Chris Trotter is asking rhetorical questions of Jamie Whyte. But first, Trotter’s set-up:
“Maori are legally privileged in New Zealand today,” Whyte told Act’s annual conference in Hamilton, “just as the Aristocracy were legally privileged in pre-revolutionary France.” Presumably, in making this bold comparison, our Cambridge graduate had some notion of what those aristocratic privileges included …. Let’s list just a few of them:
- The French Aristocracy were exempt from taxation.
- French aristocrats presided over their own seigneurial courts – i.e. they were able to try their own tenants for any breaches of the law alleged to have taken place on their own estates.
- Deceased tenant farmers of aristocratic land were prevented, under the law of mainmorte (the “dead hand”) from bequeathing the tenancy rights they enjoyed whilst living to their descendants….
- Aristocrats also enjoyed a range of monopolies within their domains. For example, requiring tenants to have their grain ground in the aristocrat’s mill.
- In many parts of France, a tenant wishing to get married had first to acquire his or her lord’s permission.
- The aristocrat’s prior permission was also required before a tenant farmer could vacate his tenancy – i.e. move away from the lord’s estate.
- To secure these aristocratic consents it was customary for tenants to pay yet more “fines.”
Do any of these legal privileges bear any resemblance to the supposed legal privileges enjoyed by Maori?
Are Maori exempt from taxation?
Do Maori preside over their own courts?
Are Maori able to prevent the alienation of their tribal resources by imposing restrictions on their tenants’ ability to bequeath, sell or otherwise transfer their interest in tribal property?
Do Maori enjoy monopolies over specific goods and services?
Is prior permission required from Maori before a citizen is able to exercise his or her rights?
So let’s answer the Trotter.
Q: Do any of these legal privileges bear any resemblance to the supposed legal privileges enjoyed by Maori?
A: Well, if the standard is resemblance then, yes. Yes they do.
Q: Are Maori exempt from taxation?
A: Well, Whyte was talking about mainly about the tribal leaders who glide about the country enjoying legal privileges and taxpayer’s largesse. These tribal elites now control over $37 billion in assets, yet many of them enjoy the delightfully non-taxed status of registered charities.
Among those many assets too is the $650 million-dollar-a-year fisheries business gifted to them by Doug Graham, and serviced by iwi-controlled foreign vessels attracting no tax revenue.
And if Hone Harawira’s Internet-Mana were to have their way, Maori-only no-deposit, low-interest home loans would effectively make even low-income Maori net non-taxpayers.
Q: Do Maori preside over their own courts?
A: A glib response would be to say that if the treatment of the Waikato king’s son is an example, they don’t need to. But at the same time, the appointment of unelected and unaccountable Maori representatives to numerous central and local body committees and planning authorities on bogus claims of partnership means that, if these bodies can be called courts in the sense that they make decisions and exercise legal power over people, then they do at least resemble courts. And “resemblance” was the standard we’re using, right?
Q: Are Maori able to prevent the alienation of their tribal resources by imposing restrictions on their tenants’ ability to bequeath, sell or otherwise transfer their interest in tribal property?
A: Well, it’s fair to say that any Maori ‘owning’ Maori land has as few rights of alienation of their land as any medieval serf – which is how their tribal leaders see them. (Which, to be fair, is a real step up from how they used to view them.)
So the answer again has to be ‘yes.’
Q: Do Maori enjoy monopolies over specific goods and services?
A: Well, greenstone, specific forests and mountains, Sealord’s fisheries, and some aspects of tourism certainly come to mind, don’t they?
Q: Is prior permission required from Maori before a citizen is able to exercise his or her rights?
A: If you want to build or develop in Auckland, under the Unitary plan there is a very good chance you will need to negotiate with tribal leaders to grant you permission. If you want to build or develop in New Zealand at all, under the Resource Management Act there is a fair chance tribal leaders have been granted a legal veto over your plans. And even if there isn’t an iwi management plan or registered waahi tapu giving the tribal elites legal power over you, there’s still every chance a taniwha might emerge with its hand out.
Conclusion: I have to thank Mr Trotter for asking his questions. I’m still inclined to think it would have been more accurate to compare the Browntable elites to the British House of Lords, but Trotter’s questions have made me begin to reconsider …