Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The danger of the Treaty debate wearing us down

Screeds have been written about the Treaty of Waitangi. And there's more to come as division over race and rights ramps up.

Its content and meaning are getting lost in the crossfire and the danger of 'contestants' talking past each other looms, if not already happening.

When matters get murky, and misunderstandings abound, there is also a danger of observers getting worn down and disengaging. To avoid this happening personally, I made a mental list of what really aggravates me. In no particular order:

    1/ Maori spiritual and religious belief being embraced and promoted by a formerly secular public service.

    2/ A separate health system 'by Maori for Maori' that's a duplication and indulgence. Every individual that interacts with the health system now faces nurses and doctors etc of various ethnicity and birthplaces.

    3/ A child who cannot be cared for by its natural parents having a substitute picked primarily by race.

    4/ Cultural reports that use colonisation to excuse criminal behaviour and result in sentence discounts.

    5/ The cultural practice of 'rahui' which block public access to public property.

That's not a long list. But each of these concrete bones of contention has arisen from Treaty 'creep', one way or the other. For instance, regarding item 1, the practice of reciting karakia (Maori prayers) is defended by the public service as "cultural acknowledgement" adding:

    "The Public Service is committed to building and maintaining capability within organisations to engage with Māori and understand Māori perspectives. The Public Service Act 2020 (the Act) section 14 recognises the role of the Public Service to support the Crown in its relationships with Māori under Te Tiriti o Waitangi | the Treaty of Waitangi. To this end, the new Act includes provisions that put explicit responsibilities on the Public Service Commissioner, when developing and implementing the public service leadership strategy, to recognise the aims, aspirations and employment requirements of Māori, and the need for greater involvement of Māori in the Public Service."1

Obligations under the Treaty must flow one way. No other prayers are required or permitted at the commencement of public service meetings. 

Back to my list. Wanting an end to each of the above can, in no way, be described as racist, or hysterically, 'white supremacist'. An end to these practices would be consistent with an end to racism. Not the reverse.

Individually we each have our own objections to what has developed. Not just over the past six years, but decades. There can be no doubt that over the coming months and years the debate will intensify. It may be far more effective to list and talk about practical concerns than argue the original- versus- evolved meaning and intent of the Treaty. The latter course is rapidly descending into the realms of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. By all means a redefinition of the articles or replacement with a constitution should be an option. But if that relies initially on a referendum then the arguments that persuade will be much closer to home - through letters-to-the-editor, talkback, social media, around the dinner table and at the pub.

I noticed a neighbour is flying the national Maori flag. I am assuming as a show of support for Maori. But what does that mean? They agree with TV1's John Campbell? They are virtue-signalling their 'non-racist' credentials?

I support Maori. I support them to look forward instead of back - which most do. I support them to get a decent crack at the cherry like everyone else. To get equal opportunity but understand that doesn't guarantee equal outcomes.

But above all I support a set of rules we can all live with free from fear or favour. None of the items on my short list would pass the test.