18 October 2022

Does Winston really care about the constitution or is it baubles as usual?

So Winston Peters is doing what he usually does, after spending two years in the political wilderness he times a revival to tap the issue of the season, that the other parties aren't doing well at tapping, so he can ride his way back to Parliament with a bevy of people nobody has ever heard of before.

This time it is to tackle co-governance with Iwi, and the embracing of the Treaty of Waitangi in ALL aspects of central and local government.  Now I have some sympathy for that position, as important as it is to consult with Iwi and for Maori to be adequately represented in Government, New Zealand clearly achieves that, with Maori represented in both Parliament and local government on the basis of one-person, one-vote and a general consensus among the two major parties about the importance of including Iwi in consultation on issues affecting them. Winston is trying to do much more than address overreach of that.

He wants to tackle non-Maori fear of Maori cultural and linguistic growth, and dominance, whether it is seen in Maori phrases inserted into the ever declining audiences for television news (which frankly is a market decision, you can just switch it off), or the inclusion of references to Te Tiriti in more and more laws and government programmes.

Winston can tackle this because he is much more obviously accepted as being Maori (David Seymour is not so seen). He also knows he can guarantee that TVNZ, Newshub, RNZ and Stuff at least will seek to paint  HIM as being divisive, even racist and he can run rings around the fact he's spent his political career saying the media is unfair to him.

Winston has a couple of problems though:

1.  There is little evidence Winston did ANYTHING when in power, the three times he was a Minister, to slow down Maori nationalism. There was little of it to respond to when he supported National from 1996-1998, but from 2005-2008 and 2017-2020 under Labour, what evidence was there that Winston Peters ever did anything to push this back?

2.  He put Jacinda Ardern into power, notwithstanding that National clearly had the plurality of support as the major party in the 2017 election. It is disingenuous for him to be able to credibly claim that he knew NOTHING of the Maori nationalist aspirations of the Labour Maori caucus (or indeed the Greens, who were part of that coalition and are even more adamant of claims of Maori nationalist/statist based self-determination). However it is entirely possible Winston just took his portfolio, advocated for his pork-barrel Provincial Growth Fund, and the let the two parties on the left get on with it all. 

It might be welcoming to some to have Winston talk in a way that so much of the media would deem politically incorrect, but as he was with immigration, most of what he says reflects little about what he does. 

His other problem is that ACT not only polls but has multiple MPs to occupy this space. It might be notable that Winston talks mostly about the artifacts of the Maori cultural renaissance and the media expressions of it, rather than the more disturbing undermining of liberal democracy, such as granting Ngai Tahu a seat on Environment Canterbury, to sit alongside elected members with the same powers, or the efforts of Rotorua District Council to gerrymander Maori local authority seats that would represent a fraction of the number of non-Maori voters.  

There is a profound awkwardness of politicians, especially non-Maori ones, talking about these issues, because of a lack of philosophical conviction around what constitutional arrangements should exist for a free liberal democracy, and a lack of willingness to engage with views that claim that the underlying cause of poor socio-economic outcomes for Maori is not simply a legacy of colonialism and subsequent non-Maori settlement. The willingness of some Maori nationalists (especially now in Te Pati Maori) to go down the path of "it's us vs. them" should frighten most people, and if Winston Peters is more effective in having that debate that David Seymour (which I think he is), then so be it.

But don't expect a vote for NZ First to deliver anything transformational.  From 1996-1998 NZ First was a brake on a National Government continuing with free market liberal reforms, but not a stop. Similarly, from 2005-2008 and from 2017-2020 it was a brake on Labour Governments continuing with growth of the welfare state, but put a foot on the accelerator of economic nationalist interventions.  It was not a brake on Maori nationalism, because the policies now being advanced by the Government had their genesis in 2017-2020 (or earlier in the case of He Puapua).

There are reasons to be sceptical about ACT achieving much in this space, or National, but these pale in comparison to the reasons to be sceptical about Winston Peters. 

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