Brash stirs up Maori 'storm'

By Ruth Berry

If too many Maori die of lung cancer, it's essentially their own fault, says National Party leader Don Brash.

Dr Brash included those comments, and similar ones about why there were few Maori lawyers, in an opinion piece he submitted to the Herald, trying to address what he calls the "storm" that broke out after he was reported as questioning whether Maori were a distinct indigenous group because few, if any, "full-blooded" Maori remained.

In the article, Dr Brash said it was unclear whether Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia cancelled a dinner with him over his comments because she misunderstood the intent of the "selective comments" reported or whether she was reacting to National's Maori policy.

That policy had not changed since the last election, he said. National believed all New Zealanders should be treated equally under the law.

Dr Brash said when the Treaty was signed in 1840 there were two distinct groups of people, but intermarriage meant this was no longer the case. "This is not to deny that many New Zealanders choose to identify strongly with the Maori part of their ancestry, and with Maori culture. That is absolutely their right.

"But it is quite wrong to argue that, because Maori are over-represented in negative social statistics, the 'Crown', or the Government on behalf of all New Zealanders, has somehow failed to discharge its obligation under the Treaty.

"If Maori New Zealanders die more frequently from lung cancer than non-Maori do, for example, it is almost certainly because Maori New Zealanders choose to smoke more heavily than other New Zealanders do ...

"Similarly if there are relatively few Maori at the Auckland Law School - and that despite preferential arrangements for Maori - that is not a failing of the Government, but a result of decisions made by individual Maori," he said.

"Nobody would suggest that because there are relatively few European New Zealanders in the All Blacks, there has been a breach of the Treaty."

Mrs Turia said the comments were "another indication of some fatal confusion around concepts such as the constitutional significance of the Treaty, the citizenship rights of all New Zealanders and the unique position of indigenous peoples".

"The sadness for me is that a political party leader is unable to articulate the value of Te Tiriti o Waitangi as a foundation for modern living in Aotearoa."

She would not reconsider attending the dinner, but said: "There are some excellent Treaty practitioners out there whom Dr Brash might like to approach, for a comprehensive discussion around Treaty justice. A dinner discussion with some of these experts would be far more worthwhile than any further comments from Dr Brash."

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