Maori Council co-chairman Maanu Paul has declared that a person can have either money or mana but not both.
His statement was part of an attack on the Maori Party alongside Mana Party No 2 Annette Sykes.
At first glance, Mr Paul’s declaration may appear to go some way toward explaining why so many Maori languish at the bottom of social and economic indicators but perhaps he was being more subtle.
After all, the same Mr Paul also urged the government this week to sit down with iwi to “work out how much you are going to pay us to use our water”.
Perhaps it was not money but mana that Mr Paul was challenging. If so, he may yet prompt an interesting debate.
Like European notions of mediaeval “honour” and the Asian idea of “face,” was Mr Paul suggesting it is time to re-consider whether a partly heritable but ill-defined concept of authority, control, prestige and power should continue to hold a central place in a more democratic and egalitarian society than the one in which it evolved?
All too often, was Mr Paul suggesting, the protection of mana seems to cause a whole lot of huffing, puffing and worse in response to minor slights.
If so, he is to be commended for so elegantly raising the potential conflict, which all societies face, between maintaining ancient social constructs and achieving contemporary economic development.
Of course, while Mr Paul was dealing with such sophisticated sociological matters, Prime Minister John Key must have been chortling about how lucky he is with his opponents.
60 protesters in the rain
Since January 2011, when Mr Key boldly announced plans, if re-elected, to issue shares representing 3% of the government’s total asset portfolio, the mixed ownership model (MOM) has been his government’s greatest political risk.
Among many voters, it raised the spectre of unpopular trade sales of major state assets, such as Labour’s sale of 100% of Telecom, sneaked in just before the 1990 election.
Opponents of the MOM managed to get as many as 8000 people to street marches against Mr Key’s plans and Labour based its entire 2011 election campaign around the theme “Stop Asset Sales”.
Now, however, Mr Paul and his friends have reframed the issue so that opposition to the MOM is confused with support for the Waitangi Tribunal claim for ownership of water.
Consequently, MOM opponents could get only 2000 to their march in Auckland last weekend, 500 in Christchurch and only 60 were sufficiently energised by the issue to brave a bit of Wellington rain.
Mr Key is even luckier with his Labour Party opponents.
Its leader, David Shearer, was unable to competently articulate a position distinct from Mr Key’s in a soft interview with Sean Plunket.
Like Mr Key, he said Maori have a right to test their claims before the Waitangi Tribunal, that no government is or will be bound by the tribunal, that no one owns water or ever should, and that there may be issues around water rights allocation.
Mr Shearer also confirmed that a Labour government would not buy back the shares in Mighty River Power that Mr Key plans to sell, so that the horror of un-owned Waikato River water flowing through dams that are only 51% government owned would continue under a Labour government.
It goes without saying that Labour will be as bound as National to supporting the recommendations of the Land and Water Forum, given that organisation’s excellent processes and extraordinarily broad membership including the environmental movement, the universities, agribusiness, forestry, tourism, recreational hunters and fishermen, the energy companies and iwi.
Mr Key banked all that and then resolved his differences with his governing partner by agreeing with the Maori Party that he will not only read the Waitangi Tribunal report but will meet with them to discuss the government’s response before commenting.
He has also made an absolute commitment that he will not legislate over the top of the courts, in the way that Helen Clark did with her appalling response to the Ngati Apa foreshore and seabed decision.
Assuming that Mr Shearer has no intention of repeating Ms Clark’s attack on the rule of law, the upshot is that Mr Key and Mr Shearer now have identical positions on every aspect of the water rights issue.
When the Waitangi Tribunal, the courts and the Land and Water Forum complete their work, and if the government bases its decisions on the bipartisan principles that have been articulated over the last fortnight, Labour will have no room to credibly attack the outcome.