Leadership requires the leader to set aside self-interest. It is a concept that sometimes seems quite alien to Prime Minister John Key – who has reached instinctively for the most inflammatory card in the race relations deck – “separatism” – to gain short-term advantage from some innocuous Waitangi Day comments made by Labour leader Andrew Little.
Reportedly, the inspiration for Little’s line of thought was a Waitangi Tribunal finding last November. According to the Tribunal, Northland tribes had not fully ceded their sovereignty when they signed the Treaty in 1840. As the Tribunal indicated, the nation’s founding document appears to have been based on a mutual misunderstanding. Britain thought it had acquired sovereign authority over the whole of New Zealand but in the Tribunal’s opinion, the chiefs who signed the document had believed they would keep their full traditional authority, with Britain’s role being restricted largely to keeping the influx of rowdy settlers in line.
This being the case, a careful exploration of what that never-ceded sovereignty might mean in a modern context is not only desirable, but incumbent on the Crown. As Little had carefully stressed, New Zealand needs to be unified and cohesive. “But if there are historical commitments about preserving a level of self-governance, then lets explore that and see how that could happen.” As a possible model, Little pointed to the autonomy that Native Americans have developed on their tribal reservations. These powers include the right to make laws and administer them on reservation land, with respect to tribal residents and outside visitors alike.
Little had ruled out the path of separatism. Powers to make separate laws, he conceded, would be problematic here. “The fear is always that these things turn into a ‘they are getting special privilege’ or ‘they are getting a control we would never be able to have’. Yet now that Treaty settlements have occurred and now that iwi have their own economic base, Little concluded, “There are some things we might want to say that iwi can be responsible for that is consistent with historical obligations.”
Enter John Key, stage right. As is his wont, Key has tried to make political hay out of this issue by playing to the worst instincts of the talkback radio crowd. At his post –Cabinet press conference yesterday, Key suggested that Little was advocating separatism…. And was In effect, calling for “the independent state of Northland” for Maori. Sigh.
In fact, Little was hardly breaking new ground with his tentative proposal for a debate on what greater self- rule might mean. The Key government for instance, has recently passed the Te Urewera Act. As a result, Te Urewera is no longer a national park and its management has been ceded to a joint Crown-Tuhoe partnership. Since then, Tuhoe have reportedly flexed their muscle by scrapping the hunting permits issued by the Department of Conservation, and are moving to a locally-run permit system for hunting on tribal land.
For Maori, greater autonomy over traditional areas is on the increase – in the Urewera ranges and on Waikato river management at least – and this is occurring with the Key government’s full blessing. Good. Yet when reminded by Scoop at yesterday’s press conference of the Urewera example, Key chose to split hairs : “That is co-governance, where you’ve got a scenario where there’s input by statute if you like, of a number of different parties but they come together to make decisions.”
So when the Key government promotes a greater degree of self rule it is to be called ‘co-governance’. But when Andrew Little advocates a debate on how we might usefully take that same concept forward, the PM calls it “separatism.” Face palm. (Incidentally, does this mean that the government actually signed off beforehand on Tuhoe’s apparently unilateral revocation of DOC hunting licenses? I doubt it.) Once again, watching New Zealand politicians try to have a debate on an important issue is to hang your head in despair. The only encouraging thing about this episode is that Little has been prepared to take the risk. Good for him. No doubt, there will be “advisers” in his office who will be telling him it was a mistake to do so. It looks more like leadership.
Footnote : Native Americans offer no clear template for New Zealand to adopt, even if felt so inclined. On the federally recognised 225 reservations and among the 550 recognised tribes, the rules of governance vary, often substantially. As a rule though, Native Americans are exempt from federal income tax and state sales tax on the monies earned and transactions carried out on tribal land. For obvious reasons, tribal powers are limited. Tribal authorities cannot conduct foreign affairs or print money, and federal laws have defined their lands as “domestic dependent nations” which is a status that some Maori would reject on principle. On the upside, though – and consistent with modern readings of the Treaty – the overall system is one of parallel sovereignty between the federal government in Washington, the 50 state governments and the tribal governments, with each supposedly recognizing the authority of the other. It is not separatism, but federalism.
As New Zealand heads towards becoming a republic, it would be nice to think that a national debate could be held (a) on Parliament’s relationship to the Crown, but also (b) on the relative powers of the Treaty partners. That wouldn’t mean taking a new and divisive path to separatism. It would mean resuming a debate that as the Waitangi Tribunal indicated last year, was never concluded in 1840.
Tony Abbott’s Zombie Period
The centre-left in Australia must be celebrating the survival of Tony Abbott as PM. It means that a crippled and universally loathed figure will stagger on, even though the Liberal coalition caucus would obviously dump him if given a free vote on the subject. (Yesterday’s vote wasn’t free. It supposedly locked in as many as 41 ministerial –related votes for Abbott, and that only underlines the extent of the backbencher revolt.) Moreover Abbott’s likely replacement – Malcolm Turnbull – is reportedly the least desired option by Liberal members, while Abbott is preferred to the other contender, Julie Bishop, among the same Liberal voters, who evidently can’t stomach the dreadful thought of having a woman in the top job. Is there anyone else? Well, Scott Morrison is being touted as the new, younger hope as a Lib leader of the future – and that’s apparently because of the great job he’s done in stopping the asylum seeker boats. Yikes. At such times, Australia looks like a not-so Lucky Country.
Don Covay RIP
Soul veteran Don Covay died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 76. This sad occasion gives everyone yet another chance to bicker over whether this is – or isn’t – a 22 year old Jimi Hendrix playing guitar on one of Covay’s biggest hits, “Mercy Mercy”. You be the judge, because the historical evidence is inconclusive. Good song though, either way.
Covay had a real talent for writing cheating songs, where love once again makes a fool of him, usually with another man’s wife. One of his biggest late-career hits came in the 1970s, with the sleazy-but-heartfelt motel mini-drama “ I Was Checkin’ Out While She Was Checkin’ In” …Yet this earlier song about guilty slippin’ around is more listenable.