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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Third Sector: Public and Private, its time you met Iwi

It is natural to talk about society consisting of two sectors:  public and private. This derives from the notion that the government and those empowered by the government to carry out a public function are the ‘public sector’ while functions not performed by the public sector are by default the ‘private sector’.

My view is that New Zealand society consists of three sectors: public, iwi and private.

Iwi are most often categorised as occupying ‘private sector’ roles and this is probably the result of the commodification of the treaty settlement process.  By reducing treaty settlements to commercial transactions, little work was done toward rectifying the cultural and social injustices suffered by Maori subsequent to signing Te Tiriti o Waitangi. [see Maria Bargh “Maori Development and Neoliberalism” in Maria Bargh (ed) Resistance: An indigenous response to Neoliberalism (Huia Press, Wellington, 2007)].

Before I discuss the three sectors, it is worthwhile outlining some of the underlying issues that prevent iwi as a third sector being acknowledged or even accepted by the wider NZ community.

There will be some reading this who will argue that categorising Iwi as a separate sector in society is racial favouritism promoting separatism and to be honest that is the kind of comment I’d expect from those motivated by those who subscribe to libertarianism or other such ideologies that place their own self-interests at the centre of any debate surrounding indigenous rights and in particular, in the case of New Zealand, Te Tiriti o Waitangi. I don’t make that comment lightly either. Those who advocate the ‘one law for all’ (OLFA) have false understandings about what is required of equality. Yes, we can have a legal system that applies to all within New Zealand’s territories, and in fact that is the system we have. The specific details of certain laws require amending for sure, to meet our treaty obligations, international obligations and in response to the needs of society. But to imply that Maori are above the law or not subject to the same law is not only misleading but is absolute nonsense created by scare mongering of the OLFA’s. If Maori were above the law and had significantly more advantages than every other New Zealander then ask yourself this: why are Maori disproportionately represented (in the negative) in all statistics relating to the socio-economic wellbeing of NZ citizens? Because the advantages espoused by the OLFA’s are a myth.

The OLFA argument is premised on the idea of equality. But equality does not mean that everyone has the ‘same’. To treat it as such is in effect to deny equality. We are not simply cutting a pie and giving everyone the same amount, and even if you take that logic we might get the same amount of the pie, but we get different pieces. Equality is more complex than the view proposed by the OLFA’s.

PIE EXAMPLE: Alf and Bill

Alf is an athlete of solid build and requires significant amounts of food to replace the energy lost during his game. Bill is in IT and leads a sedentary lifestyle, and is conscious about gaining weight due to his lack of exercise. Prima facie, it seems fair to give each of them half the pie.  But by doing this, Alf does not get the replacement energy needed and Bill packs on those extra calories. So to balance this out, it makes more sense to factor in those arbitrary considerations. Therefore, it is fairer to give Alf 2/3 of the pie and Bill 1/3 so that they both benefit from their share in the pie for their own reasons.

So to translate this example into the context of this post, while it appears that Maori get more through perhaps targeted admission schemes at tertiary institutions or the Maori electorate voting, this does not mean that the rights of the general public are reduced in anyway, only that sometimes some groups will require more to meet their needs than other groups. OLFA’s suggest that these provisions for different rights are discriminatory and amount to racial favouritism and therefore promote racially based inequalities. This is not true. A good explanation of this is found in the New Zealand Bill of Rights book by Rishworth et al: 

Discrimination and equality are terms that are often used to describe the opposite conclusions that may be reached in analysing government action. Distinctions thought wrongful are said to be discriminatory, while those considered appropriate are said to respect equality. This has led some to suppose that freedom from discrimination and equality are the same thing. But a world without discrimination is not necessarily a world of equality (see Rishworth et al The New Zealand Bill of Rights. (Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2003) at 368)

This statement in effect shows that while the OLFA’s view is one law for all, and if successful, it might remove discrimination, but it will not achieve the objective of equality that the rationale behind the argument is premised on.  

While mainstream media are busy reporting that Maori get this, that and the next thing, what isn’t reported or at least properly acknowledged is that Maori live within a system that favours non-Maori culture: the court system, the economy, the political system were all constructed and implemented in ways that benefited the colonial settlers. It is not reported that Maori had their own way of organising themselves legally, economically and politically prior to signing Te Tiriti o Waitangi. And when it is, the self-interested response is that we cannot change what has happened in the past, its time to move on.

But what is moving on? Dispensing with the past since we can’t change it? For Maori to dispense with the past is to dispense of their history, culture, practices and norms. The OLFA essentially advocates for Maori to dispense with their sense of identity and belonging to their culture to avoid racial favouritism in law.  This is hardly equal. It shifts from having areas in law to protect minority interests to having law that reflects only the majority interests.

Now, returning to my point about the three sectors. Iwi (as a grouping) developed in response to colonialism as it gave Maori a stronger voice against the might of the colonial empire. It is evidenced through the implementation of the Waitangi Tribunal and various other forms of legislation and general knowledge within the public domain that the Crown recognises Iwi as its own entity. However, it is incorrectly categorised as a ‘private sector’ entity, which does little more than to corporatise Maori culture in line with the commodification of the treaty settlement process. So if iwi are not private sector then are they public sector? Again, no. If iwi were categorised as public sector agents then it makes no sense for them to be in partnership with the Crown, since they are constrained by Parliamentary sovereignty, iwi would not be a partner but a department or a ministry subject to incumbent governments. However, iwi fulfil an admixture of public like and private functions, insofar as developing businesses and investing (private sector work) and general community work through Marae and other forums (public sector).

My suggestion is that in effect Iwi occupy their own sector that does not sit within either of the formally recognised sectors. Therefore, NZ consists of three sectors: Public, Iwi and Private.

However, this position will only gain traction if iwi recognise their unique role and look beyond treaty settlements as commercial transactions and start seeking rectification for past social and cultural injustices. Once iwi show that they are an active, engaged political, social and economic force, then these preconceived notions of Te Ao Maori as obsolete by OLFA’s can be abandoned. It is up to all iwi to lead the way and take Maori forward (beyond land settlements and proprietary interests) and forging a future for Maori that cannot be deprecated by OLFA’s.

This may involve the convergence of the Iwi Leaders Group and the New Zealand Maori Council, or it may call for a democratically elected body of iwi representatives. But this is a discussion for another day.