Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

Newspaper Columns


23/12/03 Foreshore and Seabed
09/12/03 Leadership
25/11/03 Legal Aid
11/11/03 CYF and the Government
28/10/03 National Leadership
14/10/03 United States - New Zealand
30/09/03 Child Poverty
16/09/03 The Courts
02/09/03 Racial Distinctions
19/08/03 ARC Rates and the Herald
05/08/03 Maurice Williamson
24/06/03 Maori definitions
10/06/03 Police Priorities
27/05/03 Waitangi Tribunal Troubles
13/05/03 Maori Seats
29/04/03 Child Obesity
15/04/03 Victory in Iraq
01/04/03 The War
18/03/03 New Zealand and the UN
06/03/03 Big Spending
18/02/03 Rural Health
04/02/03 Sir John Turei
21/01/03 Summer Journalism
07/01/03 Future Prospects
24/12/02 Local Government
10/12/02 Reflections on the US
26/11/02 Election aftermath
12/11/02 US mid-term elections
29/10/02 The Washington Sniper
15/10/02 The Democrats
01/10/02 American Elections
17/09/02 The American mood
03/09/02 Unions
20/08/02 The media
06/08/02 Immigration
29/07/02 Whatever Happened To National?
09/07/02 Inflation
26/06/02 MMP
12/06/02 Apologies
29/05/02 Dirty tricks?
15/05/02 Health
04/05/02 Don Brash
01/05/02 Welfare
17/04/02 National's Predicament
03/04/02 Self Help
20/03/02 John Banks
06/03/02 Health is a Killer
23/02/02 Jim Anderton
20/02/02 Luck
06/02/02 Treaty of Waitangi
23/01/02 GE
09/01/02 Floating dollar

Racial Distinctions

In 1981 many New Zealanders marched in the streets to oppose the rugby tour by a racially-selected Springbok team. It was supported by an apartheid government in South Africa elected by whites who constituted only 12% of the population. The New Zealand Rugby Union sponsored the tour. Robert Muldoon's government tolerated it. I participated in huge marches up Queen Street, Auckland, to protest it. Many Maori marched with us, and there are some fine photos of today's Maori spokespeople in their youth, opposing racism. We united in the belief that any form of racial supremacy was unacceptable.

In 1983 I visited South Africa and saw apartheid in practice. I love beaches and boats, and was appalled to see a handful of whites frolicking on a large beach in False Bay behind Cape Town. Blacks, coloureds and Indians, who made up 88% of South Africa's population, were caged at the other end, standing room only.

Sad to say, some Maori with whom I marched in 1981 today seem to want a similar level of privileged access to New Zealand's foreshore and seabed. Misusing the Treaty of Waitangi from which they selectively choose bits, they argue that Maori, who constitute 14% of our population, rather than all New Zealanders, possess special rights to the foreshore. Their blood lines are mostly Pakeha, but they seek to turn those few drops of Maori blood into a racial advantage. Two classes of New Zealanders: one all Pakeha, the other mostly Pakeha; the minority enjoying superior rights.

Competition between people is always laudable. But when one group within any society seeks to steal a march on racial grounds, trouble inevitably follows. "All men are created equal" was one of the key beliefs of the 18th century Enlightenment, and was used later in the American Declaration of Independence. The concept ended slavery in Britain in 1806. By 1840, it was axiomatic in the minds of the British Treaty partners that they intended equal rights for all New Zealanders. Hobson's instructions made that clear. Since there were only 2000 Pakeha at the time, and 100,000 Maori , it was fair to guarantee Maori "chieftainship" over their lands, forests and waterways. But in doing so the Treaty envisaged no superiority for anyone, and certainly not a minority. The future was sketched in Article 3 of the Treaty. It summed up common thinking at the time. The Queen would "protect all the ordinary people of New Zealand" and Maori would have "the same rights and duties of citizenship as the people of England". Pretty clear you might think? Equality for everyone.

So why have some of yesterday's anti-racists become today's advocates of racial privilege? The answer seems confusing. Thirty years ago nearly all Maori who today complain loudly about the Government's proposed foreshore settlement were less than half-caste, and would have been categorised as non-Maori. After that definition was eased in 1974 some, whose claim to be Maori was slight, started re-defining their beliefs. They perceived a chance to assert superiority. But pre-eminence everywhere should come on merit, never on blood lines. A clutch of academics, lawyers and agitators have lifted the Treaty out of its mid-19th Century context, and perverted its meaning as they argue for Maori supremacy. They lack any sense of historical context. The trouble is that National and Labour governments tolerated some claims for racial privilege for too long. They now experience difficulty regaining their equilibrium. Today many feel this Government prefers to pamper the minority against the interests of everyone.

The concepts "fair"," equal" and "reasonable", have always been endorsed by most New Zealanders. "Privilege" isn't acceptable, and never was. Decent New Zealanders support the idea of recompensing Maori for land that was unfairly confiscated last century, and apologising for what happened. They want Maori to receive a fair deal, and are delighted when they win in open competition. But New Zealanders won't concede to Maori exclusive rights to beaches or the foreshore under any circumstances. Ordinary Kiwis won't put up with freehold Maori title to any foreshore, let alone its inevitable subsequent sale. The kind of entry charge tried at Pakiri , north of Warkworth, a few years ago, isn't on. We most certainly didn't march against white supremacy in South Africa in order to get Maori supremacy here, or Apartheid beaches like in False Bay. Fortunately, if the polls are to be believed, a majority of Maori thinks the same way.