maori land, the extension of market forces into Maori areas previously untouched and an increase in corporate power and inequality. This all contributes to depriving Maori of the ability to determine the conditions of their lives. Annette Sykes quotes Moana Jackson who makes the pertinent point that Rangatiratanga;
“has in effect been redefined yet again as a neo liberal right of self management bound by the good faith of the Crown and what the Court of Appeal called in the 1987 Case the ‘right to govern’. Moving on from the past and recognising the special place of tangata whenua has become a journey not of constitutional change but of devolution and the authority of the State to devolve or permit Iwi to manage certain resources and programmes subject to government funding and rules of contract”
Neo liberalism makes our people sick.
Annette also discussed iwi authorities. It is worth touching on iwi authorities as market models with an indigenous flavour. In the push for development iwi have embraced the neo liberal model. Iwi are now seeking neo liberal ends such as the right to exploit natural resources and the commodification of land and taonga. They also want to play a part in the privatisation agenda of the current government (e.g.private prisons, PPP etc...). It appears to me that iwi authorities have rationalised such goals by adopting the ‘trickle down’ philosophy. They seem to reason that Maori participation in the neo liberal experiment will result in indirect ‘trickle down’ benefits for ordinary Maori despite the trickle down theory been rather discredited. Iwi authorities are also structured like a bad business. There is a worrying overlap between governance and management (leading to more power in the hands of management), little to no accountability and murky decision making processes.
I like this particular observation Annette made not of iwi authorities but Maori authorities in respect of a new Maori hegemony;
“The compliant acceptance of this state of affairs, by the few not the many, illustrates the continued subjugation of Maori to a neo liberal economic hegemony to protect the stability of the construct of Crown unitary sovereignty”
Annette also believes, and I tautoko this, that the NICF and the ILG are enagaging with government on behalf of Maori without a mandate. Certainly I do not know who my Ngati Awa representative is nor do I remember any person ever coming forward to discuss receiving such a mandate. I do not know if this is the situation with other iwi but I would assume it is. It is vitally important that the NICF have an established mandate as they have been leading dialogue with the government on many issues – instead of the Maori Party. However, it appears the NICF and the ILG are a just a group of self elected elites. “High Caste” as Annette puts it.
Annette makes a great point that it suits the government to have a “one stop shop” for Maori policy in the form of the ILG. Why? Because the government can fulfil their statutory consultation obligations and expect not to run into unworkable opposition because the ILG support their neo liberal agenda.
So I encourage you to read Annette’s speech - it truly is excellent. My hope is people of her standing and ability are listened to by our so called Maori leaders.
Hat tip Te Whaainga Wahine
Hat tip Te Whaainga Wahine