Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Winding up race hatred

I see that DPF is complaining about Michael Cullen calling Bill English a "racist" - which is interesting, given that that's not what Cullen actually said. Even a cursory glance at the stories on Stuff or the Herald would show that Cullen's actual words were "winding up race hatred", which is something rather different. Rather than accusing English of being an ignorant bigot, Cullen is accusing him of exploiting ignorant bigots for political gain - and pointing out that the solution is going to have to be a bit more complicated than National's simplistic call to legislate the possible pre-existing property rights of Maori out of existence.

I have a lot of sympathy for National's position. Their beaches for all website says that:

It's the birthright of every New Zealander to go to the beach, to walk the coast, to throw a fishing line in the water - it's part of what it means to be a New Zealander.

Even though I'm not a beach person - I don't like the sun, I don't like the sand, and saltwater does bad things to my hair - I think that they're right. Free and public access to nature is part of what this country is all about; this is not a country where you can own the beach.

The fly in the egalitarian ointment is of course the Treaty. Under it, we have to recognise the pre-existing property rights of Maori to "their lands, villages and all their treasures" (those who want to ignore international law and use the English version will find that this clause is even stronger: "full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties"). The Maori Land Court has recognised that these lands and estates may include beaches and foreshores, and they seem to have a prima facie case... or at least they do if you think that there has been even one justified land claim under the Treaty.

And therein lies the true problem: there is a segment of New Zealand society which refuses to accept that the Treaty is relevant, or that any claim could possibly be justified (or that some might have been, once - for cases where we took land with guns and cannon - but these have all been settled and modern claims are baseless). And it's this segment - the old, white, "bloody Maori - how dare they!" bunch that were out in force in Nelson over the weekend - that National, ACT and United Future are trying to attract with their calls for legislation.

It's to the government's credit that they've since realised - after their initial panic promise of legislation - that things are a hell of a lot more complicated than that, and that simply denying that Maori have pre-existing property rights, as National and friends seem to be doing, is not going to be a lasting solution which leads to harmony.