Foreshore and Seabed
There's an old law in politics: when in a hole, stop digging. Governments that keep fiddling and compromising when the fundamentals are wrong, inevitably end up in a deeper ditch. Such is the case with Maori policy and the current mess over the foreshore and seabed. Only one basic principle can solve the current impasse: a determination by government to assert the Article 3 assurance in the Treaty of Waitangi that Maori possess "all the rights and privileges of British subjects". Nothing more, nothing less. No social and intellectual engineering, no hopeful compromises or understandings will deliver Helen Clark her "appropriate system" for handling the foreshore if she departs, as she appears to intend, from that Treaty understanding that we are one people with the same rights.
The Treaty was a simple document cobbled together just before 6 February 1840 at a time when civil order between 100,000 Maori and 2,000 Pakeha had largely broken down. To facilitate the orderly settlement of Europeans and the establishment of law and order in a sparsely populated land, Maori ceded sovereignty to the Crown and in Article 2 were guaranteed "full exclusive and undisturbed possession" to their lands, forests and fisheries. Note there was no mention of the foreshore or seabed in either English or Maori texts. It was not envisaged by either party to the Treaty that anything in Article 2 gave Maori superior or inferior rights of citizenship. Article 3 was the "equality clause".
Of course, colonisation nowhere has been a simple, or even a fair process. Some terrible things were done to Maori and they, in turn, wrought havoc amongst themselves and their descendants when they parted so easily with their assets. But looking back, we can see that the years when Maori enjoyed nearly full employment and a booming economy in the middle of last century, plus increasing acknowledgement of their rights to equal treatment, were also the years when their standard of living rose fastest and wide gaps steadily closed. But then came the age of benefits. Long before the reforms of the 1980s, Maori were falling out of the work system at a faster rate than others, and moving on to welfare. Enter the social engineers. Maori culture needed encouragement. Fine, we all agreed. More needed doing for Maori education, housing, employment and training. Who could object?
However, the debate subtly (and dangerously) shifted. Since the gap between Maori and Pakeha achievement remained wide, governments told us to experiment with preferential treatment for Maori in education and employment. And what about redress for tribes whose lands were confiscated? Slowly but surely a cargo cult developed. Every problem Maori experienced was someone else's fault, and could be fixed by government handouts. The courts encouraged the trend by ignoring historical developments after 1840. Today Maori redicals demand that 14% of the population should rule the other 86%, apartheid style, and that the Consolidated Fund is theirs to raid by birthright. I, and some of my colleagues in government went along with earlier demands, but the newer, bogus Treaty claims have gone too far. We all need a clearer understanding of what the Treaty means and doesn't mean.
Before 1974 only a person of 50% or more Maori ancestry could claim to be Maori. The changed definition has seen people with scarcely a drop of Maori blood wanting superior rights. Mair, Mutu and McEnteer, two more Scots than Maori, the third the beneficiary of the best of Pakeha educations, keep demanding privilege, even when their assertions about the meaning of the June Appeal Court ruling are palpably wrong. Why? Well why not? With a mixture of bullying, blackmail and bloody-mindedness, they've got this far. No government has yet been prepared to draw a line in the sand (as it were), reminding them that we are all governed by Treaty Article 3.
Helen Clark could have arrested what has become an angry, irrational debate had she sought in June to entrench, rather than qualify, the understanding that all Pakeha and 99% of Maori have lived by over the foreshore since the 1870s. Instead, she sought compromise based on no definable principle. The hole just gets deeper. On this coming Waitangi Day, like never before, Maori and Pakeha will watch to see whether she clambers out. Don't hold your breath. This is a government of congenital fiddlers (and diggers). In the process they move us away from the principle of equality that in the end is the only one all New Zealanders can sign up to.