The Second Wave: National's connivance in the re-colonisation of Aotearoa-New Zealand has set in place the objective conditions for a powerful alliance of non-elite Maori and Pakeha.
THE EBB AND FLOW of Maori-Pakeha relations: from guilt-ridden patronage to populist recrimination; is as old as the Waitangi Treaty. Economically driven, the relationship’s ups and downs are easily mapped against the booms and busts of colonial development. On the way up Pakeha dismissed indigenous objections as inimical to progress. On the way down Maori were criticised for competing directly (and thus illegitimately) for Pakeha resources, and their needs were given the lowest possible priority. Only when the threat of concerted Maori resistance became too real to ignore did the authorities, with much show of pious benevolence, deign to intervene.
Viewed from this perspective, the political equation determining Maori-Pakeha relations has, for most of the 172 years since 6 February 1840, been relentlessly zero-sum. While productive Maori resources remained to be transferred to Pakeha settler possession, New Zealand’s race relations remained tense and recriminatory. Few people gave much thought to how the Maori-Pakeha relationship might change if New Zealand’s developmental “fortress” economy was ever opened up to the rest of the world.
How would Pakeha fare if their country was to fall victim to a second great wave of colonisation? How would Pakeha react when they realised that, just like the Nineteenth Century Maori, their most prized possessions: farms, forests, public utilities and locally-owned industries; were being taken over by foreigners? What would happen to the Pakeha ruling elites when ordinary Kiwis finally twigged that, far from defending the nation’s “treasures”, their political masters were actively conniving in their alienation?
At that point, and with that realisation, the objective basis for an unbreakable alliance between non-elite Maori and Pakeha would spring into existence. Like the Maori of the 1850s and 60s who demanded that not one more acre of Maori land be sold to a settler regime that was clearly unwilling to uphold the promises of the Treaty, Maori and Pakeha could demand that not one more state-owned asset, not one more hectare of productive farmland, be sold to overseas investors. Especially when those investors were informing the political elites that any legal reference to the Treaty must constitute a serious disincentive to off-shore participation.
That the Treaty might act as an impediment to foreign direct investment in New Zealand assets was understood by the NZ Treasury from the very outset of the neoliberal “revolution” in the mid-1980s. Indeed, had it not been for the intervention of the Maori Council and the subsequent validation of its position by the New Zealand Court of Appeal, the complete alienation of New Zealand’s key assets would almost certainly have occurred.
The now familiar and broadly accepted characterisation of the Treaty relationship as a “partnership” between Maori and Pakeha is a crucial legacy of that historic legal contest. For the best part of two decades it has tranquilised the inherent conflict between the global neoliberal project and the Court’s partnership-based model of Maori-Pakeha relations. The nascent political alliance between the two peoples has been similarly retarded by the compromise enshrined in Section Nine of the State Owned Enterprises Act.
The substantive Treaty Settlements which Section Nine’s existence encouraged the Crown to negotiate may also be seen as devices to obscure and delay the formation of a political alliance between non-elite Maori and Pakeha. Indeed, by fostering the growth of tribal elites and supplying them with the resources necessary to co-opt their most trenchant critics the Treaty Settlement process has effectively demobilised a great deal of Maori activism. At the same time the multi-million dollar financial settlements have generated considerable Pakeha resentment towards “Treaty troughers” and the Iwi “gravy train”.
The Court of Appeal’s decision on the foreshore and seabed further exacerbated Pakeha resentments and set in motion the political processes that led to the formation of the Maori Party.
The National Party under Dr Don Brash came within an ace of fanning these resentments into an open rift between the Treaty partners and thereby igniting significant racial conflict. Under his successor, John Key, National abandoned this strategy of tension in favour of the much less inflammatory strategy of transforming the Maori Party into a mouthpiece for the aspirations of tribal elites.
The result is Hone Harawira’s Mana Party. For the first time in New Zealand history a political party has been formed which takes as its starting point the natural alliance of non-elite Maori and Pakeha.
As National sloughs off the ideological camouflage of its first term, and its second term’s neoliberal programme acquires a sharper focus, the consequences of a reactivated recolonisation of New Zealand are emerging with equal clarity.
The reaction to the Crafar Farms sale is only the beginning of a long and potentially bitter struggle to reclaim Aotearoa-New Zealand for its native sons and daughters: Tangata Whenua, the People of the Land, and Tangata Tiriti, the People of the Treaty.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 7 February 2012.