Sykes on neoliberalism & the iwi elite

Written By: - Date published: 12:10 pm, December 15th, 2010 - 17 comments
Categories: capitalism, Maori Issues, maori party - Tags:

Originally published here and sent to us by the author using contribute post.

Annette Sykes recently delivered the annual Bruce Jesson Lecture concerning ‘The Politics of the Brown Table’. It was an illuminating speech and well worth a read as she sheds light on the National Iwi Chairs Forum (NICF) and the Iwi Leadership Group (ILG). The Maori Party also cops substantial criticism. Annette is very active in Maori politics and her speech contains a collection of perceptive insights into the ILG and the NICF from an insider’s perspective. You can read her presentation here. This post is a further discussion of some of her points.

Much of her address is a harsh critique of the so called ‘iwi elite’ and their neo liberal agenda. In my opinion her assessments are true and justified. Without doubt neo liberalism undermines Maori efforts for self determination. Neo liberalism encourages the privatisation of communal assets, the commodification of Maori land, the extension of market forces into Maori areas previously untouched and an increase in corporate power and inequality. This all contributes to depriving Maori of the ability to determine the conditions of their lives. Annette Sykes quotes Moana Jackson who makes the pertinent point that Rangatiratanga;

“has in effect been redefined yet again as a neo liberal right of self management bound by the good faith of the Crown and what the Court of Appeal called in the 1987 Case the ‘right to govern’. Moving on from the past and recognising the special place of tangata whenua has become a journey not of constitutional change but of devolution and the authority of the State to devolve or permit Iwi to manage certain resources and programmes subject to government funding and rules of contract”

Annette also discussed iwi authorities. It is worth touching on iwi authorities as market models with an indigenous flavour. In the push for development iwi have embraced the neo liberal model. Iwi are now seeking neo liberal ends such as the right to exploit natural resources, the commodification of land and taonga and some iwi already own Pubs and Casinos. They also want to play a part in the privatisation agenda of the current government (e.g.private prisons, PPP etc…). It appears to me that iwi authorities have rationalised such goals by adopting the ‘trickle down’ philosophy. They seem to reason that Maori participation in the neo liberal experiment will result in indirect ‘trickle down’ benefits for ordinary Maori despite the trickle down theory been rather discredited. Iwi authorities are also structured like a bad business. There is a worrying overlap between governance and management (leading to more power in the hands of management), little to no accountability and murky decision making processes. The recent sacking of Tania Martin illustrates this point as it seemed to be a decision driven by management as opposed to a decision from Te Kauhanganui.

I like this particular observation Annette made not of iwi authorities but Maori authorities in respect of a new Maori hegemony;

“The compliant acceptance of this state of affairs, by the few not the many, illustrates the continued subjugation of Maori to a neo liberal economic hegemony to protect the stability of the construct of Crown unitary sovereignty”

Annette also believes, and I support this viewpoint, that the NICF and the ILG are engaging with government on behalf of Maori without a mandate. Certainly I do not know who my Ngati Awa representative is nor do I remember any person ever coming forward to discuss receiving such a mandate. I do not know if this is the situation with other iwi but I would assume it is. It is vitally important that the NICF have an established mandate as they have been leading dialogue with the government on many issues – instead of the Maori Party. However, it appears the NICF and the ILG are largely self-elected. The ILG legitimacy relies on them been seen as representatives of all Maori although they have attempted to frame themselves as such their actions frame them as indigenous corporatists.

Annette makes the point that it suits the government to have a “one stop shop” for Maori policy in the form of the ILG. Why? Because the government can fulfil their statutory consultation obligations and expect not to run into unworkable opposition because the ILG support their neo liberal agenda.

However, in the interest of fairness, when considering this issue it must not be forgotten that Maori authorities must work within the larger economic framework of New Zealand – a framework that is neo-liberal in its structure and outlook. The structure of iwi authorities is also an imposed structure that reflects the structure of the economy. So perhaps the ILG are attempting to empower Maori in the only way they can – through embracing neo liberalism. Points to ponder?

So I encourage you to read Annette’s speech – it truly is excellent. My hope is people of her standing and ability are listened to by our so called Maori leaders.


17 comments on “Sykes on neoliberalism & the iwi elite”

  1. Tigger 1

    Had a great argument last year with a woman at a party (she’s Maori, I’m not but married to one) where I reasoned that Maori had swapped subjugation by the Crown for subjugation to the market and religion. She tried to argue that honour toward the elite was okay because at least it was a form of self-determination (if they were being led to hell, at least they were doing it to themselves I guess). And apparently religion was a choice so that made it okay. Interesting issues. Thanks for link.

  2. Shona 2

    Sykes lucid analyses have always been so refreshing. What a brilliant woman!

  3. clandestino 3

    The whole ‘compensation’ project has been a disaster from the start. Iwi have become New Zealand’s modern corporate mafia, sheltering their income in ‘Charitable’ Trusts, making huge profits at the expense of all other Kiwis. Take Ngai Tahu. $655 Million in assets. $86m in income last financial year. This hasn’t been handouts to Maori, it’s been handouts to corporatist opportunist Maori such as Solomon and Tuku ‘$100 boxers’ Morgan.

    • Muzza 3.1

      I would not go as far as saying iwi are making profits at the expense of other kiwis. Most iwi investments are centred around tourism and forestry – fairly legitimate industries that benefit the wider economy. Cause for concern surrounds investment in socially damaging ventures such as casinos and pubs and pursuit of mineral exploitation rights.

      Some iwi, chiefly Ngai Tahu and Tainui, have considerable asset bases and run healthy profits. Rather than horde those profits or reinvest them in traditional ways iwi should, in my opinion, be investing in the provision of affordable housing on Maori land, investing in ‘green’ Maori initiatives and backing Maori education providers such as Awanuiarangi or Te Wananga o Aotearoa.

      It is unfair to say Tuku Morgan and Mark Soloman are running away with millions (however Tuku is paid handsomely).

      • clandestino 3.1.1

        That’s what I’m saying muzza. They are hording, check out Ngai Tahus Financials on the Charities Commission website (through which they don’t pay tax on large portions of their income). Huge ‘general accumulated funds’ entries, cash reserves, the lot. In tens of millions. Do the sums on the remuneration expenses and number of employees too, these guys do alright. I saw Tainui’s financials before they were withheld and the directors are making huge bucks, with the help of disguised renumeration of course in property etc. By the way what the hell is a ‘green Maori’ initiative?
        Where’s the investment in Maori jobs and housing?!?! Why are the rest of us Kiwis carrying the can when these corporations, which were supposed to help, simply profiting off asset handouts? As for Maori education providers, I am yet to be convinced they contribute significantly in growing skills NZ will actually need in future.
        This is why the real left has got to be so careful about siding with Maori ‘interests’ in every debate. However well intentioned, any assets (FandS, forests, land) that can be turned into a profitable enterprise will be done so by a select few Maori managers, who will then palm responsibility for their people on the rest of NZ.

        • Muzza

          I am not so concerned about remuneration levels if they are justified and for the most part i think they are. I do take issue with some rather dubious payments such as Tuku Morgan accepting payment as a treaty negotiator despite the fact that Tainui two claims are now settled. Fortunately, these cases appear to be few and far between.

          Unfortunately iwi have had an imposed business structure forced upon them and they must turn a profit to remain sustainable however, as we have both pointed out, what they do with that profit seems to run counter to what they stand for.

          The counter argument is that economic power is seen as a means towards Maori empowerment. To overcome the effects of colonisation Maori need to work and thrive within the current capitalist system.

          It could also be argued Iwi current asset base is not sufficient to support the entire tribe so profits cannot be repatriated to iwi members or invested in initiatives that will result in social benefits but not necessarily financial benefits. You could say this is the long term view – iwi will help their people when they can afford to help them all in a meaningful way. Perhaps they see themselves as doing what is best. Although i disagree with this view i sympathise with it.

          I disagree with your view on Maori education providers. Awanuiarangi offers valuable courses such as teaching and environmental science among others. Graduate courses are also offered at doctoral level. Te Wananga o Aotearoa offers a number of valuable practical courses as well as some academic courses of note.

          For Green Maori initiatives see here;

          • clandestino

            I don’t understand why Iwi can’t be run like not for profits or charities. The fact that they pretend to represent their people but are really just accumulating profit is what galls me. This aside from the fact they have done it all from nothing but an asset redistribution from the people of NZ to a select few.

            Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an anti-capitalist. I believe in the power of the price mechanism. It is not the mode that’s wrong, simply the model. The sooner these entities are run like a social service with a longer term economic perspective, rather than a Mafia clan, the better.

            Re your point below, I’m not so sure there is a significant race element to this. Listening to talkbalk you might not know it but I think (urban, at least) people are genuinely concerned that in an effort to make up for injustices of the past, we are merely redistributing income to a racial racket and damaging the prospects of all NZers, particularly other poor minorities.

            As for educational providers and environmental science etc, I think that’s where we diverge. We need engineers, manufacturers etc etc. Trust me, there are enough twats coming out of uni with Env. Sci and Law degrees to earn $45k a year in govt. jobs already.

            • Muzza

              Indeed, it is a hard question. Should iwi be run like a business paying dividends to its shareholders (iwi members) or a charity providing for those in need? Or somewhere in between? The first problem i see with operating as a charity is that charities require a continued income stream to operate into the long term. So does the government keep paying out iwi or does iwi invest a certain amount of money (in the interests of long term security) whilst distributing the remaining amount and what is generated from investments.

              • Excellent reporting and analysis Muzza. I can’t say I’m surprised by Tuku Morgan’s double-dipping, or his rushing toward things like prison privatisation without considering the track record of the corporates whose hospitality he’s accepting. Principles have never been his strong suit.

                does iwi invest a certain amount of money (in the interests of long term security) whilst distributing the remaining amount and what is generated from investments

                There’s surely plenty of successful models for this: pension funds, credit unions etc. I’d naively assumed this would be the tried-and-true model that’d be adopted, till I was dispatched to sit down with Robert Mahuta and co and find out what they were doing with the settlement.

                Sykes is right… the model adopted by the iwi elites isn’t “trickling down” to ordinary people. My ex-partner, who’s from the Bay of Plenty, is in exactly the same position as you: has no idea who her representatives are and has never been asked to approve them. Indeed has no idea whether her iwi has received anything!

                I realise status relates, in many cases, to birth. But I do honestly wonder how these seemingly slef-appointed “representatives” lay claim to their positions and how – given the talent and skill evident among Maori – someone like Tuku gets to rise to the top?!

              • A

                If there were to be even more excessive conditions put upon what Maori groups could do with their settlements, this would be criticised as racial paternalism.

                The cultural relativism inherent in most forms of racial identity politics make a neoliberal solution somewhat inevitable because non voluntary means of deciding problems are seen as the imposition of cultural values.

                Identity politics is fundamentally not progressive. It is a means of fragmenting interests in order to guarantee the supremacy of a voluntary basis of social organisation (the market). How else could cultures with radically different sets of values be effectively integrated into one socio-economic system without massive upheaval?

                Jerry Rubin became a stockbroker. The career path of many Maori activists has followed a similar arc. You have to laugh.

  4. good lookin out Muzza


  5. The problem with tribal organisations is that they more resemble corporations than institutions of governance. There is little or no financial or democratic accountability, and there is a huge pressure to conform to the wish of the current leadership, regardless of the leadership’s actual progress/intention. They are very similar to the political leaderships of Pacific Island countries. These leadership figures tend to forget/excuse themselves.

    This is part of the reason why the Treaty process is so discredited among the wider New Zealand population – they see it as a transfer of assets from the government to a “brown elite”. Instead of operation under traditional Maori tikanga, the leadership see the settlements as a either a personal reward or an opportunity to make individual gain – not directly of course, but through the preferential allocation of for benefits e.g. tertiary scholarships, salaries. Perhaps, the government in the future should consider more carefully what form it redistributes redress in, and makes sure that the iwi organisation has sufficient suffrage, disclosure and transparency requirements – the government can settle – but hold in trust until conditions are met.

    • Muzza 5.1

      In reference to your second paragraph. I think the treaty process is so disliked due more to racist sentiment than some underlying concern that redress is benefiting only a small elite – ignorance of history and hostility towards perceived ‘hand outs’ drives these people. Nearly every non-Maori i have ever spoken to on the issue of treaty settlements regards settlements as unjustified and unnecessarily large. Despite that fact that settlements are a mere pittance compared to what Maori lost and the subsequent hardship that followed for generations. Notions of justice and equality are rarely considered which is unfortunate.

      And yes iwi organisations are structured poorly but it must be kept in mind that their structure is imposed through legislation (before settlements can be distributed there must be a body capable of handling the assets).

  6. tc 6

    Yes I always thought in my time living overseas and visiting home the issue with maori was ensuring they engage all their constituents.

    I was seeing settlements going to certain iwi who were off the mark quickly (Tainui etc) that eventually the day would come where some stood up and said words to the effect of ‘WTF where’s mine ‘…especially urban maori who’ve drifted away from their traditional bases.

    If the ILG and the NICF aren’t careful they will face a huge backlash from the disaffected at which point the average kiwi will be saying…not my problem, contact your local iwi.

    • The more cashed up iwi need to be chucking some of that spare cash towards Whanau Ora at the very least instead of chucking it to the corporate warriors who don’t need it.

      They should be owning some of those problems to which Whanau Ora and it’s Maori party solution is designed to fix and part resourcing them to do it .

      The danger then would be politicising and enlightening the great unwashed of disaffected and disenfranchised Maori living outside the rohe to challenge the iwi elite supposedly acting on their best behalf, much as what should be happening in the Tainui sacking of Ms Martin.

      If you’re gonna treat a problem holistically then you need to look at all angles, especially the top down angle from on high and ask the right questions, offer the appropriate challenge and not back down in the face of oppression and bullying

  7. SPC 7

    The Treaty settlements were not for the purpose of investment in the well-being of Maori – not even those of the iwi, but to give iwi an asset base to compensate them for lost land etc. Having such restored – of course the improtant thing is to retain and nurture that new asset – just as they would have their land (when that was a decisive part of the then economy).

    The gain to New Zealand – from the negligible cost (have we not given more to SCF) – is in the economic investment – the sustained local ownership reduces our BOP deficit.

    As to iwi use of dividends – retained profit enables purchase of new assets or investment to grow the economic value of an existing asset. Dividends paid out to owners is a decision for iwi – but should in no way be of an attempt to allow an opt-out of the state to provide for all in need, Maori and Pakeha. Thus welfare to Maori comes out taxation (including on iwi business profits) and that includes whanau ora.

    Iwi members have to self-empower themselves to become involved in their iwi Trust Fund dividend process – they could allocate so much to community projects and so much per family – for such as investment in healthy housing, or investment in education sponsorship – letting them choose how this part comes to them (and when and how often they call on the money allocated pa?).

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