Gordon Campbell on the centre-right’s cynically divisive messages on race

394f923f7037b367c6d9Could be wrong, but I have a hunch that if a male Maori activist entered the home of a National Party candidate uninvited, it would be safe to assume the Police would have done more than wag a finger at them and send them on their way. The National Party would have been screaming to high heaven that this just goes to show that decent New Zealanders are no longer safe in their homes from the criminal underclass, and that political thugs are threatening to tear asunder the very fabric of our democracy, etc. etc. etc.

Instead, the National Party called the incident “disturbing” but added that the Police hadn’t asked to talk to them about it. Yet reportedly, the perpetrator was a well-known National Party activist motivated by “political” reasons to enter the home of a 20 year old female candidate for Te Pāti Maori. Not for the first time, the centre right appears to have a double standard when it comes to issues of race and intimidation.

The Peters Panic

In addition… National is really ramping up its scare messages about Winston Peters as a de-stabilising threat to whatever an ACT/National coalition might have in mind for this country. So much so that Sir John Key was given a prime spot on RNZ news bulletins this morning (replayed on Morning Report) to deliver a party political broadcast urging voters to deliver National from any reliance upon New Zealand First.

One looks forward to similar (breaking news!) treatment of the fact that Helen Clark wants more people to vote Labour, and Russel Norman wants a stronger Green voice in Parliament. Who knew?

Despicable as some of Peters’ statements are, he may also be the only meaningful restraint that we have (gulp) on what would otherwise be a pure, undiluted programme of centre-right extremism.

By and large, Peters gets depicted as a malignant blight on democracy only when he gets in the way of what a centre-right government wants to do. When he’s blocking the agenda of a centre-left government, we’re more likely to see a rash of stories treating him as a loveable rogue who, at times, can be overly fond of a nip of whiskey. What a card. IMO, moderate centre right voters should vote NZF to stop us all being put through the same nightmare of neo-liberal experimentation that we endured between the mid 1980s and the mid 1990s.

Peters founded New Zealand First in revolt at the excesses of that era. It would be tragic if, in the twilight of his career, he chose to runner stamp David Seymour’s attempts to make New Zealanders relive the worst whims of Ruth Richardson and Roger Douglas.

Footnote: The post-election period of uncertainty may drag on for quite some time. How long do you think it is going to take Peters to haggle with Luxon over what he wants for himself, and what he wants to ensure that David Seymour doesn’t get? If the ACT Party truly believes the government that governs best is the one that governs least, then Seymour should be overjoyed. Because we may be lucky if by Christmas, we have any government at all. It is shaping to be a coalition of chaos, but in slo mo.

Co-governing & The Voice

Here and in Australia, votes will take place on October 14 that will shape the rights of indigenous people in both countries for a generation. If the centre-right prevails here, Maori stand to lose the gains made in the past 30 years, what with centre-right’s excited talk of re-writing the Treaty principles. As for Australia… In the unlikely event that the “Yes” vote prevails, the Voice referendum would create an independent body that would consult with federal government on the likely impact that any piece of legislation might have on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands people and communities.

Note: a “Yes” outcome on the Voice would create only an advisory body. Despite what Peter Dutton and the rabidly conservative Aussie media have been saying, this Voice advisory body would have no veto power on legislation, and no ability to take policy makers to court. Even so, its symbolic significance would be considerable. For the first time, Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders would have a constitutional right to be heard when it comes to policies that affect them. Beyond symbolism, the Voice could also make the federal government function more efficiently and cost-effectively in its responses to the needs of Australia’s indigenous people. As a result, Australia would become a fairer society for everyone.

Alas, the current polls indicate that the fear whipped up by systematic inputs of dis-information has convinced a majority that the Voice poses a mortal threat to Australian democracy. The “No” vote is set to prevail. Some of the rhetoric driving the “No” vote will sound pretty familiar to New Zealanders. Here, the principle of “ co-governance” has been similarly vilified as a divisive socialist plot hatched by the liberal elite, as a charter for racial separatism.

Ironically, the scare campaign waged here against “co-governance” – it entails only a minimal devolution of power to Maori – has been led by the libertarians within the ACT Party. In every other context but co-governance, ACT likes to portray central government as inherently inefficient and overbearing. One might have thought that since co-governance would make policy formation and service delivery less centralised, more effective, and less prone to waste and failure, this approach would be greeted with open arms by the centre-right. No such luck.

Instead, co-governance has been met with panicked, irrational opposition by National, ACT and New Zealand First alike. All of them have declared themselves opposed to any policies that might foster Maori self-determination. For its part, ACT has also indicated its preference for denying funding to any state agency set up to meet needs primarily defined by race or gender.

Hating on self-determination

A limited degree of self determination (not separatism) is what was being proposed with co-governance. The research basis for the co-governance approach is extensive. Years of work by Harvard University professor Joseph Kalit (and his Arizona University colleague Stephen Connell) into the impact of self-determination among indigenous peoples has found that it has been the only successful model for relationships between the US federal government and tribal communities.

As Kalit puts it: “Self determination is the only federal policy that has had any broad, positive sustained impact on Native American poverty.” Federally imposed, “one-size-fits-all” governmental designs have failed, Kalit added, because they do not take the varied and complex local conditions of indigenous cultures into account.

Kalit, again: “The research evidence is that it is local self-government by tribes – making their own decisions about everything from local taxes and appropriate business regulation to what languages get taught in the schools and what days trash gets collected – that explains the sustained economic development that has finally taken hold over so much of Indian Country,”

Starting in the 1970s, as Kalit’s Harvard’s Ash Center website explains, Congress passed a number of pieces of legislation to promote Native American self-determination. In the intervening decades, Congress and federal agencies have worked to expand and support efforts of tribes to make decisions over their own affairs.

During this same period, research by Kalit and others has shown how per capita income levels of Native Americans residing on reservations have risen at a rapid rate – far outpacing growth rates for all other Americans. “The dawn of self-determination through self-government has launched a sustained economic boom—on average—for the tribal nations of the U.S.”

This doesn’t mean that self-determination is a magic bullet that can operate independently of adequate federal government funding. Nor does it mean that all wellbeing gaps between Native Americans and the wider US population have been closed. On occasions e.g. Pine Ridge reservation in the 1970s, tribal authorities can also be captured by corrupt leaders.

Regardless of such caveats, here’s where the thinking of Kalit and the leadership of the Maori Health Authority share common ground. On the basis of their experience, self-determination is the essential starting point if the social and economic outcomes among Maori are ever to improve.

As mentioned, the ACT Party should be right on board with this. A top down, assimilationist approach to policy formation and service delivery assumes that Big Government based in Wellington knows best. Why, instead, has ACT become the country’s leading political advocate for imposing a centralised one-size-fits-all Big Bureaucracy model onto Maori?

The cynics would say that it is because there are votes to be won by pandering to the fearful and resentful people left behind by unfettered market forces. But there’s a consistent ideological thread evident here as well. As the Aussie journalist Bernard Keane recently noted, it’s not all that surprising that conservatives can hold such a contradiction in their heads. A lot of hostility towards the very idea of a Voice has come from people who don’t trust governments. As Keane indicates, the links between conspiracy theorists, people opposed to indigenous rights, anti-lockdown activists and Covid sceptics is pretty well established – and on both sides of the Tasman.

Here’s how Keane sees it playing out:

….While neo-liberalism gets blamed for everything bad in the past 30 years, it’s hard not to see this as the natural consequence of the application of a political and economic system that elevated the wants of large corporations to the pinnacle of public policymaking, that made government the handmaiden to capital. When politics is reduced to making sure government serves vested interests, it slowly obliterates the idea that politics can be about government in the public interest.

In that hostile climate, your own interests become paramount. Since neo-liberalism has atomised any sense of the public good, it has turned self-interest into the only relevant measure of political value. From that standpoint, it’s easy to see why principles like co-governance get short shrift. They’re a distraction (even a threat) to you getting a bigger slice of whatever is up for grabs.

Footnote One: As mentioned, the Maori Health Authority has been a long overdue exercise in self- determination. The National/ACT/NZF troika are keen to abolish it before it has time to produce meaningful results. This is despite the glaring deficiencies of the status quo “one size fits all” approach that are evident in (a) the health statistics for Maori and also in (b) Maori prosecution/imprisonment rates.

For the record: life expectancy for Māori males was 73.4 years in 2017–2019. In stark contrast, life expectancy for non-Māori males was 80.9 years. Life expectancy was 84.4 years for non-Māori females, compared to 77.1 years for Māori females. The centre right parties also want to raise the retirement age – but among Maori, nearly two-thirds of the male-female difference in 2017–2019 was due to higher male death rates at ages 60+. Meaning: many more Maori will die than they do already, before they can reap the retirement benefits of the taxes they have paid.

Plainly the status quo rhetoric (that need, not race should always be the only right and proper determinant of access to healthcare treatment) is ignoring the fact that race is an extremely important factor in the outcomes delivered by the current system. Given how the policies promoted by the founding fathers of neo- liberalism have ravaged Maori communities since the mid 1980s, it is also infuriating that today’s advocates of the same policies should be lecturing Maori not to expect anything other than more of the same.

Footnote Two: The justice system also indicates that we are getting the same racially skewed outcomes from the status quo approach to crime, prosecution and rehabilitation., If you “do the crime” you’re more likely to “do the time”, if you happen to be Maori. On the most recently available statistics, Māori comprise 37% of people proceeded against by Police, 45% of people convicted, and 52% of people in prison. This is despite Māori being only approximately 15% of the New Zealand population.

A Pack of Disagreeables

Can Christopher Luxon manage to bluff his way to the finish line. As Clint Smith says, when the economists and the tax experts all agree that (a) his tax giveaways and projected tax revenues don’t stack up, (b) his tax cuts will be inflationary and will (c) leave poor New Zealanders even worse off… Maybe we all deserve more of an explanation than Luxon merely saying “I disagree.”

Those right wing analysts at Goldman Sachs – just like every other sane economist on the planet – think that National’s tax cuts would be inflationary, and therefore in conflict with what the Reserve Bank has done to get inflation under control. Weirdly, National is bragging that it is going to put more money in everyone’s back pocket while – simultaneously – claiming that, no worries, no-one will actually spend it. How come? Hmm. It can only be because we are going to be so spooked by National’s cuts to public services that we’ll all be hiding our money under the mattress instead.