Waitangi Day used to invite envious comparisons with Australia Day a couple of weeks earlier. While our national day was an occasion for debate and dissension, theirs was one of unalloyed celebration. Not any more. Australia too is now riven with dissent among descendants of its dispossessed people who regard colonisation as an unmitigated disaster and do not celebrate Australia Day.
We are much further along the path of giving due recognition to descendants of the dispossessed and dare to think we have something to celebrate in this regard today. We are nearing the end of historic settlements of breaches of the Treaty the colonisers made with Māori chiefs 179 years ago today.
With the unfortunate exception of the largest, Ngapuhi, iwi have been strengthened by the settlements, not just financially but organisationally. The need to prepare claims, enrol beneficiaries and establish channels of accountability for investments, has reinforced iwi links and re-connected many with their heritage.
At the same time, our electoral system has given Māori the opportunity to establish an independent voice in politics. The fact that a Maori party has not survived in Parliament and its electorates have all returned to Labour does not diminish the value of the opportunity. Māori voters have decided their interests can be better served by a mainstream party and that decision is welcome for national cohesion.
Māori in fact now hold prominent positions in almost all parties in Parliament. Both the leader and deputy leader of the National Party have Māori heritage, as do the leader and deputy leader of New Zealand First, a co-leader of the Greens and the deputy leader of Labour. Biculturalism is now well entrenched in our state symbols and ceremonies and one day we might be bilingual too.
National MP Nikki Kaye is proposing that an additional language be taught in all primary schools, which could be te reo. It is a proposal the Government ought to pick up and train the teachers that would be needed. Chinese languages would also be among those available. New Zealand today has large and growing immigrant communities that have become part of the national fabric.
We can count ourselves fortunate the scale of migration to Western countries in recent years has not so far caused the political upheaval others have suffered. Record immigration since 2013 has contributed to the world's highest house prices relative to incomes, and pressure on infrastructure. But we have not seen a populist party capitalise on fear of different cultures.
A rising population and sound public finances have given us sustained economic growth that has survived a change of government. We are now well into the first term of a coalition Government that for the first time, is not led by a party that has won an election. Instead, it is led by a new mother who attracts interest wherever in the world she goes, and aims to deliver more equality here.
New Zealand is in good heart, politically stable, economically prospering and capable of doing even better. This is a day to celebrate.