Editorial: NZ's stability and success something to celebrate

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Waka crews out on the water during Waitangi celebrations held at Waitangi. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Waka crews out on the water during Waitangi celebrations held at Waitangi. Photo / Dean Purcell.

New Zealanders are wary of complacency, so much so that we are almost afraid to celebrate success. Nothing is permanent and pride, we have been warned, comes before a fall. But this Waitangi Day, we have much to celebrate. The economy on which everyone's welfare depends has come through a global slump better than practically any other in the world. Our families and schools are producing young people such as Lorde, Eleanor Catton and Lydia Ko who are not only exceptional global achievers but admirable, well-grounded personalities.

Our rugby has scaled even greater heights since winning the World Cup and now our cricketers have become a formidable unit, whitewashing India in the just-completed one-day series. Not to forget, our yachtsmen who came so achingly close to regaining the America's Cup.

More important, we might dare to celebrate progress in the nation's most delicate task set by its founding Treaty. A decade has now passed since post-colonial tensions last came to a head over the foreshore and seabed and a former National Party leader's reactionary speech at Orewa.

As a consequence of those events Maori elected an independent political party, the Brash speech proved to be a catharsis for resentment of Maori demands and the next National leader negotiated an agreement with the Maori Party to support his Government.

Since that time the annual ceremonies at Waitangi have been largely trouble-free. That is not to deny moments of tension have occurred and they could always recur, possibly today. But the big, angry mass invasions of the Treaty ground are events of last century. Those demonstrations were carried out under a flag signifying self-determination that now flies on Waitangi Days from the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Other signs of the Maori Party's role in the Government have been less visible. Its Whanau Ora projects rebuilding family and tribal relationships proceed quietly. New Zealand's signing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People did not attract much interest. The latest Maori Language Strategy hopes a new panel of iwi representatives can arrest its declining use. A review of New Zealand's unwritten constitution has been inconclusive.

The constitutional review, a six-month public exercise last year, could not decide whether the Treaty should be formalised in law, or whether the Bill of Rights Act should supersede other law. It found not much support for a written constitution, nor for a republic. In other words, the country seems content with the system of government and law that it has.

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None of this should imply New Zealand has reached perfection. The economy still needs more diverse and valuable exports. The wages of most people are too low. Too much wealth is invested in property rather than production. House prices are too high. Youth and Maori unemployment is rife. A small population far from foreign markets cannot afford to add to public costs by paying welfare to the well off.

But this election year will hear plenty of discussion of those and other problems. Today is a moment to recognise our blessings. The strength of the economy compared with most others at present is a credit to the economic and fiscal policies of successive governments, the political power available to Maori is a product of MMP, and all of these are the result of the collective wisdom of New Zealanders as they vote.

It is easy to take a stable, sensible democracy for granted but most of the difference between rich nations and poor is attributable to sound government. We can celebrate our collective achievement today, remembering always that the future may be another story.

- NZ Herald

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