Saturday, 23 July 2022

The Government's He Puapua Report "often reads like a wish-list of outcomes that one might see emerging from a university Maori Studies Department"

James Allan was until recently a professor of law at Otago University, and is now at the University of Queensland. In other words, he is a knowledgable fellow who, being now outside the boundaries of academic backlash here, is able to speak freely about where he sees this place going.

He was commissioned by Lee Short's Democracy Action group to undertake a formal analysis of the Labour Government's 'He Puapua' Report, its programme for racial inequality that has all but become its Party Manifesto. He concludes:
[The He Puapua] Report often reads like a wish-list of outcomes that one might see emerging from a university Maori Studies Department.  
Brand new written constitution? Tick.
Based on an equal partnership between Maori and non-Maori (or the Crown or the government)? Tick.
To the extent that many or most New Zealanders will not be overly sympathetic to these sweeping proposals do we need to ‘educate the public’? Tick.
And do so at the taxpayers’ expense? Tick.
Give international law an implicit but clear pre-eminence or pride of place in terms of its importance as a valid and legitimate source of law? Tick.
Focus on groups not individuals? Tick.
Make a bland sort of socialistic equality of outcome the core concern rather than a far more liberal equality of opportunity? Tick.
Demand yet more money (better described as ‘resources’) from taxpayers for all of this? Tick.   
That and more of the same gives the flavour of this Report.

There is also more than a little hint of condescension scattered throughout the Report. For instance, ‘[w]e consider Aotearoa has reached a maturity where it is ready to undertake the transformation necessary to restructure governance to realise rangatiratanga Maori’ (p. iii, with a very similar sentiment expressed very similarly on p.4). Likewise, but less overtly, a similar tone is struck with the various mentions of the need for ‘a strong education campaign.’

Meanwhile difficult issues are glossed over, issues such as
  • who will count as a Maori  
  • the exiguous democratic credentials of international law itself, 
  • whether New Zealanders would be given a binding referendum vote on any package of reforms that emerged from these two-party insider negotiations, 
  • whether intra-Maori decision-making procedures would have to pass some sort of democratic hurdle, and so on.
Yet another difficulty, perhaps an inevitable one, is that those who lack Maori language skills will find the Report is sometimes wilfully obscure. Are we talking about sovereignty or self-determination and which variant of which? What, precisely, is ‘kawanatanga karauna’ or ‘nga taonga’? Readers not fluent in Te Reo, even those who are, will now and again feel they are wandering around a Report filled with the smoke of obfuscation.

Of course, in some ways the Report’s goals are perfectly sensible and would be shared by the vast preponderance of New Zealanders. Maori social welfare statistics are far below the median level and across all sorts of areas. Lifting these is a worthy goal and one that needs doing. However, whether that requires the sweeping constitutional and legal change mooted by the Report is quite another matter. Indeed, whether that mooted constitutional and legal change would in fact bring about those desired social welfare improvements is another matter. And it is one that can be doubted by reasonable people.

The main goal of this Report is to advocate for a good deal more power-sharing by the Crown with Maori, or at least with Maori tribal groups, than exists at present and to do so by relying heavily on the [1835] Declaration [of Independence].

The exact level of that desired power-sharing is kept unclear, but hints that the goal is a 50-50 split are scattered throughout. Still, the government of the day appears to have asked for precisely the sort of document that the authors of this Report delivered. Hence, it is no criticism of the authors of the Report that that is what they delivered....

This is a radical Report. Its recommendations are radical. Were those recommendations to be fulfilled to any considerable degree they would undercut majoritarian democracy; they would impinge upon elements of the Rule of Law; and they would exchange newer, worse, more aristocratic constitutional arrangements for older, better, more democratic ones.

At times the Report deals in condescension, verbiage and arguably deliberate linguistic obfuscation. There are repeated calls for more and more and more taxpayers’ monies. To attempt to legitimate the Report’s recommendations, international law is made to do a great deal of work, too much work. Putting international law on the same plane as (or possibly even on a higher plane than) the domestic law of one of the world’s oldest and most successful democracies is a tough sell, to put the point as kindly and as generously as possible.

None of those points in the preceding paragraph runs contrary to the possibility that the authors of the Report have delivered just what the government that commissioned the Report wanted. Indeed, the fact that that commissioning government has already taken steps in the areas of water and health to fulfil the spirit and general exhortations of the Report certainly suggests this is a plausible possibility.

The purpose of this first Analysis has been to examine in some detail the underpinnings of the Report, to lay out its conceits and first principles, and to show that these are unlikely to be widely shared or desired by the preponderance of New Zealanders. Whether an opposition political party will want to make use of this Analysis to fight back against its worldview and its suggested changes is something only time will tell.
Download his full Analysis here. Speech here:

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I can not hear the good Dr.