Mar 25, 2013

Reminder: Maori electoral option

Labour's Associate Maori Affairs spokesperson Rino Tirikatene is reminding voters that the Maori enrolment option opens today. 
Tirikatene says it is important that Maori consider their options as it only comes up once every five years. 
"It's important that Maori voters know that the option is open because it determines who will represent them in Parliament. 
"The Maori electorates anchor Maori political power. They also ensure guarantee that kaupapa Maori issues are represented in Parliament." said Tirikatene. 
The number of Maori enrolled on the Maori roll has steadily increased from 101,585 in 1993 to 229,666 in 2008. 
As a result the number of Maori electorates has increased from four in 1993 to seven in 2008.

I've outlined why this is important and Rino makes a similar point. The option is open for the next four months and if you're of Maori descent you should receive an enrolment pack this week.  

Mar 22, 2013

Dame Susan Devoy: race relations "not complicated"

Anyone who thinks Aotearoa’s race-relations culture isn’t complicated is by definition not equipped for the job of guiding and guarding it. Not only is our new Race Relations Commissioner ashamed of our national day, but as far as she’s concerned it’s just another ism — revealing how little she must know about disability, employment or gender issues into the bargain. 

That’s from Lew, and he’s nailed it. He was referring to the appointment of Dame Susan Devoy – the new Race Relations Commissioner. Lew, Tim Selwyn, Bomber and No Right Turn have covered why the appointment stinks, but the commentary has missed a few key points.

The world is embracing different forms of bicultural and multicultural pluralism. Witness Canada and the developing “Nation to Nation” relationship with indigenous people, notice positive constitutional recognition in Australia for Aboriginal people and turn towards the United Nations and their endorsement of and advocacy for indigenous “self-determination”. New Zealand is no different. We’re no longer a cultural and political monolith. Tuhoe is inching closer and closer to mana motuhake*, the government is devolving power to ethnic authorities** and the Maori, Asian and Pasifika populations are projected to increase significantly. That’s going to push against our social fabric. The Race Relations Conciliator – and I’m deliberately using that term – is becoming more important, not less. Devoy has neither the weight nor the depth to deal with issues at this level.

Of course, this is an outstanding appointment from the government’s point of view:

Dame Susan has little or no high-level experience in the field, and I suppose the thinking is that she brings a clean slate to the role or, to put it another way, her thinking and the degree of her engegement with the issues will be more easily influenced by the prevailing governmental culture. [link]

That’s right, but I think it’s worth mentioning that New Zealand doesn’t have a strong human rights tradition. In many respects, it’s part of our colonial hangover. We’ve inherited the English suspicion of human rights and the idea that the protection of any rights – should they exist at all – lay with “representative and responsible government” and not the Courts or legislation.*** That’d seem to brush against Kiwi egalitarianism, but it’s worth remembering that our egalitarian tradition has and is suspicious of rights available to some and not all. Human rights, let alone indigenous rights, are not sewn in our social fabric. Contrast that with, say, the United States and their furious veneration for First Amendment rights. I wouldn’t be surprised if Collins knew she could get away with a patsy, pro-forma and pathetic appointment.

And it’s pathetic. I’m not going to dance around it. The primary role of the Race Relations Conciliator is, essentially, to protect minorities. All evidence suggests that Devoy is incapable of that. After all, this is a person who finds Burqa “disconcerting” and thinks that Waitangi Day should be scrapped because it is a day of “political shenanigans” and not one of “true celebration and pride”.**** I can’t trust her to protect me or anyone like me from discrimination, the tyranny of the majority or anything else. This is a person who doesn’t understand – even at the lowest level – what it means to be Maori or a minority. A brain of feathers, as they say.

With that in mind, I support Annette Sykes call for Devoy to resign.

Post script: I recommend reading Catherine Delahunty's piece on the sham appointment too.

* If you missed it, it’s worth watching Guyon Espiner’s story on Tuhoe plans – and apparent government acquiescence – for mana motuhake. 

**Whanau Ora is the most prominent example, but there are Pacific providers as well. It’s also worth considering the role of iwi in their provincial economies and the New Zealand economy as a whole. Power, if only a little, is shifting. 

***See The New Zealand Bill of Rights 
(Oxford University Press, 2003) by Paul Rishworth .

****Anyone that doesn't understand Waitangi Day in its historical, political and social context should be immediately disqualified from going anywhere near race relations. Waitangi Day is a fundamental part of our racial politic and social fabric. Anything less than full understanding of that is unacceptable. 

Mar 20, 2013

3 leaders but no one to lead

From Newstalk ZB:

The Maori Party may end up with no parliamentary leader at all.
Following debate earlier this year over the current leadership and potential succession plans, the Party's looking at a model that would see its three MPs take leadership in areas of their respective strengths.
Co-leader Tariana Turia says it wouldn't be a three way co-leadership and maintains it's the people that lead the Party.

This is the compromise option. The party is in a straitjacket. The Constitution demands a consensus on the leadership question.* That means that, in practice, a hostile leadership takeover can't succeed. The incumbent's supporters and electorate branch will block any attempt at a takeover. Without winning the incumbent's supporters and electorate branch a prospective leader can't reach the required consensus. A model approach in theory, but needing consensus makes it hard - if not impossible - to clean out deadwood.

I'm not saying Pita Sharples is deadwood. He and Tariana anchor Maori Party support and the party's political identity is tied to their reputations and mana. Having said that - and I've made this clear in the past - the party needs to usher in generational change. The Maori electorate is overwhelmingly young and electing Te Ururoa Flavell is the first step in acknowledging shifting demographics.

There's no use in having three leaders but no one to lead. The party can't afford to relitigate this issue every couple of months. If Te Ururoa can't and won't make leader, what's the point in sticking around? Were he to leave - and I think that becomes more and more likely with each rejection - the Maori Party lose continuity post-Turia/Sharples. It would be the Maori Party's death certificate. Waiariki would fall to Annette Sykes or a strong Labour candidate.

Post script: I've covered this issue at length before. See Sharples v Flavell: the leadership edition and Trouble in the Maori Party: Act 1 for more (better) comment. 

*Tuku Morgan explained it very well on Native Affairs.  

Mar 14, 2013

Property Rights, Lake Horowhenua and the Supreme Court

The battle over Lake Horowhenua is heating up again - this time over ownership rights in the Supreme Court.

Activist Philip Taueki is appealing one assault conviction after a confrontation with two boaties on the grounds he has a right to forcibly evict boaties if they are misusing the lake owned by his tribe.

He claims he can legally evict lake users with "reasonable force", because the iwi trust that represents the lake's Maori owners has given him permission to protect it.

The Crown argues Taueki does have some rights to use and fish in the lake but has no rights of possession.

Crown Lawyer Fergus Sinclair said: "In answer the question who has actual control of this place we say in fact and in law, it is the board."

This is about property rights: who has them, when can that person(s) exercise them and how. After human and constitutional rights, property rights are the most important rights in a liberal democracy. Property rights are sanctified - they represent power. More often than not, the distribution of property rights determines the structure of society. Who’s on top, who’s on the bottom and who’s squeezed in between.

In an ideal world the Court will recognise that Mr Taueki possesses a legitimate property right – a kaitiaki right – and that he has the power to exclude any person or persons that interfere with that right. A kaitiaki right would come with certain responsibilities, like an obligation to prevent pollution, and any person or persons who interfere with those responsibilities will be subject to the right holders’ power to exclude, sue and so on.

That’s in an ideal world. The real world result is less certain. The common law is wedded to the idea of a “closed list” of property rights and I’m not sure whether the current bench has the intellectual weight or the courage to break from the orthodox position.* There’s no Cooke, no Keith, not even a Tipping.

The wai case is instructive on this point. Underlying the Courts decision in that case was, I think, a fear of upsetting the established constitutional order. It would be unfortunate if the Court exercised similar timidity in the present case. After all, property rights are as sanctified as Westminster constitutionalism. However, unlike in wai, the present case doesn’t deal with a fundamental question of socio-economic policy. The present case is dealing with a social-legal question. A question the Court is well equipped to deal with.

With this in mind, the Court could lean either way. I think this case is non-controversial. A kaitiaki right exists under tikanga Maori and a property should and can exist under the New Zealand common law. Here’s hoping the Court shares my view.*

*The substance of my view I mean. Obviously the Court will come up with something far more nuanced. 

Mar 12, 2013

Native Affairs continues its ground-breaking journalism

I was really looking forward to Native Affairs’ season premiere last night, and it didn't disappoint. In comparison to the mainstream current affairs shows – it was exceptional. It was always going to be interesting to see Native Affairs post Julian Wilcox as presenter. But if last night’s show was anything to go by then they made an excellent decision to appoint Mihingarangi Forbes as the presenter of New Zealand’s best current affairs show. Even with her significant experience and talent it was going to be a big task to match up to Julian Wilcox. But in her first political interview for the show she did just that. She continued Wilcox’s practice of asking the hard questions while being respectful and she naturally brought her own style to the show.

The show began with an informative and lengthy story on Tonga’s maritime transport. It is a significant issue that I knew very little about, but as viewers we were given all sides of the story (although Foreign Affairs Minister Murry McCully didn't agree to being interviewed). There were interviews with the Tongan Minister of Infrastructure, concerned locals, the owners of the ferry companies. It became clear that the New Zealand Government had a lot to answer for. New Zealand and World Bank officials had wrote scathing reports on the safety of the Tongan ferries but at the same time have not helped the small island nation by providing the resources required to ensure safety. Our aid to the nation is being spent on upgrading the airport, which will improve tourism, but will do little to help the day to day life of Tongans. They are too poor to travel by air and so are forced onto unsafe transport. It was good to see Phil Goff in support of getting New Zealand aid focused on the issue. Hopefully this story will push the Government to help the Tongans.

Then there was a wonderful story on Tame Iti’s return home. It was so good to see him at home with his family, and especially with his mokopuna. In my opinion, the defaming of the people of Te Urewera as terrorists and the imprisonment of Tame and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara have been some of the greatest injustices in 21st Century New Zealand. And still Tuhoe and the whānau of Ruātoki haven’t received any kind of an apology for what was a disgusting abuse of state power.

And then we had Mihingarangi Forbes’ interview with David Shearer about his goal to win the back the Māori seats. I was especially pleased to see that Native Affairs were going to do this interview because I had some concerns after David Shearer's reshuffle that he wasn't doing enough to promote Māori talent, and I blogged about it last week. Forbes asked pretty much all the questions that I was eager to hear the answer to. While Shearer said a few good things, he didn't really answer any of the questions directly and he didn't set out any plan or vision for the way forward. He did say that he was looking to get more young Māori and more wāhine Māori selected as candidates, which will be really positive if he can see it through. He mentioned that his housing, health and education policies would be popular with Māori but he didn't announce any particular initiatives aimed at Māori communities. It would have been good to hear what he would do differently to the National/Māori Party Government on job creation, as he mentioned that 25% of young Māori aren't in education or employment  It was positive to hear that he intends to genuinely work with the Mana and Māori parties. Overall, I wasn't convinced by Shearer’s interview, especially with his inability to address that fact that he has only two Māori MPs in his shadow cabinet. But at least he's engaging and it seems that hes looking at strategies for moving forward. 

It would be good to find out in a subsequent interview with Shearer whether he will repeal the Takutai Moana Act. The Act, which was supported by the Māori Party, repeated many of the same injustices of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004. The inferiority of customary title in relation to freehold title is racism in our law and as it stands the Act constitutes modern day raupatu. Just last week Metiria Turei said on Radio Waatea that she's keen to repeal that Act. If Shearer wants to win back all the Māori seats, then committing to repealing the Takutai Moana Act would be a good place to start.

I really enjoyed Native Affairs last night. There were also good stories on the North Island drought and Te Matatini star Jeff Ruha. With a season premiere like that, we have a lot to look forward to this year. The full show can be viewed on the Native Affairs website or individual stories can be on viewed on their Facebook page

I think we would all be doing better if our Māori MPs were more like our Māori journalists!

Mar 11, 2013


If you do one thing this year, enrol or switch to the Maori roll. I can’t stress it enough – enrol on or switch to the Maori roll. Do it. Do it now.

In 1975 the then Labour government introduced the Maori electoral option. The option lets Maori choose between enrolling on the general roll or – as every patriotic Maori should – enrolling on the Maori roll. The option is held in census’ years and determines whether or not there will be an increase or decrease in the number of Maori seats.  

Along with the Treaty of Waitangi, the Maori seats lend Maori a special constitutional status.* This is the unintended consequence of the seats creation. For 129 years the Maori seats were capped at four – despite explosive growth in the Maori population and the extension of the franchise – thus limiting Maori political power. Until 1951 elections for the Maori seats were held separately and until 1975 only “half-castes” could elect to vote on either the European roll (as it was then called) or the Maori roll. It wasn’t until 1993 that the number of Maori seats was tied to the Maori electoral population.**

The Maori seats give our people, for want of better metaphors, a foot in the door and a seat at the table. They anchor Maori political power. Without them, Maori political progress is wholly dependent on the acquiescence of non-Maori parties. It will be a perverse situation if we, rather than external actors, are responsible for limiting our own political power.

If we enrol in numbers the smart money is on an eighth Maori seat, probably in South Auckland. I’m picking that’ll mean Te Tai Tokerau, Tamaki Makaurau and Hauraki-Waikato will have to be reconfigured.

It’s so, so important that we enrol on or switch to the Maori roll. I can’t emphasise that enough. Unlike the provisions of the Electoral Act regulating the general electorate seats, the provisions around Maori representation are not entrenched. In other words, the Maori seats are subject to abolition by simple majority.

It’s also worth considering the timing of the electoral option (i.e. five-yearly). The practical effect of the five-yearly option is, I think, to discourage Maori from switching rolls. There may be a constitutional rationale for the restriction, but as the Electoral Commission notes one of the main concerns among Maori is that they cannot switch rolls at or between elections. The Commission recommended that Maori should have option of switching rolls between elections. The compromise option appears to be limiting enrolment several months before or after elections rather than anytime between.

The Maori seats don’t lend Maori more electoral power than non-Maori. Maori roll voters can only vote in one electorate and cast one party vote. The Maori seats do, however, ensure that kaupapa Maori issues will not be – or at the least don’t have to be – subsumed into the body politic.*** That's something we have to preserve. Now enrol.

Post script: for a good backgrounder on the Maori seats have a look at this research paper - The Origins of the Maori Seats - by the Parliamentary Library.

*See the Waitangi Tribunal report linked to above.
**For an accessible discussion citing those facts see this piece at Te Ara.
***That should probably read “subsumed into mainstream political discourse”. However, I like the words body politic and the metaphor it represents.

Mar 9, 2013

Jack Tautokai McDonald resumes blogging

You've probably realised by now, but in case you haven't: former Green Party candidate for Te Tai Hauauru - Jack Tautokai McDonald - has resumed regular blogging here. I'm happy to have one of the best young Maori minds here. His posts will have "published by Jack McDonald" at the bottom.

Like I've said, content from me will be lighter than in the previous two years, but with two of us doing semi-regualr blogging there should be enough content to keep you busy.

Mar 8, 2013

The Kāpiti Expressway: An attack on community values and tangata whenua rights

I live in Paekākāriki on the Kāpiti Coast. I have lived here all my life, with the exception of last year. In my very biased opinion Kāpiti is one of the most stunning parts of the country. Young families love to bring up children here and senior citizens love to retire here. Also, many artists, writers and musicians live here and draw inspiration from the natural heritage that surrounds us. The beautiful natural environment is complimented by a vibrant community spirit. Te Waewae Kāpiti a Tara rāua ko Rangitane, more commonly known as Kāpiti Island, stands firm as a kaitiaki on our horizon.

I was deeply saddened, although not very surprised to learn earlier this week that the so called Environmental Protection Agency gave the green light to the National Government’s plans to ram a four-lane motorway through the very heart of our coastal community. The Agency is in the business of rubber stamping Government infrastructure programmes. However if it purports to be about protecting the environment then it should have rejected the Government’s proposals. The proposed MacKays to Peka Peka motorway will severely affect our local environment, by literally bulldozing sand dunes and wetlands and by increasing air and noise pollution. Indeed the motorway will cause health problems in the region; for example it will increase the chance of respiratory illness, particularly among the young and the old, groups that make up a large part of our community. In these ways, and many more, the motorway is a direct attack on what makes our Kāpiti community so wonderful and such a great place to live. This autobahn will be built alongside two primary schools! How can the Government justify the disruption that this will cause for the education and health of so many young people in Kāpiti?

These plans are also an attack on tangata whenua rights and te tino rangatiratanga o ngā iwi o Kāpiti. The proposed route of the motorway goes right through the centre of some of the only remaining unspoiled wāhi tapu in the Kāpiti region. Situated in Waikanae, the wāhi tapu land is in the ownership of the Takamore Trust and they have long protected it and cared for it as kaitiaki and tangata whenua. The land is very tapu and includes sites of significance in relation to the living and the deceased. The road will also affect other wāhi tapu of Te Āti Awa ki Whakarongotai in the wider Kāpiti region.

The struggle for Takamore to protect their wāhi tapu has been a long one. Indeed Takamore Trust chair Ben Ngaia has said that their relations with NZTA have been amicable and constructive in comparison to the tactics employed by the Kāpiti Coast District Council in the past. Before Steven Joyce moved in with his Roads of National Significance (RONS) projects, the KCDC and the previous Labour Government had devised the Western Link Road, which was to be a two-lane local road for the purposes of community connectivity. This plan, while positive in many ways for the wider community, was an even worse option for Takamore than the four-lane expressway.

Yet the current plans still require the desecration of significant wāhi tapu. The four-lane autobahn will be bulldozed right through the centre of two separate burial sites. It will be constructed only ‘5 metres’ away from one of these urupa. Other sites, such as birthing springs will also be adversely affected.

Ben Ngaia gave an informative interview with Dale Husband on Radio Waatea about the issue. Ben said in that interview, ‘our standards will never be met, because we are foremost opposed to a road destroying our wāhi tapu, despite every effort made by NZTA to try and alleviate the concerns, at the end of the day a road is still going through our wāhi tapu and our people feel aggrieved as a result.’

This decision making comes from the very top. Steven Joyce and Gerry Brownlee are responsible and will still be responsible if these plans go ahead. This saga is a testament to the fact that the highest echelons of our Government are hostile to the cultural, social and spiritual well-being and rights of Māori. It is a disgrace that we face this level of hostility, ignorance and lack of cultural redress in 21st Century New Zealand.

I want to know why Tariana Turia and the Māori Party aren't doing more to protect the interests of tangata whenua in regard to this project. These RONS projects are allocated funding in the Government’s annual budgets, which of the course the Māori Party routinely vote for. Turia should be using her influence as a Government minister to advocate for her constituents. Kāpiti is part of her Te Tai Hauāuru electorate and it is her duty to stand up for local hapū and iwi. If she does not, then it can only represent another failing on the part of the Māori Party and will be a sad indictment on their time in government.

The economics of this project don’t even stack up. It has an extremely low cost-benefit ratio of only 0.2. That means we only get 20 cents of possible return for every dollar we spend! And the justification National use for the project are its economic benefits to the region!

And the reality is that this is simply not needed. A shortened version of the Western Link Road, including a second bridge over the Waikanae River, will solve much of the congestion problems. It will take local traffic off SH1. Where as an expressway would only lead to an increase in car use.

This is an issue very close to my heart. The announcement of these plans in 2009 was a key reason that I first got involved in politics. I gave my first political speech on this issue in Paraparaumu, when I spoke of how the plans were anathema to the younger generations in Kāpiti. I also used my time in 2010’s Youth Parliament to try and express our communities concerns to the Government. Our politicians in all parties must not lose sight of the fundamental community and iwi values that are being directly attacked by the Government’s RONS projects.

The House I Live In

As I mentioned last week, posting on Maori politics will be lighter than usual this year. To make up for that I want to post little bits on or from other indigenous, brown and black cultures. This week I want to share The House I Live In, a documentary on the War on Drugs (WoD).

From Jewish director Eugene Jarecki, The House I Live In explores the discriminatory effects the WoD has had on African Americans. Jarecki reveals that the WoD is misconceived, dishonest, wasteful and racist. As one example, African-Americans made up for 35% of drug arrests, 55% of convictions, and 74% of people sent to prison for drug possession crimes. Consider that against the fact that African Americans make up 13% of regular drug users - only 13%. As another example, there is a 100 to 1 sentencing disparity for possession and use of crack cocaine vs. powder cocaine. What's that mean? Well, crack is - essentially - powder cocaine only watered down with (obviously) water, baking soda and the like. Crack is also the drug of choice for poor African Americans. Powder is more common among upper middle class Whites. In effect, African Americans receive far harsher punishment than White Americans.*

Mar 7, 2013

Taking the heat out of the Maori radical movement? (and Putahi)

You can take a look at my first post for the Daily Blog here. I couldn't spend nearly as much time crafting the post as I'd have liked (it's the first week of uni and other stuff is getting in the way), but the overall point remains. Are Court decisions taking the heat out of the Maori radical movement? Debate here.


On a side note, Putahi is screening on Maori TV. Hosted by Precious Clark, Putahi is a panel show exploring and debating issues important to Maori. The show screens every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday until the end of April. I featured on an episode discussing political engagement among Maori. It airs next week. It was, I think, one of the most interesting panel discussion I've had. The other panelists were Helen Te Hira and Jeremy Lambert. Speaking about TV, I've also filmed two episodes with Think Tank. Think Tank screens on TV3 and is hosted by John Tamihere. I featured on a customary rights episode and a Maori politics episode. Again, two of the more interesting panel discussions I've had. Think Tank screens later this year.

Mar 4, 2013

Shearer needs to do better to win back the Māori seats

David Shearer's reshuffle of his caucus was a bit of a mixed bag. There were positive changes but the renewal didn't go far enough. The decisions to promote David Clark and Phil Tywford were good ones; both are talented MPs who have a lot to offer in Parliament. I accept that they needed a change in their education spokesperson but Chris Hipkins doesn't really seem like the best replacement. It has also been noted that his purge of David Cunliffe and his supporters will probably led to even more disunity within the Labour Party. Charles Chauvel predicted this in his valedictory speech on Wednesday.

From my perspective their lack of change in their Māori caucus line up was disappointing. The only Māori MPs in his shadow cabinet are Nanaia Mahuta and Shane Jones, who has a front bench spot waiting for him pending the Auditor General’s investigation into his dealings while Immigration Minister. Shane Jones is exceptionally intelligent and the best orator in Parliament, but does represent a conservative Māori perspective that is at odds with younger generations. Most of his time recently has been spent attacking environmentalists and Green MPs. He is a big supporter of extractive industries that produce few jobs and negative environmental conditions while locking us in to a carbon dependent economy. Labour needs more diversity to counteract the 20th Century approaches to economics that Shane Jones represents.

Where’s Louisa Wall? She’s been left on the back benches. Both her and Moana Mackey are very intelligent and hardworking MPs and should have positions in Shearer's shadow cabinet. They along with Metiria Turei and Denise Roche represent a new generation of Māori politicians in Parliament.

The other disappointing factor was that Parekura Horomia still has the important Māori Affairs portfolio. Horomia is by all accounts an excellent electorate MP but I don’t think that he should continue in the Māori Affairs role while being on the back benches. This is a stark contrast with the Greens and their co-leader Metiria Turei who is a very effective Māori Affairs spokesperson. If David Shearer wants to achieve his goal of winning back all of the Māori seats then for a start he needs to appoint a strong frontbench spokesperson for Māori Affairs. Nanaia Mahuta would probably be best suited for this in the current Parliamentary lineup. At the moment Hone Harawira, Metiria Turei and the Māori Party MPs dominate the discourse in Māori politics. Labour has struggled to produce a post foreshore and seabed platform for the Māori seats and I think this is in large part due to Horomia and his involvement with that confiscatory legislation.

Labour needs to look the future of Te Ao Māori. Too many of our people, especially us taiohi, don’t vote. I stood in Te Tai Hauāuru last election for the Green Party and it reinforced my view that many, maybe most, young people around my age are disconnected from our politics. Only 59% of the enrolled population in Te Tai Hauāuru voted in 2011. This is at a time when we have an expanding youth vote in Māori communities. It is sometimes hard to see what politics offers for us, especially for the many of us that live in poverty with low wages and few employment opportunities. Incremental change is not inspiring and not good enough in these times of severe economic hardship. We need vision, we need engagement and we need action. It’s time for Labour to thoroughly repudiate Rogernomics and the confiscatory treaty policy of Helen Clark. If David Shearer can do this then he might have a chance at all the Māori seats. Until then he’s dreaming.