Feb 27, 2014

"Property rights for some are property rights for none"

Writing about anti-Maori propaganda is exhausting. It’s not exhausting in the sense that it’s back breaking work; rather it’s intellectually – and, more importantly, emotionally - draining. I’m often writing against stereotypes that have been a century in the making. Stereotypes that are encoded in New Zealand’s colonial memory. Consider this from the Herald:

Iwi's right to stall consents raises fears 
New rule for work on cultural and heritage sites introduces process `based on race'. 
A new rule requiring homeowners and businesses to seek iwi approval to work on sites of cultural and heritage value to Maori is set to be debated by councillors today. 
Groups and politicians across the political spectrum are concerned the rule creates a dual resource consent process - one conducted by Auckland Council and the other by Maori. 
Under the council's draft Unitary Plan, applications to carry out work on 3600 sites of "value to mana whenua" must obtain a "cultural impact assessment" from one or more of 19 iwi groups. 
If iwi do not agree, applicants must apply to the council for a resource consent. 
Waitemata councillor Mike Lee said the rule is likely to mean extra costs for people and create a parallel regulatory framework based on race. 
Employers and Manufacturers chief executive Kim Campbell shares Mr Lee's view that it could lead to an unacceptable dual resource consent process. 
"As it stands, the proposed Unitary Plan's cultural impact assessments would add uncertainty, cost and time delays to the issuing of resource consents," Mr Campbell said.

Note the framing in the headline: iwi’s right to “stall” rather than iwi’s right to be consulted. In the opening sentence the mandatory quote - “based on race” – is included. But then, as a measure of insulation against accusations of scaremongering or racism, the story shifts to an issue of “process” and “cost”. These are the rhetorical parachutes I’ve written about before.

But the story is about neither process nor cost. This is about property rights. Iwi haven’t gained the right to stall development – they’ve regained a small measure of the property rights they lost to force and intrigue. This is a contest of property rights. The story doesn’t acknowledge the iwi property right – the right to a small measure of pluralism over sites of significance – but it acknowledges the title holder’s – read Pakeha’s - right to develop with no impediments.

Title holders retain the ordinary property rights, but where sites of significance are involved the ordinary property rights are subject to iwi consultation. In principle the iwi right works like a conservation easement. Except iwi don’t have the power to veto. It’s an ordinary consultation right. David Taipari gives a different example:

David Taipari, chairman of the council's Independent Maori Statutory Board, said the rule was no different from those protecting built heritage, saying it was important that people did not destroy or affect archeological or sites of significance to mana whenua.

And he’s right. But also note that this single paragraph is the only attempt at balance. The result is obvious: the title holder’s right to develop is framed as the important right while the iwi right to conserve is not framed as property right, but some sort of unearned privilege. But this isn’t a case of the council or the government creating new rights for iwi. The council is recognising a small right that has always existed.

If this story was framed as a contest of property rights it wouldn’t be as sexy. It's not even a case of race. These are sites significant to New Zealand, surely. The stereotype of iwi winning special rights is deeply embedded. Some people go off about it without thinking (it’s a reflex action). Others have more sinister motives (to sell papers, maybe). I don’t care. Maybe it’ll be less exhausting if I care less?


  1. It is exhausting, I agree. I find this sort of framing in some ways worse than a blatantly racist screed from the likes of Paul Holmes, since a lot of people who don't think they're racist can more easily agree with this way of framing the issue.

    But keep fighting the good fight, it's appreciated.

  2. Morgan, tell us about the property rights tribes allegedly "lost to force and intrigue". Is it not true that land-owning Auckland chiefs willingly sold land to the "wicked white coloniser" and happily pocketed the money because the presence of white settlers made it safe for Auckland tribes to return to the Auckland isthmus after being driven out by Ngapuhi? Very entertaining to see you attempt to defend this assertion of sites of interest that mysteriously multiplied from 61 such sites at the start of consultation, to 3661 sites at the end of the process. Looks like rank opportunism to me.

  3. I think it is surprisingly naive of you to conclude that the knee-jerk anti-Maori propaganda that has sprung up in response to the AUP provision for Maori consultation over sites of cultural significance, and the predictable stereotypes encoded in the Herald article together have nothing to do with race. The stereotypes you identify surely reflect not only the reality of racialized identities in NZ society that have developed out of our recent and collective colonial past, but they also logically flow from it.

    That Maori Guy.



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