Maori Party and Clark

Claire Trevett writes:

There has been a slight irony in developments around the race to be UN Secretary-General this week. Over the Tasman, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd discovered he did not have support from anybody except indigenous groups thanks to his apology to the “Stolen Generation”.

Here, Helen Clark discovered she had the support of everybody except the Maori Party (and the Right-to-Lifers but let’s not go there.)

Maori Party co-leaders Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox have been hung, drawn and quartered for saying they did not support Helen Clark’s bid to be Secretary-General. Labour described it as “political hysteria”, Dover Samuels said it was utu, NZ First leader Winston Peters proclaimed it was “treacherous in the extreme”.

It seems the Maori Party missed out in the nationwide distribution of rose-tinted glasses since Prime Minister John Key and Helen Clark announced her bid.

Anyone who is surprised at the Maori Party’s position has forgotten where the Maori Party came from. It was born from protest against the very actions of Helen Clark’s former Labour Government.

This week’s debate has prodded old scabs – Clark meeting Shrek instead of the foreshore and seabed hui of “haters and wreckers”, Clark referring to the Maori Party as “last cab off the rank”. It was a reminder that the Maori Party owed Clark nothing.

Clark called them the last cab off the rank, so not very surprising they they are not enthusiastic.

Morgan Godfery also makes the case against Clark from a Maori point of view:

I was thirteen years old when Helen Clark pinched my land. She told the country my family were ‘haters and wreckers’. …

But Clark is the prime minister responsible for preventing Māori from establishing customary title to the country’s foreshore and seabed, a land confiscation in process if not name. As if the psychic harm of ‘nationalising the beaches’ were not enough, owners with private title to the foreshore and seabed could continue business as usual. It’s an exhausted truism, but property rights for some are property rights for none.

There are so many things that hurt here: the double standard between possible owners of Māori customary title and owners of private titles; blocking access to the courts, another breach of natural justice for Māori; but the moment that survives in my memory, almost twelve years later, is how Clark condemned the law’s opponents as ‘haters and wreckers’. Again, this isn’t neutral – the unspoken context is that Māori hate and plan to wreck the nation. 

This distinction between ‘them’ and ‘us’, between Māori and the nation, is more than hypothetical. Māori activist and writer Tim Selwyn, who threw an axe through Clark’s electorate office window in the middle of the night as a symbolic act of dissent against the foreshore and seabed law, was convicted on a charge of sedition. Understood in this context, the accusation that Marama Fox is a ‘traitor’ takes on a sinister edge.

If racism is a private act, then Helen Clark is no racist. But if racism is a public act, something that happens through institutions and manifests in power relations, then perhaps she is. Racism works like a virus, infecting progressive and conservative hosts. Politicians, especially prime ministers, often make racist choices, whether they mean to or not. Clark’s foreshore and seabed law may lack racist intent, but its racist impact is clear: one standard for Māori customary owners, another for private – most likely overwhelmingly white – owners.

I’m sorry, but your progressive fav is problematic. #ImWithMarama

I’m personally a backer of Clark for three reasons:

  1. I think she can do the job, and would be better than the other candidates in terms of cutting costs at the UN
  2. I think NZ would benefit from having a NZer as UN Secretary-General
  3. It keeps her out of NZ for another five to ten years!

But I agree with Godfery that it is hysterical and nasty for media and politicians to insist everyone must be backing Clark or they are traitors to NZ. Absolute nonsense. She was a controversial politician and of course some NZers will not back her candidacy.

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