Free Flowing No Longer? How has God’s rain become the “Iwi Leadership Group’s” private property? And how do the latter propose to finesse the Prime Minister's, John Key's, repeated and emphatic assertion that "nobody can own the water"?
WHAT IF THE TREATY SETTLEMENT PROCESS had begun in the 1960s, instead of the 1990s? What would New Zealand look like? Historical questions beginning with “What if?” are always fun, even when the factors working against history unfolding in any other way are insurmountable.
Supposing, for example, that the highly influential Hunn Report of 1961 had recommended the establishment of a Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal and the negotiation of multi-million pound “Treaty settlements” in recognition of the injustices suffered by Maori since 1840 – rather than the policy of “racial integration” that it did recommend. Would the National Party government of the day have taken it seriously? Absolutely not.
The government of National’s Keith Holyoake, like the government of Labour’s Walter Nash which preceded it, was deeply apprehensive of the social consequences of the rapid pace of Maori urbanisation. In 1931, thirty years before the Hunn Report was published, barely 15 percent of Maori lived in urban areas, by 1961, however, that percentage had soared to well over 50 percent. Just a quarter-of-a-century later, in 1986, close to 80 percent of Maori lived in New Zealand’s towns and cities. New Zealand’s politicians and bureaucrats (who were overwhelmingly Pakeha) were concerned that such breakneck social and cultural change might spark serious racial unrest.
The Hunn Report rejected both wholesale assimilation and forced segregation as solutions to the “problem” of rapid Maori urbanisation. His great hope was that through intermarriage, the strategic use of public housing and, most importantly, through the homogenising influence of public education, Maori would peacefully integrate with the dominant, Pakeha, society.
It’s important to remember that, in 1961, there were clear alternatives to the policy of racial integration already operating in the English-speaking world. In South Africa and the southern states of the USA segregation was mandatory and the very notion of “racial mixing” considered dangerously provocative. With the violent excesses of Jim Crow and Apartheid before them, liberal Pakeha hailed Jack Hunn’s recommendations as being both courageous and progressive.
Jack Hunn: Neither wholesale assimilation nor forced segregation, but peaceful racial integration, was Hunn's vision for the future of Maori-Pakeha relations.
Conservative Pakeha were by no means convinced. In 1961 there were still many New Zealand communities in which informal racial segregation remained the norm. Pukekohe infamously separated the races at the town’s barber shop, cinema and pub. Such citizens condemned the Hunn Report as a dangerously radical document. Their deeply entrenched racism would smoulder on in both provincial and metropolitan New Zealand, flaring into angry firestorms whenever racial issues achieved political salience – most particularly in 1981 and 2004.
So, even if the sort of radicalism that was later to produce the Waitangi Tribunal and the Treaty Settlement Process had been present in the minds of any interested party – Maori or Pakeha – back in 1961 (which is highly doubtful) it would have been rejected out-of-hand by just about everybody.
But what if New Zealand had been ready for such solutions in 1961? How would they have played out?
The short answer is: they would have played out social-democratically. The institutional expression of the politics of reconciliation and redress would have rebuffed the politics of hierarchy and commercialism in favour of participation and collectivism. It would have done so not only because that was the shape of the increasingly urbanised Maori society that was emerging, but also because, thirty years after the ravages of the Great Depression, and just 15 years since the end of World War II, that was the shape of New Zealand society as a whole.
The formation of such institutions would, therefore, have reinforced and strengthened the social-democratic temper of the times – with incalculable (but likely quite profound) effects on the development of the Labour Party, the trade union movement, local government and the broader New Zealand economy.
That the Tribunal (empowered to hear claims from 1840 onwards) and the Treaty Settlements Process were created between 1985-1995 meant that the institutions which emerged to implement these changes reflected a very different set of priorities. The 1980s and 90s were the period in which New Zealand’s social-democratic society was systematically taken apart. In its place arose the neoliberal society of today: a market-driven economic system in which the rich rule and the poor go under.
Successive neoliberal governments took care to ensure that the energy of the Maori Renaissance was channelled into elite-brokered, ostensibly Iwi-based, “neo-tribal capitalist” corporations: institutions functionally indistinguishable from the foreign- and Pakeha-owned corporations in whose interests New Zealand politics is now transacted. These neo-tribal capitalists have grown exceptionally skilled at masking the commercial imperatives that are their true raison d’être behind the rhetoric of reparation and redress.
How else could God’s rain have become the “Iwi Leadership Group’s” private property?
But, what if Jack Hunn’s philosophy of integration is as far as Pakeha New Zealanders are willing to go? What if there’s a line they will not see crossed? What if this is it?
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 14 April 2015.