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The luxury of an ethical opposition

Written By: - Date published: 11:05 am, August 2nd, 2012 - 38 comments
Categories: Maori Issues, national, Privatisation, water - Tags: , , , ,

There are many similarities between the foreshore and seabed debate, and the current events unfolding around Maori water rights. In dealing with these National has two big advantages compared to the previous Labour government. First, the experience of watching Labour navigate the foreshore and seabed. And second, the luxury of an ethical opposition.

It’s part of the successful right-wing myth making around the F&S that Labour’s “first instinct” was to “legislate over property rights”. Not true at all, in fact that was National’s first instinct. Here’s an interesting piece by Audrey Young written the day after the court decision which ignited the F&S debate:

The Crown is the first respondent but acting Attorney-General Pete Hodgson said the Government wanted to carefully consider the judgment before commenting.

National MP Nick Smith is calling on the Government to appeal to the Privy Council.

Another option for the Government is to pass legislation clarifying ownership of the foreshore and seabed.

Dr Smith said the court decision would “open the floodgates” to more Maori claims over beaches, estuaries, harbours and almost any stretch of coastline. He said the Maori Land Court was “never intended as a court to deal with issues of foreshore and seabed”. “The foreshore should not be privatised by stealth. It should be protected and managed for the benefit of all New Zealanders.”

That was how it began, the start of a shameful National campaign of divisive, fear-mongering racism that culminated in the Iwi / Kiwi election campaign of 2005. Years later, even Don Brash apologised on behalf of the Nats. This history, and Brash’s mea culpa, was summarised in an excellent piece by Brian Rudman in 2009. It’s long, but I’m going to quote a big chunk of it:

It’s easy to forget that National, now playing the Maori’s best mate, opposed Labour’s legislation, not because it was unjust, but because it was too soft.

In September 2003, National Environment spokesman Nick Smith talked of Labour “feeding the grievance gravy train” and declared “National would legislate for continued public ownership in the name of the Crown”.

On December 18, 2003, as New Zealanders were preparing to head off to the beach for the summer holidays, National’s Constitutional and Treaty of Waitangi Issues spokesman, Dr Wayne Mapp released a hysterical press statement entitled “Maori Gain Control of the Beaches”. It was in reaction to Labour’s draft foreshore bill. He talked of a time bomb’s ticking and declared it “likely most of the coastline will now end up subject to customary title claims”. He said “the Government has sold the birthright of all New Zealanders”.

A few days later, Dr Brash added to this scaremongering on these pages, putting his name to a piece claiming “Maori will have the right to build boat ramps, jetties, reclamations for tourist hotels and buildings over the water …” and will have “veto power over anyone else’s development, whether commercial or recreational”.

He said customary title would, over time, “erode public access” and enrich “small sections of the Maori aristocracy”.

That Christmas Eve article turned out to be a dry run for his Orewa speech a month later. Nicky Hager reveals in The Hollow Men, the expose based on leaked Brash emails, that the speech was drafted by his chief strategist and adviser, economist Peter Keenan.

It was then massaged by one-time Labour minister and Waitangi Tribunal member Dr Michael Bassett. National’s resident Svengali, Murray McCully, “also reportedly had input”.

Mr Keenan had recommended in a December 13 email to Dr Brash that he make “a big splash” at Orewa on race relations.

“It will come after a summer with demonstrations on beaches, so that should set it up well.” Dr Brash agreed, ignoring warnings from another adviser of the dangers of Maori-bashing.

On the foreshore issue, he told his Orewa audience: “National will return to the position where, for the most part, the Crown owns the foreshore.”

He attacked the “dangerous drift towards racial separatism” and attacked a situation “where the minority has a birthright to the upper hand”.

National would remove divisive race-based features from legislation, scrap special privileges “for any race” and remove the obligation for local authorities to consult Maori. It would remove Maori seats from Parliament.

After pushing all the racist buttons, National saw its poll results rocket from a long stay in the low 20s, to 45 per cent. Nicky Hager noted that exultant Brash staffers celebrated by using, “facetious kia oras to each other in their emails”.

Five years on, Dr Brash slips almost unnoticed on to Sunday morning television, to confess he got it wrong. What an inadequate non-apology that is, after the hatred and divisiveness he stirred up.


So now the Nats have their own version of the F&S to deal with. The wheels are falling off their flagship privatisation programme in all directions. But Key has clearly remembered a bit of history, and decided to go through the motions of taking Maori claims seriously. Think how much easier Key’s job is because he has the luxury of an ethical main opposition party. An opposition that isn’t out there trying to inflame pakeha fears and hatred, inciting racial division for political gain, as National did over the foreshore and seabed.


38 comments on “The luxury of an ethical opposition”

  1. gobsmacked 1

    I don’t really see the point of this post.

    Yes, the Nats were racist bastards. Brash (and Key) and Ansell and the rest. OK, we’ll bear it in mind when we vote in the 2005 elelction.

    Seriously, if the best that can be said is “Labour 2012 – Better than National at their worst”, then the word we’re looking for is not “ethical” but “ineffectual”.

    • Enough is Enough 1.1

      I agree.

      Do we really need to be looking backwards and playing the game of who is least bad.

      The one indisputable fact is the Maori Party wasn’t formed as a protest movement to the National Party. It was formed as a rejection of Labour. Lets not forget that. We are still struggling to gain back the support lost in those days.

      National was bad, is bad and will always be bad. That much is known. Lets not pretend that Labour did the right thing back then.

    • tracey 1.2

      it worked for the nats in 2008 with their no policy sytategy

  2. Carol 2

    Or the luxury of a weak opposition?

  3. Bill 3

    There’s an opposition? Shit. Must have blinked.

    • Dr Terry 3.1

      Fortunately, the Greens are doing the job (but not being thanked for it).

      • Colonial Viper 3.1.1

        well, if air time and newspaper column inches = thanks in the game of politics, the Greens are getting plenty of gratitude.

  4. Ben 4

    Yes, fortunately there is an opposition. The Greens have done an excellent job recently of catching the Government out (Norman on ‘bonus’ Mighty River shares) and embarrassing it (Sage catching out Brownlee on flogging Christchurch public assets). Pity they don’t get much support from Labour.

    • It does look like Greens do their homework, identify the actual target and usually pick the right battles.

      In contrast Labour flails at anything and everything, exaggerates, makes things up and keeps fighting old lost battles.

      It’s ironic that a few days after Charles Chauvel asked for lobbying transparency exemptions for it’s buddy organisations it is claimed that we have “the luxury of an ethical main opposition party”.

      Incidentally the Green’s Holly Walker said NO to Chauvel’s folly.

  5. TighyRighty 5

    An ethical opposition would spell out exactly how much their election policy, the $15hr minimum wage, would cost the country.

    • Pascal's bookie 5.1

      hahaha. Jeez that’s desperate.

      Maybe they should follow the government’s lead and just pull any old number out of their arse. Doesn’t even have to be a ‘best guess’ according to the minister of finance. Just a guess. Get it out there.

    • mike e 5.2

      Treasury has already released that figure before the last election and said the extra spending power would create more jobs

      • Pete George 5.2.1

        No, it said it would mean no job losses if raising the minimum to $13.50 but losses of 5000-6000 if raised to $15, mainly young people, women and ethnic minorities.

        Or maybe you can substantiate your claim.

        It is also likely to reduce work hours, and make it harder for young people to get their first job – if minimum wages are higher businesses tend to employ more experienced people rather than take chances on inexperience.

    • Te Reo Putake 5.3

      No cost, all benefit. Imagine the relief of retailers as their tills start ringing again, when low paid workers have a bit of discretionary dosh to spend. Nice distraction, though, TR. Do you have anything to say about the post?

    • Georgecom 5.4

      Can we first get a clear statement from the PM on the accurate costs of the free shares giveaway. Or how about an accurate estimate of how much the asset sales will raise for the crown.

    • An ethical opposition would spell out exactly how much their election policy, the $15hr minimum wage, would cost the country.

      Someone on Red Alert who is quoting all sorts of data gas claimed:

      The gain to workers is obvious – 500,000 people getting a 10% wage increase…

      It doesn’t take much calculating to work out that that would be a significant additional cost to employers and Government – and would be a significangt inflationary pressure (that would impact disproportionately on those on lower wage rates).

      • Kotahi Tāne Huna 5.5.1


      • tracey 5.5.2

        blah blah inflation… Blah blah, nations the world over are printing money and yet thats not what brought about the current malaise. Stop worshipping at the alter of money and use a different benchmark… Or is that too hard too aspirational

  6. Colonial Viper 6

    There are vast reserves of hoarded capital and unproductive assets sitting on the sidelines not doing shit, currently. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth.

    Mobilise that capital and get it flowing through the economy of communities and towns please.

  7. The wheels are falling off their flagship privatisation programme in all directions. But Key has clearly remembered a bit of history, and decided to go through the motions of taking Maori claims seriously. Think how much easier Key’s job is because he has the luxury of an ethical main opposition party. An opposition that isn’t out there trying to inflame pakeha fears and hatred, inciting racial division for political gain, as National did over the foreshore and seabed.

    You may be right, I haven’t seen parliamentary Labour trying to incite racial division on the water issue (althought I’ve seen minor cases of people with party connections trying). Credit to them for that.

    But I have seen some unethical actions from parliamentary Labour on asset sales, trying to incite division. And what appears to be deliberate misinformation and smear attempts, and trying to create a rich versus poor divide. Presumbaly much of it has been attempts at political gain. It has also been noticable here at times. Sometimes blatant and repeat misinformation (or lies), false accusations, some of it from people known to be a part of Labour.

    Claiming the ethical high ground is a challenging standard to convince and maintain.

  8. For Pete’s sake! There’s a lot of eye-rolling in this thread!

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