Leaders should stop pointing the finger and just get on with it

Maori Party co-leader Pita Russell Sharples, PhD, CBE, does his constituency no favours when he suggests Maori are being unfairly treated by the police and that the police, courts and corrections "systematically discriminate against Maori".

While this outburst by the Minister of Maori Affairs might be excused on the grounds that this is election year and he is facing stiff competition in the Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland) electorate, it is unfortunate because it simply reinforces the victim mentality which plagues the Maori race.

He alleges that Maori offenders are arrested at three times the rate of non-Maori for the same crimes. Could that be, I wonder, because Maori offend at much higher rates than any other ethnic group? Surely that is obvious when we remember that just on 51 per cent of the prison population is Maori, which is more than the number of Europeans (33.7 per cent), Pacific Islanders (11.2 per cent) and Asians (2.7 per cent) combined.

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Dr Sharples complains that Maori are more likely to have police contact, to be charged, to lack legal representation, not to be granted bail, to plead guilty and to be convicted. So he wants a transformed justice system to include Maori practices, principles and programmes "by Maori, for Maori, with Maori".

Just what he means by that I have no idea, but since the law is the law, crime is crime and punishment is punishment, irrespective of the colour of a defendant's skin, I can't see how it would be much help.

The irony is that when the police, for instance, do seek the help of Maori to keep law and order among their own, they are criticised for that too. Poor beggars, they just can't win.

A report in this newspaper last month told us police were considering asking Maori wardens to help patrol the streets during the World Cup, and particularly to remove intoxicated Maori from bars in Auckland.

Yet this, said Dr Sharples, was "disappointing" because "Maori Wardens have their own authority and while they may work with the police and have some training and share some facilities ... the reality is Maori Wardens are standalone people".

So, you see, it really doesn't matter how hard we all try to accommodate our Maori minority, it's never good enough. John Key's response was that "at the end of the day if someone's removed from a bar it should be because they're underage or they're intoxicated. Ethnicity's got nothing to do with it."

Right on, Prime Minister. One might be led to the conclusion that ethnicity's got nothing to do with the prosecution and administration of the law either.

However, it is the victim mentality among Maori, which has been spreading rapidly for the past few decades, that really makes me sad. It seems that no matter what is done for them, it is never enough and, often, they say, not what they want. It is an attitude which says that everyone else but Maori are to blame for the situations they find themselves in and that the solutions to these problems are for others to pay for.

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It is an attitude perpetuated by the Hone Harawiras, the Annette Sykes, the Margaret Mutus, the Rawiri Taonuis and a whole tribe of other noisy people who are forever critical of the rest of us no matter what we try to do.

Maori leaders seem always to be looking to the past or to the future and never seem to be engaged in the question of what should be done today. And I am persuaded that it is this sort of mentality that has not only put Maori on the back foot but is keeping them there.

Why is it, for instance, that even after something like a quarter of a century of Maori tribes acquiring vast wealth from Treaty settlements, more than 50 per cent of our jail population are Maori; poverty is endemic among Maori; illiteracy and innumeracy are rife among young Maori; and crime, violence and child abuse are more often than not perpetrated by Maori?

Could it be that the victim mentality has become so much part of the Maori psyche that it has become an excuse for unacceptable behaviour on the grounds, even subconscious, that "you owe me" or "I'm entitled" or "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth"?

I have long been persuaded that the answers to the enormous social problems confronting Maori are in their own hands, that instead of blaming others they should be putting their own house in order.

It is not as if there is any shortage of money in Maoridom to get things done. Treaty settlements have provided hundreds of millions of dollars. So perhaps it is time for Maori to stop empire building with those resources and to direct more of them to the real and urgent needs of their race.

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garth.george@hotmail.com