Don's reply to a speech by 16 year old Te Kooanga Awatere-Reedy
Dear Te Kooanga,
Congratulations on your speaking success (Guest columnist, May 22). Before I respond to your concerns about my Orewa speech, I'd like you to know a few things about me which I hope will allay your fears about my commitment to peace and racial harmony.
Like you perhaps, I was raised in a Christian family. My father was a minister, so it's no surprise I spent my youth as a Christian pacifist.
In the same year of college that you are in now, I was so opposed to war that I withdrew from my school's army cadet programme. So when you say we need peacemakers and not haters, I couldn't agree with you more.
Sadly, there are haters in this country who distort my comments and tell people I'm racist. Given my background, I find that particularly painful.
At university in Canberra in the 1960s, I was a committed socialist. So when a close friend suggested we both join the Australian Labor Party, you might think it would have been a no-brainer. Yet I refused. Why? Because Labor at that time supported the White Australia Policy.
I could have no part of any organisation that viewed people of one race as superior to those of another. I still can't. I hope you'll give me some credit for having made a stand against racial favouritism even when the favoured race was my own.
I also hope you'll take into account my many public statements in favour of the Treaty of Waitangi and my championing of compensation for genuine wrongs.
But it must be a fair process. How can the Waitangi Tribunal be seen as independent when non-Maori cannot lodge a claim?
It seems the tribunal sometimes recommends further compensation even when "full and final" settlements were made decades earlier. How is that fair?
Just as I believe compensation for property taken is a right guaranteed under Article II of the Treaty, I take just as seriously Article III, which says that all New Zealanders should have the same rights and responsibilities as British subjects.
The Treaty does not enshrine a special status for Maori, separate Maori electorates, a separate right to be consulted by local councils, a Maori Advisory Board for the Auckland Council, or a Maori advisory committee for the Environmental Protection Authority.
It just says, simply, that all New Zealanders have equal rights. And that's the kind of New Zealand I want, and that Act wants. A colour-blind country.
Does that make me anti-Maori?
I grew up inspired by Maori leaders Sir Apirana Ngata, Sir Peter Buck, Sir Maui Pomare and Sir James Carroll. So when, as Reserve Bank governor, I had to decide whose face to put on the fifty dollar note, the New Zealander I chose was Apirana Ngata.
Ngata was the first Maori to earn a double degree. He spent his life trying to convince his people to follow in his footsteps and not to give in to the temptations of welfare.
Sadly, few listened, and after the creation of Labour's welfare state, many Maori chose dependency over independence.
That's the reason why Maori top all the wrong statistics: poor choices, and modern leaders who encourage Maori youngsters to see themselves as victims, not equals.
Do you believe you need special treatment because you're Maori? And what might other people of your generation think about this?
Were Apirana Ngata alive today, I strongly suspect he would be standing with me, or very probably ahead of me, as the leader of Act.
Now I must correct some misunderstandings in your speech.
"The Orewa speech was an emotional call to arms against Maori."
While this is an unfair exaggeration, I can't blame you, given the example set for you by Hone Harawira. If you agree with him that my Orewa speech belittled me, how do you view his comments about white people and about me being like Hitler?
"Brash blamed Maori for [New Zealand's] poverty."
I actually said this about poverty: "Maori income distribution is not very different from Pakeha income distribution" and "Maoriness explains very little about how well one does in life. Ethnicity does not determine one's destiny".
"If so many Maori enjoy racial privilege, then why are so many of them now living in Australia, and enjoying economic prosperity far ahead of Maori who remain in New Zealand?"
Because they got tired of being patronised as second-class citizens who needed special favours. By moving to a country where they're treated as equals, they've proved they don't.
"There are more than 12,500 non-Maori who enjoy private ownership of the foreshore and seabed."
Not so. A LINZ report prepared for Labour minister John Tamihere confirmed Maori own more than half of our privately owned coastline. More to the point, these private parcels tend to be unusable slivers, often eroded away.
Te Kooanga, I hope you can accept that I very much do care about Maori - I just believe, like Apirana Ngata, that the focus must be on achieving, not grieving.
In life, things are often the opposite of the way they seem. Same in politics, where only ACT - not the Maori, Mana or Labour parties - offers the forward-looking incentives to help Maori enjoy a better life. I hope you'll read about them.
Wishing you every success,
This article was first published in the Sunday Star Times on 29 May 2011, in response to this.
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