Hobson's Choice trumps Hobson's Pledge

Brash is back and so we have to explain again why his argument is built on rubbish and rubble. And we can do it with his own words.

It's a rare delight in these heavily managed times to see conviction politics and heartfelt arguments. It's just sad the Don Brash-led re-hashed Hobson's Pledge lobby group is so ill-judged and ill-informed.

I'm constantly struck by how a man who made an international reputation in the evidence-driven world of central banking can leave all respect for evidence at the door when it comes to race relations. But yes, Brash is at it again, calling for an end to "Maori privilege".

Of course the evidence is clear that Maori enjoy anything but a privileged life in New Zealand. They die younger, are educated less, and stopped by police and imprisoned more. They earn less and are less likely to own their own home. 

But that's the evidence Brash and his offsiders choose to ignore. They're not interested in context or history, they have their own favoured evidence. And part of it we can all agree on. Fact: Some state agencies in New Zealand practice affirmative action. Only Maori get certain scholarships to university, for example. Special efforts and budgets have gone into Maori health and housing, for example. And yes there are Maori seats and other efforts to ensure Maori get, as the Maori Party like to say, a seat at the table.

And you know what? It's worked.

What's not acknowledged enough by all sides of this debate is that Maori social statistics have, in many parts, been improving since the early 1970s. In health, education and more Maori are catching up to Pakeha. And that's great. Because if a government is not there to try to give people a hand up and ensure everyone gets an opportunity, then what else is it there for? Because without those things there is no law and order, no national prosperity, no shared sense of identity.

Of course what Brash calls 'Maori privilege' others call redressing the wrongs of history. Land, and therefore a people's economic base and identity, was (at times, not always) confiscated. And futures were confiscated along with it.

Justice demands that what was taken over generations is returned, at least in part, over generations.

But that affirmative action is what Brash and his ilk find offensive. They ask why Maori get this scholarship or that funding when they don't. Why do they get these settlements and seats? And when you answer either 'history', 'justice' or 'social order and prosperity' they just don't like what they hear. And they ignore the well-rehearsed facts, such as that reparations to iwi are just a tiny percent of what was taken.

What's remarkable is that this is all well-worn argument, yet their devotion to their slanted view is so resilient. Even though we know that the resources returned to iwi are that tiny percent of what was taken, the lobby group complains about the $2.5b in total settlements so far as if that's an egregious amount.

It's worth a few minutes to read their site. There are valid issues lurking among the nonsense – for example, the fact that settlements are based on where tribes happened to sit in a moment of history (1840), how far respect for Maori spirituality goes and how we manage Maori representation in local government. But their arguments all based on an intellectual foundation made of rubble and rubbish. The profound wisdom that we should all be equal before the law is twisted and imprisoned in what becomes an argument for privilege to be entrenched with a certain people (Pakeha) at a certain time in history (today).

Beneath the stock photo (sans Maori) on their homepage, they are exposed by their on words. They write that "Race-based privilege creates opportunities for corruption, resentment and unrest", without any sense of irony or appreciation that affirmative action is an effort to tackle 150 years of race-based privilege and is helping avoid more unrest in this country. 

They show their failure to understand the most basic ideas of a constitution, by on one hand saying "The Treaty of Waitangi is not in any meaningful sense New Zealand’s constitution" and yet in the very next line saying that the Treaty did cede sovereignty, protect property rights and establish Maori as British subjects.

Even given that slanted interpretation, it clearly acknowledges that the treaty deals with rights and power, which is, er, what a constitution is.

But perhaps the most exposing line is in the lobby group's name. They call themselves 'Hobson's Pledge', referring to the words Governor Hobson said in 1840 as the treaty was signed - “he iwi tahi tatou” – "we are now one people".

As if just because the white man at the party said it, it was and shall ever be thus. As if we don't know that many of the Maori signing the treaty had very different world views. And, most inanely, as if history froze at that moment.

If time had stopped then and started again yesterday, their argument may have more merit. But of course it would be irrelevant, because all the things that offend them wouldn't have happened.

Well, the same is true for Maori. Since 1840 we have had war, confiscations, legal oppression and even - for a period around the turn of the last century - the assumption that Maori could die out as a people. Indeed, some of the promises at the heart of the treaty – Maori rights to forests and fisheries for example – were broken.

Yet Brash and his cronies pretend none of that happened and that those words spoken by Hobson must be taken as canon.

It's laughable. Yet again it seems we must remind ourselves of these arguments and win the debate again. And we have to once again try to convince those who may be tempted by Brash's argument that Hobson's Pledge will be defeated by Hobson's Choice.

In reality, New Zealand has no choice but to confront its past, balance the wrongs of history and accept that we will never be "one people". We've moved on from the Orewa days, as we must.

The pragmatism of the Key years has even many who may have once been sympathetic to Brash now understanding that some acknowledgement of Maori aspiration and rangatiratanga (while still in need of much debate about just how it is executed) is not only OK, but necessary. Even the ACT party rejects the notions. Settlements have continued and are woven tightly into law. And, again, the fact is the policies these men hate have worked.

So the "one people" talk is out-dated and nonsense. Rather, we will be a respectful mash-up of peoples living together in one country and under one law, but a law that is flexible enough to recognise what has gone before.