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Muriel Newman: Healing racial tensions

Muriel Newman,
Publish Date
Wed, 4 Oct 2023, 9:02am
Photo / Alka Prasad
Photo / Alka Prasad

Muriel Newman: Healing racial tensions

Muriel Newman,
Publish Date
Wed, 4 Oct 2023, 9:02am

The same day that New Zealanders vote in the General Election to choose a new government, Australians vote in the Voice referendum to see whether constitutional recognition will be given to Aboriginal people.

This is a landmark decision for Australia. If the Voice succeeds, the country will be divided by race.

This is essentially what’s happened in New Zealand. The difference is that in Australia the debate is out in the open and the public are being asked to vote on whether or not they want to go down this track. In contrast, in New Zealand there has been no openness nor debate – a race-based future has been imposed on us by the Hipkins-Ardern Labour Government.

So, let’s look at what’s occurring across the ditch and see what we can learn.

The referendum, announced by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, would give effect to the Uluru Statement from the Heart – a call for constitutional reform made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in 2017.

To succeed, the “yes” campaign must win a double majority: that is, a majority of votes and a majority of states.

Of the 44 referendums held in Australia, only eight have ever been carried - the last in the 1970s.

Voters will be asked to approve an alteration to Australia’s Constitution that would prescribe a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice that “may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government... on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

Those supporting the change say it’s just a ‘voice’ - an advisory body that will enable the government and parliament to listen to the views of Indigenous people about matters that affect them. The aim, they say, is to close the gap between First Nations people and non-Indigenous Australians.

But opponents say the Voice would erode the foundation stone of Australian democracy - the equality of citizenship.

They claim it would introduce racial privilege into the heart of the Constitution, giving Aboriginals and their descendants a method of influencing public policy over and above the democratic rights enjoyed by all Australians regardless of race.

Effectively, it would constitutionalise a race-based lobby group, equipped with a taxpayer funded bureaucracy, that would give Indigenous people the ability to have a say on every law and administrative decision, not just those relating to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.

In doing so, it would threaten equality of citizenship in Australia. As Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke said in 1988: “In Australia, there is no hierarchy of descent… there must be no privilege of origin. The commitment to Australia is the one thing needful to be a true Australian.”

Along with the Voice breaching that fundamental principle of equality of citizenship, it would also have unlimited scope in what it could become involved in. And while it might not have an official right of veto, in practice that’s what it could become.

As Paul Kelly, Editor-at-Large of the Australian newspaper warned, “The Voice contradicts the principle of equality of citizenship that enshrines and binds together our nation. The Voice is based on the principle that we have different constitutional rights depending on our ancestry. We need to think about that as a country. And think whether or not we really want that to happen. This is a change in the Constitution that, being realistic, would be forever.”

Australian research consultant Dr David Barton, who’s worked in the area of Aboriginal affairs for the last five decades, describes those pushing the Voice as a ‘power-grabbing activist elite’ with divisive ambitions:

“The Voice referendum is purely and simply about the drive towards Aboriginal sovereignty, which can only be achieved by changing the nation’s foundational document and charter.

“It is beholden upon the rest of us — those who care about Australia as a whole rather than advancing the narrow interests of one group only — to contest the creation of a separate and sovereign Aboriginal nation on the Australian continent, for that is where the ‘Voice’ will take us. Once embedded in the Constitution, such an internal ‘sovereign nation’ will be impossible to dismantle. This is the threat and the message all Australians must hear.”

Dr Barton explains that the drive for self-determination underpins the Voice: “One thing that bothers me is the constant calls for ‘self-determination’, not so much by Aborigines but by whitefella activists, some I later learned to be card-carrying members of the Communist Party and others who now hold senior positions in academia and the bureaucracy.

“The contemporary definition of ‘Aboriginal self-determination’ is not about fitting in with the mainstream, of integrating or assimilating, but of splitting from mainstream Australia.

“Self-determination’ means ‘we’ll do what we like and you can pay for it’… Self-determination is about undermining whitefella institutions, judiciaries, organisations and bureaucracies. For the activist cadre it always was and always will be about money, power and control, all underscored by the notion that members of one race enjoy a preeminent ascendency over all other Australians.

“More examples of ‘self-determination’ can be found in the ban on climbing Ayers Rock (Uluru), Mt Warning… all for ill-defined or unexplained ‘cultural’ reasons. After much outcry, consideration is now being given to re-opening the Mt Warning climb, but only for those who pay a fee and are escorted by indigenous guides.

“Australian place names are also rapidly being overwritten with (most likely made-up) Aboriginal names. All of this is about claims to ownership, to ‘sovereignty’. These changes should not be mistaken for deference to Aboriginal culture; it’s no more nor less than an insidious takeover. What we are experiencing here is cultural guerrilla warfare, the picking off one target after the other.”

Sound familiar?

Dr Barton completes the analogy: “Don’t believe it? Look no further that what has happened in New Zealand.”

He’s right, of course – it’s exactly what’s happening here, but there are some key differences.

Firstly, the takeover is much more advanced in New Zealand, thanks to Labour.

And secondly, while Australians get to vote on it, here, not only was it imposed on us, but the government did its best to keep it secret - denying it was even taking place.

In an ABC interview, Maori leaders conveying a message of support for the Voice presented a picture of a country living in peace and harmony: “Today, Maori culture and language are celebrated and embraced by those living in Aotearoa and abroad.”

What they didn’t explain is that for the last three years, Maori language and culture have been forced onto the country whether we like it or not.

Nor did they explain that former Prime Minister Ardern and her Ministers - including Chris Hipkins - acted like dictators, re-interpreting the Treaty as an equal ‘partnership’ to justify giving the tribal elite the power to ensure all government policy aligns with their agenda - and to impose ‘co-governance’ across the public and private sectors.

The effects can be clearly seen in health, where patients are no longer prioritised on the basis of clinical need, but by race. And Three Waters, where control of water is being transferred from democratically elected councils to the iwi elite – as a precursor, towards tribal ownership of New Zealand’s freshwater.

With the election just around the corner, and the public saying they’ve had enough of racial division, it has now become an election issue.

Iwi leaders are also adding fuel to that fire by describing anyone who disagrees with their separatist agenda as racist.

In an open letter to politicians, they wrote, “Racism, in any form, should have no place in our elections. Leaders have a responsibility to call out racism and race-baiting and publicly condemn it.

“We support the position taken by the leader of the Labour Party, Chris Hipkins, calling for the end to race-baiting and racist comments in our country’s election campaigns. We acknowledge both the Green Party and Te Paati Maori for their anti-racism positions.

“Maori deserve better from the people who want to lead our country. So we are calling on Christopher Luxon, the leader of the National Party, to condemn the racist comments made by NZ First candidates, to condemn the race-baiting policies of the Act Party and commit himself to representing all of us – including Maori.”

The signatories were, Dame Naida Glavish; Ta Herewini Tanetoa Parata; Ta Mark Solomon; Archdeacon Ngira Simmonds; Tukoroirangi Morgan; Bayden Barber; Katie Murray; Professor Margaret Mutu; Te Huia Bill Hamilton; Terrence (Mook) Hohneck; Peter Lucas Jones; Pania Newton; Hurimoana Dennis; Tony Kake; David Leteli; Tania Rangiheuea; Bernie O’Donnell.

So, the battle lines are drawn. On one side is a small but powerful tribal elite supported by pro-treaty advocates who claim racial privilege is necessary to improve Maori disparity, and that anyone who disagrees with them is racist.

On the other side is the majority of the population who say everyone should be treated equally – that race does not cause inequality, and that the call for racial privilege is racist.

In the UK, in 2021 the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was established to determine whether racism was in fact the cause of ethnic disparity. The Chairman, Dr Tony Sewell reported: “The evidence shows that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion have more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism.”

His report stressed the importance of family: “In many areas of investigation, including educational failure and crime, we were led upstream to family breakdown as one of the main reasons for poor outcomes. Family is also the foundation stone of success for many ethnic minorities.”

It is the same in New Zealand: It is not race that causes disparity, but factors such as the breakdown of the family, educational failure, and intergenerational welfare dependency.

The reality is that the Labour Government is responsible for dividing the country along racial lines by imposing their race-based He Puapua agenda secretly onto New Zealand without a mandate from the public. Now, each group is accusing the other of racism - either racist for not allowing special privileges for Maori, or racist for giving Maori special rights that others do not have.

Contentious issues are, of course, not uncommon in democratic societies, where they are able to be resolved through the democratic process – as Australia is now doing with the Voice.

Yet Labour denied the public the right to approve or reject their He Puapua agenda for tribal rule, even though it is constitutional in nature, since it undermines equality of citizenship and democracy itself.

New Zealand now has the chance to say no to the race-based future that iwi leaders, Labour, the Greens, and the Maori Party are trying to impose onto the country. Their power grab is based on lies and deceit, and Kiwis need to reject it.

To paraphrase Bob Hawke, “New Zealand should stand proud as a country where there is no hierarchy of descent, no privilege of origin. The commitment to being a New Zealander is the one thing that should unite us all.”

And that’s the point – we need to consider ourselves New Zealanders first and foremost.

To save us from on-going cultural guerilla warfare – to use Dr Barton’s description of those attacking national sovereignty - and stop the cancer of racial division that’s now infecting our society, we should follow the lead of countries that have already addressed this problem, namely Sweden, Holland, Belgium, Austria, France, and Germany. Their solution was to focus public policy on ‘need’, not race, and as a result, all references to ‘race’ were removed from their Statute books.

New Zealand should do the same.

Instead of a Voice Referendum, we need an Equality Referendum to remove ‘race’ from our Statutes.

Is there a political party prepared to promise such a referendum so New Zealand’s racial tensions can be healed?

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