Harawira v Brash

It was a very interesting debate on Close Up tonight between Hone Harawira and Don Brash, both men I thought stated their case well and conducted themselves in a manner complementary to politicians.  In this article I am going to de-construct the debate, and highlight what were, for me, the important issues to come out of it.

The Opening Salvo’s

Predictable, the first question asked was whether Harawira stood by his comments comparing Brash to Hitler. Also predictably, Harawira stood by his claims.  It is always a dangerous approach in politics to compare you opponent to one of the greatest mass murderer in the history of humanity and it remains to be seen what kind of impact this will have on Harawira’s support come November.  The problem for Harawira is that he is attempting to be too subtle with what is a very inflammatory statement.  He goes on to argue that targeting Maori with the aim of denying Maori culture and destroying Maori is like Hitler targeting the Jews.  Putting to one side the more hyperbolic of Harawira’s language, he does pose a very valid question: do Brash’s policy prescriptions actively target Maori and seek to destroy our cultural heritage.

It certainly suits Harawira’s narrative to portray ACT in this manner. It provides an identifiable enemy and allows him to set himself up as the protector of Maori, and counter-balance to the ACT party within Parliament.  It is a narrative which could well prove fruitful within the Maori electorates.

That is the perception of ACT in Maori eyes, but is it the reality?  I think not. In any event, the ACT party is not as extreme as many on the left like to make out.  It is a common ploy in politics to paint your opponents as extremists – it plays on the inherent fear existent within human societies of those who are different to us.  Brash, in response, makes it quite clear that ACT is concerned about issues of inequality in New Zealand.  Where he differs from Harawira is in the approach that we need to adopt in order to address the problem.

To Brash, issues of social inequality are best resolved by taking an across the board approach.  To him, a poor person is poor regardless of whether he or she is Maori or Pakeha.  An unwell person is unwell regardless of whether he or she is Maori or Pakeha.  Brash recognises the over-representation of Maori in all the negative economic and socio-economic indicators, but argues against targeted assistance on the basis that the need for assistance exists regardless of race.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi and The Maori Seats

Following on from my participation in the Te Paparahi o Te Raki Waitangi Tribunal Hearings into the meaning and effect of He Whakaputanga (The Declaration of Independence) and Te Tiriti o Waitangi held last year, I found this aspect of the debate most fascinating.  When it comes to Treaty jurisprudence, Harawira lives and breathes the issues and his understanding of Te Tiriti is vastly superior to that of Brash.  To Harawira, the principles of Tino Rangatiratanga and Kawanatanga in Te Tiriti combine together to form a partnership between Maori and Pakeha.

This analysis of Te Tiriti was used by Harawira to justify the continued existence of the Maori electorates.  While, as Harawira noted, the Maori electorates were initially implemented as “a racist decision to keep Maori in their place” (reflecting the existence of a Maori majority at the time), they have come to mean much more today.

I have always found this to be the great irony of the Maori electorates. Initially designed to prevent Maori representation from taking over Parliament, they evolved when Pakeha assumed majority status to ensure the representation of Maori voices within Parliament.  I agree with Harawira that we need the Maori electorates to provide a voice for Maori, but I do disagree with him that Te Tiriti guarantees the existence of such seats.

I tend to take a more literal reading to a legal text then I do a subjective reading. When we talk of the spirit of a text, I do not believe that such spirit should be given legal weight – what matters are the words as written, and intended by those drafting the texts. A legal document, at its core, is a written manifestation of the intentions of two (or more) parties.  Te Tiriti is no different. It is the written manifestation of the agreement made at Waitangi in 1840.  Nowhere in that document is the notion of a partnership discussed, or the rights of Maori to representation within the Kawanatanga set out.

From hearing the evidence presented to the Waitangi Tribunal at the hearings last year, I would posit that what was agreed to by Maori at Waitangi was as much about the establishment of separate jurisdictional communities as it was about partnership. Te Tiriti granted the British the rights to settle and to govern the territory and their British subjects in the interests of peace and well-being. The State, as it exists today, is not what was envisaged by Maori in 1840. Te Tiriti was never intended as a document allowing the British to establish they system of laws in the manner in which they did.

Brash, on the other hand, finds no justification for the Maori seats in Te Tiriti. When you analyse the ACT position in relation to Te Tiriti it can almost be read as if it came from a moderate Maori. While many will recognise Brash as focusing on article 3 of Te Tiriti when he says that all New Zealanders are equal under Te Tiriti, he made it quite clear that he also believed in the protection afforded in article 2. He stated that the Crown is correct in paying compensation in cases where property was taken away from Maori.  What is sometimes forgotten is that ACT, in its true form, believes in upholding Maori property rights because it believes in upholding property rights. In relation to the foreshore and seabed debate, ACT did not support the initial Labour Party legislation on the basis of this position: that it unduly took away property rights, without providing for adequate compensation.

It is only under the direction of Rodney Hide that ACT have sought to fill the populist, anti-Maori rhetoric gap left following Winston Peters’ exit from Parliament.  It has not proven successful.  But this is where Brash continues to walk a fine line and opens himself up to criticism from within Te Ao Maori. Brash will always talk about article 3 more than he does article 2. He focuses on the ‘one law for all’ mantra because he knows it is a much more effective political slogan then ‘one law for all, including the right of Maori to receive compensation for the land and resources that were taken from them”.

The Negative Statistics

As noted above, both Harawira and Brash agreed that Maori are over-represented in all the negative economic and socio-economic indicators. However, trying to get either man to state their position and response to improve such negative statistics proved a very difficult task.  Harawira repeated his comment that people in New Zealand were starving and stated that we need to life the working class up.  When asked whether such poor statistics was all a result of colonial oppression, Harawira (perhaps wisely) made no attempt to answer that question. It can be a losing battle sometimes trying to explain why Maori are in the position we are in today. Yes, colonisation has played an integral role in the negative statistics, but after 170 years Maori have to accept some responsibility for the problem and take active steps to improve it.  What disappointed me was that instead of engaging with this question, Harawira resorted to political slogans about wasteful government expenditure.

To me, Tino Rangatiratanga is both a right and a duty. Maori are guaranteed our rights to our whenua, our kainga, and our taonga under Article 2 of Te Tiriti. Accepting, as we do, that Tino Rangatiratanga means the ability of Maori to decide for ourselves the approach that we take in terms of our land, our home (or more widely, territory and peoples), and those things we hold dear; there is also a corresponding duty on Maori to preserve such things.  With issues such as these negative statistics it is important to acknowledge the role of colonisation in creating the problem, but it is more important for our leaders to stand up and take responsibility for addressing such problems.  A true leader does not hide behind excuses of colonisation, a true leader works to remedy the failings of the State because it is the health and vitality of the individual, the whanau, the hapu and the iwi that is the most important to us as Maori.

The Mana Party

What then will the Mana Party bring to the New Zealand Parliament? Unlike at his launch, Harawira was talking more about the importance of upholding Maori rights and being an independent voice for Maori. He stated, perhaps to the relief of many within Te Ao Maori who were concerned with the overtly left-dominated approach, that the Mana Movement would be about Maori representation to defend Maori interests. That said, it is clear that there is already a crisis of identity within the Mana Movement.  Harawira attempted to pitch his party as both a Maori kaupapa party and a left wing party. When asked to justify his rationale for that by Brash he responded with deflection. Where in areas such as his beliefs around Te Tiriti o Waitangi in which Harawira provided clear responses, here there was deflection – a clear indication that he himself has not fully worked out how the two paradigms are going to interact with each other.

Engagement with the Maori Party

Unsurprisingly, Harawira was not complementary in his description of the Maori Party, at one stage calling them the “Maori translation service of the National Party.” I take anything Harawira says about the Maori Party with a grain of salt nowadays given the nature of his departure and I would caution against reading too much into this comment.  The Maori Party, in my opinion, continues to provide an independent voice for Maori within Parliament. On issues which it considers harmful to Maori, the Maori Party MP’s have exercised their right to vote against the Government.  It is the nature of MMP politics that the minor parties are always going to encounter a majority-partner who dictates terms most of the time.  What needs to be remembered is that National did not need to establish a relationship with the Maori Party.  In 2008, we elected a National-ACT Government. An invitation was issued to the Maori Party to form a relationship with the National Party and that opportunity was taken up. It has allowed for small successes for Te Ao Maori that would not have been achieved otherwise, and this is not something to be lightly dismissed.

What will put a lot of minds at ease within Te Ao Maori were Harawira’s comments that it is not beneficial to Maori for a war to break out between the Mana Movement and the Maori Party.  He appeared to make a clear statement that the Mana Party would target the Party vote and not contest the Maori electorates.  This is the best approach for Maori.  As Harawira noted, Maori have generally not been well served by having their Maori MP’s as part of either Labour or National.  The existence of both the Mana Movement and the Maori Party provides two complementary vehicles for Maori.

Overall Impressions

Overall, we witnessed a somewhat constructive debate between two party leaders on opposite sides of the political spectrum. It was a debate conducted in a spirit of mutual respect that was sadly lacking during Brash’s debates with Helen Clarke back in 2005. Both men accepted the honesty and sincerity of the other, but believed the other to be wrong in their policy responses to the issues facing New Zealand.  There is nothing wrong with that – politics is a field where we need competing opinions.

I also tend to think that not as much separates Harawira from Brash as both men like to make out. It certainly suits their political aspirations to drive a wedge between each other and while they will never work together in a Government, I feel that their debates through this election campaign are not going to be as vitriolic as first feared. Both men aspire to improve the lives of those at the lower ends of the economic system, and both are consistent critics of the excessive government spending and large amount of money we as a nation are borrowing each week.  Both agree on the fundamental importance of Te Tiriti, but differ in their analysis of it.  Harawira believes in the partnership created through the guarantees of Kawanatanga in article 1 and Tino Rangatiratanga in article 2, where as Brash focuses on the equal rights guaranteed to all New Zealanders in article 3.

I do hope that the rest of the debates this year live up to the standards set tonight. Issues were discussed, and positions teased out without too much recourse to empty political slogans. Our democracy is best served when we have a full and proper debate on the issues that matter to New Zealand. Tonight, we saw a pretty good example of that.


  1. A good summary of the debate. However, you are deluded to think that Hone and Brash have much in common.

    “Both men aspire to improve the lives of those at the lower ends of the economic system”

    Don Brash and you are both intelligent enough to understand that right wing policies, while they could perhaps increase productivity and wealth, will certainly increase the gap between rich and poor and therefore only hurt the lives of those at the lower end. It is OK to believe that overall wealth is more important but to pretend you care about the lives of people at the bottom, in my opinion, is not.

  2. No, see here’s the mistake you make Kieran.

    The real difference between right and left is that the right think that the left want the best for the poor but are just wrong in how to get there, where as the left just think the right don’t care – even Hone admitted as much.

    ACT was formed out of the Labour party, by people who wanted to improve the lives of the poor but just found a different (we would say better, you would disagree) way of doing it.

  3. Oh and for the record, i disagree that liberalisation results in a larger gap, but even if it does, who cares if there is a bigger gap but everyone is better off?

  4. Thanks for the supportive comments. I want to pick up briefly on the comments you made Kieran. One of the reasons why I started this site was to try, in even the smallest way, to move the political debate away from the right hate poor, left are communists diatribe that is too common in New Zealand politics. Fundamentally, I believe that everyone in politics, be they on the left or right, are sincere in seeking to improve the lot of everyone in society. Where they differ is the best approach to take.

    When it comes to the gap between the rich and the poor, I believe (and I think Peter shares this belief) that the absolute gap is not important. What is important is that everyone in society is provided with the necessary support to ensure their fundamental needs are met. If this level can be obtained, then there is no need to envy those who have more (whether it be achieved through hard work, circumstance, or luck).

    • Fundamentally, I believe that everyone in politics, be they on the left or right, are sincere in seeking to improve the lot of everyone in society.

      Unfortunately, that’s not true. There’s this group called psychopaths that really are in it only to transfer wealth from the many to themselves. They almost always (greater than 90%) vote to the right of the political spectrum and can often be found in the upper echelons of business and right leaning political parties.

  5. Generally v interesting post. A couple of comments and questions

    1. It is my understanding that the reason the Maori seats were created was that the vote at the time depended upon a property qualification, ie you had to own property worth a certain amount to have a vote. Owing to communal landholding, almost no Maori would have qualified and so a small number of Maori seats with no property qualification were created. Is this not correct?

    2. There is no evidence that “colonisation” does anyone any long term economic harm. In fact the evidence is rather the other way. Comparing Pacific Islands with each other, the ones with the highest standard of living today are the ones that were colonised longest. Also common law ex-colonies do better than similar non-common law colonies. If one wants a stark example, South Korea was raped and pillaged by the Japanese for many decades but appears to be doing quite well now.

    3. The fundamental question is how are Maori to achieve the same socio-economic statistics as Pakeha while clinging to a life-style that does not generate wealth. The left seem to regard it as some sort of accident that Britain became the richest country in the world, followed by the US. Or it was because of “exploitation of the empire” which is total nonsense, an empire is a drain if anything (viz Portugal which went bankrupt trying to run an empire). Britain became the richest country in the world because it had property rights, the rule of law, individual freedom etc etc. This is a a package. Maori cannot demand to carry on with Maori Land Act title, iwi ownership of resources, traditional methods of decision making AND expect to achieve the same level of wealth as people who live differently. (except of course by being perpetual rentiers living on hand outs from the rest of us, dressed up as some cultural support, redress or whatever)

    • Tena koe Bernard.

      I have written an analysis of the establishment of the Maori seats – you can read it here: http://roiamaori.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/the-curious-case-of-the-maori-electorates/

      As for your second two points, needless to say I would disagree with your notion that colonisation does no long term economic harm (of course, how long is long term?). The experience is that colonisation (primarily the effects of war and land confiscations) destroyed the thriving Maori economy of the 1850s and replaced it with a race devoid of land and having to rebuild. South Korea may be a success, but it is a success because the Japanese left the peninsula, thus they were not deprived of their economic base (i.e. land). Maori, in the 1880s, had lost over half of their land and almost as much of the population. What land that did remain was saddled with debt by local councils, who insisted on rating Maori land without providing adequate services to that land. This severely impacted the ability of Maori to derive a living from the small proportion of Maori land remaining – a condition that existed well into the 1970s. Does that meet your definition of long term economic harm?

    • “… as Harawira noted, the Maori electorates were initially implemented as “a racist decision to keep Maori in their place” (reflecting the existence of a Maori majority at the time),…”

      I too was of the view that the Maori seats were created because the property qualification (by which New Zealanders were represented in the parliament formed on the dissolution of provincial government) disqualified Maori whose property ownership was communal and not personal. Suffrage was extended to all Maori males over the age of 21 in 1867; to all European males over the age off 21 in 1879; and women over 21 in 1892.

      I also understood that by 1864, when the Maori seats were created, the non-Maori population of New Zealand exceeded the Maori. Dunedin alone grew to 100,000 very quickly after the discovery of gold in Otago.

  6. I believe.. that the absolute gap is not important. What is important is that everyone…(has) their fundamental needs.. met.

    Kia ora for getting straight to the nub. But the mass of evidence (of which The Spirit Level is simply an easy-read recent drop) would suggest you’re wrong. That and history. Compared to our grandparents (or most of the world), even the poorest here live in luxury: yet by any measure – morbidity, mortality, self-harm etc – they also live in misery. If “fundamental needs” sufficed, we’d still live in blissful feudalism, even slavery. And maori wouldn’t still die eight years earlier.

    “There’s no need for envy” is a convenient construct of oppression and puts the blame on the victims: they choose to commit the “sin” of “envy”, thus cause their own misery.

    Try an experiment one day: live on the equivalent of the dole for a year or two, and see how long before your tamariki “sin”.

    • It all depends on how you define “fundamental needs”. For me, freedom and liberty is a fundamental need so that rules out the “blissful feudalism” you speak of. I am aware of The Spirit Level, and I am also aware of the numerous critiques of the scientific method (or lack thereof) employed by the Authors. What I do question is your assertion that the luxurious poor in this country live in misery. I simply do not see that, nor do I believe it is true. Again, it suits the proponents of class warfare to make assertions like that, but such assertions are rarely backed up in reality. Happiness is an internal state. The Buddhists teach us that true happiness, or enlightenment, comes from within – and comes from a mind free from material possessions and material concerns.

      As for your experiment, I was a student for 5 years – I appreciate the challenges that come with living on a limited income. I also have the debt to prove it!

      • I simply do not see that..suits the proponents of class warfare…

        Might have got you wrong here, but you appear to be suggesting that the poor are actually quite happy and that anyone who suggests otherwise is probably just a war-mongering communist. Congratulations, for the first time in a long while, words fail me…

        • I was merely pointing out that your comment that all poor in this country live in misery is unsubstantiated and does not fit the reality that I experience. Now you are free to provide evidence to contradict this position, but in the meantime stop using the poor to advance your ideological position. Remember, it is your analysis that states that the poor in NZ are all miserable souls in poor health who go around inflicting harm on themselves.

          • No it’s not, and you know it full well; just as you’re also well aware of the effects of deprivation.
            Disappointing to see you stoop to such puerile sophistry and impute motives out of thin air; contrary to your training, life isn’t a continuous argument that must be won.

  7. Josh that is a very good and fair analysis, though I don’t agree that a person who compares his opponent to Hitler is “conducting himself in a manner complimentary to politicians”.

    Bernard, I think we need to concede that the Maori seats probably were created to herd all Maori into four seats rather than allow them to swamp the settler population in Parliament. It rings true that a colonist population of the nineteenth century would probably do that to preserve their majority.

    That doesn’t make it right, but from what I read I gather it’s a fact.

    In all other respects, I thought Hone embarrassed himself and Maoridom with the absurdity of his answers.

    It seems one of their major problems is the poor quality of Maori leadership compared with the days of Apirana Ngata, Peter Buck, Maui Pomare and (I forget his first name) Carroll.

    Ngata did his darnedest in the 1930s to convince his people to forgo the temptations of welfare to become educated and beat the Pakeha at his own game. He and others did just that.

    But most were more inclined to take the money. That is the real problem with Maori underachievement – lack of self-motivation caused by the availability of a soft option.

    It’s not just a Maori thing. Farmers did the same before Roger Douglas removed their subsidies and forced them to compete.

    • Hi John, thanks for your comment. And yes, you are right about the Maori electorates. The thing with Harawira (and Brash does this as well) is that he primarily speaks to his supporters, and those political slogans are designed with that in mind. I tried as much as possible with my analysis to drill down to the policy debate that was underlying the rhetoric.

      It is James Carroll. I would also go further back to and add names such as Te Whiti and Tohu, Potatau Te Wherowhero, and Wiremu Kingi to that list (maybe showing my Te Atiawa bias here). But you are right, Ngata, Buck, and Pomare were trail-blazers when it comes to Maori leadership, although each came in for their fair share of criticism at the time as well. Personally, I am more inclined to look to the example set by my Grandfather, James Pihama. He taught me that the key to success is hard work and education. The leadership Maori need will not be found in a politician, especially one who is as divisive as Harawira is.

  8. Excellent post Joshua and many interesting followup comments. One point I’d like to pick up on:

    “One of the reasons why I started this site was to try, in even the smallest way, to move the political debate away from the right hate poor, left are communists diatribe that is too common in New Zealand politics. Fundamentally, I believe that everyone in politics, be they on the left or right, are sincere in seeking to improve the lot of everyone in society. Where they differ is the best approach to take.”

    I’d like to offer my support and encouragement with this. It won’t be easy to make headway, politicians, parties, much of the MSM and blogs seem entrenched in conflict mode, thinking it should be a ruthless competition rather than a co-operation of competing ideas.

    • Thanks Pete! Judging by the comments on both Kiwiblog and The Standard about this, they all seem quite happy to fling mud without much engagement with the actual issues. While it may be idealistic, I look for the best in people. You only had to look at how the politicians answered the question of whether Maori had a special place in New Zealand the night after the debate on Close Up. Almost all of them said, without a shadow of a doubt, that we do.

  9. “From hearing the evidence presented to the Waitangi Tribunal at the hearings last year, I would posit that what was agreed to by Maori at Waitangi was as much about the establishment of separate jurisdictional communities as it was about partnership. Te Tiriti granted the British the rights to settle and to govern the territory and their British subjects in the interests of peace and well-being. The State, as it exists today, is not what was envisaged by Maori in 1840. Te Tiriti was never intended as a document allowing the British to establish they system of laws in the manner in which they did.”

    “and compensation for all the land taken”

    … which according to Willie Jackson is 1% down and 99% to come.

    So what next? If we agree what the treaty says is it reasonable to stick to the contract if non Maori wont accept it (or are they being unreasonable). I think solving the problem to this point and stopping is intellectually lazy/greedy?.

    • Are you saying that once the issue of compensation for historical breaches of Te Tiriti has been resolved, we should then turn to a larger discussion about the relevance of Te Tiriti given the large number of non-Maori who no longer accept the premise of Te Tiriti? If so, then I agree – there needs to be, and will be, a discussion on the wider meaning of Te Tiriti within New Zealand. I actually think that that debate is happening at the moment – the relationship between Maori and Pakeha is constantly under discussion.

      But, consider the consequences of Pakeha withdrawing from the contract – they would have to give up the rights they hold under it, namely, the right of Kawanatanga. The Crown’s claim to sovereignty is predicated on Article 1 of The Treaty of Waitangi. Remove the Treaty, and those rights will have to be relinquished. That is how a contract works.

      • In reality (as a Pakeha), our legitimacy is simply our bulk and because while our system may have its faults, it isn’t that bad* . Maori tribal territories and power (tinorangitira tanga) has been dismantled. If people are going to talk about that aspect of the treaty they need be clear as to how those compromise institutions will work. In practice we see examples such as a marine biologist unable to perform an autopsy because the orca is an ancestor or taiapure versus marine reserve or Maori owners blaming a Pakeha settlement for pollution, as though Maori didn’t also have old septic tanks.

        *I believe there is a limit to how far we have to go to satisfy the rights of the first settlers.

  10. Thanks for this, Joshua. I have been alternately pessimistic and optimistic about the future of NZ society with the strong rhetoric and feelings being expressed on all sides.
    I think what worries many Pakeha – rightly or wrongly – is that the Treaty/Tirity if interpreted in a truly legalistic sense would create two classes of citizenry, where only one has fully sovereign representation (ie. the ability to participate in and set all areas of public policy, includng taxation and who can and cannot become a citizen).

  11. Thanks for the post Josh. As a swinging voter, I look at all the political statements made by parties and try to work out what would be the best outcome for NZ. Nothing that the MANA Party has done so far has made me inclined to vote for them. The new ACT Party under Brash will shift its focus more to the right and not enough is known yet about how this will pan out. I think Don & Hone both suffer from foot in mouth disease but of corse are radically different in their approaches. I think this year’s election is certainly going to be more interesting that we initially thought.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.