Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Are we one people, or what?

(First published in The Dominion Post, July 17.)

THE BIG question raised by the Maori claim to water rights is this: are we one people, or are we not?

 A common theme of Maori claims is that Maori have rights and interests that are separate and distinct from those of mainstream New Zealand. The risk is that the pursuit of those rights and interests will imperil the wellbeing and progress of the entire country, potentially to the detriment of Maori along with everyone else. Many would say that point has already been reached.

That risk is heightened when the Maori agenda has been driven in recent years by the iwi leaders group, which speaks for tribes with substantial business interests and seems less concerned with enhancing the wellbeing of Maoridom overall than with using its political influence to secure business opportunities that will further enrich its own members.  

The Maori Council, which took the water rights claim to the Waitangi Tribunal, is now making a belated attempt to wrest back some of the influence it has lost to the iwi leaders.

The council purports, unlike the iwi leaders group, to represent all Maori, including the large body of Maori who have no active tribal affiliations. But while it might seem promising that a nominally more representative Maori body is now asserting itself, the attitude of the council’s leaders – particularly its belligerent co-chairman Maanu Paul – gives no reason for optimism. Mr Paul seems determined to drive a wedge between Maori and Pakeha New Zealand, treating their interests as mutually exclusive.

The irony is that the Maori leaders who rail against Crown injustices have European blood as well as Maori. They have chosen to align themselves with their Maori side and are entitled to do so. But no matter how much they might wish to, they can’t disown part of their own heritage.

Their Pakeha forebears were complicit in the injustices suffered by their Maori forebears which they now demand redress for. They should accept that for better or worse, we are an indivisible people. Genetically, there’s a bit of European in virtually every Maori and culturally, there’s a bit of Maori in most Pakeha; you can’t grow up in New Zealand and not absorb it.

Abraham Lincoln famously said that a house divided against itself could not stand. To translate that into New Zealand terms, we are all in the same waka and should be paddling together.

* * * 

A PERSON of my acquaintance is about to have a new house built. He tells me that one of the costs incurred is $1200 plus GST for something called roof edge protection.

This is a new rule that requires scaffolding to be erected around the perimeter of the roof while a house is being built so that workmen won’t fall off.

My informant has been in the building trade for nearly 50 years, most of that time as a builder himself. In all that time he has never known a tradesman to fall off a roof.

The roof on the house to be built for him has a slope of 8 degrees. It would have to be coated with coconut oil for someone to slide off. No matter: the law still insists on edge protection.

Now, consider this. The roof on my house has a slope of about 20 degrees, yet there’s no law to prevent me clambering around on it while I clear dead leaves from the spouting, even though I’m far more likely to lose my footing than an experienced roofer.

But the building trade is a soft target. It’s relatively simple to impose nitpicking requirements on builders, the cost of which then gets passed on to their clients. Do-it-yourselfers like me, though far more likely to incur injury, are a much tougher proposition.

Now, multiply the $1200 that my informant has to pay for roof edge protection by the number of houses under construction (about 20,000 in an average year) and you have a $24 million impost on new home buyers – great for the scaffolding business, but a dead weight on the economy otherwise. No wonder building costs are far higher in New Zealand than across the Tasman.

* * *

THE straight-talking politician sometimes seems an endangered species. Government ministers in particular seem reluctant to speak their minds for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. So it was refreshing to see super-Minister Steven Joyce spelling out home truths in Northland last week when he said people couldn’t keep saying “no” to mineral exploration and in the same breath, ask where the jobs were. 

Mr Joyce’s message was blunt: Northlanders can either help remove barriers to job creation at home or they can watch their families fly off to Western Australia. 

John Key was equally firm in standing his ground on the water issue. A bit more straight talking like that and people might be less inclined to dismiss him as the smile-and-wave prime minister.

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