In April 2002, Investigate’s HAMISH CARNACHAN interviewed NZ First Leader Winston Peters. As a revised version of the Winston biography launches next week, it is timely to revisit that story:
If you were to describe Winston Peters in medical terms he may be likened to a practitioner with his finger on the pulse of the nation, fervently searching for a cure to the country’s ills. Like so many of today’s experimental medical procedures that have become shrouded in controversy, Winston Peters is prepared to face a degree of criticism for the course of treatment he prescribes his patient because, as any doctor will tell you, the patient always comes first.
As far as he is concerned, New Zealand is dying a slow death, diseased by a malignant bureaucracy and infected by political correctness that stemmed from a wound inflicted over 160 years ago, a scar that refused to heal and has been festering ever since.
Yes, once again he has repeated his past attacks on this country’s most contentious issue – the Treaty of Waitangi. In this, the year of an election, he has it locked firmly in his sights and is prepared to operate by ending references to the treaty in legislation and regulation, should New Zealand First win seats in the house.
In the twenty-odd years he’s been in politics things have changed markedly and politicians have been forced to evolve or face a swift and certain demise from the public service. Though he has remained steadfast to the ideals on which he launched his career under the National party banner so many years ago, Winston Peters is undoubtedly one of those who have adapted to the required change.
This political shift has not only been a necessity brought about by the change in the way the government is run, but also by the change in disposition towards the historical events that have shaped this young nation.
Though open to interpretation, it would be fair to summarise that the treaty spells out the terms of Maori relations with the state. Unquestionably, the Government’s policy towards the treaty, and the association between the two parties, has changed many times since it was signed – from a blatant disregard during the nineteenth century Land Wars to a tedious advance towards fulfillment today.
The question Mr Peters is now asking is, to what extent is the Treaty of Waitangi applicable to New Zealand society, if at all?
With the strength of feeling surrounding the treaty and treaty issues, Mr Peters has taken the lid of a tinderbox that will surely ignite some heated debate in the lead-up to the election, as it already has done. New Zealand First has been afforded a wide range of labels from “culturally insensitive” and “ignorant” to “xenophobic” over recent times, but Mr Peters believes this is the price that has to be paid if New Zealand has any hope of developing as a nation, both economically and socially.
He says the Treaty of Waitangi is holding the country up as we search for a national identity, security and a long-term direction, and the present government has been captured by a belief that the treaty is “a magic bullet capable of solving all this country’s race problems”.
Speaking at a conference in the Marlborough Sounds recently, Mr Peters said that this line of thinking has only contributed to a misguided policy direction.
“The treaty has acquired all the elements of a full blown cult. Its adherents chant a Waitangi mantra with taxpayers’ money, and those who would leave this cult are derided as racists who are certainly consigned to hell.
“The results of this chanting have been disastrous for the long-term interests of this country. It has created a division between races that never existed before.”
Indeed, this racial rift is never more evident than on Waitangi day itself – our national day. Testament to that is the tension and media hype during the four or five weeks leading up to February 6 each year.
“What fun-and-games will we witness this year? What outrageous camera grabbing grandstanding will we see? Who will be sworn at? Who will be spat at and lectured to? What national embarrassment will there be on Waitangi day?” asks Mr Peters.
“New Zealand must be the only country in the world where most of its inhabitants dread their national day. That is sad, and it’s a sign of an immature country that still has much to learn and is still in search of its own identity.”
The crux of Mr Peters proposal to scrap the treaty is that the country can not move forward and compete on the international stage until the issue is finally resolved – one way or another. He claims the national immaturity he talks about has stemmed from the country’s increasing divisiveness, intolerance and disharmony, worsened by “the treaty settlement process and by separatist closing the gaps policy”.
Over recent times Mr Peters has been extremely critical of the current wave of “political correctness and other new-age sacred cows”. He told a Grey Power meeting in Palmerston North last month that the political correctness surrounding Maori, Maori issues and particularly the Treaty of Waitangi, was also doing nothing to advance New Zealand’s development in the new economy.
“Political correctness in all its guises…is now in our bureaucracy and parliament and is influencing all government policy. In politics, as in economics, resources are scarce. When those resources chase feel-good pipe dreams then there is eventually a very real and clear cost to others. This PC mode of thinking is dangerous.
“This type of tribalism is no longer an act of mirth, it is deadweight to development and it is hurting the very real people it is proclaiming to be helping.”
Speaking to Investigate, Mr Peters says that instead of Maori benefiting, it is the lawyers and bureaucrats employed to write references to the treaty into wide ranging facets of our daily lives who are the ones making money out of it.
“It’s farcical. They’re asking people to have regard for the principles [of the treaty] and they have no idea what they are. I ask every audience what these principles are and they can’t answer.
“I’m seeing a whole industry costing hundreds of millions of dollars a year benefiting no-one.”
Critics are almost certainly going to argue that in an election year Mr Peters is simply playing the numbers game, carpet bagging for votes at the Maori minority’s expense. One constitutional law expert, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Investigate that such a motive was almost certainly the driving force behind New Zealand First’s intentions, though naturally, Mr Peters disagrees.
“Sir Apirana Ngata, a man who is an icon among the Maori said it in his thesis: ‘Ratification of the treaty would be a dangerous move’.
“They [critics] would argue against this because they have a preference to emotions rather than facts. The Prime Minister couldn’t explain the principles of the treaty, nor could the heads of departments, managers or other bureaucrats.
“If questioning a nonsense is radical, yeah then I’m radical – then I plead guilty. But, it’s radical to claim that these principles are necessary when not one person can explain what they are,” he says.
Mr Peters argues that he has been saying this since he first entered parliament, and that a shift in policy direction would act to protect and advance Maoridom.
“Settlements achieved through the Treaty of Waitangi industry and targeted programmes are not reaching the bottom of the social and industrial scrap-heap.
“Ask the Maori people ‘which one of you has a fish or a home or an education policy from this’. The current mantra of those who promote this policy of political correctness does nothing for the Maori people. You couldn’t think of a better diversion to Maori development than this.
“Which Maori in the All Blacks needed the treaty to get there? Which Maori in the net ball or theatre needs it? They don’t.
“The condition under which Maori succeed or fail has nothing to do with the spending of public money.”
The plight of Maoridom in this country has continually echoed around the parliamentary debating chambers for decades. Mr Peters believes the way the National and Labour parties have been falling over themselves to promise what they haven’t, and could never, deliver has only acted as another obstacle to the resolution of the people’s predicament.
He has called Bill English and National “too weak and anemic” to make decisive decisions, and has denounced the Labour Government’s ‘closing the gaps’ policy as ignorant and bigoted.
According to Mr Peters the biggest mistake the advocates of the ‘closing the gaps’ programme have made is believing that there is a large disadvantaged population in New Zealand clearly and distinctively defined as ‘Maori’. He says this perception is not only wrong, but also insulting to those people.
“The Labour-Alliance Government and the Treaty of Waitangi industry mistakenly-claim that the gaps in this country exist between Maori and non-Maori when it is not a racial divide but a social and economic one.
“The gaps actually exist between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and are not confined to race.
“Why have they [Government] stopped using that phrase? It’s because the gaps are now greater than they have ever been. Labour has established an industry beyond accountability – beyond equity. It’s feelgood-ing gone wrong.”
The proposal to end references to the Treaty of Waitangi in regulation and legislation is the only “common sense” option according to Mr Peters.
“This direction is about confronting ignorance. It’s about confronting the deceit of those who use the Maori people to be beneficiaries of this.
“[It will] meet the real needs of the people rather than the imaginary needs. Where would this money be better spent? On Maori housing, on Maori education, on Maori health.”
So, Mr Peters believes he has found the antidote for the nation’s woes. His cure consists of wealth creation by increasing exports, creating a sound savings basis for investment, and investing in research and development. To that add equal parts of increased trade skills and scientists, greater processing of our produce, and a liberal amount of investment in technology. Mix well and take immediately.
He says that such a course of treatment can restore New Zealand to its rightful place as a prosperous nation and as a world leader in social development, and will subsequently light the pathway to racial harmony.
“That is one way we can truly close the gaps.”
Please see your doctor if pain persists.
The book, “Winston – Behind The Headlines: The Story Of A Political Phenomenon” by Ian Wishart launches into bookstores next week, and is available here at half price as part of the ZB Special this week, or get the book on its own with a free DLUX Vitamin D for this weekend only here