Are some of us really more equal than others?

20:55, Jul 16 2013

Last weekend I wrote a column in the Sunday Star-Times entitled The politics of race that upset a few people, as it was intended to do. 

Most of the comments came from the people I was criticising, naturally - angry white New Zealanders who feel they are somehow missing out on something being given to others of a different ethnicity and who are attracted by the Pakeha Party's call to arms: "Whatever Maori get, we want it too.''

One, who identified himself as MJ63 on this website and also sent me a personal Facebook message to reinforce his point, described me as a "nose in the trough, unskilled, rubbish blogger'' writing "unresearched, untested and unedited drivel and claptrap written on a Macbook Air while sipping on a skinny latte at a trendy cafe''. 

I was clearly, he wrote, "a bleeding heart libertarian leftie and current president of the politically correct head in the sand failed journalists association''.

Others were able to better marshal their argument, and spoke of "a reversal of privilege and not an equalisation'', of "white New Zealanders who are marginalised and poor''. One claimed "white people in NZ are treated like second rate citizens'' and even predicted that racially motivated killings would follow.

Another commenter stated "radical Maori are developing Apartheid at alarming rate and the National Party is destroying our democracy at an alarming rate''. 

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And so on, and so on, and so on.

Clearly I struck a nerve, as the Pakeha Party, now approaching 60,000 "likes" on Facebook, has certainly done. Its founder, David Ruck, is busy soliciting for $5 donations as we speak. 

I thought it might be more useful, however, if we examined the grievances and the bumper-sticker "One law for all'' rhetoric of both the Pakeha Party and fellow political organisation 1law4all to see whether they held any truth.

The central argument of both parties and their followers - implicit or explicit - is that Maori get special treatment. That different laws apply to them, that they get access to taxpayer funding non-Maori don't get, and that either money or privilege or political representation is available to them on the basis of their ethnicity. 

So, is any of this true? 

Let's start with the claim that the law favours Maori. Well, there is the Treaty of Waitangi, I suppose. It's our founding document as a nation, though both Maori and non-Maori may feel it doesn't hold much power. 

It's true the Waitangi Tribunal can only hear Treaty of Waitangi claims from Maori. That's because, as the first people of New Zealand, some wrongs were committed by white settlers that needed to be fixed. Most tribes now have settled their claims, and the tribunal is on track to finish its work within the next two years. 

The Foreshore and Seabed Act gave Maori the right to exercise some customary rights over some areas of coastal New Zealand, but not the power to either own it or prevent others from using or accessing it. 

Various pieces of legislation require government departments and education institutions to have regard for the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. Occasionally politicians (Don Brash, Winston Peters) have got upset about this clause, but the principles simply state the Crown must have regard for the equality of Maori and that it must cooperate with Maori - and provide a mechanism for redress for any claims under the Treaty. It also restates that the Crown has the right to govern and make laws. 

I wouldn't have thought this amounted to "legal separatism'' as is claimed by the Pakeha Party and 1law4all. 

So are Maori entitled to special political representation? Well, we currently have seven Maori-only seats in Parliament. And some councils have a couple of places set aside for Maori only. You can debate whether or not either is still necessary given the huge surge in political interest among Maori and the number of Maori MPs now in general seats in Parliament. Personally I think the Maori seats were once necessary but no longer are. Their continued existence is part of a review of our constitution now under way. Have your say. 

So no need to rise up in arms over that. 

Right then, so are Maori entitled to stodging great wodges of cash the rest of us can't access? Hmmmm. Not really. Much is made of the $134 million given to the Whanau Ora programme for Maori beneficiaries. But this is money carved out of the existing welfare budget and given to NGOs and government organisations to enable them to work more effectively to deal with Maori beneficiaries.

In other words, it takes money unemployed Maori would have been entitled to anyway (because they are unemployed, not because they're Maori) and tries to find new ways of getting them off a benefit. No Maori is entitled to more taxpayer money simply because of their ethnicity. It's also a drop in the bucket when you consider the government spends $12 billion a year on welfare.

The Department of Maori Affairs, Te Puni Kokiri, gets around $200m to run itself and to administer various Maori language programmes and promotion of the Maori culture. You could do away with this. You could also do away with the Ministry of Women's Affairs, I suppose. But I don't see any political party advocating that (though I think National did under Don Brash).

You could try to argue the Treaty cash settlements are examples of race-based funding. But they are one-off settlements paid as "full and final" claims on a case-by-case basis. And they're just about finished.

And that's about it, really. We have a Treaty, a small number of Maori-only seats, a government department that spends some money ensuring Maori language and culture thrives, and a small experimental benefit programme.

Does this amount to some huge inequality? Are thousands of non-Maori New Zealanders missing out on anything as a result? I just can't see it.

But please, feel free to comment and tell me what I'm missing. I'd welcome any rational, example-based explanation of precisely how non-Maori New Zealanders are becoming "second-class citizens'' or being disadvantaged because of their skin colour.

Because I've seen precious little actual evidence to date.  

Follow Colin on Twitter.

 in the trough" queue of rubbish, unskilled bloggers. Where we once has trained, qualified, experienced and professional journalism with credibility, neutrality and standards - we now have either non-journalists or failed journalists paid to throw together a 500 - 1,000 word blog style articles of unresearched, untested and unedited drivel and claptrap, usually written on their Macbook Air while sipping on a skinny latte at a trendy cafe in Ponsonby, Parnell or St Heliers. Seriously Colin - either research your articles and at least pretend to be an unbiased professional journo rather than making it obvious you are a bleeding heart libertarian leftie and current president of the politically correct head in the sand failed journalists association''