Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

Newspaper Columns


19/12/06 Problems of Opposition since 2001
13/12/06 TIM PANKHURST Dominion Post
05/12/06 Nicky Hager and the Hollow Book
21/11/06 Greeks Bearing Gifts
07/11/06 Poor Policing in Auckland
24/10/06 Careless decisions on Auckland's Waterfront
10/10/06 The PC Clobbering Machine
26/09/06 Toxic Politics
12/09/06 Auckland's Robbers' Convention (NZ Herald)
12/09/06 Labour's Political Scandals
29/08/06 Corruption and Party Funding
14/08/06 War in the Middle East
01/08/06 New Zealand's Future?
20/06/06 Our Infrastructural Needs
20/06/06 Leave
06/06/06 Diverting the Public's Attention
23/05/06 New Zealand and Australia
09/05/06 The Maori Seats
11/04/06 Dogs and Priorities
28/03/06 Parliament's Size
14/03/06 Crime and Police priorities
28/02/06 Family Planning and Poverty
14/02/06 The Cartoon Furore
31/01/06 Greater Financial Understanding
03/01/06 Encouraging Economic Literacy
20/12/05 Immigration and Adaptation
06/12/05 Problems with Psychiatric Care
22/11/05 Maternity Services Gone Wrong
08/11/05 Political Correctness
25/10/05 MMP and the 2005 Outcome
11/10/05 A New Cabinet?
27/09/05 Social Divisions
19/09/05 Election Aftermath
13/09/05 Election Dirty Tricks
30/08/05 Election bribery
16/08/05 Reflections on New Zealand
15/08/05 David Lange: An Assessment by a Colleague
07/06/05 Facing the Electricity Future
07/06/05 ON LEAVE
24/05/05 David Benson-Pope
10/05/05 Three in a row for Blair
26/04/05 Press Accuracy
12/04/05 Hawkins and the Police
29/03/05 Lunacy Sightings
15/03/05 National's Predicament
01/03/05 Making Quality Decisions
15/02/05 Aid to Africa
01/02/05 Orewa Mark II
18/01/05 Asian Tsunami
04/01/05 Sir Apirana Ngata

The PC Clobbering Machine


Watching the way Don Brash has been treated because he asked a legitimate question about Maori has been to witness our Political Correctness Clobbering Machine in slow motion. First came the odd views of a High Court judge suggesting a parallel Maori justice system to the one he administers. Then came Brash's response: first we would need to know who qualified for the Maori system, something that wouldn't be easy given that Maori blood lines have become so diluted since 1840. Elementary, surely? Assuming that a Maori justice system would be different, maybe easier, how could ordinary folk know whether a person opting for it wasn't pulling a fast one?

Elementary? Not on your life. First came the response from those who make careers out of separateness, Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples. No dinner with Don said the first. "Stupid, offensive and ignorant" said the second. PC rule Number 1 about questions deemed uncomfortable by our modern arbiters of political correctness: first attack the person while you muffle the message; livelihoods are threatened.

Then, after the ad hominem abuse died down, came a semi refutation. In a torrent of barely related thoughts in the Herald, Pita Sharples didn't discuss the judge's idea. Instead, more attacks on Brash. Readers were told that blood quantum had nothing to do with being Maori. Excuse me, but this is nonsense. Prior to 1974 you had to be a half-caste or more to be considered a Maori. The Maori Affairs Act of that year "relaxed" (the term used in the Act) the rule, but blood still counts. The law defines a Maori as "a person of the Maori race", and includes "any descendant of such a person". Why is Pita Sharples afraid to mention blood? Because he knows John Tamihere was right when he said New Zealand society is being reformulated in the bedrooms of the nation. So many can now claim to be Maori if it suits, that defining eligibility for any separate privilege is becoming a huge problem. PC rule Number 2: our arbiters of political correctness, like the proverbial parson with a weak bit in the sermon, shout to get past it.

Then we were told by an assortment of the great and the good that possession of whakapapa and the practice of Maori customs are the vital ingredients to being Maori. If that's the case, then there are many fewer Maori in New Zealand than I thought. Recent campaigners to get people on the Maori roll weren't too fussy about whakapapa. They wanted voters. And what about the tens of thousands who have enrolled with tribes hoping for a share of any Waitangi Treaty settlement moneys? I know for a fact that many know no Maori customs and have had great difficulty establishing whakapapa. They are Maori of convenience; there because they perceive that there could be an advantage in the separateness that we have allowed to creep into our society. PC rule Number 3: the wider public understand incentives better than our PC thought police. In this case, people prefer money to any romantic notions about Maori that Sharples might preach.

Journalists amplify this cacophony of voices. Ruth Berry regularly puts words into Brash's mouth, then misinterprets them; the Herald's editorial writer declares Brash unfit to lead National on the basis of his own paper's mischievous reporting. All the media have failed to analyse what the judge said, and how his parallel justice system might work in practice. PC rule Number 4: the PC Brigade can usually count on the media to stifle serious investigation. Why?

What wasn't discussed in this PC storm in a teacup is that all decent New Zealanders, including Don Brash, I'm sure, want to help those Maori with genuine historical claims, respect Maori historical traditions, treasure their language, and guarantee that those who choose to call themselves Maori remain free to do so. Under Article 3 of the Treaty, Maori possess "all the rights and privileges of British Subjects". Given the extent that we have intermingled our blood lines, the day is not far off when most New Zealanders will qualify to call themselves Maori. I presumed Don Brash was looking to the future and saying that one set of rules for everyone is a surer guarantee of harmonious relations than any race-based form of separation or advantage. He's right isn't he? Why aren't the other parties - and the media - clamouring to agree with him?