Gordon Campbell On The Government’s Assault On Maori

db520e277f70bbe1eec4This isn’t news, but the National-led coalition is mounting a sustained assault on Treaty rights and obligations. Even so, Christopher Luxon has described yesterday’s nationwide protests by Maori as “pretty unfair.” Poor thing. In the NZ Herald, Audrey Young has compiled a useful list of the many, many ways that Luxon plans to roll back the progress made here over the past 40 years in race relations:

…. They include commitments to review the work of the Waitangi Tribunal; curb the use of Māori in the titles of Crown agencies; dis-establish the Māori Health Authority; repeal the right of councils to establish Māori wards without referendum; repeal the law giving Ngai Tahu two seats on Environment Canterbury; repeal Three Waters, including regional co-governance committees; repeal replacement laws for the RMA, which includes Māori representatives on regional planning committees; remove a Treaty clause from Oranga Tamariki legislation; and a pledge to overturn a recent Court of Appeal decision on the foreshore and seabed.

While moves against the principles of the Treaty are firmly the domain of Act and New Zealand First, most of the other policies listed are National’s.

Oh, and the government is also trying to ensure that schoolteachers don’t get paid for upskilling themselves in te reo. None of the items on the expanding anti-Maori hitlist were dropped in out of the sky. Most of them were the culmination of decades of hard work carried out in good faith by able representatives of Maori and the Crown. With breath-taking arrogance, Luxon and his pals are planning to erase those decades of progress, with a stroke of the pen.

There’s a disturbing psychology involved. The leaders of National, ACT and New Zealand First all like to portray themselves as bold individualists who are swimming against the tide. It is what right wing populists do. They won power by running as plucky outsiders up against the socialist elites and armies of bureaucrats. Why stop now?

Still it is a problem for them, once they have become the Establishment. Who is to be the designated enemy? Last week, the enemy were public servants. This week, it is Maori. Pretty soon, it will be the teacher unions. Rinse, spin and repeat for the next three years. Populists need scapegoats.

The same lunge for victim status has been evident in the wild claims being made by Finance Minister Nicola Willis that Labour has deliberately left her facing “nasty surprises” on the economic books, in the shape of what she calls “fiscal cliffs.”

These so-called “cliffs” are the short term funding commitments made in some areas of state spending. Newsflash for Willis: they are not fiscal grenades hidden from the sight of novice Finance Ministers. They were openly set out in the Budget and in the Pre-Election Fiscal Update. In fact, as a report on TV One recently pointed out, given Labour’s compliance with the Fiscal Responsibility Act, it has been logically impossible for Labour to spring fiscal surprises on Willis. The info has always been out there, in plain sight.

If Willis truly does feel “surprised” ….It is because she hasn’t done her homework. Besides, short term commitments enable the incumbent government – or the incoming one – to re-evaluate whether these are still priority areas, and then adjust government spending accordingly. The genuine surprise is that Willis is portraying this completely mundane (and prudent) form of fiscal management as a hellish conspiracy devised by Grant Robertson to make her look bad.

Hmm. Is Robertson’s heinous legacy being prepped by National as an excuse for reducing the size of the tax cuts that National has promised to deliver, in mid-2024?

Need not race

Same whinge, different whinger. To ACT leader David Seymour, the plan to turn back the clock on race relations is a sign of virtue. Nothing new about that. Previously, Seymour has dismissed concerns about growing income inequality as being “the politics of envy.” Consistently, ACT has been hostile to any form of affirmative action taken to bridge the gaps in income and opportunity. That’s just how ACT rolls. Privilege is its party drug.

From Seymour’s cushion of six figure income, any form of affirmative action to improve the health and education outcomes experienced by Maori is wrong in principle. He calls it separatism, or racism. “Need not race” is the slogan ACT uses to perpetuate the current injustices in health delivery. In the real world, “need” has rarely been the key driver of access to healthcare. Being white, wealthy and articulate – as Dr. Lucy O’Hagn recently explained in a a brilliant article in NZ Doctor, – will always put you nearer to the front of the queue.

Conversely, Dr O’Hagan indicates, many brown people tend to lack the knowledge, language skills, and money to access the healthcare they need, and deserve. The statistics on everything from diabetes incidence to life expectancy bear her out. As she says:

The grim truth is that the healthcare delivered is rarely based on need

And when we work there, we understand that funding is not based on need. We see a wealthy tourist town get a medically unnecessary birthing unit fully staffed 24/7 for the comfort of women who could afford a maternity hotel and not flinch.

And we know that where we work, pregnant women live in cars or, if they are lucky, a motel with no kitchen, just a toaster and microwave and a bathroom basin to wash their dishes in, never mind the breach of tika in that….. Funding does not follow need, Mr Luxon. It follows entitlement.

When brown people on low incomes have a health need, Dr. O’Hagan continues, they will typically come late to treatment. Not at the first sign of pain but later, much later, when they’re crippled by medical necessity. There are reasons for that being so:

They might not get to that appointment because they don’t have a car or a stable address to send the appointment letter to or a phone to ring and reschedule. They might not even know that ringing and rescheduling is a thing. The stress on their whānau is so great, the intergenerational trauma so raw, that something other than their health need must take priority on the day of that appointment.

Or maybe they don’t get there because they can’t face another round of racism. When they enter that outpatient clinic, they are not like you and me; among our people, they are in a hostile world where brown faces are judged or, at worst, ignored.

As O’Hagan concludes:

You see, nothing is equal or fair in our health service, Ms van Velden. We must give more to those with greater need – that is equity. We must let them decide what they need and how to deliver it. Healthcare will only be fair and equitable when those with the greatest need, who demand little, have a voice. And they only have a voice now because of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Don’t take away the only thing that gives us any hope of better and fairer health outcomes. Tino rangatiratanga. Te Aka Whai Ora. May you squirm with shame if you dismantle it. In the name of fairness.