By Roger Annis, A Socialist In Canada, Feb 9, 2018 (updated on Feb 27, 2018)
AUCKLAND, Aotearoa (New Zealand)—Waitangi Day, February 6, is a national holiday in Aotearoa (the Maori language word for their homeland). The date commemorates the Waitangi Treaty signed in 1840 by representatives of the Indigenous Maori people and the British Crown.
This year, February 6 was marked by an unprecedented, five-day visit to the historic village and surrounding region of Waitangi by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The 37-year old leader of the Labour Party won the national election of September 23, 2017.
While it has been common for New Zealand prime ministers to visit Waitangi on February 6 (including often being met by protest), no prime minister has ever undertaken such a prolonged visit and dialogue. Nor has any previous prime minister made such strong vows of national reconciliation and social improvements as did Ardern this year.
New Zealand does not mark an independence day comparable to the July 4 and July 1 commemorations in the United States and Canada. Independence from Britain was achieved in many small steps.
The prime minister’s 12-minute address to the gathering at Waitangi can be viewed here. In it, she cited the continued social inequalities which the Maori people suffer, including high unemployment (it is twice the New Zealand national average), poverty among farmers, poor mental health services, poor housing conditions and the high rate of incarceration of Maori. Maori make up 15 per cent of the New Zealand population—600,000 out of 4.7 million—but 50 per cent of the prison population.
Ardern did not mention in her speech that Maori continue to contest historic losses of lands and they continue to value the primacy of collective forms of land ownership over private ownership.
“That is the distance between us,” Ardern summarized. “So long as [these inequalities] exist, we have failed in our partnership. But I inherently believe in our power to change.”
Ardern concluded her address with, “We as a government know what we have to do. We know all of the failings that we have as a nation. But we won’t always know how, exactly, to change it. For that, we will come to you, we will ask you to help us, we will form partnerships because we cannot do it alone.”
“When we return [to Waitangi] in one year, in three years, I ask you to ask of us what we have done… Hold us to account. Because one day I want to tell my child that I’ve earned the right to stand here, and only you can tell me when I have done that.”
Ardern and her government challenged
Writing on February 8 in the New Zealand Herald (the country’s largest circulation newspaper), columnist Ward Como, a Maori himself, took to task Ardern as well as the media reporting of her five day pilgrimage to Waitangi. He wrote:
I am discomfited by the breathless reporting from Waitangi as though all Maori issues have been resolved merely by the presence of the youthful Prime Minister Ardern. There is a growing ‘Obama’ feel with this prime minister in the way elements of the media are portraying her.
Barack Obama was hailed early in his presidency as the new hope for the world. So much so he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 (merely months into his presidency) on the basis it would give momentum to a set of causes — presumably world peace being one of them. This was before Obama had actually done anything concrete to enhance world peace. And history now shows he didn’t do much for world peace at all…
The headline of Como’s column read ‘What has Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern really done for race relations? So far, nothing’.
A critical overview of the political groundswell and activism present at this year’s Waitangi gathering is written in the February 9 NZ Herald by former Green MP Catherine Delahunty.
Writing in the Daily Blog on February 9, columnist Mike Treen condemned the scandalously high rate of Maori prison incarceration. He explained:
Many Maori are in prison for being poor, ie unable to pay fines the wealthy have no trouble paying or victims of laws that shouldn’t be there in the first place like those criminalising cannabis possession. It simply a fact that Maori are subject to racist discrimination at every stage of the so-called justice system…
New Zealand’s imprisonment rate at around 150 per 100,000 is the second highest in the wealthy, advanced capitalist world. It is second only to the super-star of imprisonment – the United States. Both Labour and National governments have spent taxpayers’ money in an endless bidding war when it comes to ‘law and order’ policies.”
Ardern’s government faces an immediate decision of whether to proceed with construction of a new, 2,000-bed prison planned by the preceding National Party government. Treen, the national director of Unite Union, concludes his column with:
The new government has signaled that it wants to ‘have a dialogue’ about the high imprisonment rates. But it has a duty to simply reject the new prison as being a product of all that has been wrong in this area for decades. The billions it will cost will be better spent anywhere else.
The union movement needs to take a lead on this issue. What Maori face is in many ways what all working-class people face from this system with an added twist of the knife. It is time for people to simply say: NO MORE PRISONS – FIND A BETTER WAY!
John Minto, also a columnist with The Daily Blog, has criticized the government for already breaking an important election promise, which was to turn Housing New Zealand back into a government department. It was made into a for-profit state corporation in 2001. Presently, HNZ houses some 65,000 low-income families. Minto explained in his column of February 6:
Low-income families saw this promised change to HNZ as the only bright spot in Labour’s housing policy in light of [housing minister Phil] Twyford’s hopelessly inadequate promise to build a measly 1,000 additional state houses each year when 41,000 New Zealanders have extreme housing need.
The Auckland Housing Summit, formed last year, wants 3,000 social housing units to be built in the city by the end of 2018. It advocates 125,000 new homes to be built in Auckland by 2025, half of which should be “affordable”.
The Labour Party government is steering through Parliament the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill requiring regulatory approval of home and land sales to anyone except New Zealanders and Australians.
Waitangi Treaty of 1840
The Maori are a Polynesian people who settled New Zealand during the 12th century and afterward. They came from Hawaii and other islands in eastern Polynesia. The Waitangi Treaty marked a certain standoff in relations at the beginning of Britain’s colonial-settler project. At the time, the Maori population was an estimated 80,000 people while the settler-colonial population was only some 2,000. But the latter were heavily armed, and they were backed by the largest military power the world had known to that date.
Notwithstanding some favorable conditions achieved by the Maori in the Waitangi Treaty (Wikipedia), especially in comparison to the genocidal sufferings of Indigenous peoples of the Americas and Australia, the Maori were nonetheless relegated to second-class status in the decades that followed 1840.
The story of the Maori clash with the British Empire is told in James Belich’s 1986 book The New Zealand Wars. The book was also made into a television series. In Belich’s view, Maori won the Northern War of 1845-46 which followed the treaty signing. They stalemated the British in the Taranaki War of 1860–61, but were defeated by the 18,000-strong British and settler armed forces in the Waikato War of 1863–64.
There was much for Maori people and the rest of the working class in New Zealand to celebrate on this year’s Waitangi Day. Recognition and respect of Maori rights have reached historic highs amongst the New Zealand population. (The leader or deputy leader of every major political party in the country is Maori.) Trade unions have begun to recover rights lost during the harsh years of the National Party governments of the 1990s , though so far, the only substantial improvement for workers is the national minimum wage–it will rise to $16.50 by April 2018 and the new Labour-led government has promised to increase it to $20 by 2021. Under the National Party governments from 2008-17, the minimum wage improved very slightly from 5o per cent to 52 per cent of the average wage.
Social, economic and political disparities are rising in New Zealand, as in the rest of the world. New Zealanders confront the same challenges as the rest of the world’s peoples: the triple threat of global warming, rising social inequities, and war and militarism which place all of human civilization in deep peril.
Roger Annis is a writer and retired aerospace worker living in Vancouver, Canada. He publishes his writings and selected writings of others on his website A Socialist In Canada.
 The new government in New Zealand is a coalition of the Labour Party, New Zealand First party (four ministerial posts, including deputy prime minister and foreign minister) and Green Party (three ministerial posts).
Labour-led governments from 1984 to 1990 introduced radical, free-market reforms and privatizations, so called ‘Rogernonmics’ named after then-Finance Minister Roger Douglas. (Wikipedia)
The 1999-2008 Labour-led governments restored some of the trade union rights that were taken away by the National Party. Some of those restored rights were then removed during National Party rule from 2008-17, though many workers would not have experienced anything directly. Under pressure from Unite Union and others, the National Party did remove zero-hour contracts and it improved wages for home-help workers.
Related news and analysis: (updated)
* New Zealand government issues report extolling the virtues of the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership ‘free trade’ agreement, report on Radio New Zealand, Feb 21, 2018
* Hone Harawira, Maori leader of New Zealand’s Mana Movement, warns Canada’s First Nations that TPP ‘free trade’ agreement could cost them rights, report on CBC News, Jan 27, 2018
* Coalition government in New Zealand under pressure to abolish previous government’s plans for a new, 3,000-bed prison . Read: Maori lawyer Moana Jackson says it’s time to abolish prisons, by Te Aniwa Hurihanganui, published on Radio New Zealand, Nov 16, 2017 . Listen: New Zealand corrections minister says he is ‘looking at all options’ concerning proposed, $1 billion new mega-prison, interview on Radio New Zealand with Kelvin Davis, Feb 26, 2018
* The real political controversy of Waitangi 2018: The Labour Party is shifting how it addresses social inequalities of Maori , commentary by Bryce Edwards, New Zealand Herald, Feb 8, 2018
… Labour and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have been signalling that this Government is departing from the traditional culturalist and “race-based” approach to dealing with Maori deprivation and economic inequality. Instead, a more universal, economic-focused method will be used.
* Business interests decry New Zealand government’s planned labour law improvements, by Derrick Cheng, New Zealand Herald, Feb 5, 2018
* Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway knows what it’s like to be a victim, by Derrick Cheng, New Zealand Herald, Feb 8, 2018
… The minister’s family endured a lot of financial pain during the economic liberalism of the 1980s under the fourth Labour Government [what was termed ‘Rogernomics’, named after Labour’s minister of the economy Roger Douglas], which oversaw the axing of Government farming subsidies. “We were lucky in that we didn’t come from generations of farmers, so our whole family wasn’t completely invested in farming. A lot of our neighbours were, and for them it was just the end of their livelihoods. People walked off their land,” Lees-Galloway says.
“The change was necessary but it was too fast and too brutal, and people were left behind. If the process had started earlier, it could have been done at a pace where people were able to make the transition”…
Workers in New Zealand win $20 per hour minimum wage beginning in 2021, by Roger Annis, A Socialist In Canada, Nov 1, 2017 (includes ‘The minimum wage decision is big win for workers in New Zealand and should be celebrated’, by Mike Treen, published in The Daily Blog, Oct 26, 2017)