Feature: the union movement and the Te Tiriti

The Treaty of Waitangi means whatever you want it to mean, as long as you’re against it. Columnists condemn it, courts misconstrue it, and some activists used to call it a “fraud”. For tourists visiting the country this must come across as a little strange. Americans venerate their founding documents. The French do too. On International Human Rights Day thousands of South Africans take to the streets to commemorate their constitutional anniversary. But for a good number of New Zealanders the Treaty seems best left in the 19th century.

We can call this the Don Brash position, and it remains stubbornly popular. In 2011 a UMR poll found only 55 percent of New Zealanders agreed that the Treaty is New Zealand’s founding document, a historical fact so obvious anything less than 100 percent is a worry. In the run-up to Waitangi Day in 2018 The AM Show published a poll asking New Zealanders whether we should rename Waitangi Day “New Zealand Day.” That same year The Herald’s Mike Hosking asked “what’s the point” of commemorating our founding day anyway.

From here it might seem as if things are as bleak as they ever were, but beneath the misunderstandings and misconstructions important shifts are happening. In 2012 the Ministry of Education surveyed 4000 year nine students and found that two-thirds agreed the Treaty is New Zealand’s founding document. Speaking at the Treaty Grounds in February Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told her audience she is committed to building a country where the Treaty is part of a living history.

“The rednecks are never going to put the Treaty back in a box,” said Syd Keepa, the Council of Trade Union’s Vice-President Māori. “And unions helped lead the way.” In the 1970s and 80s trade union leaders like the late Syd Jackson were helping lead the movement to secure Treaty justice. “Union members and leaders were at every struggle. The reason Takaparawhā (Bastion Point) remained undeveloped for so long was because union members put a green ban on the site, that means they wouldn’t work on the site as long as Ngāti Whātua opposed it,” explained Keepa.

Bastion Point is a promontory above Tāmaki Drive, one of the wealthiest square miles in the country. In 1977 hundreds of activists from the Ōrākei Māori Action Committee occupied Takaparawhā, urging the country to join their calls to end development on one of Ngāti Whātua’s last remaining parcels of land. The surrounding land, alongside most of the Auckland isthmus, was taken from local iwi in breach of the Treaty. “When the army and the cops came in in 1978 to take the activists off their own land union members across Auckland went on a wildcat (illegal) strike,” said Keepa.

“This is what the union movement owes Māori under the Treaty – solidarity.”

The relationship between Māori and unions reaches back to the turn of the twentieth century. In 1919 Bob Tūtaki, Ngāti Kahungunu, a shearer and union organiser, travelled the country urging Māori to support the formation of the New Zealand Workers’ Union. “Let us stand up with one common mind ... stick together, everybody, remember that old Māori philosophy, “tatau tatau”, meaning altogether,” he would tell his fellow workers. But despite the long relationship, and some famous acts of solidarity along the way, some unions still struggled to include Māori in institutional life with the Waterside Workers’ Union head office refusing to print recruitment and advice in te reo Māori for its nearly all- Māori membership on the North Island’s East Coast.

 “The PSA has been taking big steps forward,” said Sector Māngai for DHBs and Māori mental health specialist Lesley Dixon. “We have our Rūnanga and we can even elect rūnanga delegates to represent us in the workplace. It’s about cultural safety for many, and it’s about the meeting the obligations under the Treaty for the PSA itself.” The Public Service Association has almost 6000 Māori members and membership surveys have found those Māori are more likely to have primary care responsibilities, more likely to be active in the union, and more likely to feel satisfied and empowered in their work.

“Our Rūnanga structure lets Māori be Māori,” said Dixon. “But more than that it gives us a stake in the decision-making of the PSA itself – and that’s what the Treaty is about. Yes, consultation, but more than that it means power-sharing.” Under the Treaty Article II of the Māori language version – the version the Waitangi Tribunal prefers and the version international law doctrines prefer – says Māori retain their “tino rangatiratanga” while the Crown acquires “kāwanatanga.” These competing terms are the source of more than a century of angst of where power lies.

Kāwanatanga first appears in the preamble to the Treaty and historian and language expert Professor Margaret Mutu translates it as “governorship over British subjects,” meaning kāwanatanga is what is termed a relational concept. Tino rangatiratanga appears later in the document and is usually translated as unfettered chieftainship. So while the English text says that the rangatira who sign surrender their sovereignty to the Crown, the Māori text says the rangatira retain what is the closest power to sovereignty in the Māori world, tino rangatiratanga. In other words, the English text asks rangatira to cede what they just affirmed in the Māori text.

“It’s Te Tiriti that matters,” adds Dixon, noting that the overwhelming majority of rangatira signed the Māori language version. This also matters in the union context as well. “Remember unions aren’t the Crown,” said Keepa, “but they’re still part of the Treaty.” Tangata whenua on one side – people of the land – and tangata tiriti on the other – people of the Treaty. The Crown undertook to recognise tino rangatiratanga in exchange for its power to govern its own subjects, but those same subjects – or citizens as we say now – are also bound to recognise Māori as tangata whenua with all the powers of rangatiratanga.

“There’s heaps of work to do,” both Keepa and Dixon told me. “But unions are well-placed to lead it. We should do it out of solidarity,” said Keepa.

Jonesy targets the Indian community - that's not good

Isn’t it astonishing that, not even two weeks out from the Christchurch shooting’s first anniversary, the senior cabinet minister Shane Jones – an MP for New Zealand First, a party you could arguably describe as our local Ukip branch – is basing his re-election campaign on stoking anti-immigrant racism.

In a television sit-down last weekend the “retail politician” – Jones’s words – went after the Indian community, blaming its students for “ruining” New Zealand universities and arguing the country was opening the doors too widely to immigrants from “New Delhi”. He guaranteed that only New Zealand First would cut immigration. Labour, in Jones’s telling, is too “PC” to make the necessary cuts, and National are apparently in the pocket of Johnny foreigner taking big-money donations from overseas contributors. They won’t follow through either.

It’s convenient, if a little predictable: only I, Shane Jones, can save you.

Keep reading at The Guardian.

The four issues that'll shape the (Māori) election

Over the next month I’ll publish a series examining the issues this election might turn on in the Māori electorates. Today, the issue under the microscope is Whānau Ora.

The trouble with Whānau Ora is it seems to means different things to different people.

In the programme’s early years opinion writers would ridicule it as too broad and impossible to define, a pretty concept without a policy function. One blogger wrote the programme was a “scam”, and in a memorable exchange at Parliament former Families Commissioner Jan Pryor said she couldn’t, as a “middle-class white woman”, possibly define a programme with a Māori name. Really? I suspect Pryor’s talking point was a cover simply for not knowing - an indictment in itself - but ten years later are meanings and definitions any clearer?    

The thing making Whānau Ora apparently complex is it exists in three different forms: as a procurement policy where the government contracts external “commissioning agencies” to secure certain outcomes in their communities; as a social service approach than overturns the old focus on individual need for a focus on whānau need; and as, to borrow the government’s language, a wellbeing value. This is why politicians, bureaucrats, opinion writers, and others struggle to define or discuss Whānau Ora – they’re usually talking at cross purposes, using different definitions to push their agenda.

This is why the issue is pitch-perfect for, say, John Tamihere if he gives Tāmaki Makaurau a crack. As the Waipereira Trust chief he can talk “underfunding”, criticising the government for holding funding flat for the commissioning agencies responsible for securing wellbeing outcomes in their communities. Yet the incumbent, Labour’s Peeni Henare, can counter that his government is providing record funding for Whānau Ora pointing to the millions spent in the last budget on extending the “Whānau Ora Approach” to the Corrections Department. In this argument, who’s right? Well, on their different definitions they both are, and who “wins” depends on who can angle their argument best.      

To better understand what’s going on here it’s worth considering the 1940s. Under Mickey Savage and Peter Fraser’s social citizenship system the government, using the welfare state, took to work transforming the government’s main business from vindicating procedural rights in a political citizenship system to securing social rights for the working and middle class. That transformation was meant for Māori too, who had their existing benefits equalised or extended. But the central political problem remained: the government didn’t recognise its obligations through a constitutional lens – that is, the Treaty - or a historical lens – colonialism – but solely through a civil rights lens: the relationship was transactional and individual, between state and citizen.

Professor Mason Durie calls this the ideology of the welfare state.

In one sense, this is the welfare state’s great strength – it operates on universal principles. But in another sense that universalism can sometimes work to exclude Māori and subsume difference.  Take the Unsupported Child’s Benefit as an example: under section 29 of the Social Security Act 1964 - the empowering act for the welfare state - whāngai situations where a Māori parent or parents adopt a child under tikanga won’t meet the eligibility criteria. To claim support the whānau must prove a ‘family breakdown.’

In this case the Act is making an assumption about how families operate – an assumption that doesn’t necessarily reflect Māori realities. Whāngai situations don’t always involve a family breakdown. Instead it might be as simple as a grandparent raising his or her first mokopuna in an effort to pass on knowledge and expertise in, say, the whānau whakapapa. In this case the mechanism for securing social rights – the welfare state – ends up excluding Māori in whāngai situations from their full rights under a social citizenship system.

In other words, even though the social citizenship system and the welfare state are not explicitly discriminatory, their universal principles make assumptions that can operate to exclude certain forms of Māori social organisation. This dynamic can also operate in reverse: Claudia Orange explains during the Second World War Māori were paid less under the wartime benefits scheme on the assumption that they could simply go home to the pā and resume a form of subsistence living. In this case, Māori social organisation wasn’t excluded but used as an explicit excuse to reduce entitlements.

This is the problem - the universalist pursuit of social rights sometimes excluding Māori realities – that Whānau Ora is meant to address (or perhaps ameliorate is the better word). The programme meets Māori as they are. In a whānau; in a community. The now defunct “Whanau Ora navigators” were the best example of what this means, taking a “client” and guiding them through government processes, working with their whānau to identify how the client and their whānau came to be where they were, and actioning a “whānau plan” to take them where they really want to be. The navigator was there to help close the gap between what the state promises – universal support – and what it performs – usually an hoc system where support hangs on individual need.

Turia probably put it best writing “our relationships encourage interdependence; we know that our strength comes through all of us taking up our roles and responsibilities to one another. In essence, that is all Whānau Ora is, and ever has been”. This is wonderfully simple, and a statement almost every politician could agree with. The problem, at least politically, is restoring that “interdependence” between people, their whānau, and their communities means resourcing them to do so. This is where Whānau Ora becomes explicitly partisan (the whole thing is political, of course) because allocating resources is always an exercise in subjective judgements and competing priorities.

Hence the recent and very public argument between Te Pou Matakana, the North Island commissioning agency, Turia and others, and the Minister in Henare over where the government should direct its resources. Henare is directing resources to other departments when the commissioning agencies would prefer it for themselves. I lean both ways – I think resourcing the Whānau Ora Approach in certain prisons is very good thing, but I also think an equal or greater amount should go to commissioning agencies too. That particular argument, if Tamihere eventually stands, could shape the outcome in Tāmaki Makaurau on September 19. Get your definitions ready.

Here are the seven winners in the Māori seats

Te Tai Tokerau

Winner: Kelvin Davis (Labour) holds

The rumours were doing the rounds last year and the year before that Hone Harawira might stand again, this time under Destiny Church’s political wing. I doubt that. But I do think we lost something when Hone left Parliament. There are few people, whether inside Parliament or outside, as willing to tell it like it is as Harawira, rightly giving the middle finger to received wisdoms and respectability politics. The man’s a legend. But even if he stood Labour’s Kelvin Davis would still win. It helps running with the mana of the deputy prime ministership, but even without it Davis is still in the prime of his career. Wide connections across the electorate, and a capable and strong team behind him, and it’s his election to win. Labour holds.  

Tāmaki Makaurau

Winner: Peeni Henare (Labour) holds – but it depends

Who wins this race depends on one unknown: will John Tamihere stand for the Māori Party? If he does Labour’s Peeni Henare will probably win the seat for a third time. Green co-leader Marama Davidson is taking a serious shot at the seat, but it’s not entirely clear the anti-government vote is high enough to share between two candidates. Or maybe it is. There are too many unknowns to make the call just yet. Will the government return Ihumātao in a form that’s acceptable to the home people? How much damage can JT inflict campaigning on Whānau Ora, the initiative for which Henare is the minister? With those unknowns at this stage you should apply a general rule – a Labour win. 


Winner: Nanaia Mahuta (Labour) holds

Nanaia Mahuta holds it easily. No one, absolutely no one, has a chance against her. 


Winner: Tamati Coffey (Labour) holds

Some people think Waiariki is competitive, and so all kinds of wild rumours are doing the rounds. Names that people around the traps are dropping include Wally Haumaha, the deputy police chief, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, the Te Pou Matakana chair, even former seat holder Tuariki Delamere. But it seems most likely Rawiri Waititi will stand, as Maiki Sherman reveals (and covered here in 2018). Whether he stands or not – and unquestionably he’s a strong candidate - Tāmati Coffey is probably safe. He did the work this term, developing good local relationships across the electorate, and getting stuck into constituency issues. He is very vulnerable in some areas – like the Hauraki-Waikato settlement and Tauranga Moana – but that’s probably not enough to diminish his support to the point where the Māori Party could regain the seat. 


Winner: Meka Whaitiri (Labour) holds

It’s Meka Whaitiri all the way. 

Te Tai Hauāuru

Winner: ??? 

In 2014 the commentators were picking a Māori Party hold, with Chris McKenzie succeeding his old boss, Dame Tariana Turia, as the electorate MP. I went the other way, arguing Labour’s Adrian Rurawhe’s ground game would carry the day. I made the same argument in 2017, and with the same result. What’s notable, though, is the polls went the other way. In 2014 and 2017 the Māori Televisions polls had Rurawhe trailing his Māori Party competitors, but both times he came from behind to win comfortably.  

The safe thing is to make the same prediction – Rurawhe will gallop home again. But this time around I’m just a little less sure. Debbie Ngarewa-Packer is building an on the ground campaign team. At Rātana in January I’m told she and her party took on the largest ope, a signal that she can call on a big support group at short notice. She’s also campaigning widely in places where the Māori Party can rely on a base, like Ōtaki where the wānanga and active Marae offer a “kaupapa vote”, to borrow a favourite Māori Party phrase. Add in Jack McDonald’s endorsement and the Māori Party vote grows (some his vote will still split Labour, but my pick is that a majority of it will split Māori Party).

This is the electorate to watch.

Te Tai Tonga 

Winner: Rino Tirikatene (Labour) holds

The Māori Party could stand Tā Mark Solomon himself and I still think Tirikatene would win. There are few MPs as visible as Rino. He travels to every corner of the south, supporting everything from local netball tournaments to the school kapa haka show. It also helps the Te Tai Tonga MPs is exceedingly tall, and so impossible to miss wherever he goes. As the Māori Affairs Select Committee chair he’s had the opportunity to develop relationships further north too, and managed a surprising coup in securing New Zealand First support for the first reading of his Private Member’s Bill to entrench the Māori seats. 

Can Marama Davidson really win Tāmaki Makaurau?

I suspect there are only three people who can break Labour’s hold on Tāmaki Makaurau, the Māori electorate taking in most of the Auckland Isthmus: it’s either Pania Newton, the kaitiaki leader at Ihumātao; John Tamihere, the former Auckland mayoral candidate and ex-MP; or the Green Party co-leader and Manurewa local Marama Davidson. I doubt many others could do it, and for no other reason than in the Māori electorates your name, and the mana and connections that come with it, is everything.

There isn’t any grand reason for this. Instead it’s just prosaic. The home ownership rate for Māori is 43%, meaning a good number of people tend to move within and between electorates. Add the digital divide - in some Māori communities one in three households are offline – and sheer size – the largest Māori electorate is spread across an area more than double the size of Switzerland – and your best “get out the vote” method is name recognition. People turn out for their own.  

Keep reading at Metro Magazine

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