The Veteran blogs at No Minister:
Over the last little while I have been inundated with e-mails and phone calls from the veteran community (and beyond) asking me if I was aware of the canard being promoted with the Waitangi Tribunal agreeing to hear the claim Wai 2500 the ‘Military Veterans kaupapa inquiry’.
I was not … I am now; the ‘claim’ has to be outed for the canard it is and the nonsense stopped.
Wai 2500 morphed out of the initial claim by the late Primate of New Zealand, the Most Rev Wakahuihui Vercoe, himself a Vietnam veteran, that the Maori Vietnam veteran community had outstanding grievances that needed to be addressed. Wai 2500 extends that to cover all Maori veterans and argues that the NZ Government has failed to meet it’s Treaty obligations by not recognising the unique nature of the service rendered by Maori as Maori. At least one of the claimants is seeking an across the board payment of $30,000 to each and every Maori ex-serviceman and and ex-servicewoman as compensation. This is wrong.
I have accessed a number of the documents relating to the claim. They are full of myths and legend and, like many war stories told and retold over a pint of beer, they have grown with every telling.
Take for example the statement in the original claim that two thirds of those who served in Vietnam were Maori. Total myth. To the best of my knowledge the NZDF did not at that time categorize servicemen/women by race (they may to now, nothing surprises me). But a cursory look at the ‘Flinkenburg List’ (the nominal roll of those who served in Vietnam) would suggest the figure is wrong and this is born out when I look at my own command. It comprised a mix of Pakeha, Maori, Aussies and Poms. Two out of my seven NCOs were Maori as were three of my private soldiers. That works out at 15%. Some commands would have had a higher percentage of Maori and some lower but two thirds, never … and, in the final analysis, so what? We served as soldiers. We shared the same danger, we ate the same food, were exposed to the same Agent Orange, we laughed together, we cried together, our blood shed was was not Maori or Pakeha blood … it was A pos or O neg or whatever.
The claims continue. The fact that a Maori family could not conceive is hardly the fault of government. It happens to both Maori and Pakeha regardless of whether they served or not. The list goes on. The assertions continue. They do not stand objective analysis. It’s as if every misfortune that has ever visited on the claimants can be directly attributed to their military service.
The Veteran has a long and distinguished record of advocating for veterans and getting them a better treatment from the Government.
He knows how harmful it is to have a claim that would see Maori veterans treated differently to other veterans.
But my real concern is twofold. The first is that it drives a wedge between Pakeha and Maori veterans. For better or worse we are a family. In the Vietnam veteran community we look after each other. Help is given on the basis of service and not on the colour of skin.
But more importantly, the claim gives false hope (of the John Frum Cargo Cult variety) to our more vulnerable veterans that ‘manna’ is about to tumble down from above. The reality is that no matter the Waitangi Tribunal ‘recommendation’ (and I accept the Tribunal is capable of anything), no Government is going to accept a recommendation that gives Maori veterans additional support over and above that available to their non-Maori colleagues. To do so would be electoral suicide. Hopes will be dashed, tears will be shed and our vulnerable veterans will be the losers per courtesy of a Tribunal that has exceeded its mandate.
I think the Waitangi Tribunal has played a useful role in researching and reporting on historic treaty claims. As these are close to concluding, the question is do we need the Waitangi Tribunal going forward?
I think we do need a body that can hear contemporary claims, and judge if something the Government is doing is in breach of the Treaty of Waitangi. Without such a body, there is no way to adjudicate the merit of claims and it would encourage shall we say more direct action.
But I’m not convinced it should be the Waitangi Tribunal. Their acceptance of such dubious and even harmful claims makes me wonder if they are just creating work for themselves and the legion of lawyers who appear before them.
What I would do is abolish the Waitangi Tribunal, once the last historical claim is settled, and instead give the High Court the power to hear cases alleging a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi. Like the Waitangi Tribunal, they would not have powers of enforcement – they could just make declaratory judgments (like with the Bill of Rights), which would have moral pressure on the Government and Parliament..
I’d trust the rigor of the High Court more than I do the Waitangi Tribunal, as it entertains claims such as this. I suspect the Government would also. A finding of a treaty breach by the High Court would be more politically powerful than a finding by the Waitangi Tribunal, which has become almost embarrassing in recent times.