John Minto: Act scaremongering about Maori privilege a sick joke

The advertisement placed in the Herald last weekend. Photo / Supplied
The advertisement placed in the Herald last weekend. Photo / Supplied

It's been insightful to watch the Act Party make such a determined effort to beat up on Maori as the way to gain influence on National's economic policy.

Just a few weeks back Don Brash was talking up his chances of rejuvenating Act and finding a place in Parliament for himself and a couple of others on the back of a John Banks win in Epsom.

He brought in the money men to force Rodney Hide's resignation as Act leader in a spectacular coup which made Robert Mugabe look like a democrat.

He was successful in gaining the leadership and he predicted Act would get a good bounce in the polls from his parachuting into the party's top job. He even spoke of taking on an economic-management portfolio in a National-led Cabinet and said Prime Minister John Key wouldn't rule it out.

Key had previously said he would refuse to have Roger Douglas in the Cabinet because Douglas was too extreme. It was all about perception, because Brash and Douglas are both from the same economic mould and National would be comfortable to have its previous leader around the Cabinet table.

And all the more so because Brash could provide a more extreme right-wing economic drive, which National wants but is afraid to initiate itself. But the bounce never came. It was more like a shrug towards the margin of error.

So, what to do? The party has fallen back on the only issue which ever gave Brash a significant parliamentary impact: Take the gloves off against Maori.

After his 2004 Orewa speech he soared in the polls on the back of a one-law-for-all and attacks on so-called Maori privilege. So we had the Act Party advertisement in the Herald last weekend - "Fed up with pandering to Maori radicals?"

There was the obligatory reference to wanting the best for Maori and the need to do something about the awful social statistics which bedevil indigenous communities worldwide, but that was just the cover for a vicious attack on Maori who dare to stand up for a better deal. Maori privilege is a sick joke and Maori benefits from the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process are no better.

Since the first Treaty settlement 19 years ago, the total amount paid out so far to iwi groups is barely half last year's $1.7 billion taxpayer bailout of South Canterbury Finance.

And the total value of settlements is well below 1 per cent of the actual value of the land stolen from Maori by the dirty dealings of the Crown, even before the Crown denied Maori the right to argue their case for title over parts of the foreshore and seabed.

So here is the party of property rights demonising Maori as privileged citizens and begrudging them even a miserly 1 per cent of their claim. The miserable bastards.

Brash wouldn't stand for it if it were the property rights of his rich white mates which had been stolen.

He warns of creeping separatism but it's not the gap between Maori and Pakeha which is the problem, but the chasm between the tiny elite who claim most of this country's wealth and income as their own and the majority of New Zealanders who struggle with the leftovers.

And talk of Treaty rights being a form of apartheid is so much rubbish. Apartheid discriminated against people on the basis of race. Redressing Treaty abuses and entering dialogue with Maori groups is the opposite.

Brash would like to reduce the Treaty of Waitangi to an agreement about property rights and citizenship, but such a comic-book caricature of the Treaty has no place in 21st-century New Zealand. Brash is using the age-old bogeyman of racism to scare Pakeha voters to give him their vote.

Maori are not the real target - New Zealand's economic policy is. Brash wants to gain influence over it and Maori are the means to that end. We don't need Brash or his economic prescription, which has already delivered so much economic devastation and social carnage, with Maori the disproportionate victims.

The old codgers of British colonialism regarded Maori as the white man's burden. In New Zealand today, Brash is the brown man's burden.

* John Minto is interim co-vice president of the Mana Party.

- NZ Herald

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