Special legal status for Maori should be removed because it is generating resentment and anger amongst many other New Zealanders, Act Party leader Don Brash said in Tauranga on Thursday night.
Announcing his party's One Law For All policy, Dr Brash said the special legal status was storing up huge problems down the track and creating two divisions of New Zealanders.
These problems are impeding progress for Maori and non-Maori alike, and if anything the trend is getting worse, Dr Brash told ACT supporters at the Bureta Park Motor Inn.
He quoted the Treaty of Waitangi which said "all New Zealanders are to have the rights and privileges of British subjects".
"To me, the Treaty is absolutely unambiguous ... that was an extraordinarily enlightened statement for 1840 when the Englishmen who were sent to establish the Queen's authority over New Zealand must have regarded Maori as primitive.
"But extraordinary or not, that's what it says and in my view that's a great basis for a modern democratic New Zealand.
"Apart from anything else, it avoids the whole debate about who is and who is not entitled to be called Maori and to enjoy the legal privileges currently associated with being Maori," Dr Brash said.
"The only way in which we can all proceed into a peaceful and prosperous future is on the basis of equality under the law."
Dr Brash cited the Maori electorates and local wards, so far only taken up by Bay of Plenty Regional Council, the Maori advisory boards, the consultation clauses (with iwi) in the Resource Management Act, and lower tax rates for Maori commercial companies as examples of creating special legal status.
He said the separate Maori electorates have long since ceased to serve any useful purpose. The number of Maori in Parliament substantially exceeds the number of Maori electorates, proving that separate electorates are simply not needed to ensure that Maori are elected to Parliament.
"When I went to school, requiring local government to consult with their communities and with iwi can only mean that iwi are somehow not part of the community. I would have thought that any self-respecting Maori would find that highly offensive.
"Offensive or not, the wording clearly means that Maori have two votes when local governments are drawing up their plans - one vote as a member of the community and another, potentially more powerful, vote as a Maori," Dr Brash said.
He said Auckland City Council had been saddled with a Maori Statutory Board, giving unelected Maori the right to vote on most of the Auckland council committees.
"If this becomes a general pattern, then I think it can be very destructive."
Dr Brash said Maori were not being well served by present policies, many of them introduced 40 years ago. They had created an unhealthy societal divide.
Maori were over-represented in all the worst social statistics, he said.
"Until those fundamental causes are dealt with, Maori will continue to be amongst the poorest, the most socially deprived and the most imprisoned of our society."
Dr Brash said Maori made up 15 per cent of the population but 35 per cent of those on unemployment benefit, 42 per cent of those on Domestic Purposes Benefit and 51 per cent of those in prison. A third of Maori between the ages of 15 and 19 are not in work, education or training.
He said taxpayers should pay compensation whenever it can be established beyond reasonable doubt that the government acted improperly by confiscating or undermining property rights. But Treaty settlements will never solve these appalling Maori social statistics.
Dr Brash suggested a reform of the education system, the reintroduction of a lower youth minimum wage, a resolution of the problem of communal ownership of Maori land, reform of the welfare system, and an acceptance by Maori leadership that Maori attitudes themselves need to change.
He finished his hard-hitting speech by supporting the All Blacks who today launch their bid to win the Rugby World Cup.
"The All Blacks are made up of players of European, Maori and Pacific Island descent. They all share a common goal, to win for New Zealand. On the field they are equals.
"That's the goal we must aspire to - one nation of many peoples, all equal before the law," Dr Brash said.
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