The Dark Art

New Zealand Centre for Political Research

The New Zealand Centre for Political Research is a web-based think tank that takes a research-based approach to public policy matters and encourages the free and open debate of political issues.

Politics has been called the “dark art”. In an interview last year in the Telegraph, Lord Michael Dobbs, the former chief of staff of Baroness Margaret Thatcher and writer of the popular television series ‘The House of Cards’ about a politician’s struggle to the top, explained:

“Politics is not about honesty and openness and truth, it’s about getting things done. The reason why Margaret Thatcher was elected and re-elected again is not because she was warm and kind and cuddly. It’s because she had a pair of hob-nailed boots and she knew how to use them… Politics is much like life, sometimes you tell light lies for a greater need. In politics sometimes you tell dark lies for the same thing.”

One can endlessly debate how ‘dark’ the art of politics really is in New Zealand, but one thing is certain, and that is that some of our politicians are as good as the best at saying one thing, while meaning another.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, former National Party leader Dr Don Brash, describes an example of this at a government consultation meeting he attended last week on the future of fresh water management. He explains:

“On 22 March, I attended the single public meeting which the Government held to brief the people of Auckland on its proposals with regard to fresh water management. There were fewer than one hundred people present, no doubt in part because there had been little publicity about the meeting.  It was addressed by Dr Nick Smith in his capacity as Minister for the Environment.

“The crucial issue is not so much who owns water but who gets to control its use. And what the Minister said didn’t entirely reconcile with what is stated in the consultation document which had been issued outlining Government’s intentions with respect to fresh water.

“His basic premise seemed to be that Maori interests in fresh water would not be protected if those were dependent on the wishes of the majority, though why Maori would have interests in fresh water which differ qualitatively from those of other New Zealanders is entirely unclear.

“But more ominously, the Minister’s assurance that the Government’s proposals won’t give iwi any decision-making role seems quite inconsistent with what the consultation document proposes.”

Dr Brash is referring to the Minister’s “Next steps for fresh water” consultation document, where the section on ‘Iwi rights and interests in fresh water’ starts with the proposition: “From the government’s perspective this means ensuring iwi and hapu are able to participate in decision- making about fresh water in their rohe”.

The Minister reinforced this in his speech launching the consultation process: “We are going to require councils to talk to local iwi to identify the rivers and lakes they connect with and the values of importance to iwi. Iwi will be able to initiate agreements with councils on how they can participate in decision-making on freshwater…”

Quite how Dr Smith can reconcile his extraordinary reassurance at the meeting that the Government’s proposals “won’t give iwi any decision-making role”, with the clear recommendations in his consultation paper and speech that they will, is hard to fathom. But it does demonstrate his single-minded determination to ensure the Maori sovereignty movement’s goal of tribal control of fresh water becomes law.

Back in 2014, when Iwi Leaders were pressuring the Government for tribal rights to water, the Prime Minister explained, “In the Supreme Court, we said in our statement … that we think there are legitimate rights and interests. We think there might be quite a gap between what some groups think those rights and interests are, but there are by catchment, in certain places, rights and interests.”

But making a statement in a Court is very different from a Court judgement, and since there are no court rulings to the effect that Maori have rights and interests in water greater than those of all other New Zealanders, the Government must be relying on other evidence such as that presented by the Waitangi Tribunal in their 2012 report on the National Freshwater and Geothermal Resources Claim.

In that report, the Tribunal outlined 12 “indicia” of customary ownership: The water resource has been relied upon as a source of food and textiles, for travel or trade. It has been used in rituals, has a mauri (life force), and is celebrated in waiata [songs] and whakatauki [proverbs]. People have identified taniwha [monsters] as residing in the water resource, and they have exercised kaitiakitanga [guardianship], mana [authority] or rangatiratanga [ownership] over it. Whakapapa [genealogy] identifies a cosmological connexion with the water resource. There is a claim to land or territory in which the resource is situated, and title has been maintained to some, if not all, of the land on (or below) which the water resource sits.

David Round, a lecturer in law at Canterbury University has examined the ‘evidence’, finding it does not prove ownership. He concludes, “The arguments of the Waitangi Tribunal are rubbish ~ a mixture of uncritical gullibility, mumbo-jumbo, racism and illogic, all fortified by inbuilt bias. These twelve ‘indicia’ are stupid. They establish beyond reasonable doubt the intellectual bankruptcy of the Tribunal. Yet this body of highly-paid Maori lobbyists masquerading as an impartial tribunal considers them adequate arguments.”

In other words, no Government should take the arguments presented by the Tribunal in favour of Maori having special ‘rights and interests’ in water seriously. And to date, none have.

National will be the first Government in New Zealand’s history to give credence to the repeated attempts by tribal leaders to lay claim to the country’s fresh water.

And we know why. It’s not because National has suddenly been persuaded by tribal leaders that their claims are legitimate. No, the reason is much more pragmatic – an appeasement deal was done with Maori leaders at the time of the partial privatisation of state owned power companies in 2012. In return for allowing the share float to continue unobstructed, National agreed to give tribes decision-making powers over fresh water.

But, as the Tribunal explains, this is likely to be just a first step:

“The Crown denies that the asset sales will inhibit its ability to provide rights recognition or redress in the future… its preferred option is an enhanced role for Maori in governance and management of water resources. But the Crown argues that if commercial redress or rights recognition is eventually shown to be appropriate, then it will still be able to provide it. It will be able to foster joint ventures, impose a levy or tax on water, create a royalties regime, or require shares (irrespective of the cost) for allocation to Maori, regardless of having partially privatised mixed ownership model companies.”

In other words, once tribes have secured a governance role in fresh water, commercial control will undoubtedly follow. And the glib assurances from the Minister at the public meeting attended by Dr Brash, that were clearly intended to reassure concerned New Zealanders that nothing will change if iwi control fresh water, are just hollow words.

It won’t stop there. It will only be a matter of time before iwi demand a royalty every time a tap is turned on.

The only way to stop this is people power.

If everyone reading this newsletter wrote even a short email submission opposing the race-based control of fresh water to, and sent it on to the Prime Minister and to National Party MPs (their email addresses are HERE),  then you would be helping to ensure the government gets the clear message that New Zealanders are totally opposed to the race-based control of our nation’s fresh water resource.

If enough people did this, the Prime Minister would soon realise that New Zealanders are not prepared to tolerate National’s political manipulation of our country’s governance arrangements to appease the Maori Party and its supporters in this appalling way.

Their manipulation also involves the Resource Management Act. According to the Waitangi Tribunal, the RMA reforms have been designed to lead to commercial returns to tribes: “Crown counsel told us that ‘commercial opportunities’ would be provided for in ‘resource management policy development in which iwi/Maori and the Crown are endeavouring to collaborate’.”

Their collaboration has indeed led to the inclusion of Iwi Participation Agreements in the new the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill, as the mechanism by which tribes can become resource consenting authorities, controlling water and other natural resources in their areas.

It was these that Winston Peters spoke out against in his January State of the Nation address, when he opposed all laws that enshrine separatism in the Resource Management Act reform bill: “New Zealand First will move amendments to cut red tape and bring common sense to the RMA. We will do so on one condition, that National will drop ALL provisions in the bill that provide separate rights based on race.”

In his speech Mr Peters also outlined what Iwi Leaders really want with regards to fresh water: “Ownership of all Crown owned river and lake beds and the water column. Title in freshwater consistent with Waitangi Tribunal rulings. A $1b fund in to an Iwi approved entity to address capacity and capability including mechanisms to assist decision making, water quality and economic mechanisms.”

He then explained, “As we go about the different communities in this country, from North to South, East to West not a single New Zealander, non-Maori or Maori has come to us and said ‘Mr Peters, we need to give rights over water to Maori’ or ‘Mr Peters, we are too unified as a country, we need more separatism’.

“So why these changes? Well it gets back to what was said earlier. They are not listening to you. It reminds one of an old army saying, ‘it’s mind over matter’. ‘I don’t mind because you don’t matter.’ The two big parties don’t mind, because they think you don’t matter.”

Recent media speculation suggests that the former Labour Government Minister, Shane Jones, may be planning on standing for New Zealand First in the Whangarei electorate at next year’s general election.  If that’s the case, the Party may benefit, not only from voters who feel disillusioned with National’s continued championing of the Maori sovereignty cause, but Labour voters as well.

In New Zealand, equality under the law is a latent political issue. From time to time, it awakes, as we saw clearly in 2004, when Don Brash delivered his Nationhood speech, questioning the sort of society we wanted to build: “A modern democratic society, embodying the essential notion of one rule for all in a single nation state – or a racially divided nation, with two sets of laws, and two standards of citizenship?”

By sending a clear message that under his leadership, National was prepared to uphold the principles of equal rights and one standard of citizenship, Don Brash increased Party support from 28 percent to 45 percent.

With National now in the process of betraying those principles, it is gifting a huge opportunity to New Zealand First to take a leadership role in promoting one rule for all in a single nation state. If they do, there is every likelihood that they will be the ones holding the balance of power after the next election.

Despite what Minister Smith may say, National’s proposals for fresh water are extremist and racist.

With the consultation process over the future of freshwater management well underway, New Zealanders need to know what is being planned. With the Government downplaying public consultation, we have drafted a public information advertisement HERE, and with your help, we would like to it publish in leading newspapers throughout the country to encourage as many New Zealanders as possible to send in submissions before the April 22nd deadline.

If you too believe it’s crucial that Kiwis are made aware of the Government’s proposals for the race-based control of the country’s fresh water, so they can have a say, then please support this advertising fundraiser HERE.


Do you believe that Maori tribal demands for rights to water are about mana or money?


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