Saturday, May 1, 2021

Joyous hugs and kisses as democracy takes another hit

Democracy took centuries to build, but it’s being dismantled with frightening speed.

The latest step in the demolition job was Wellington City Council’s decision this week to give full voting rights on council committees to two unelected iwi representatives. They will each be paid a yearly fee of $111,225, the same amount as elected councillors, despite having undefined responsibilities and lines of accountability that could only be described as highly opaque. 

A triumphant council statement said the 11-3 vote was greeted with waiata, hongi, hugs and kisses. Cr Jill Day, one of two legitimately elected part-Maori councillors, said: “This is just a small step, but we need to make a start.”

Just a start – really? It’s anyone’s guess where Day envisages it leading to, but anything’s possible once you sever the vital, direct connection between voters and those purporting to represent them.

The council’s decision alters the basis of local government so profoundly that the word democracy, which hinges on people electing their representatives, will no longer apply. Once you start dismantling the checks and balances that ensure councillors are elected by popular vote under a transparent process, and can be tossed out if they don’t measure up to the people’s expectations, the line has been crossed between democracy and some other form of government for which we haven’t got a name.

How will the iwi representatives be chosen, and by whom? We don’t know.

Who will they be accountable to? That, too, is unclear. But we can make a safe guess that it won’t be to the wider public or the ratepayers who will fund their salaries, and who pay to keep the city functioning (after a fashion). The iwi representatives will owe their loyalty to the runanga, tribal leaders or hui that choose them. Whatever this is, it’s not democracy.

Naturally, the council’s vote was greeted effusively by iwi representatives, whose comments neatly avoided inconvenient issues of democratic principle.  John Coffey, chairman of the embattled and strife-torn Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust, gushed that iwi and the council shared similar goals. “What you want as a council for the people of Wellington is what we want too,” he told councillors. “You will not succeed without us, and we will not succeed with you. It’s as simple as that.” Er, meaning what, exactly?

Better still was the stirring oration from the chief executive of Ngati Toa Rangatira, a man with the proud Maori name of Helmut Modlik: “I’m feeling very grateful that I’m living now, and that we’re at a point in history where there is a degree of honesty about the past ... it is a tragic story for my people in a lot of respects,” said Modlik. “But that’s the past, and a line’s been drawn. And I’m grateful to live today and to be a witness to what I expect to be an increasingly emergent determination by New Zealanders to do better for our children and our mokopuna than was done in the past.”

So … bad things have happened to Maori, which is unquestionably true, and the only way to remedy these grievances is by subverting and even destroying the fair and equitable form of government we know as democracy? I think that’s what he was saying, but who can tell?

Still to come, of course, is the introduction of Maori wards – a change facilitated under urgency with virtually no warning by a dishonest government, and one premised on the palpable falsehood that the only way Maori can get elected to councils is through the creation of a voting system that treats them as different, with special needs.

This ignores the fact that city and district councils throughout New Zealand, including Wellington, have had many Maori councillors – and mayors too (Ron Mark and Georgina Beyer in Carterton, Mike Tana in Porirua and Derek Fox in Wairoa are four who come to mind from relatively recent history) – who were elected by popular vote. So much for the lie that a racist system is loaded against Maori candidates, and that they can succeed only through preferential treatment. So much, too, for the condescending view – a view apparently held, remarkably, by most Maori leaders – that Maori candidates aren’t capable of being elected on their own merits

Wellington City Council, like many others, took advantage of the sneaky law change by voting in favour of the creation of Maori wards, knowing the decision could no longer be thwarted by a referendum, as it has been elsewhere. But Jill Day and her youthful, activist fellow councillor Tamatha Paul are living, breathing proof that Maori candidates don’t need Maori wards to get elected. 

Of course, whether Wellington voters will want Day and Paul back next year, after the current council’s embarrassingly shambolic performance, is another matter. Speaking of which, I wouldn’t give Mayor Andy Foster much for his chances in the 2022 local government elections.  Foster long ago proved himself ineffectual and now he’s been exposed as spineless too. He was one of six councillors who voted only a few weeks ago against the appointment of iwi representatives, saying then that he wanted to ask for public feedback. But at Wednesday’s meeting he performed an about-face of breathtaking brazenness, saying councillors needed to have faith that the community would support their decision. “While this is not something that has been consulted on, I think we should give this a go.”

That sounds to me like a man who no longer bothers to maintain even a pretence of being in control. Foster seems to have given up, and the only question is whether he'll cling to office till the voters toss him out next year, as they surely will, or cut short the pain and humiliation by walking now.


Lindsay Mitchell said...

Guilt is a very strong emotion, so instilling it is a powerful weapon. Succumbing is the reason so many have taken leave of their senses. White guilt is highly fashionable. Hopefully it will be short-lived. But how much damage to democracy in the interim?

Odysseus said...

Maori sovereignty activists, aided and abetted by the Labour Government, have chosen local government as their first target for establishing race-based "co-governance" because popular interest and participation in local body affairs is so weak. The appointment on non-accountable race-based "representatives" further disenfranchises ratepayers who are compelled by law to pay for the shambles that is Wellington City Council. This is a textbook case of how a small, determined activist group can subvert democracy by manipulating "white guilt" and taking advantage of a generally disengaged public. And it's just the start of Labour's "transformational" agenda.

Andy Espersen said...

Yes, things are indeed happening quickly to democracy these days. Nowhere in your post do you spell it out clearly, Karl – but all this stems from the illusion which has now become accepted as an established fact in New Zealand, namely that The Treaty was a partnership between the Crown and the indigenous population.

But it never was - simply because it logically could not be - and still logically cannot be. And the huge majority of the wise, intelligent old Maori chiefs at Waitangi were perfectly aware of that. It is a constitutionally legal and common sense fact that New Zealand cannot be both a democracy and a partnership at the same time. Why doesn’t somebody (Hobson’s Pledge??) put this to our Supreme Court??

hughvane said...

To quote Pita Sharples (as accurately as I know): “this is the browning of NZ, get used to it”.

Your blog Karl may be seized upon and branded through the collusion of media as anti-Maori and racist - and we all know what that implies.

The Wellington City Council action is both alarming and disgraceful, aggravated by those salary figures you’ve provided, but local body elections are due soon. Don’t underestimate the mindset of the greater majority of population who are paying the rates to support local Councils, but the burning question remains.

Will Wellington voters in sufficient numbers take the slightest notice of what has happened; and who with sufficient courage will campaign against this so-called ‘affirmative action’ that we see occurring in several districts of NZ? - NZ is not alone.

jeremy said...

I have always wondered where the push for a greater Maori voice was coming from. The Maori separatists obviously but why does the rest of, say, the Wellington Council feel the need to appoint race-based representatives. Lindsay Mitchell's 'white guilt' is probably much of the answer. This white guilt brings to mind the Flangellants of the 13th century. They wandered the countryside whipping themselves for their own penance but as well asking penitence of others. (Now "Spiked" says that Sir Isaac Newton is in danger of cancellation. Where will it end?) Today's Flagellants are asking us to atone for the sins of today - climate change, colonial servitude, apparent disdain for black lives, economic inequality and so it goes. Though there is some evidence that Flagellants were seen as late as the 16th century mercifully they did die out eventually, that is until now when the sect/movement seems once more on the march whipping themselves for their own, but mostly our, good. The Catholic Church with all its strength in the day spoke against the Flagellants but they were still around after 300 years or so. What will it take to stop the current wave? When they got to England the onlookers just laughed. Surely this is the answer.

Andy Espersen said...

hughvane - Personally I have nothing at all against "the browning of New Zealand" - but I hate racist legislation and regulations.

Johnston said...


An undemocratically elected Maori Communist, Pakeha Communist, Lesbian Communist, Chinese Communist, and Indian Communist in a Wheelchair decide what is in their common interest and the government writes UN Sustainable Development Goals - linked legislation on their advice.


We all get to vote.

Brendan McNeill said...

While some form of democratic government has been around since the early Greeks circa 500BC, it is easy to forget that Universal Suffrage only took place throughout the world during the 20th century. That is to say, for every country where it exists, it is less than 100 yeas old:

From the perspective of human history it is brand new, and now seemingly no longer a cornerstone of civil society; clearly if the actions of the Wellington City Council and the Labour Government are any guide. They have deemed “racial equity” is a greater good, and trumps the principal of one person one vote.

So, if racial equity trumps the democratic process, what else does? Inequality? Poverty? Expert opinion? Kindness?

It is not an overstatement to suggest there is a madness that has engulfed the Western world. We have literally become un-mored from our most basic traditions and institutions. Who would have thought even a decade ago, elected representatives would congratulate each other for throwing democracy under the bus?

Yet this is where we have landed.

Russell Parkinson said...

The best definition of democracy I have heard is that its any system that enables the people to change the government without having to shoot them.

I agree with what Karl has written and the comments here but the devils advocate in me wonders if Maori representation is really any different from say the House of Lords?

Johnston said...


Quite right you are!

They openly discussed their successful youth strategy here, implemented it, then claimed it was a "Youth Quake":

Johnston said...

It was organic, not planned by communists! The youth want change!


Karl du Fresne said...

The House of Lords strikes me as a bizarre anachronism, made worse by the potential for all manner of dodgy political patronage and manipulation through the awarding of peerages, but that's a problem for the Brits to sort out.

Neil Keating said...

I'm not against the 'browning' of New Zealand either.
But I'm nervous about excessive say going to people who revert to their tribalist world view and ethics when the demands of modernity get too tough. I include in this Maori and Pasifika who I think are tribal in a sense, ie their island of origin.
Let's face it, modernity can be a tough ask, especially when one is short of personal and/or family resources. (I've been there, raising a family, putting bread on the table and shoes on the feet, all the while grappling with the question 'what is the nature of ultimate reality?')
For more on modernity / tribalism see Roger Sandall (NZer, died 2013), a former film maker and lecturer in anthropology at Uni of Sydney. See his book Essays in Designer Tribalism.
NFK, aged 74.

(Karl, I am about to send you a paper by Sandall entitled 'An Australian Dilemma', presented about late '90s to the Samuel Griffith Society in ACT. It is on the issue of reconciling tribalism and modernity.)

Neil Keating said...

Sandall's book is called 'The Culture Cult: Designer Tribalism and Other Essays.'

Andy Espersen said...

Brendan McNeil – Despair not. There are enough of us (including Karl du Fresne and his brave bunch of armchair philosophers) to successfully fight this temporary blip of “counter-Enlightenment”.
I so understand the reason why Maori of old were itching to join the European civilisation and culture of that fantastic 19th century. One enterprising, courageous race meeting a like-minded other – but one with hugely superior culture, technology, science and religion.

Humankind is over 100,000 years old. Only now are we collectively getting out of the jungle – and we have a long way to go. No, I do not know how it will end – but I have hopes – and I am optimistic – and I am not worrying one bit.

Phil said...

The growing scandal of he puapua, I first read about this on your website Karl. How where you ahead of the rest of the media and political bloggers on this topic?

Ricardo said...

Woke this and woke that...

all this talk of woke reminds me of the old Lord of Stratford who dreamed he was giving a speech in the House of Lords. He woke up and found that he was.

Trev1 said...

It appears the government has taken the Maori sovereignty agenda much further than they are willing to share with New Zealanders, because they don't want us to misunderstand what they are up to! The following is taken from a post on Facebook by the Act Party last night. Since it is largely factual, I seek your forbearance in submitting the excerpt Karl:

"ACT has revealed that a Cabinet paper has been drafted to progress He Puapua, a Cabinet-commissioned report which aims to give effect to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
He Puapua represents a significant and serious departure from the idea that all New Zealanders are equal before the law.
ACT first raised concerns about the He Puapua in Parliament last month. Now questions to Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson confirm that he received three papers last month including a draft Cabinet paper.
The Prime Minister has batted away questions about He Puapua calling legitimate Opposition questions ‘politics’ but that’s clearly not the case. Our questions show Willie Jackson met with the head of the working group last month.
ACT can also reveal that a submission to the United Nations in August said “New Zealand is committed to being among the first states to create a plan to implement the Declaration”.
We can also reveal that it appears the Government didn’t want you know about the He Puapua Report. It was only made available after the Ombudsman became involved. So much for the most open and transparent Government ever.
Jacinda Ardern even told Parliament this afternoon it should have been withheld in case New Zealanders didn't understand it. How patronising.
Now Andrew Little is claiming that the Māori Health Authority had nothing to do with He Puapua when the submission to the UN says the Māori Health Authority and Māori Wards are examples of “initiatives [which are] consistent with the Declaration.”
If we’re going to have a constitutional conversation it needs to be out in the open and not hidden the shadows, Jacinda Ardern seems intent on keeping any sunlight away from this important issue."

If these claims are true they are extremely serious. They suggest we have a government that is actively trying to subvert our democracy while keeping the public in the dark. Why are they doing this? The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is non-binding, it is not a treaty. There is nothing here that "New Zealand needs to come into compliance with". We have our own long established process for dealing with historical injustices which is now coming to a conclusion. What is the purpose of trying to create a divided nation now?

Karl du Fresne said...

Really? I don't recall He Puapua being mentioned in this blog and I can't find any reference to it. If you first read about it here, it was probably one of this site's many enlightened commenters (tautology). However I'm happy to take credit for it.

Ricardo said...

First mention I was aware of was Bowalley Road and Chris Trotter. 12 April.

D'Esterre said...

I've read about half of this. Everyone should read it: thus far, I've found no mention at all of democracy, and brief reference only to "all other NZers".

Now I understand why there has been a lightning raid on our democratic rights in respect of local authorities. And yes, the Maori Health Authority is mentioned.

When people read this, take note of the suggested timeline for action by the government.

Andy Espersen said...

Trev1 - "constitutional conversations" are not ordinary debates. Yes, they should certainly be out in the open - but the relevant questions should really be but before the supreme court.

Unknown said...


Deconstructing the West to Save the Other
Postcolonial Theory looks to deconstruct the West, as it sees it, and this ambitious demolition project was undoubtedly the first emanation of applied postmodernism. Unlike race and gender Theories, which had already developed fairly mature lines of thought and scholarship before postmodernism took hold in cultural studies, postcolonial Theory derived directly from postmodern thought. Moreover, postcolonial Theory came about to achieve a specific purpose, decolonization: the systematic undoing of colonialism in all its manifestations and impacts. While postmodernism saw itself as both moving beyond and dismantling the key features of modernity, postcolonialism restricts this project to issues surrounding colonialism. Prominent within postcolonial Theory, more specifically, are both the postmodern knowledge principle, which rejects objective truth in favor of cultural constructivism, and the postmodern political principle, which perceives the world as constructed from systems of power and privilege that determine what can be known. The four primary themes of postmodern thinking -- blurring of boundaries, belief in the overwhelming power of cultural relativism and the loss of the individual and denial of the universal are found throughout postcolonialism. Though not all postcolonial scholars are postmodern in their outlook, the key figures certainly were and are, and this approach dominates postcolonial Social Justice scholarship and activism today '

Cynical Theories How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender and Identity - and Why This Hurts Everyone.
Helen Pluckrose & James Lindsay

Unknown said...

here's a timepiece Karl

Political correctness is the antithesis of free speech and a democratic society,. yet its tentacles reach into the very heart of New Zealand society through government departments, quangos and places of learning (The Press, 24 July 1993).

When such partisan positions are adopted by the media, and in spite of what might be written elsewhere on the same page, questions need to be asked not only about the role of the press in defending a certain position but what such partisanship means for debate and democratic freedom (see Walker, 1990). Given the news and editorial values that have so often driven coverage of this issue, the question becomes one of how well the public understand what constitutes cultural safety. Values will always intrude on the coverage of such an issue, but there is a balance that is required for media coverage to provide a certain level of basic information and which does not seek to portray the parties to this dispute in flattering or unflattering light as the case may be. The inevitable media response is that they are simply covering an issue that their readers, listeners or viewers want to know about and that the way in which they portray the issue is not governed by partisanship. But in attacking the motives and methods of those involved with cultural safety, and in marginalising the reasons for the inclusion of cultural safety, notably the very poor service Maori have received from health services in general, it was inevitable that cultural safety would be cast as the villain in the media dramatisation. This raises important questions about the role of the media in defending traditional and, in this case, Pakeha values against any sort of change which might provide Maori with different and more appropriate services. We would also argue that the freedom of the press inhibits the freedom of speech in important ways.
IRIHAPETI RAMSDEN AND PAUL SPOONLEY - The Cultural Safety Debate in Nursing Studies.

What it comes down to is this insidious post-modernism. They see us as unenlightened children who can just be walked over

Phil said...

I was thinking of your Barrie Saunders post on the 8th March on separatism and one of the commenters provided a link to He Puapua.

Hilary Taylor said...

'Complying' with UN indigenous rights aspirations is about as useful as appointing Iran to the Womens' Rights thingee & Saudi Arabia to the Human Rights one...really, really un-useful and positively dangerous.