Herald reporters tested opinion in an Auckland suburb and a Waikato town and found many Pakeha think special treatment for Maori has gone too far. GEOFF CUMMING reports.
In a bar on Auckland's North Shore, two Pakeha and a Maori are propped against a formica table in animated discussion. The topic keeping these middle-aged working men from their pints is "special treatment" for Maori.
"The coastguard picks them up with 80 undersized fish and they get away with it," says one.
"But hang on ... " says the Maori.
The third man butts in: "Some special treatment is justified because they did have the land taken off them. But if we can't go to the beach ... "
If it seems a high-risk way to occupy the between-innings break in the cricket, blame Don Brash.
Since his "one rule for all" speech the week before Waitangi Day, similar conversations have been played out in bars, cafes and staffrooms around the country.
A once-taboo subject is being discussed, mostly without guilt or malice. National's new leader has tapped into an issue gnawing away at Pakeha - and brought it out in the open.
While his Orewa speech hardly seemed groundbreaking to political commentators, it somehow gained traction.
When, a fortnight later, the Holmes TV programme ran a poll asking whether Brash was on the right track, a staggering 38,000 responded.
To understand why, the Herald sought out Pakeha men and women, students and pensioners, the unemployed and upwardly mobile from two areas: Glenfield, the North Shore suburb seen as representative of middle New Zealand; and, for a small-town perspective, Putaruru in south Waikato.
We visited pubs, shopping areas, libraries and council offices and spoke to parents outside schools and playcentres. We found people not only happy to talk but to be named and photographed - unusual for any issue, let alone one as highly charged as race relations.
What our reporters heard from the 150 people interviewed was a strikingly consistent call from European New Zealanders: that state assistance should be based on need rather than race; that Maori receive help which others are not entitled to; that this help has gone too far; that the country cannot endlessly make up for the wrongs of the past; and that the help given to Maori is too easily abused.
We found a reaction that goes beyond the redneck voice of talkback radio and that crosses barriers of gender, status, age and distance. The comments of Putaruru and Glenfield residents were interchangeable.
But their verdict is also confusing: many who say we should all be treated equally also believe targeted assistance "to help Maori off the bottom" is fair enough. The same people who say "we are all New Zealanders" believe Maori culture should be encouraged.
"We should all come under the same rules," says a builder in his early 30s. Then: "I don't mind if Maori get a little more for education if they are going to come out of their slump."
Pregnant housewife Maria Lopez, 33: "I think the special treatment should be to conserve their language and culture and to keep traditions alive - but not in health or education."
And although most believe Maori do get special assistance, they struggle on the details of which areas, what form and how much. A retired Glenfield man summed it up for many: "It's basically everywhere."
Those who believe special treatment is justified and should continue were in the minority.
"I don't begrudge them," says 91-year-old Flo Hunt. "After all, we did take their country off them in the first place. I say good luck to them. There are worse things to worry about."
Her son Keith, 64, was philosophical about the lack of a foreseeable end to land claims.
Peter Bosher, 49, shop owner: "It's absolutely justified. They have been screwed over. We signed a treaty with them, that makes a big difference. We should honour what we signed."
Architect David Sheppard, 62, fears a backlash similar to that he observed in the United States when special assistance was directed at Afro-Americans. "It's almost the same reaction here: why should anyone get a leg up?"
John Payne, a priest, says Brash is in "aggressive denial" over the rights of Maori. "Under the Treaty of Waitangi, they have indigenous rights," says the 52-year-old.
"Where's the problem?
"I wouldn't mind betting Pakeha get a lot more money spent on Pakeha than Maori do on Maori. What Brash is really saying is Maori are a nuisance in their own country."
But these sentiments were far outweighed by those who say special treatment is unfair, that we are "all New Zealanders".
An early-30s male: "I agree with Don Brash - it should be based on need, not what colour your skin is. If Maori really are disadvantaged they will obviously get more of the cake."
People we spoke to tried to be fair and displayed little anger. Targeted assistance in education, health and housing was fair enough but it had to be limited.
Aleisha, a 20-year-old cafe worker: "To an extent it's justified because there are a lot of things that have been taken away from them. But people should not be singled out just because they are Maori."
A 43-year-old businesswoman: "I think there is a special circumstance to try to bring the Maori up but I don't know that it's working. They had some grievances but it's just gone on too long."
It was clear from their measured responses that people have thought long and hard about the issue. One couple had just finished talking about it when we approached.
Some claim their views are not just those of Pakeha but shared by most Maori.
"I have lots of Maori friends," a 52-year-old housewife said. "There are a lot of Maori people who work very hard and my [Maori] friends feel belittled by [special treatment]."
A 30-year-old builder: "I've got Maori mates who don't like what other Maori do - the gravy trainers."
Some had little knowledge of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. "We live in the same country, why should they be different?" said a machine operator, 37.
Others hit out at political correctness and thanked Brash for bringing race relations "out into the open". A few accused him of setting race relations back 20 years and
- we've had enough
QuoteBox1: I don't mind money being earmarked for Maori health. They seem to have a lot of health problems. Keith Hunt 64, groundsman and mechanic, Putaruru
QuoteBox2: I don't begrudge them. After all, we did take their country off them in the first place. Flo Hunt 91, Putaruru
QuoteBox3: When I was on a benefit years ago there were some courses I couldn't do because I was Pakeha. Sue Lomey 41, full-time mother of Putaruru with daughter Lydia, 9
QuoteBox4: I don't think they take enough responsibility for their own health. People should be treated on a basis of need, not just race.
Wanda Lyon 61, retired, Putaruru
QuoteBox5: It's absolutely justified. They have been screwed over. Peter Bosher 49, shop owner, Mt Eden
polarising people. What emerged was a consensus of cumulative irritation - that the scope and amount of special treatment must be scaled back, and sooner rather than later.
"It's got out of control and I think it has been unfair," said retired Putaruru JP Yvonne Sycamore, QSM.
Marie Denton, 58, a sales co-ordinator: "There are so many cultures in New Zealand now. There shouldn't be special treatment for anybody. Their claims have gone on for too long. They are not relevant any more."
Hand in hand with "it's gone too far" was a fear that there is no end in sight and that we cannot continue to make up for the past.
Student Scott Bibby, 21: "They've been given final settlements, then they want a settlement on top. It's dragged on too long. We're paying for something our ancestors have done."
Plasterer Royce White, 43: "As long as the Government keeps handing out to them, they will want more. It's making bigger segregations between Maori and Pakeha."
"Hang on, when do they stop?" says Norman, a 65-year-old architect. "The treaty seems to protect them but there's not much in it for us and it seems to be expanding." He mentions iwi claims on oil and gas reserves.
A female office manager: "What my ancestors did 100 years ago is not the responsibility of my children. You cannot make up for the past."
Many backed their argument with their belief that funding and treaty settlement money does not reach the people in need.
Anna Meeks, 62, is proud of the "little bit of Maori in me" but embarrassed by treaty claimants.
"They want payouts all the time but what they do with it is piss it up against the wall. They keep wanting, wanting."
Hazel Wilkinson, 73: "They just seem to go through the money. All those millions that go missing - it's just not on."
Sales manager Wayne Pohe, 54, who says he's Pakeha and Maori: "I think the Government is throwing all this money down a never-ending pit and they are not really asking them to justify the money."
Few can pinpoint any way they personally have been affected by special treatment but many worry about the future.
"We could lose a lot of what we've got now - land, beaches - and it will affect the economy in the long run," said a 45-year-old woman.
Jan Ballantyne, 59, a general manager in education: "I don't imagine my grandchildren should have to answer these questions."
Asked where special treatment occurred, most people nominated education, particularly tertiary education.
Many drew on personal experience, including a 40-year-old marine engineer in Glenfield: "I paid for my wife to go through university while people in her class were getting in free because they were Maori and they had worse grades than her - and they had very tentative links to being Maori."
Younger people talked of quotas for Maori students on tertiary courses. They knew of scholarships and grants which Maori could get but they couldn't.
Glenfield student Bree Atkinson: "I had to pay for a lot of courses that I otherwise would not have got into. I have a class friend who considers herself a Maori princess and I ran into it all the time. She walked into a health job and I'm $10,000 in debt."
But the cheerful 21-year-old shrugged it off. "If they didn't get it there would be a whole lot of other issues. We would be compared to places like South Africa where races get trampled on."
A middle-aged couple in Putaruru were delighted for their part-Maori niece who they had just learned "can get into university for free". But their own children would "have to struggle to put their girls through".
Separate Maori schools, including kohanga reo, were questioned by some.
"I really don't feel their language is going to be a lot of use to them," said Anne, a hospital administrator from Albany. "I feel they'd be better off in the [standard] schooling system because they get to learn with everybody else. They can't divide themselves off."
Beyond education, many people struggled to identify where else special treatment occurs. Health, customary fishing rights, consultation under the Resource Management Act and the foreshore and seabed issue were all mentioned but often after prompting. Job training schemes and favouritism in the legal system also came up.
Painter Malcolm Eyre, 52, says when he took his part-Maori grandson to the doctor, he was shocked to learn the child's visit was paid for "by a special Maori trust".
Many had little time for Maori cultural and spiritual beliefs. Sandra Harrington-Frost, 59, wondered why hospitals had special protocols for treating Maori and none for Pakeha.
A health care assistant, 28: "I work in a hospital and I treat Maori when they are sick and we all hurt the same."
Shirley Fielding, 55: "My husband was in hospital having a bypass done and I could not get into the whanau room to make a cup of tea because there were so many mattresses down on the floor."
Several singled out tangi leave. "If Maori need to attend a funeral they get five weeks off with pay," said cranial osteopath Tony Baylis, 58. "Pakeha get three days."
A business owner, 48, says he spent "a fortune" on archaeologists before he could get resource consent for a Bay of Plenty property. "The special attentions you need to go through are ridiculous, whether it's building on land or alterations."
Carol Roberts, a 38-year-old sales rep, said consultation over resource consents was "just a gravy train".
Claims to ownership of the foreshore and seabed were roundly condemned. "That's just a joke," says Royce White. "It's everyone's country, not just theirs."
A builder, 30: "No one owns the ocean - you can't claim the ocean. I can't go fishing but they can."
But many said they were struggling to understand the foreshore issue. On customary fishing rights, several traced their opinions to the Coast Watch TV programme.
"The coastguard picks them up with 80 undersized fish and they get away with it," says a 40-year-old male. "There should be one law for everyone."
"If Maori take shellfish and end up in court they can just hold up proof that they are Maori, but a white person will get penalised," says a 37-year-old policeman, recently emigrated from London.
"Everything here seems to revolve around Maori. Most people seem to be a bit scared to confront it."
Ethnicity*: 69% European (NZ ave: 80.1%)
Maori: 7.2% (NZ average 14.7%)
Age: under 15:19.3% (22.7%)
over 65: 12.5% (12.1%)
Post-school qualification: 31.1% (32.2%)
Median Income: $18,800 ($18,500)
Unemployment: 6.3% (7.5%)
Couples with children: 43.1% (42.1%)
Ethnicity*: 77.7% European (NZ ave 80.1%)
30.8% Maori (NZ average 14.7%)
Age: under 15:24.7% (22.7%)
over 65: 17.5% (12.1%)
Post-school qualification: 19.9% (32.2%)
Median income: $15,600 ($18,500)
Unemployment: 9.3% (7.5%)
Couples with children: 38.3% (42.1%)
Source: Statistics NZ Community Profiles, 2001 Census
* Includes mixed race