Maori Students' Graduation

  • John Delamare
Pacific Island Affairs

Massey University, Albany campus, Auckland

[Appropriate mihi to dignitaries and students]

It is a source of enormous pleasure and pride to me to be attending this graduation ceremony.

In my own relatively short lifetime - and I'm less than half a century old - there have been many very positive changes for Maori in the field of education.

When I went to Tauranga Boys' College, there was no te reo Maori; no kapa haka.

The teaching of New Zealand history was slanted towards the God-fearing, highly moral pakeha and contrasted with those savage heathens, Maori.

Not unnaturally, this resulted in Maori students with little pride or confidence in themselves. It was an attitude that often manifested itself in some teachers who automatically assumed Maori belonged in the bottom class of educational ability.

Today, we have kohanga reo and kura kaupapa turning out Maori students who have pride in themselves and pride in their heritage.

It is because of developments such as this that I can truthfully say you graduates are not only the future for Maori in Aotearoa, but the future for all people of all cultures in this nation.

And as you leave this place today and enter that future, I want to give you some thoughts on fundamental issues that will affect you and this country for decades to come.

You may be aware that the Prime Minister recently floated the idea of speeding up the examination of our electoral system with two referenda to be held after the next election and the possibility of a changed electoral system to be implemented for the 2002 General Election.

I disagree with this on several counts.

First, I do not like the idea of politicians playing around with the electoral system in an election year, purely in order to try and latch on to an issue that may garner a few more votes. The major constitutional changes proposed require thoughtful, mature consideration, consideration that is seldom found in the highly-charged atmosphere of an election campaign.

Secondly, there are already legislated mechanisms in place for a thorough review of MMP after we have given it a fair run. This process begins next year and will involve a Parliamentary select committee and submissions from the public. There is absolutely no valid reason this year for this process to be interfered with.

I am encouraged in this view by the former President of the Court of Appeal, Lord Cooke of Thorndon, who told a legal conference in Rotorua recently that:

"While details of the MMP system may indeed be open to improvement, I am disposed to think that, in principle, proportional representation remains desirable to protect minorities whose interests are otherwise too vulnerable under New Zealand law."

I firmly believe that MMP offers real opportunities for Maori to advance their political aspirations in their own way, specifically through a Maori-led party, and not as some minor addition to the policies of other parties.

In any discussion concerning the formation of a new unified Maori-controlled party, I think there are several important issues that Maori will need to address to the satisfaction of their people.

Maori who support the concept have pointed out to me that they wish to attract maximum support across the political spectrum and see any new party as a party of the centre. This is a view that I support but with a qualification

' we must define what we mean by the 'centre.' In recent times it seems to me that the centre has come to be characterised more by a desire to offend the least number of people, rather than by a desire to discover ideas that work and implement them, regardless of where they originated on the political spectrum.

The centre has become passive rather than active, more about what we are not going to do than what we ought to do. While every solution to every problem must be acceptable within broad frameworks and constraints of human rights, ethics and morality ' we should not be discarding solutions merely because they originate from the left or the right, from above or from below.

I have also been approached by many who worry whether this is the time for the formation of a unified Maori-controlled party.

What makes this point in time any different from the past' Why do we need a party like this now and what distinguishes this party from ones formed in the past without success'

The answer lies in the fact that our people have begun to signal that they are ready to cut the apron strings that have previously bound them to political structures controlled by non-Maori. Many have grasped that MMP is presenting us with a unique opportunity to experience a degree of partnership in the governance of this country. There has never been a more favourable time.

I think that we should also consider that this might prove to be a window of opportunity that we need to utilise before others close it. It does not take a rocket scientist to see that MMP is a system that threatens the power of the major parties.

Over the past two year, we have already seen signs that they have begun to cultivate in the mind of a public uneasy at sharing power with minorities a belief that many of the problems that beset government originate with MMP, especially the Maori minority.

My friend, my colleague and my boss, our Prime Minister, the Rt Honourable Jenny Shipley, clearly signalled this very viewpoint at a recent National

Party regional conference.

References to 'government being too weak' and 'the tail wagging the dog' are nothing more than code words for 'we can't have it all our own way anymore and we don't like it.'

It may well be that in the near future Maori will need to fight for the retention of a system that can deliver real opportunity for them. It will be much easier to do this from outside political structures that have nothing to gain and much to lose from the continuation of MMP.

I have alluded in speeches and interviews to the difficulties that I have experienced in trying to effectively represent the Maori viewpoint from within a party controlled by non-Maori.

Even in a small party where Maori represented a significant minority, the struggle to be allowed to represent the interests of my constituents was frequently prolonged and bitter. It was what led to the formation of the so-called 'tight five', even though we have since changed positions and become loose forwards.

The struggle from within larger parties is even more difficult for Maori, although the very large number of non-Maori probably ensures that the fight does not become as heated. A small minority in a large party is much less of a threat to the majority, and unfortunately just as ineffective in those cases where their interests conflict with the interests of the majority.

That is the reason the 4 Maori MP's under first-past-the-post were never able to achieve much. They were always swamped by democracy.

The battle line to retain MMP, I believe, will be drawn between minority and majority interests and will be one that I feel Maori will find difficult to fight effectively from within the ranks of the majority.

Maori will need to keep these facts in mind when they decide how they will shape their political future. Can we rely on the promise of non-Maori to safeguard our interests when it is in conflict with their own'

Has history given us any reason to feel comfortable about trusting structures that owe their very existence and survival to the interests of non-Maori' Or in the words of a Maori elder, is reliance on Pakeha to treat Maori fairly like ''having vampires in charge of the blood bank''

I have no doubt that should the drive for a Maori-controlled party, endorsed by a broad spectrum of Maoridom, prove successful, then we will find it attacked on all sides. For many within the existing political power structures, the formation of a Maori-led party (particularly if it gathers that widespread support) will represent a considerable threat.

Maori have long constituted a faction within mainstream politics who could be wined, dined and consulted and then safely ignored until the next time their support was required. I think it is about time that this changed.

I think it is time the leaders of te Ao Maori stepped out from under the skirts of Labour, of National, of New Zealand First, of the Alliance. For many, many years, they have talked the talk of kotahitanga, rangatiratanga, self-determination. They need to put their own interests to one side and take the lead.

Now that we have a system where it can actually happen, they are refusing to walk the talk.

It is still not too late. Why has there been no followup to the Taumata Hui'

To Dame Te Atairangikaahu, to Tumu Te Heuheu, to Sir Robert Mahuta, to Sir Tipene O'Regan, to Sir Graham Latimer, to the new Tumuaki Meihana, to Druis Barrett, to all iwi leaders - take the lead and deliver the vision.

I believe that if Mauri Pacific, Mana Maori, Te Tawharau, Aotearoa New Zealand, the United Confederation of Tribes, and Ko Huiarau were to form a political vehicle for this election, with the endorsement of the leaders of iwi and hapu, this vehicle would win all six Maori seats, plus several list seats.

This grouping would hold the balance of power. Maori would truly be a partner in government, not just an observer.

Let me make it clear that I do not think that non-Maori have always or even generally acted in a manner detrimental to Maori out of malice. They have acted as they have because such behaviour is inherently characteristic of political structures in a democracy. It is, so to speak, the nature of the beast.

Proportional representation is a tool for taming the beast, a tool forcing the majority who have always ridden the beast in the direction and at the speed which they desired to slow down or even to alter direction when it conflicts and damages minority interests.

For all of the above reasons it is time for Maori to take our political future into our own hands. Will it be easy' No, of course not. Will we overnight reach consensus regarding the structure of any new party' Probably not. Very few goals in life are reached without struggle. This will be no different.

Will divisions within Maori be exposed' Undoubtedly, as Maori are no different from other people in having a diversity of opinion. We are, I believe, mature enough to handle our differences constructively. The formation of a unified Maori-led party will not mean the end of our problems.

We have no choice but to own our problems ' they are ours. We do however have a choice of political vehicles for seeking solutions. Let the vehicle finally be one we own, where we are the driver, and where we choose which petrol station to fill up at, and where we choose the road on which we travel.

We will still get to Wellington but it will be on our bus. No longer will we have to get off at Taihape and get on the National Party train or get off at Masterton to board the Labour Party train. There is another matter touching the affairs of Maori and the nation which is highly topical. I refer, of course, to the settlement of claims under the Treaty of Waitangi.

It seems to me there are three fundamental questions that must be settled if we are to make progress in this area.

The first is the distribution and use of the assets of Te Ohu Kai Moana. It is a national disgrace that hundreds of millions of dollars worth of fishing assets are still tied up and not working for the benefit of all Maori. This is a logjam that must be broken, and broken soon.

The second is the question of the Crown's attitude towards land that the Crown admits it took wrongly, i.e. stole, from Maori and which the Crown still retains ownership and/or control.

The third fundamental question is the role of Maori in the ownership, control and management of New Zealand's natural resources, mineral resources, lakes, rivers and foreshores.

In order to make decisive progress on these questions, I propose that a special Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal be established to come up with the answers. In order for those answers to be seen as credible and compelling, I propose that the Tribunal be comprised of the Chief Justice, Sian Elias; Lord Cooke of Thorndon; Justice Eddie Durie; Justice David Baragwanath and the Rt Reverend Sir Paul Reeves.

In the matter of the fishing assets of Te Ohu Kai Moana, there will never be consensus among all the competing interests.

It will always end up in the Courts, and it will always result in only the lawyers winning and sharing in the distribution of our, I repeat, our, assets.

The only way to resolve the impasse is to legislate a decision, yet because of party politics and iwi/hapu politics among Maori MP's, Parliament also will never agree.

Therefore I propose that the decision of the Special Waitangi Tribunal for fish would be binding upon and enacted by Parliament.

We will have to trust they will come up with a fair and sensible solution. I have the utmost faith that the people I have nominated will do just that. I repeat, they are the Chief Justice, Sian Elias; Lord Cooke of Thorndon; Justice Eddie Durie; Justice David Baragwanath and the Rt Reverend Sir Paul Reeves.

In the case of the land that was stolen and has never been returned, I have endured a great deal of frustration in attempting to get my Government colleagues to focus on the matter. Let me elaborate on this, as I feel quite passionate about it.

We Maori are a minority within our own country, and even worse, we are a minority viewed in a negative light by many in the majority culture.

All the educational attainment in the world will not change the fact that when a Maori attends a job interview, as things now stand, he or she will most likely be judged by a person from the majority culture who will see them firstly as a Maori - with all the negative connotations that may include.

We can enact all the legislation we want, but there is no law that can eliminate personal prejudices. The best we can ever hope for is that the law will serve as an indicator of what we as a society consider to be a reasonable standard of behaviour.

We like to think, that in New Zealand, we have a society where the law provides equality of opportunity. It is true, that in this country we do not parade around in white sheets. Our prejudices are usually more polite, more restrained but no less pervasive.

I could say that the Crown must make fair and reasonable restitution for the stolen land because Maori have been told repeatedly that one of the great benefits of contact with the Pakeha has been the transplanting here of British law and justice.

Indeed, we have often been told that western society has moved forward in no small measure due to the sanctity of private property with protection from the state.

In the case of private property owned by Maori, this wonderful protection has frequently been non-existent and not invoked until such time as the property has ceased to belong to Maori, often with the passive if not active collusion of the government of the day.

Once alienated, this property often seemed to become magically sanctified and protected with all the power of the state. We were told of the wonderful civilising influence of contract law, where people deal with each other through contracts governed by a code of rules and practices designed to protect the 'sanctity of the contract.'

Imagine then, our confusion on hearing that the Treaty of Waitangi should be scrapped as outdated, and of no relevance today.

Maori have always laboured under the impression that the Treaty was a contract, and, if any party to a contract was unhappy with that contract then they were free to re-negotiate it with the other party, but that the negotiation must be without coercion.

What may not occur is that one party will unilaterally disregard the contract, as has occurred repeatedly, repeatedly, with the Treaty of Waitangi.

I have recently written to Justice Durie, as chairman of the Waitangi Tribunal, seeking special tribunal consideration of this question as a generic matter.

In that correspondence, I said: " I note you advised that you considered an investigation by the Waitangi Tribunal on this matter would be of benefit to both Maori and the Crown. However, I also note your advice that legislation precluded the Tribunal from doing so as the Tribunal can only consider specific claims and not claims of a generic nature.

The letter went on later: "You may recall that I believe, pursuant to my understanding of the Westminster system of justice, that:

1) where any land was wrongly taken by the Crown and where some of that land is still in possession, ownership or control of the Crown, then said land should be immediately returned without condition and without cost to the original owners; and where any land wrongly taken by the Crown and since disposed of by the Crown then the Crown should enter into compensation negotiations for the loss of those lands which were disposed of. "

The Special Tribunal I have proposed today would be empowered to consider the generic question and make a recommendation to Parliament.

Similarly, in the third fundamental question I proposed, the special Tribunal would consider what is the legitimate role of Maori in the ownership, control and management of New Zealand natural resources, rivers, lakes and foreshores and make a non-binding recommendation to Parliament.

May I end by reiterating my main points: MMP is good for Maori and it is offering an opportunity for a Maori-led party to be formed that will advance Maori aspirations in their own right and not as an add-on to other parties' policies.

Secondly, we need a Special Waitangi Tribunal made up of some of our most-qualified and respected citizens to break the logjam over Treaty settlements in the areas of fishing assets, stolen Maori land and the control and ownership of our natural resources and waters.

Thank you and I wish you well in your future endeavours.