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John MacDonald: Can big things be discussed without the bunfights?

Author
John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Thu, 25 Jan 2024, 1:03pm
Photo / Getty
Photo / Getty

John MacDonald: Can big things be discussed without the bunfights?

Author
John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Thu, 25 Jan 2024, 1:03pm

I reckon that even if ACT leader David Seymour had gone to the Rātana Church celebrations yesterday, he wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. 

Because that’s the thing about the ACT Party leader, isn’t it? Nothing seems to ruffle the feathers.  

Not even the fact that his coalition partners don’t seem to want a bar of his treaty principles bill, which would define the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi along the lines of the Government having the right to govern all New Zealanders; all New Zealanders having the right to own their land and property; and all New Zealanders being treated equally. 

And David Seymour’s modus operandi is to sell his bill as one of these great opportunities to “have a conversation”. If there’s an overused term that drives me nuts, it’s that one about having a conversation. 

Because most of the time, that doesn’t happen. If we look at how things went down at Rātana yesterday, it didn’t look much like a conversation to me. 

We had the Prime Minister being told in no uncertain terms not to mess with the treaty. 

And we had the Prime Minister himself saying ‘hey, don’t worry people…nudge nudge, wink wink…not on my watch’. I’m just letting old David have his moment in the sun and look, he’ll be deputy Prime Minister in just over a year and he’ll be too busy to worry about all this treaty stuff. All G.' 

But despite all that, David Seymour —the eternal optimist— was still talking on Newstalk ZB this morning about the “debate” and the “conversation”, saying we shouldn't be getting too far ahead of ourselves and to have a debate. 

But there's a fly in the ointment. 

David Seymour can bang on as much as he likes about having a national conversation about the treaty principles, but I don’t think that, as a country, we are anywhere near capable of doing that. 

It’s only been five minutes, and we’ve had hui, and probably the most fiery Rātana Day I’ve ever seen. We’ve got that guy in the Far North planning to try and stop the big fishing contest this weekend. Not to mention all that hysteria we had last year about 3 Waters and co-governance.  

Then there was all the nutbar stuff that happened before the referendum on the assisted dying legislation. I remember some clown not far from where we live having a sign up on their fence saying not to vote for assisted dying because kids would be able to do it without their parents knowing about it.   

There weren’t “conversations” about those things. Just like we can see already that there isn’t going to be a “conversation” about the Treaty of Waitangi principles. It’s just going to be more hysteria. 

And the reason for that, is that I don’t think we are capable of discussing issues without it turning into a bunfight. 

Now you might say that, if we are going to have public “conversations” about big issues, then an inevitable part of that —or a critical part of that— is saying how we really feel about stuff. 

Problem is, though, the tendency for people to come out firing like a bull at a gate, like we’re seeing with the treaty principles stuff, like we’ve seen with 3 Waters, and co-governance, and assisted dying legislation. 

The problem with that, is that most people just step aside and don’t get involved. It becomes too much of a freak show for too many people.  

Many of them don't want to say how they feel about something because they’re scared they’ll be shot down and get into arguments they’re not interested in having. 

And if that’s how things are, what does that say about democracy in this country? 

If we are incapable of discussing critical issues facing our country, without it turning into protests and shouting matches, are we kidding ourselves when we say that we are a democratic country? 

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