Gareth Morgan enjoys an argument and has the wealth to indulge his views. In matters such as cats and climate change an aggressive style of argument cannot do much harm. But Dr Morgan's latest adopted cause is different, he has come around to a modern reading of the Treaty of Waitangi. He admits he is a latecomer to the idea of bicultural nationhood but that has not inhibited his willingness to antagonise any Pakeha who have not reached his stage of enlightenment.
Not content with publishing a book and having a series of articles printed in this newspaper, he went to the Orewa Rotary Club yesterday to confront what he called "the ignorance of Brash-think". It is 11 years since the National Party's previous leader delivered his Orewa speech. Much has happened in the meantime. Dr Don Brash is long gone from Parliament, National has governed in partnership with a Maori Party that once held five of seven Maori electorates, now all but one of the seats has returned to Labour. "Separatism" no longer seems to be a hot issue. Winston Peters struggles to push that button now and only 19 people came to hear Dr Morgan yesterday.
Today he intends to speak at Waitangi, probably at the nearby marae where every year a minor incident in the Prime Minister's welcome can be almost guaranteed to lead the evening news. Under a marquee at the marae Dr Morgan will join those who deliver desultory speeches throughout the day. The mostly Maori audience will probably be no more interested in his epiphany than those at Ratana Pa were reported to be last week.
Dr Morgan has discovered that Treaty settlements are not the end of the bicultural project and thinks few others realise this. "Most Pakeha I talk to think that once we've written the last cheque here, it's all over. Back to the races." That was the National Party view 10 years ago, now it has evolved.
Few Maori or Pakeha enthusiasts for the Treaty would dare speak of its modern meaning as definitively as Dr Morgan does. It is an idea that is constantly developing and open to experiment from both sides. The Maori Party has been one such experiment. It arose from resentment of the previous Labour Government's response to the foreshore and seabed claim but when their independent party went into a National-led Government, it was too much for the most radical Maori. They formed the Mana Party with left-wing Pakeha, demonstrating that class politics was more important than a separate identity after all. Maori sovereignty is a term not heard as much now. The Maori Party's first president envisaged a national political apparatus capable of making its own decisions and channelling them into the legislature.
The fact that it did not happen, and that instead Maori voters have largely returned to a mainstream party, puts their identity in perspective. Biculturalism does not seem to need independent political expression. It needs recognition and consultation by a party in power. It can do without promotion by late converts who have yet to catch up.