Nailing My Colours To The Mast

April 9, 2015

I never thought that there would come a day when I would join a political party.  To go beyond an occasional supporter and voter to a fully fledged paid up member. But several discussions over the past few days culminating in the opportunity to be involved in the development of policy in an area that is my main focus in life, has led to a change in heart.  I have been sitting on the sidelines for a long time, occasionally sticking my head up to criticise or critique, sometimes rationally so – others embarrassingly angrily.  Since turning 30 several months ago I have become more aware of the need to take the knowledge and expertise that I have built up over the past decade and transform that into something of value.  Something that is going to make a difference.  Sitting on the sidelines may one day lead to meaningful change, but I know there is far greater prospects of, for lack of a better cliché, making a difference by putting my hand up and doing the mahi!

As a blogger and, more recently political and economic commentator, I am conscious of the need to ensure that I am transparent with my writing and my advocacy.  I do not intend on operating as a Party cheerleader, nor however will I seek to bring the organisation I am now a part of into disrepute through any over the top or unjustified criticisms.  It is the same judgment call I make when dealing with issues that also impact on my roles with Deloitte, Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa to whom I am currently seconded to, the other Iwi clients I am currently advising, and the Māori law society on which I am currently serving as Treasurer.

Those who know me, and who have followed my writing here since its inception back in the lead up to the 2011 General Election will have a general idea as to my political leanings.  I am an unashamed classical liberal in relation to all things economic, bordering on the libertarian on certain economic and freedom of choice issues.  Driven by a love of Adam Smith and an interpretation of economics based on a reading of both The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, I believe that the best Government is one that sets clear and concise rules for economic actors to follow and then stands aside.  Counterbalancing this is my even more open belief in Tino Rangatiratanga, and the ability for whānau, hapū, and Iwi Māori to be free to determine our own futures, and to exercise those rights guaranteed to us under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  It is these two divergent philosophical groundings that have, and here I am a rather grateful for this, kept me out of the party political structure until now.

This is not to say that I have not been interested in party politics.  I grew up in the heart of the Taranaki-King Country electorate, Jim Bolger was our MP, and we were surrounded by National Party members.  I remember meeting Jenny Shipley during the Taranaki King Country by-election not long after she had deposed Bolger and being in awe of her presence.  I was 13, and as sure as night followed day, I was blue to the core. It came as a great surprise to me that my parents did not share the same outlook.  Here we were, dairy farmers in the heart of the Prime Minister’s electorate.  How could you vote for anyone not wearing blue? My mother, a Māori women from Waitara and a teacher who had met my father at Teachers College in Palmerston North, was anything but blue.  Labour, and increasingly the Alliance were presumably the parties of choice, although it was never a point of discussion for us.  Myself and my two siblings all grew up believing that we were Tories.

It wasn’t until I had just turned 20 that my unshakeable belief that I would vote National at the 2005 election was challenged.  Three years into my University education, I had a much greater awareness of Te Ao Māori and the issues that were confronting us.  The Foreshore and Seabed controversy the prior year ruled out Labour as an option (a position I maintain to this day) and the race to the bottom it unleashed, for the first but not the last time, drove me away from supporting the Don Brash led National Party.  I elected not to vote that day, and it is probably the most effective voting decision I have ever made.  Don Brash’s overtly racist version of the National Party was defeated.

Three years later and the political climate was completely different.  Gone were the racial overtones, and the focus was well and truly turned to economic issues.  I voted in 2008 for the first time.  I entered the voting booth and cast my first ever vote for the ACT Party.  This was back in the days when ACT was an economic liberal party, not a party captured by special interests and then taken over by every washed up, or future washed up, political wannabe.   That ACT would become distracted, and ultimately irrelevant during this term meant that I no longer consider them a serious political option.  There is a need for a classically liberal party to challenge this free-spending, crony capitalist, incarnation of the National Party; but it is impossible to see ACT fulfilling this need.

Shorn of a natural home for my economic philosophy, I have spent the past 5 years going back and forwards in my support for the Māori Party.  I was so impressed by the work of Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia that they won my vote in 2011.  I was not that impressed with their second term efforts and the party lost my vote in 2014.  That it did not go to anyone else is perhaps indicative of a strong belief that I have in the kaupapa of the Māori Party.  That is why when I was approach a few days ago by members to join and be involved in the organisation I knew immediately that my answer was going to be an emphatic yes.

So last night I nailed my colours to the mast and joined the Māori Party.  I have the highest of respect for the work of Te Ururoa Flavell and watching the early performances of Marama Fox gives me hope that the Party is on the right track.  I am not in this game for power.  My involvement comes from a driving passion to do all that I can to improve the lives of my Māori whanaunga.  That is my kaupapa, and I know that everyone within the Māori Party  shares the same approach.

Reflections on Te Tiriti o Waitangi: Part 2

January 12, 2015

The NZ Herald are running a series of opinion pieces in the lead up to the 175th anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  Over the course of this week they are running two articles I have written providing my overview perspective.  Today’s piece is on rangatiratanga, and what it means to me.

As we approach the 175th anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi it is appropriate that we take the time to reflect on the lessons we have learned since 6 February 1840, and set a path for a future which honours both the Maori and the Pākehā parties to Te Tiriti.  Today, I discuss what rangatiratanga means to me, and what Māori are doing to achieve it.

The idea of rangatiratanga is that as Māori we are in charge of our land, our resources, and our aspirations.  Only 6% of New Zealand remains as Māori land, with confiscations and land purchases of a dubious nature amounting to the gradual transfer of resources from Māori to British settlers.  This has been a one way transfer of wealth.  Entire regions, such as Taranaki and the Waikato, were confiscated from Māori in the 1800s without compensation.  That these two regions are among the highest value dairy producing regions in the world is an indication of the wealth that has been stripped out of Māori communities.  It cannot be disputed that our nation’s wealth was built on the back of stolen land.  The settlement money paid to Māori – some $2bn over twenty years – is only a fraction of a percent of the value of the loss suffered by Māori.

Rangatiratanga is not about carving out a set of “unique political rights” for Māori.  It is about ensuring that our communities are healthy, well-educated, and can live a good life.  Prior to British settlement, rangatiratanga was all encompassing.  Rangatira were responsible for the health and wellbeing of their hapū, and had abundant resources to provide this.  The loss of wealth has destroyed the ability of the hapū, or more commonly today the iwi, to provide for the health and wellbeing of its members.  Large populations and small asset bases means that Iwi have to be more creative, and more selective in how they assist.

Rangatiratanga is a practice.  It is about Māori living according to our tikanga, and about striving wherever possible to ensure that the homes, land, and resources guaranteed to us under Te Tiriti o Waitangi are protected for the use and enjoyment of future generations.  My main focus is on assisting Iwi and Māori-owned land trusts to grow their economic wealth to continue to pursue rangatiratanga through development.  Progress, while slow, has occurred over the past twenty years and the Māori economy continues to grow.  Iwi, driven by historical settlement packages, are delivering returns to their members through the provision of grants to Marae, Hapū, and for educational purposes.  The larger Māori land trusts are also becoming more innovative in their business development and the successful Miraka milk processing venture is a sign of things to come.

This increase in economic wealth provides Māori communities with opportunities that were previously unavailable. With increased economic wealth comes the opportunity to develop the skills and wealth of Māori, to improve the health and wellbeing of Māori, and the ability to revitalise traditional cultural and customary practices.  Economic wealth provides Māori communities with the opportunity to develop their community in accordance with their own vision, not a vision of Māori communities imposed by the Government.

Our aspirations are no different to anyone else’s.  We want good schools, good homes, good health, and good jobs.  We do not seek special rights to the detriment of Pākehā New Zealand.  We ask for the recognition of the rights that were guaranteed to us under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  Rights such as the right to have a say in how our communities are governed and how the resources and sites sacred to us are managed.  The recognition of these rights through, for example; the Māori electorates, Māori wards on local government bodies, and the co-government arrangements established to manage a growing number of our national parks and waterways is precisely what Te Tiriti o Waitangi envisioned – a true partnership between Māori and Pākehā.

Reflections on Te Tiriti o Waitangi: Part 1

January 7, 2015

The NZ Herald are running a series of opinion pieces in the lead up to the 175th anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  Over the course of this week they are running two articles I have written providing my overview perspective.  Today’s piece is on the meaning of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the role of the Waitangi Tribunal.

As we approach the 175th anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi it is appropriate that we take the time to reflect on the lessons we have learned since 6 February 1840, and set a path for a future which honours both the Maori and the Pākehā parties to Te Tiriti.  Today, I discuss the meaning of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the role of the Waitangi Tribunal.

There are plenty of myths surrounding Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  There are not, for example, two versions – one in English and one in Maori.  It is important to remember that those who did sign, predominately signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi – a text written entirely in Te Reo Māori.  The differences between the Māori “Te Tiriti” and the English “Treaty”, especially the difference between kawanatanga and sovereignty, have come to cause a lot of debate.  For the Rangatira at Waitangi and elsewhere who signed Te Tiriti, they were never asked to cede their sovereignty to the British.  Te Tiriti was sold to Māori as a co-governance arrangement. The British would look after their settlers, and Māori would continue to look after their hapū.  Māori did not cede sovereignty under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  This is established.  Our desire to continue to exercise our rangatiratanga will be addressed in another article.

Te Tiriti provided three distinct set of rights:

  1. The right of the British to govern the British settlers who had taken up residence;
  2. The continued existence of rangatiratanga by Māori over their homes, lands, and resources; and
  3. The right of Māori to be treated no differently than British by the British Crown.

The Waitangi Tribunal was established in 1975 to address the grievances of Maori arising from breaches of Te Tiriti o Waitangi by the Government.  The Tribunal process, while much maligned, is an institution that we as New Zealanders can be immensely proud of.  Each report provides a rich analysis of our history and the often damaging effects of the settlement of New Zealand.  There is nothing “creative” or “novel” in the Tribunal reports.  They are grounded in 40 years of jurisprudence on the meaning of Te Tiriti and the rights that flow from it.

There is often confusion over the role of the Tribunal, and its seemingly pro-Māori stance.  The Tribunal is tasked with determining whether Crown action has been in accordance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi and, if not, what recommendations should be made to redress the situation.  The idea that the Tribunal only speaks to one of the two partners to Te Tiriti, as mentioned by Gareth Morgen last week, is nonsense.  Both Māori and the Crown actively participate in Tribunal processes, and hearings are an ongoing debate and discussion between the two parties.

Any recommendations of the Tribunal need to be debated and legislated by Parliament before they can become law and history shows that Parliament has often ignored the recommendations made by the Tribunal.  It forms one part of the debate around Crown-Māori relations and our constitutional framework, but it is by no means the only institution discussing these issues.  The Tribunal does not create “unique political rights”, it interprets how the rights guaranteed to Māori have or have not been upheld.  We live in a representative democracy and the Tribunal is one of many bodies providing recommendations to the Government on policy and constitutional issues.  Law changes continue to be enacted through Parliament and the legitimacy of all the specific rights reclaimed by Māori over the past 40 years is grounded in the legitimacy of the ruling Government.

For Māori, the Waitangi Tribunal is part of the healing process.  It provides a space for us to tell our history.  To be heard.  I have seen elders in tears after presenting evidence to the Tribunal because for them it is the ultimate way of honouring their ancestors.  I hear many pākehā speak of their desire for us to simply move on, to get over it, and for us to move forward as one country.  I long for the day when we can peacefully co-inhabit New Zealand as one, but this day will not come until Māori have had our grievances heard and addressed.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

December 31, 2014

As we move into 2015, I want to take some time to pause and reflect on the year that has been and the year that is to come. 2014 was a wild ride in both my personal and professional lives, and I have a lot of bold plans for 2015. First, let’s take a look back at 2014.

For a number of reasons, I did not write as regularly for Ka Tonuitanga as I would have liked. 2014 was a year in which Maori issues were relegated to the sidelines as Dirty Politics and the Kim Dotcom sideshow took centre stage. Even the much heralded Mana – Internet Party alliance failed to capture the attention of Te Ao Maori. Notable stories during the year were the retirements of Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples; the reclamation of the Maori seats by Labour; and the sell out of the Mana Movement when the money started flowing through the doors.

These storylines were, ultimately, about people and not policy and my attention was drawn elsewhere. The relaunch of the Mana Magazine provided me with the opportunity to branch out in my writing and provide bi-monthly articles on Maori economic development to a wider audience. In 2014 I have written articles discussing the opportunities of the recently concluded Te Atiawa settlement, the papakainga development being undertaken by Ngati Whatua o Orakei, and the questions that we should be asking our Runanga concerning their distribution policy. My first article of 2015 will touch on the ongoing efforts to complete the Ngapuhi settlement, and my wider plan for the year is to delve deeper into discussing the successes of Iwi.

2014 was an excellent year professionally. It was my second year at Deloitte and a promotion was followed quickly by a secondment to Ngati Awa. I spent the majority of the year working half the week in Whakatane and the other half in Auckland and the opportunity to work within a Runanga has been incredible. So incredible in fact that our contract has been extended through until September 2015 and I am making the move down to the Bay of Plenty early in the New Year. I will be working out of the Deloitte Rotorua office while we continue to undertake the CFO/FC role for Ngati Awa and I look forward to working with many of our other clients in the Central North Island and Eastern Bay of Plenty.

I also took the step up within Te Hunga Roia Maori o Aotearoa (The Maori Law Society), being elected Treasurer at our Hui a Tau in Tauranga in September. It is an exciting time for our organisation, and we have plenty of aspirations to push on from the excellent work that has gone into our organisation by the executive committees that have preceded us. For our 2015 hui-a-tau we are going to Waitangi to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

On a personal note, 2014 was a major struggle. In February my mentor, LLM supervisor, and friend, Dr Nin Tomas passed away. Nin was a major source of strength and guidance in my life and was the source of my passion for Maori legal issues. It was an emotional tangi at the University of Auckland’s Waipapa Marae as we said farewell to one of the best Maori legal scholars we have ever known. The year went from bad to worse when in August my relationship of 5 and a half years came to an end. It was a wonderful journey but with a devastating end, and I plan on using 2015 to heal the wounds of these two events.

And now we look forward to 2015. Each year I set six goals that I want to achieve during the year, and count it a success if I can achieve three of them! 2014 was a good year goal wise, and I achieved my 50% pass mark. My goals for 2015 are as follows.

First, I am going to complete my LLM. I have been discussing what is required to complete my dissertation with a new supervisor at the University of Auckland and I am positive about what we can achieve this year. For me, I want more than anything to honour Nin’s memory by writing a top quality dissertation on Maori sovereignty.

Second, I plan on refocusing my energies on Ka Tonuitanga, with the ultimate goal of writing a book on Maori development in the 21st century. A lot of Iwi are undertaking a lot of incredible development initiatives and I plan to bring these together into the one place to provide a roadmap for Maori development. This writing will flow over into this website and my articles for Mana Magazine so you can expect to see a lot of content over the coming year discussing the numerous and novel ways in which Iwi, Hapu, community groups, and the Government are working to grown the social, cultural, and economic capacity of Maori.

My remaining goals are of a more professional and personal nature. I am targeting another promotion at work, maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle, going on an extended round the world trip from September through to December, and improving my Te Reo. I’m also growing a beard but I am not quite sure that counts as a goal!

So I would like to end the year by thanking all my readers during the year and all the wonderful people who I get to engage with on Maori issues on a daily basis. There is a large, and growing, community of Maori who are actively engaged in creating a better world for us all and I am proud to be a part of it. 2015 promises to be a great year, and I believe that we are making truly massive steps towards a prosperous Te Ao Maori. Yes, there is still a lot of work to be done, but progress is being made on a daily basis and that is cause for optimism.

The Flag Debate: Why We Need It

November 4, 2014

Contrary to the opinion of many that I have seen over the past week the debate over our national flag is a serious issue and one that I am glad we are having. The flag is a symbol of who we are as a people and providing a space to discuss this is a positive step. This debate is also much more than a debate about a flag design. It is another step in path of understanding who we are as a nation and of asserting our independence in the world. Many have made the mistake of viewing the upcoming referenda in a vacuum, ignoring the history, and future, of reform that this is one part of.

Yes, there are more important constitutional debates to be had. The issue of a republic and the role that Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the relationship between Māori and Pākehā are two issues that we must address. But these are issues that we are not ready to debate yet. Public discourse over Te Tiriti is too ill-informed, too knee-jerk, too outright racist, for us to seriously contemplate a national conversation over its place in our constitutional arrangements. Even issues such as Māori representation brings out the worst in people and that makes up only a small part of the partnership envisioned by Te Tiriti.

So where then do we place the flag debate? It is a continuation of a theme. We live in a generation where, in the absence of war, depression, or a nation divided by sport; we can start talking about what it means to be citizens not only of this whenua, but of the entire world that we inhabit. We started the conversation in the 1990s with a reform of our electoral system. Reform driven by the failures of the 4th Labour Government. As a nation we can together to change the way we govern ourselves and our representative democracy was strengthened as a result.

And slowly but surely we have gone about this reform on a case by case basis. The Privy Council has been replaced by the Supreme Court; the battle for the recognition of Māori rights has largely been won, with redress payments and co-governance arrangements proliferating without creating too much anger within the Pākehā community; and the social contract was restored with the landmark social programmes of the 5th Labour Government – working for families, kiwisaver, and the national superannuation fund.

Changing our flag is the next step in the reform. It is the most visible symbol of Aotearoa / New Zealand. At the moment it reflects our colonial past and all the good and bad that has arisen because of that. A new flag will mark a turning point in our constitutional history. We can quite literally place a stake in the ground to work on discussing the more important constitutional issues that we need to address over the coming generation.

My hope is that we select a flag which respects and acknowledges our Māori and our Pākehā cultures. If we can point to our flag (and while we are at it, we should officially change our name to Aotearoa / New Zealand) as a symbol of the partnership between Tangata Whenua and those tangata who have joined us on this whenua then that is a powerful platform to build future constitutional change on.

Unwinding A Straw-Man: ACT and Maori Quotas

July 30, 2014

There has been a lot of nonsense from Jamie Whyte (leader of the ACT Party for the uninitiated) over equality for the law and the prevalence of Maori privilege in New Zealand. I’m not going to link to the speeches, but I do want to take him to task over his straw-man argument about Maori quotas at law school a) not benefiting the most disadvantaged Maori and b) serving to deny non-Maori a place.

Now, I’m no expert on the matter but I am Maori, and I did attend law school so I know a thing of two about how the system works.  My grades were high enough to enter stage II law school under general admission – something I am proud about for two reasons.  The first is that I was aiming for Honours and this helped me towards that goal, the second is that I did not take up a spot for another Maori to also join me in stage II.

So why is this argument a straw-man? Quite simply, he has set up the scenario to suit his own facts.  I’ll deal with each in turn.  First, the idea that the most disadvantaged Maori are not benefiting from the quota is nonsense.  The large majority of my peers at law school were upper-middle class paheka kids from suburban Auckland.  They came from the Grammars, or private school.  Us Maori were almost all provincial kids, many on scholarships because our parents could not afford to send us away, and working several jobs to pay the rent.  Most had grown up poor, brown, and considered unlikely to succeed by almost every teacher they met along the way.  Most have gone on to working low paid law jobs as advocates for Maori – and the most disadvantaged Maori at that – before the Waitangi Tribunal, Maori Land Court, Family Court, and in the public sector.  Law school was not a path to riches, it was a path to service.

Second, the Maori quotas do not deny non-Maori a place in law school.  The quotas are in addition to the general admission places and are recognition of the need for Maori lawyers to serve Maori communities.  There have been many years when the full allocation of positions under the quota scheme have not been taken up and at no point were additional places then provided to non-Maori students.

It is intellectually dishonest to frame the argument in such a way that Mr Whyte has.  In distorting the facts to suit his argument he has failed to achieve what he set out to do – engage in an intelligent debate about race and law in Aotearoa New Zealand.  What Mr Whyte refers to as “legal privilege” is nothing more than the protection of our rights.  Rights guaranteed to us under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  The right to self-determination and self governance; the right to the protection of our taonga, our lands, our resources, and our home lands; and the right to not be subject to state-sponsored discrimination.  His version of equality before the law means revoking the protections guaranteed under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  Let’s hope that this is not the ACT party’s bold new vision for our country.

Te Ātiawa in the Māori Aspirations Phase

July 28, 2014

Good news in Māori media with a refreshed Mana Magazine hitting the shelf’s today, including an article I wrote on the aspirations of Te Ātiawa following what looks like the approval by the Iwi of the Deed of Settlement initialed back in May.  I have been highly critical of the deal that was done, but we have to move forward with what has been agreed by the Iwi and the settlement provides a substantial foundation to build a more prosperous future on.  You can read the full article in the August/September issue of Mana Magazine.



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