Nationhood, take two

by Jake Quinn

I figured I’d let this one settle over night, because at first glance a speech titled Nationhood about race relations by the Leader of the Labour Party (yes, the Labour Party), couched in the langauge of “where one New Zealander is turned against another, Maori against Pakeha” seemed like some kind of strange horrible alternative universe nightmare.

Idiot/Savant was typically excersied: “Today in Palmerston North (of course), Labour leader Phil Goff gave a speech to Grey Power (of course) attacking the government for dealing with the Maori Party, “reopening” Treaty settlements, and revisiting the Foreshore and Seabed Act. While carefully caveated (of course), the underlying message was loud and clear: “National is in bed with the bloody Maaris“.

While Lew over at Kiwipolitio was similarly displeased: “Perhaps this speech is an attempt by Phil Goff to reclaim the term and concept of “Nationhood” from the clutches of rampant colonialism. If so, it is an abject failure. It compounds Labour’s cynical appeasement of National’s race-war stance in 2003 with a reactionary, resentful re-assertion of the same principles before which Labour cowered in 2004.”

However, rather than just parroting the howls of outrage from the left, I decided to actually read the thing.

Firstly, the decision to backtrack on ‘consensus building’ over the upcoming Foreshore and Seabed Act repeal is a wise one, politically. National has squandered large quantities of its political capital over the ETS.  For that reason, there will now be far more suspicion, than there would have otherwise been, about National’s handling of F&S Act repeal.  It therefore makes a lot of sense to ask the question “what is so wrong about the status quo, and can we really trust National to improve it when they’ve just been caught red-handed doing dodgy deals and selling out to a few rich iwi over the ETS?”

The speech also rightly – and repeatedly – points out the outrage that is the massive transfer of wealth from ordinary taxpayers to the big polluters via the ETS, by providing so many free allocations to the emitting sectors.  This is a hard message to sell the public however, who much more easily understand “National will reduce the price of petrol and power compared to Labour” (even if it’s actually just the govt subsidizing that reduction).

The message that New Zealand pays its liability no matter what, and that if polluters have to pay it, it might actually go down, is a hard one to sell, but Goff keeps trying.

In terms of the rousing rhetoric on race relations, it is ever-present throughout the speech (although, Gordon Campbell doesn’t seemed too phased). Fair enough on the Hone stuff, as we’ve said earlier, Goff is within his rights to attack Hone (and by association Key) hard on this, but Goff has taken a few steps further, picked up on Shane Jones’ publicly tested lines from the last few weeks, and streaked down the beach with them.

Goff said: “I reject strongly the allegation the Prime Minister made that anyone who has concerns about this deal is playing the race card. Race is a red herring in this deal. It’s about subsidies for big corporations, and I am not going to shy away from saying so.”

The irony of Goff saying that race is a red herring, in a speech titled Nationhood (Don Brash’s infamous Orewa speech of 2004, where he talked about Maori having “a birthright to the upper hand”, was also titled Nationhood) which is then slapped up for the website against a picture of a (supposedly threatened?) kiwi beach is self-evident.

The interesting thing to watch now will be the reactions from Labour party people.  I can’t imagine Young Labour supporting this speech and could see them going as far as speaking out publicly on it.

At the end of the day I’m not comfortable with much of the rhetoric in it, and definitely think the title was cynical, but the speech has many an important message, with many a valid point.  And you too should read it.

Update: Eddie at The Standard calls it “stupid and wrong on so many levels”, MP Grant Robertson give his take, and DimPost calls it “essentially the same speech [as Brash’s] with the same title, updated for contemporary issues.”

Update 2: Parekura has just issued a statement saying ““Phil’s my mate. I’ve known him for more than 20 years and he isn’t a racist”, in response to the Maori Party’s one, where they say they are deeply offended by Goff’s comments yesterday.