The 9th floor – Jim Bolger

In the third The 9th Floor interview Jim Bolger is headlined as ‘the negotiator’ but is stirring things up on ‘neo-liberalism’ and race relations.

RNZ: The Negotiator – Jim Bolger: Prime Minister 1990-97

I think Jim Bolger might be about to spark a debate. Two debates actually. One on our economic settings and the other on race relations.

On neo-liberalism:

He says neo-liberalism has failed and suggests unions should have a stronger voice.

“They have failed to produce economic growth and what growth there has been has gone to the few at the top,” Bolger says, not of his own policies specifically but of neoliberalism the world over. He laments the levels of inequality and concludes “that model needs to change.”

So should we scrap neoliberalism?

Or fix what’s wrong and leave what is generally working ok?

On race relations:

He says Treaty of Waitangi settlements may not be full and final and that Maori language tuition should be compulsory in primary schools.

Indeed Bolger is at his most passionate speaking about Maori issues. He has a visceral hatred of racism and explains the personal context for that.

We asked him whether future generations will open up Treaty settlements again – given Maori got a fraction of what was lost – or whether they are genuinely full and final. He says it is a “legitimate” question and “entirely up to us”.

If Maori are still at the bottom of the heap “then you can expect someone to ask the question again because it means that society has failed”.

He is also scathing of former National leader Don Brash’s Orewa speech on ‘Maori privilege’. “It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as Trump but it was in that frame.” Of course Don Brash never made it to PM, replaced by John Key in 2006. ‘Gone by lunchtime,’ was the political phrase popular at the time.

Bolger also says it’s time to give power back to unions.

Being a more recent Prime Minister makes the issues he raises more pertinent to today’s debates.

Should Susan Devoy’s appointment be squashed?

I don’t know if Susan Devoy would make a good race relations commissioner or not, I know too little about her. I’m a bit of a maverick amongst bloggers, I don’t spend thirty seconds on Google and then rip in to a rant on topics or people I know little about.

I give the people who make appointments like this the benefit of the doubt unless there is good reason to criticise. And it can take time to evaluate, especially with appointments that seem to come out of left court.

Stuff give some opinions in Dame Susan: I have to be voice of reason.

Justice Minister Judith Collins, who appointed her, was firm that the right appointment had been made.

“She’s a very fair, honest and decent person, and frankly, she’s got a spine that I admire.”

If accurate that sounds like a good enough starting point.

Mana Party president Annette Sykes called for Dame Susan to be sacked for her “racist viewpoint”.

Passing the Sykes non-racist test would exclude many people, but I suspect Sykes would fail the test of many too.

What race is Devoy?

Dame Susan Devoy admits she is not yet in a position to make statements as the country’s race relations commissioner – she is not even sure whether she is part-Maori.

“It’s a long-held view that we are of Ngati Kahungunu descent. But that has never been proven in any births, deaths and marriages certificate,” she said, describing questions yesterday about her ethnicity as “awkward”.

“My mother’s name was Tui and if you saw her you would instantly think we were Maori … I think you’re as Maori as you feel.”

I had no idea she was possibly part-Maori. And I wonder if that matters.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples yesterday described the appointment as “fantastic” but his colleague Te Ururoa Flavell questioned whether it was appropriate, given her views on Waitangi Day.

Interesting contrast of opinion there. The Waitangi Day criticism has been prominent.

Yesterday she described Waitangi Day as “extraordinarily important” but “it isn’t New Zealand Day, is it?” she said.

That sounds perceptive to me, Waitangi Day is obviously important to some but many don’t see it as a New Zealand type of day. And ambivalence isn’t along racial lines, Otago Maori chose not to make a big thing of Waitangi Day this year.

There is more to Waitangi and New Zealand than some people wanting an annual soapbox.

“What I would like is to see New Zealand celebrate our national day [in a way] that is a celebration, and perhaps that might be my first role, my first job, sorting it out,” Dame Susan said, before insisting that it wasn’t a public issue and “I certainly won’t be making it one”.

It could be a good thing for her to sort out – perhaps by trying to reconcile a variety of views, but that might be too radical for Sykes.

She had never considered whether she was politically correct enough for the role, but it was “quite possible” she would continue to speak freely.

Being seen as “politically correct enough for the role” would be terrible criteria for the position – political correctness has become a corruption of broad views and understanding.

“But I think in this role I have to be the voice of reason … This is not a platform for me to voice my own views, it’s really to advocate on behalf of.”

That sounds like a reasonable approach to me. She must have said things like that in her job interview.

But I still don’t know enough to decide whether to offer a blogger bouquet or bollocking yet. I sometimes get accused of sitting on the fence, but I prefer to look at it as working out what the fence is made of – and for some reason blogger barbed wire reminds me of pricks and arses.

In any case I’m backing Devoy’s appointment, unless I see good reason it was flawed, and I haven’t seen anything convincing to suggest to me it is.

Dunne on Māori, water, wind and race relations

Peter Dunne in a recent address to Petone Rotary:

Māori, water and the wind

Another issue that has been exercising our minds recently and that may well be before the courts soon is that of the Māori claims on water.

While Māori do have rights with respect to water interests, they are not and never can ever be exclusive rights.

Were they to be so, the logical conclusion must be that all New Zealand’s natural resources are owned by Māori – a claim long since rejected.

As with the foreshore and seabed, natural resources like air and water belong to all New Zealanders, and it is the Crown’s responsibility to exercise that ownership equally and fairly on behalf of us all.

Where customary usage can be established we should negotiate particular settlements in each specific instance, again in a manner similar to the provisions of the foreshore and seabed legislation.

UnitedFuture long promoted the public domain solution for the foreshore and seabed, which was finally enshrined in the 2010 legislation.

The same principle ought to be followed in respect of the current water rights debate.

Threat to Race Relations

I think at this point we also need to step back a little because there is something going on here that needs to be challenged.

Since its signing in 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi, our nation’s founding document, has been both honoured and dishonoured in various ways at various times.

But I would like to think we have got a little better – perhaps a lot better – in recent times at facing up to these issues.

On the occasions that the Treaty has been breached in word, deed or spirit, it has often been the Pākehā at fault, as evidenced by the much needed and very important Treaty settlements process of recent years.

In recent months, however, I believe we are seeing greed and opportunism and an attempt to cash-in, coming from some sections of Māori leadership, and none of it does credit to them.

In an age when we are righting wrongs of the past; in an age where Pākehā New Zealanders, I think, generally acknowledge the transgressions of their predecessors and with goodwill, want to see them put right, aspects of recent developments are very concerning.

Greed, it would seem, is not just a white man’s sin.

Māori leadership would do well to consider the implications of some of their particularly unreasonable demands around water – and now it would appear, coming further in from the fringes, the wind.

There is a well of goodwill in New Zealand among non-Māori and Māori alike.

Most New Zealanders genuinely want to understand, and then engage in and resolve issues around the Treaty of Waitangi.

But it is not a bottomless well of goodwill on either side.

Greed and opportunistic resource grabs are neither ethical nor smart, and will come at considerable cost to social harmony in this country that we all have to share today.

Sadly, it is once more a case of the extremists at either end of the argument who risk destroying the capacity of the rest of us to reach balanced, fair and enduring solutions, that the vast majority of us can live with.