It’s a year since Sir Paul Holmes penned his infamous Herald column on Waitangi Day.
Sir Paul called for Waitangi Day to be scrapped, saying it was “repugnant,” “ghastly,” “bullshit,” “a day of lies,” “awful and nasty and common,” and a “loony Maori fringe self-denial day.”
The protestors, he wrote, were “hateful, hate-fuelled weirdos who seem to exist in a perfect world of benefit provision,” and “blissfully believe that New Zealand is the centre of the world, no one has to have a job and the treaty is all that matters.”
Sir Paul was immediately and near-universally attacked for being racist.
Always one to back the underdog, I took to the NBR to defend him, saying that while he could have expressed himself more delicately, he had nevertheless made an important point – namely, that those Maori who prefer to focus more on the last 200 years than the next 20, and enjoy protesting more than working, have to accept they will tend to be poorer, sicker and dumber than everyone else.
For my trouble, I too was widely criticised but it turns out Sir Paul and I may not have been in the worst company.
When Sir Paul later apologised to Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia for the tone of his column, she accepted his apology and replied: “Sometimes things just have to be said.”
Mrs Turia’s dignity and courtesy have always been a million miles from the boorishness and stupidity of the likes of the Harawira clan but is it possible that even the most loutish protestors have also accepted that Sir Paul had a point?
It is as good an explanation as any for why Waitangi Day 2013 turned out to be among the best on record, a genuine celebration of the founding of New Zealand and the success stories of the last 12 months, despite lingering tensions over the water-rights issue.
Was the legacy of Sir Paul’s 2012 Waitangi Day column that he helped cause sufficient reflection to prove himself wrong?
Waitangi week did not begin propitiously. It appeared the nation would again be divided, this time over the crucial issue of which Ti Tii Marae kuia would hold the prime minister’s hand. In the end, the hand-holding debacle served only to compromise Titiwhai Harawira’s mana and that of the marae elders. By refusing to be distracted by such stupidity, the prime minister’s mana was only enhanced.
John Key also cleverly reversed responsibility for the future success of the day. Rejecting Sir Paul’s advice, and that of the NBR’s Rod Vaughen, he repeated his pledge to attend Waitangi every year for as long as he is prime minister and said it is up to Ngapuhi what use they make of his time. Should 2014 turn out to be a fiasco – and, being election year, there will be more incentive for one faction or another to disrupt proceedings – it will be Ngapuhi whose mana will be compromised, not his.
The conversation at Waitangi and around the country has also shifted from being primarily about the past to being about the future.
The main reason is treaty settlements, of which there have now been 59, the vast majority happening under the Bolger/Shipley and Key governments. Upon settlement, the focus immediately goes on the future. There is not the slightest hint of wallowing in grievance in the South Island and far less than ever before in the North.
In the last year, even Tuhoe, usually seen as perhaps the most angry and radical iwi, has settled with the Crown and begun looking forward.
Unsurprisingly, it is the iwi in the far north, including around Waitangi where Harawira-ism remains strong, who appear most unwilling or unable to make progress on their claims.
Less than $2 billion has been spent on treaty settlements, and that has been over 20 years. In comparison, the government spends over $20 billion each year on welfare. At less than $100 million a year, treaty settlements represent far greater value than almost any other government spending.
Maori v Mana
Despite all this, a struggle continues between the forces of progress within Maori society and those who prefer to shout about the past.
The sides of the struggle are represented by the Maori and Mana parties.
The former took an enormous risk in accepting Mr Key’s invitations, in 2008 and 2011, to join his government, even though he did not need them.
In his State of the Maori Nation speech on Wednesday night, Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples was able to highlight growth in the Maori economy from $16 billion in 2006 to $37 billion in 2011 – at 4.3% growth annually, the Maori economy has outperformed the New Zealand economy as a whole.
He spoke of the growing commercial ties between Maori businesses and China and highlighted the winners of the Maori of the Year Awards, including in business, sport and the arts.
In contrast, Hone Harawira and John Minto’s Mana Party is preoccupied with failure, protest and the past.
The good news is that, despite media perceptions, it is Dr Sharples’ message that is resonating with Maori voters more than Mr Harawira’s.
According to this week’s TVNZ Te Karere DigiPoll, the Maori Party has the support of 28% of Maori votes, and the Mana Party just 6%.
More than ever, it seems that the “hateful, hate-fuelled weirdos” that Sir Paul wrote about are a tiny minority of Maori. Long may the trend continue.