Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

Newspaper Columns

Len Brown and Maori

LEN BROWN AND MAORI: 9 February 2011

This morning's report that the new Auckland Council yesterday pushed through a budget of $3.43 million to fund an unelected Maori Statutory Board for Auckland is a disgrace. Len Brown and his Council should hang their heads in shame. So, too, should Rodney Hide and John Key who let it happen, despite earlier protestations that there would not be separate racial representation on the Auckland Council. The new council's allocation of ratepayers' money to unelected people to play games with, "engaging and reporting to the Maori Community", "researching" the well-being of Maori when 101 other publicly-funded agencies are doing the same, and with nearly $1 million allocated for "staff costs" that aren't explained, brings shame on every councillor who was party to the rushed decision. The Auckland Transition Authority estimated that the costs of a Maori statutory committee would be $400,000. How has this grown to $3.43 million? Rodney Hide and John Key must immediately turn their minds to legislating a satisfactory arrangement for Maori advisory services to the new council. A form of parallel government by Maori who are the fourth largest ethnic group in the Auckland area, with an overwhelming number of them hailing from outside of the council's area, and therefore unable to claim tangata whenua status, cannot be tolerated by sane people. Even if the majority of them were tangata whenua, no credible case can be made for what is occurring.

What this National-led government seems to be pushing is separatism within a country that has always thrown its small but significant strength in world forums against any form of apartheid. Tens of thousands of New Zealanders marched in the streets 30 years ago against apartheid and the visit to New Zealand of a racially selected Springbok team. Today many of those same marchers must be cringing in corners as Len Brown, who was elected by a majority of them, marches onwards toward parallel forms of local government - one elected, and the other seemingly with a right to mail invoices for ratepayers' money without any proper public scrutiny. This process must be stopped in its tracks. If Len Brown lacks the commonsense to understand that he has gone too far, then his council must re-think the issue. Failing that, the responsibility lies with central government. Three days after we celebrated the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi that guaranteed Maori "the same rights and duties of citizenship" as the rest of us, we must pull back from this new arrangement being implemented by the Auckland Council. It clearly bestows special privileges on Maori and goes way beyond any reasonable interpretation of any Treaty obligations. It is also at odds with New Zealand's record in international forums.

Michael Bassett was an Auckland City Councillor, Minister of Local Government 1984-90, and a member of the Waitangi Tribunal 1994-2004.