The website of the Hobson's Pledge lobby group launched by Don Brash contains the following disclaimer: Please note: "We are not in any sense anti-Maori."

They needed that disclaimer because the tone suggests otherwise.
Delve a bit further than its "about us" page and it has a disturbing tone of rabid negativity, nastiness, and intolerance but to be generous to Brash, it is difficult to believe he personally wrote most of it.

A group has coalesced around Brash, a former Reserve Bank Governor, National Party leader, Act Party leader, in the run-up to the local government elections and general election next year.

The aim is to influence the result based on candidates' attitudes to what it terms "race-based privilege" which, it says, creates opportunities for corruption, resentment and unrest.

Advertisement

Since leaving politics, Brash has written books, pruned his kiwifruit vines, become New Zealand chair of the ICBC ( Industrial and Commercial Bank of China) and commentated on the economy and the Auckland property market.

But he has been drawn back to the issue of Maori power, which had so much potency in 2004 that his infamous speech on "special treatment" for Maori produced a poll surge for National from 24.8 per cent before the speech to 45.5 per cent after it [Herald-Digipoll survey].

But in comparison to Hobson's Pledge, the Orewa speech reads like a measured, considered dissertation. At least in the Orewa speech, Brash acknowledged that the Treaty of Waitangi is ambiguous. There was a recognition that the treaty and its translations may have meant different things to different people.

That "ambiguity" has been replaced with absolute certainty about what the treaty established in 1840 and what it didn't. Hobson's Pledge rejects the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi as a crucial constitutional document.

Instead it elevates to a higher constitutional significance the utterance of an unelected Governor - Captain William Hobson - appointed by an unelected Queen as being the foundation of New Zealand's democracy. Hobson is said to have greeted Maori chiefs who signed the treaty with the words "He iwi tahi tatou" - translated as "we are now one people."

This statement of opinion - it is not actually "a pledge "- is trotted out by dignitaries in speeches every Waitangi Day. From it, the Brash group have extrapolated a lot more than the words suggest at face value: "Hobson's pledge to the chiefs laid the foundation of New Zealand's democracy: one citizen, one vote, regardless of race, colour religion or gender."

ROTORUA DAILY POST
1 Oct, 2016 9:05am
time to read clock icon Quick Read
ROTORUA DAILY POST
1 Oct, 2016 8:03am
time to read clock icon 4 minutes to read

When it comes to the treaty itself, Hobson's Pledge are originals but when it comes to Hobson, one phrase has become the launching pad for a whole political philosophy that would have astonished Hobson. That philosophy dictates that there be no statutory recognition of Maori whatsoever, except in Treaty of Waitangi settlements which it sees strictly in terms of compensation for loss of property rights.

Hobson's Pledge is big on disavowing modern interpretations of the Treaty of Waitangi, stating categorically that "The Treaty of Waitangi did not create a 'partnership' between Maori and the Crown," as Lord Cooke asserted nearly 30 years ago in the Lands case, when he set out principles of the treaty that should be followed.

That's another discrepancy - Brash's Orewa speech repeatedly laments the lack of clarity around what the "principles" of the treaty are whereas Hobson's Pledge sets them out in detail and laments the plethora of them.

The group has legitimate points to make about the statutory basis for participation of Maori in New Zealand decision-making. They are constitutionally important issues and should be debated openly rather than taking root by stealth.

But so much of Hobson's Pledge rhetoric is imbued with nastiness and negativity you've got to wonder what else is behind it. They highlight some of the treaty settlements that have gone wrong but says nothing of the positive contributions some are making to the well-being of their iwi and regional economies.

Brash said in the Orewa speech that people should never be mocked for their beliefs. In Hobson's Pledge, in mocking tones, it names a woman from Auckland University who in her doctoral thesis "asserted, presumably with a straight face, that the Waikato River was her ancestor."

In the "Indoctrination" chapter of Hobson's Pledge, it reminisces about once having had to stand for God Save the Queen and not having to "mumble" the Maori version of the national anthem. It makes no mention of pride the country feels at the All Blacks haka or the thrill many visitors have at receiving a Maori welcome.

Instead it empathises with a Danish politician who apparently did not like being welcomed by a half-naked man "shouting and screaming in Maori." And it refers to the recently departed and esteemed academic Ranginui Walker as a "Maori grievance expert."

Just awful. It is hard to see the new Brash vehicle getting anything like the traction he got in 2004.

New Zealand has moved on from the bitter days of the foreshore and seabed. Maori are participating more actively in the economy. Genuine treaty settlements are being concluded with pace. Try-ons at the Waitangi Tribunal are seen for what they are.

The fact that the Government for three terms has had a constructive relationship with the Maori Party - when strictly it hasn't needed them - has been a constant pressure valve.
The one party that could get some benefit from it is Winston Peters' New Zealand First - Brash even talked this week about passing on donations to the party.

To the undoubted delight of Hobson's Pledge, Peters' party delayed the third readings of a couple of three treaty settlement bills recently over a provision which gives iwi representation on two standing committee of the Taranaki District Council - not the council itself which retains ultimate control.

Unelected representation is not unheard of: one of Taranaki's committees, the policy and planning committee, has four external appointees on it, including one from Federated Farmers. Ye gods! Are Brash and his cohort outraged by that? Do they see that as a constitutional offence against democracy? Somehow I don't think so.