ACT leader David Seymour, the morning after the night before, on why his Tiriti referendum is still on the table and how a NO to an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament is ‘positive.’
The day after the election, it was clear the Act leader was on a high. He was happy. It had been a big night of celebration. After all, his deputy Brooke van Velden won the Tamaki seat and Act had done a Houdini - pulling a big bunch of new MPs. With Act, Greens and Te Pāti Māori bringing more parliamentarians into the house, I asked Seymour what that says about New Zealand now?
“If it means that we’re getting honest, healthy debate about our future,” he declared. “Then that’s needed and that’s very good news. If it means that we’re polarizing, then I guess that’s bad news.”
‘Polarising?’ Hard to keep a neutral face.
“Speaking of ‘debate,’ I asked, ‘You’ve said a referendum around Te Tiriti was a bottom line. What’s happening with that?”
“Well, let’s see how those discussions go,” Seymour replied. “But it’s certainly critical that New Zealand is able to discuss what the treaty means in 2023. And it’s not about whether we value the treaty. Of course, we do. The question is do we agree with the interpretation that’s been slapped on it in the last 30 years? I think a lot of people have got confused. They think that if you don’t agree with the way that the courts and certain interest groups have interpreted the treaty since 1987, you don’t agree with the treaty. Actually, we’re pro-treaty. We just don’t like the divisive way it’s been interpreted lately.”
When asked if Act could be considered to be contributing to that ‘divisiveness,’ Seymour disagrees.
“I don’t really see how promoting universal human rights and inclusion is divisive,” he responded. “The fact that we’ve been continually accused of divisiveness but when challenged, none of the accusers can give us any examples of why they think we’re being divisive.”
Not quite true. I’ve had a go at him over use of words like “apartheid, separatist, divisive, stealth” to frame any attempts by the Government to honour Te Tiriti, address disparities and reduce inequities.
His go-to when challenged is to act aggrieved and morph into the victim.
After all, Seymour talks a lot about human rights.
However, the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples represented universal acknowledgement that focusing strictly on the human rights of individuals hasn’t exactly worked for the collective rights of Indigenous People towards self-determination. Seymour smirked.
“But what’s the UN ever done for you?” he asked through the lens of individual rights.
“It’s actually become a voice for Indigenous people in terms of that Declaration,” I replied.
Then came the pivot.
“How do we get the roads fixed so you can get around the country, especially from remote areas,” he asked. “How do you get kids to school learning?”
Did he just say roads?
“How do you bounce from the Universal Declaration of Indigenous Rights,” I said, “to…roads?”
“Because I asked you,” he replied. “What’s the UN ever done for you and you said they’ve given you ‘a voice’ so here’s some practical things people actually need and that’s the contrast.”
UNDRIP was all about setting up a framework that might provide concrete measures that would realise self-determination that would lead to practical outcomes. Te Puni Kokiri, the Ministry of Māori Development Act are determined to abolish, says it is ‘committed to improving outcomes for Māori in areas such as health and housing as part of our Declaration obligations.
Developing a Declaration plan will measure our progress in addressing indigenous rights and interests.’ Roads aside, and because the word ‘practical’ came up, let’s go back to the Tiriti referendum.
“If Mr Luxon rules it out…” I ventured.
“Then we rule it in,” Seymour interrupted confidently. “And that’s how the negotiation will go.”
Back to the referendum as a bottom line then.
As for the other referendum across the ditch…
Last week the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament was rejected in a resounding no, leaving many people in Australia and here in Aotearoa, devastated.
Seymour was delighted.
“I think that’s very positive for Australia,” he declared. “Because they have decided that they want their constitution to be devoid of racial discrimination and that’s how any country’s constitution should be.”
I was gobsmacked. “I think it demonstrates that they don’t really acknowledge the special place of their indigenous people,” I said. “That’s what that says.”
Seymour is all good with that.
“And nor should they,” says the ACT leader. “They should respect the rights of each individual human being. We’ve got to stop putting labels on people and saying that some people are born special and others aren’t. I mean, I’m sorry - that’s just so gross.”
“What is gross,” I said, “is how they [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders] are misrepresented across all those indicators, similar to every other colonized people.”
Seymour has the answer.
“That’s why we’ve got to deal with get better roads…yeah. We’ve got to get better roads because people who live in remote areas find it hard. I grew up in Northland, I can tell you all about this.”
It all leads back to roads.
“I don’t understand how you jump to roads when we start talking Indigenous peoples?” I said.
Seymour explains, in the kind of tone you use when talking to a child.
“Roads connect housing,” he replied. “Housing is very important, you know. Because ultimately what you talk about is indigenous rights but I get to practical outcomes,” he replied.
He makes it sound as if Indigenous rights and practical outcomes are somehow mutually exclusive.
“How do we make sure that people are transferring more knowledge from one generation to the next,” says Seymour. “With Charter Schools, Act has done more for that than any other party.”
Charter schools is his baby. I thought about mentioning the fact that nearly everyone I’ve ever talked to in the education sector disagrees. PPTA Te Wehengarua for example, has a longstanding opposition to charter schools and privatisation in education. Although they know the system isn’t perfect, they believe that a properly funded public education system is the best opportunity for equitable outcomes in Aotearoa for all students. But I decided to suck it up and save for another time. Because one thing about David Seymour, he does front up.
“Labour shut those [charter schools] down,” he continued. “So, you know, these are the kinds of initiatives that make a practical difference.”
And then he finished up with the killer line about ACT.
“We’ve done far more than the UN ever has, I can tell you.”
And off he bounced into the world while all I could hear was Paul McCartney singing ‘Long and Winding Road….
Moana Maniapoto (MNZM) is a singer, songwriter and documentary maker and considered one of New Zealand’s most successful indigenous acts. She has a weekly news show Te Ao with Moana on Monday nights on Whakaata Māori.