Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

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Reactions to the Plan for Auckland

It's my guess that no more than about 40 people out of 1.4 million Aucklanders are vehemently opposed to the plan for re-structuring the city's governance. Virtually all of them are engaged in personal patch protection. As we know from the mayors and their futile jockeying for change two years ago, they are interested in their own advancement. Mayor Bob Harvey offered himself to the public as Lord Mayor, a temptation that was wisely resisted. Squawking councillors can't quite work out what their futures will be and are busy making a din as they try to find a life for themselves after the Royal Commission. One journalist at the "Aucklander" today without the guts to sign his/her name, has urged everyone to "Bomb Parliament" with protest. He's lucky he lives in New Zealand. In more than half the world he'd now be cooling his heels in gaol for such an exhortation!

The 40 or so remnants of the old regime have one thing in common: they refuse to read any parts of the Royal Commission report, or the government's response to it, that run counter to their personal political agendas. Bob Harvey has consistently misrepresented what is intended. So has his deputy mayor. Andrew Williams from the North Shore becomes foggier in his ability to understand anything as he shoots emails to all-in-sundry late at night, and in the wee small hours. Stirring up fear and dismay has reached absurd depths. One story making the rounds in South Auckland is that the Royal Commission's efforts will put a stop to the Rugby World Cup. I kid you not. Today's "Aucklander", after telling readers to "Bomb Parliament", then advised them to "behave with more dignity than the Government has offered you". Funny twisted old minds some people possess!

I do feel slightly sorry for Manukau's Len Brown who will be without a mayoralty in October 2010. He ran for his current office several times and eventually got there when Sir Barry Curtis retired, but then had a heart attack almost immediately and was off work for about six months. Now the position he struggled to attain is to be disestablished. Len has convinced himself that anti-democratic forces are at work. But when he put his heart and soul into his last campaign he knew that the position of Mayor of Manukau might disappear. Moreover, any reformed system has to put personalities aside. Len Brown is pretty sure to find a place appropriate to his talents in the new scheme of things. Rodney Hide, John Key and the people of Auckland don't owe him a living. Nor, for that matter, do they owe anything to any of the councillors currently making a racket. They will have to try their luck with the new dispensation.

The reaction of Maori to the government's response to the Royal Commission's suggestions is a different matter. It is nothing more than a try-on. At present there are no separate Maori seats in Auckland at either the territorial or regional level. All that Maori have lost is a recommendation that there be such representation. I suspect the reason for the racket is that Maori leaders realize that the only way they will ever get separate seats is if they are imposed from the top down. Maori don't trust democracy, and can't work out that nobody else is to blame for why they often don't get elected. The voters at large probably wouldn't approve of separate seats if a referendum were to be provided for. So we get the tortuous nonsense from Maori Affairs Minister Peter Sharples in this morning's paper saying that Maori don't want "special treatment" or seats provided on a racial basis: they want them because of "Treaty rights". Hello? The Treaty had absolutely nothing, direct or implied, to say about political representation. Democracy certainly was never a taonga in terms of Article Two. It didn't exist here, or in modern terms, anywhere except perhaps the USA, at the time the Treaty was signed in 1840. The only Waitangi Treaty clause that could be held to have any significance to representation is Article Three. Under the English text, the then Queen guaranteed Maori "the rights and privileges of British subjects". Under a translation of the version that Maori signed the Queen promised to give Maori "the same rights and duties of citizenship as the people of England".

Well, one can't be much clearer than that! The parliamentary Maori seats conferred by statute in 1867 were seen only as a temporary phenomenon. In those days only a handful of Pakeha voted because there was a property qualification that voters had to pass and such was the complexity of Maori land ownership that they couldn't qualify. The Maori seats were to tide them over until they were in the same situation as Pakeha. By rights, the separate seats ought to have been eliminated after one person/ one vote came into force between 1889 and 1893. To argue that the existence of an historical anomaly should become justification for furthering that anomaly is to move into a world of fantasy. Maori ought to apply their minds to ensuring they stand quality candidates for the Auckland Council and for the Local Councils or Boards - the precise name of them is still unclear. Any form of separatism is an invitation to other ethnic groups to argue for their special seats. In that way lies a collapse of the bonds of equality that hold our modern, ethnically diverse society together.

Right now, we need a lot less noise from the few, and much more thought given to the challenges ahead as bills are introduced to Parliament and opportunities appear for people to make submissions. Careful thought would be likely to produce better results for everyone than scare-mongering. It should be obvious to the wider public that the noise has little to do with any wider public interest and is, in reality, nothing more than personal barrow-pushing.

Michael Bassett was Minister of Local Government in 1989 when the last major reforms went into effect. He also sat on the Waitangi Tribunal for ten years.