Treaty and race rhetoric change welcomed

by Jake Quinn

Minister in Charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Chris Finlayson has an op-ed in yesterday’s NZ Herald.  I encourage you to read it. There is a marked shift in the rhetoric used by Finlayson from the days of Don Brash. This is good news and not unexpected as National and its Treaty and race policy are both in the hands of politicians that fall into National’s liberal faction.

In Brash’s 2004 speech to the Orewa Rotary Club titled Nationhood he discussed the presence of a “Treaty grievance industry”, Maori “special privilege” and a Maori “birthright to the upper hand”. The language used in the speech was selected, assumedly, to appeal to anti-Maori sentiment that had been identified amongst some voters. The National Party under Key however, has arguably opted less for a ‘dog-whistle’ approach to race politics and instead positioned the party in a more inclusive way.

We saw this inclusive approach in action as Key, after forming a workable governing arrangement, went on early this year to build on his party’s relationship with Maori.  Waitangi Day commemorations provide the perfect opportunity for politicians to use, abuse or ignore the politics of race and Treaty and Key did not shirk this opportunity, attending proceedings at the Treaty grounds including the dawn service at Te Tii Waitangi Marae where the former Prime Minister had refused to attend, sighting that “she was not a morning person”. 

Key then went on to conditionally support the Tino Rangatiratanga flag being flown on the Auckland Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day (something he had refused to support when he was Leader of the Opposition).  Key explained that “It [flying the flag] is another small symbolic step in partnership towards the Treaty”. We also know Key polled his supporters in Auckland who must have signalled support for the action.

We cannot forget that National has also began its review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 which is due to report back around the middle of this year. A consensus is also developing between National and Labour with regards to this Act.

Building on the above, we have yesterdays Hui where Key, Finlayson and other Senior Ministers met with about 120 Maori leaders to discuss the Treaty settlements process and what needs to happen to have them resolved by 2014.

I look forward to seeing how the relationship between the National govt and Maori progresses. I think there is serious potential to build a consensus between the two major parties and Maori leaders that will be hugely positive for race relations in New Zealand in the long term. Let’s hope the Brash wedge politics era is behind us for good.