Te Tiriti, racialism, tribalism and democracy in New Zealand

No country is without its problems, and New Zealand’s colonial history saw conflict and injustice, land alienation and language loss.  However, European settlement brought the rule of law, and the end of slavery, cannibalism, and intertribal wars.  It brought technological advances and international trade.  It gave access to the scientific method and modern medicine.  It brought British institutions, and the English language which opened access to knowledge in almost every major field.

Compared to other countries New Zealand is a successful democracy with good living standards, social security, trustworthy institutions, and high social cohesion.

However, the newly emerging narrative is that New Zealand needs radical reform on race-based lines to give effect to the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  These reforms are foreshadowed in the 2019 He Puapua document and are being rapidly implemented, notably in resource management, local government, education, science and health.

All radical reforms need a supporting narrative.  The reformists argue that the pre-European Māori world was based on whakapapa and on hapu and iwi mana whenua relationships.  While there was conflict, people generally lived in harmony with each other and with the natural environment.  Māori had their own mātauranga learning and “ways of knowing” systems.  Tikanga constituted a system akin to common law and social norms, and much of it is still relevant today.  Many good things in Māori culture were harmed by colonialism. 

Te Tiriti is a rights-based document.  The reformists argue that it gave the Crown only limited powers to govern Pakeha immigrants, and sovereignty was never ceded.  This argument sits uneasily with the expectation that Te Tiriti requires the Crown to actively deliver outcomes rather than simply uphold rights.  Active outcome delivery requires a strong government with powerful legislative and executive capabilities.

Rather than being a necessary step in New Zealand’s development as a Parliamentary democracy, reformists argue that Te Tiriti as written in 1840 was a de facto constitution.  It is also a living document to be interpreted in accord with changing times.

Te Tiriti, argue the reformists, guaranteed protection of culture, language, Māori knowledge and intellectual property, as well as of land and physical objects and possessions.  In fact, in 1840 ‘taonga’ meant real, physical property, not intangible or cultural “properties”.

The reformist narrative sees Te Tiriti as the basis of an equal partnership between Māori and Pakeha, or between Māori and a Crown largely made up of Pakeha.  This requires changes to our democratic system, to natural resource ownership, and to how core government services are delivered, for example through more “co-governance”.

Rather than being an historical document, Te Tiriti is a sacred doctrinal text with a spirit that “still speaks today”.  The spirit of this living document seeks atonement for past, present and future Tiriti breaches. 

Routinely, claims are made about putative Tiriti “obligations” that are not stated in the document and could not have been in the signatories’ minds.  Grievances are unbounded since the Waitangi Tribunal has minimal limits to the enquiries it can enter into.  This precludes closure and invites both ongoing litigation and “scope creep”. 

The Tribunal functions as much in an advocacy as in a dispassionate judicial mode.   It does not appear to undertake social cost benefit analysis, or to consider what unintended consequences might need to be managed.   Furthermore, tendentious Tribunal “findings” supported by weak evidence are often cited as authoritative and are drawn on for future claims.

The reformist narrative is too focused on Te Tiriti, (an international treaty) and it ignores the development of domestic government and institutions in New Zealand.  It falsely treats Te Tiriti as an equal partnership between Māori and the Crown.  In 1840 Māori could not be both Crown subjects and equal partners. 

What is meant by “the Crown?”  The term “Government” is associated with voters, politicians and Budgets that allocate taxpayer funds in a reasonably transparent way.  The “Crown” is a murkier term that obscures how Treaty settlements are funded – from taxes Māori and all other New Zealanders pay!

The reformists deny that Māori agreed to Crown governance of New Zealand.  They make racial identity a key issue and yet neither Te Tiriti nor the Treaty in English mentions race.  Furthermore, New Zealand ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 1972 and its Bill of Rights Act also bans racial discrimination.  New Zealand cannot support a rules-based international order credibly while denying its international legal obligations under CERD.

Science rejects race as a basis for public policy.  However, race-related differences in susceptibility to some medical conditions have to be addressed.  While there may be no clinical logic, some people prefer to consult clinicians of the same race or ethnicity.  The supportive pathways for Māori and Pacific students to enter medical school at Otago and Auckland appear successful in ensuring that the medical profession’s makeup reflects better New Zealand’s multi-cultural society.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi and democracy

The Treaty/Tiriti establishes Crown governance and the rule of law, protects property rights, and confers equal rights on all New Zealanders.  As an international agreement Te Tiriti had no force until it was reflected in domestic legislation.  This required the enactment of the NZ Constitution Act 1852 and the establishment of a Parliament.  Colonial institutions were set up based initially on British models.

The Treaty/Tiriti was the starting and not the end point for New Zealand’s constitutional development.  The1986 NZ Constitution Act confirmed the democratically-elected Parliament’s authority and made clear that the Crown has only a symbolic and procedural role.

Anne Salmond’s essay Time to Unteach ‘Race’ shows that Te Tiriti applies to all New Zealanders.  Te Tiriti is a blueprint for how people from different backgrounds can live together and respect each other.  Salmond’s earlier work  Iwi vs Kiwi: Beyond the Binary   gives deep insights into Te Tiriti as a relational, colour-blind, equal rights and inclusive document for all New Zealanders. 

In 1840 Māori society was formally hierarchal and yet inclusive in practice.  Birth order mattered, and the first-born of the most senior family in an iwi was the ariki or highest-ranked chief.  However, it was rangatira that signed Te Tiriti.  Rangatira were not top-down autocrats so much as “weavers” who drew together different views into a coherent hapu or iwi viewpoint. 

When we read Te Tiriti closely, we note that race is invisible.  We see that Te Tiriti is concerned with all New Zealanders, and that it is respectful, inclusive and equitable in spirit.  For example, in Tiriti Article Two Queen Victoria promises ‘te tino rangatiratanga’ of their properties not just to the rangatira and hapū, but to ‘nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani’, that is ‘all the inhabitants of New Zealand.’  To honour Te Tiriti means to empower rather than disenfranchise ordinary New Zealanders.

In contrast, co-governance arrangements entered into between tribal leaders and the Crown that exclude most other Māori and non-Māori effectively repudiate Te Tiriti.

Te Tiriti was an international treaty that led to the development of New Zealand’s domestic system of government.  However, when this international treaty was repurposed to deal with domestic grievances the process began of classifying people into bureaucratically convenient categories – race.

The 1975 Treaty of Waitangi Act defined ‘Māori’ as ‘a person of the Māori race of New Zealand’.  That is, identity became racial.  While the 1975 Act addressed historical grievances, the 1985 Amendment Act recognised tribal groups as the beneficiaries from Treaty settlements.  This cut across Te Tiriti’s inclusiveness of individuals and hapu and shifted power from them to tribal structures which otherwise may have withered away and been replaced by more modern institutional forms.  As the power and money shifted, tribal leaders emerged with significant economic and political influence.

Section 9 of the State-owned Enterprises Act 1986 included the clause “Nothing in this Act shall permit the Crown to act in a manner that is inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi”.  However, Parliament did not define the principles and the Court of Appeal addressed them in its 1987 ‘Lands’ judgement.’

The 1987 Court of Appeal judges drew on partnership law principles to hold that the Crown and Māori needed to act towards each other with good faith, fairly, reasonably and honourably when dealing with Treaty claims.  Constitutional partnership or co-governance never featured in the case since the Treaty/Tiriti clearly vests governance in the Crown. 

However, the Court characterized the Treaty as a relationship between “iwi” and “the Crown”.  In effect, it both racialized and tribalized Te Tiriti.  Subsequently, the Tribunal and government processes have favoured iwi over hapu, families and individuals.   Making iwi the legal owners of Treaty settlements conflicts with Te Tiriti text protecting Māori hapu and individual rights for “all the people of New Zealand.” 

The partnership argument, though fallacious, became a powerful rhetoric to support such claims as Te Tiriti justifying separate Māori local government wards, separate Māori educational and health institutions, and co-governed environmental and resource management.

The 1987 ‘Lands’ judgment uses race-based language rather than indigenous, non-racial framings such as whakapapa.  The rangatira and Crown signatories to Te Tiriti in 1840 sought to bring people together.  The 1987 judgement drew people apart into distinct “races”.  It falsely validated race as a meaningful concept.  It ignored the complexity of interwoven whakapapa arising from intermarriage.  

Whakapapa weaves different descent lines together so people understand their background and how they connect with others.  The differences when woven together are generative and not divisive and the whole becomes stronger than its component parts.  In contrast, separating people from each other along racial lines is always divisive and makes the whole weaker.  Māori whose stated identity excludes their non-Māori whakapapa are breaching tikanga and violating Te Tiriti. 

Democracy means ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’.  It means every vote is equal, that free and fair elections are held, and that those elected are accountable to voters.  It means that taxpayers and ratepayers are entitled to have their interests represented – “no taxation without representation.” 

A democracy implies diversity in society, and standard rights and obligations at the citizenship level.  Switzerland and Singapore are examples of successful countries that are multi-cultural and multi-lingual and have a unified sense of nationhood and what citizenship means.

Democracy is the foundation for New Zealand’s government and state system.  It is widely supported rhetorically, in social conventions and norms, and in the way communities and NGOs operate.  The governing Labour Party Constitution states that “all political authority comes from the people by democratic means including universal suffrage, regular and free elections with a secret ballot.”  The principle of equal voting rights is enshrined in the NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990. 

Democracy requires free speech and critical media scrutiny in an open society.  However, the Public Interest Journalism Fund criteria effectively restricts funding to media outlets that promote reformist views on Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  Even such distinguished people as Don Brash, Elizabeth Rata and Michael Bassett are effectively “cancelled” by a mainstream media that has been effectively “bought” by the government.  This means alternative views are given little if any space in the mainstream media.

Māori are well represented in Parliament.  Local government legislation will give Māori higher representation than other New Zealanders in the local government sector. 

Local government reform

Anthony Willy has sardonically critiqued race-based approaches in New Zealand local government.

Local Government New Zealand recently opined that for community boards, local boards and such like “the default membership should be such that 50% are elected by residents on the Māori roll and 50% by residents on the general roll”.  Around half of those eligible to vote on the Māori roll (about 16% of the population) do so, with nearly as many opting to be on the general electoral roll.  This means around 8% of the population could have 50% of the membership of community and local boards and such like.

The current Government has changed the law to ban referenda on whether separate racially-based Māori wards should be established.  Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta is now proposing moves to make it mandatory for councils to consider introducing Māori wards.  This forces local representatives to publicly discuss and decide on whether to introduce the wards, making them effectively the default option.  This is clever politics since those who actively oppose the wards can be dismissed as “racists”.

The Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill proposed to give Māori electors representation at a rate roughly twice their numbers in the Rotorua district.  Based on officials’ legal advice, the Attorney General David Parker concluded that this detracted from the key constitutional principle of equal representation in a democracy and the Bill did not proceed.

However, subsequently the government has weakened its compliance with the Bill of Rights, and this has made possible initiatives such as the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu) Act.  This creates permanent Ngāi Tahu representation on Environment Canterbury (ECAN).  According to its advocates this is part of “the evolution of our treaty partnership and representation of Māori, of iwi at the local government level”.  Te Tai Tonga MP Rino Tirikatene argued that​ Ngāi Tahu were entitled to the seats “under the promise of the Treaty”.

This legislation ends voting equality for electing representatives to the Canterbury Regional Council.   Ngāi Tahu members living in Canterbury region will be represented twice – both by the person they vote for, and the two more representatives the iwi appoints.  Furthermore, the Ngāi Tahu representatives are not accountable to the electorate. 

Water Services Entities Bill

The Water Services Entities Bill (the “Three Waters reforms”) has set a new low for government processes, public sector integrity, and absence of media scrutiny.  Kaipara mayor Dr Jason Smith has stated that: “Having worked in the engine room for the Three Waters reforms, it’s clear to me they are a Trojan Horse for ending democratic rights.”

The Auditor-General’s submission on the Bill indicated serious concerns about accountability, governance and independent assurance.  A Franks Ogilvie legal opinion noted that the government’s claims of retention of local water asset ownership were “false, misleading and deceptive” as “councils are expressly denied the rights of possession, control, derivation of benefits, and disposition that are the defining attributes of ownership”.   Gary Judd QC reviewed the legal opinion and said that: “When all the lying statements are put together…the government’s effrontery is breath-taking.”  Strong words from a sober-minded QC!

Under the Water Services Entities Bill, co-governance exists at a strategic level with iwi having 50% of the voting power.  Below this level iwi have dominant control.  This is through Te Mana o te Wai statements that can be issued at will by iwi or hapu for any specific body of water within “their” territory.  Iwi and hapu can make statements as often as they like, with their latest statement annulling the previous one.  The Water Services Entities are obliged to give effect to these statements.  The around 84 per cent of the population who are non-Māori will have no meaningful input into these statements.  Māori who lack iwi-specific mana whenua rights may also be excluded.  The result will be that New Zealand’s freshwater resources will be controlled by a few tribal leaders whose powers are birth-ascribed not meritocratic and who voters cannot elect or hold accountable.  

Iwi are very aware that freshwater is the lifeblood of the economy and society and are likely to move fast to exploit their new powers.  Ngāi Tahu has already made an application to the High Court for control of all fresh water within its tribal boundary.

Tipa Mahuta, Nanaia’s sister has been appointed to chair the Māori Advisory Group of Taumata Arowai, the new water regulator which will directly regulate the water services entities.  Though presumably a competent appointment this does raise a perceived risk of nepotism given the kinship structure of tribal societies.  However, it can be argued that non-Māori society is infused with networks of privilege, partiality, and malfeasance. 

The Water Services Entities boards will need “collectively to have knowledge of, and experience and expertise in relation to… mana whenua, mātauranga, tikanga, and te ao Māori”.  Since the zeitgeist holds that only Māori understand mātauranga and tikanga it can be assumed Māori will dominate the boards.

Three Waters transfers billions of dollars in assets that generations of taxpayers and ratepayers have paid for to iwi control.  New Zealand’s supine business press has failed to explore the wider implications of this.  Such failure is linked to government influence over the media through the Public Interest Journalism Fund.

The Three Waters reforms give unelected Māori tribes control of New Zealand’s freshwater resources.  In some cases, this control will be vested in tribes which have no connection with the districts requiring the freshwater services.  For example, due to historical tribal enmities involving Ngāi Tahu, Marlborough freshwater assets will be allocated to East Coast tribes!

Shift from universal science to cultural belief systems and ways of knowing

Cultural knowledge (or rather belief) is developed within a group and helps define it.  A group’s beliefs strengthen its identity since those beliefs are not shared by others. They are therefore closed society belief systems and “ways of knowing” that should not be challenged by outsiders. 

In contrast open society knowledge is always being challenged through internationally agreed methodologies that are shared across cultures and therefore universally understood.  Universal science research must always aim to extend knowledge, and this means discrediting false beliefs.

In both the education and science sectors universal science, often termed “western science”, is challenged by more subjective belief systems such as mātauranga Māori.  There is advocacy for mātauranga Māori and Māori “ways of knowing” being given equal standing with universal science. 

Cultural beliefs are often very valuable even if they are not scientifically validated.  For example, belief in free speech has nothing to do with science however it is the difference between North and South Korea and Russia and Ukraine. 

Mātauranga Māori experts such as Mason Durie and Georgina Stewart argue correctly that mātauranga Māori and universal science are different though complementary.  Their thinking is that of an open not a closed society. 

However, the reformist narrative takes a more closed approach to traditional knowledge systems and “ways of knowing”.  This is influencing the education and science systems and the emergent Māori “data sovereignty” movement. 

Proposals in a recent government Green Paper for a Treaty of Waitangi-led science and research system raise the possibility of major funding shifts away from universal science towards mātauranga Māori, without making clear what value will be created.

The 2021 Te Pūtahitangi advocacy document states that “Article 3 of Te Tiriti means Māori must have access to resources to support levelling across the science system.”  It effectively argues for mātauranga Māori research, knowledge and “ways of knowing” to be funded at the same levels as the rest of New Zealand’s science, plus additional funding to compensate for alleged under-funding in the past that supposedly breached Te Tiriti Article 3.  There is no basis in Te Tiriti for such claims.

Māori data sovereignty advocates claim that Māori data should support “tribal sovereignty and the realization of Māori and iwi aspirations” and be Māori-controlled.  Key concerns are protection of data from perceived misuse by “other parties”. 

The argument is also that knowledge from tupuna is sacred or tapu.  The Te Pūtahitangi document highlights fear that knowledge shared risks losing “sacredness” and “fertility.”  “Knowledge that is profane has lost its life, its tapu.”  It states that mātauranga must always retain the mauri of tangata whenua, and indeed of the whenua itself. 

Much data should be protected for privacy or other reasons.  However, severely restricting access to data and the knowledge it feeds into is self-defeating.  The single most important driver of productivity growth is the rapid uptake and application of new knowledge where the marginal costs to each new user of that knowledge are sharply diminishing.  This is especially beneficial when there is non-rivalry and low appropriability.  That is, my “consumption” of new knowledge does not reduce your use of it, and the nature of the knowledge means it is difficult to privatise it so that others can be excluded permanently from it.

Underlying concerns about “loss” of data or knowledge may reflect fear of losing control and being powerless.  However, for young Māori the best way to be empowered may be to become scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs and thrive through leveraging open data.  That’s where the real power lies, not through rear-guard actions trying to hoard, privatise or suppress data!

Decolonisation, retribalisation and tikanga

The reformist narrative advocates “decolonisation”, retribalisation and the revival of tikanga.  However, the institutions and cultural behaviours that emerge in a tribal environment are unlikely to be suited to the modern world.  What colonial institutions do we get rid of and what do we replace them with?  Can we imagine a Māori version of the Reserve Bank or the Commerce Commission?  Is it intended to replace the progressive tax system with muru?

Retribalisation makes iwi (rather than hapu, whanau or individuals) the fundamental Māori organizational unit for cultural, political and collective ownership purposes.  Iwi effectively become the Crown’s partner and co-governor.  This is reflected in the Water Services Entities (“Three Waters reforms”) and in co-governance of hitherto public lands such as Taranaki Maunga and the Ureweras. 

The Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu) Act is tribally-based.  He Puapua expectations are that by 2040 “the nation will know and appreciate iwi tribal boundaries.”  Such a return to place-based tribalism does not reflect demographic or sociological reality, nor is it predictive of how the He Puapua authors will themselves behave come 2040…

Retribalization that confers specific mana whenua rights on particular iwi is fraught with technical difficulties.  The Musket Wars in the decades leading up to the Waitangi Treaty severely disrupted iwi mana whenua relationships.  Many Māori trace their ancestry to multiple iwi.  What percentage of bloodline ancestry “earns” mana whenua rights?  Do iwi members claiming a mana whenua right need to physically live within the rohe?  How will disputes between iwi over mana whenua rights be resolved?

Tikanga evolved to serve pre-European Māori needs.   Much was dispensed with through European influence, however some tikanga is integral to Te Ao Māori and can be adopted more widely.   Some pre-European tikanga such as the role of whakapapa and the importance of acknowledging everyone’s mana may see widespread revival.  Tikanga can strengthen relationships between people.  It may make a difference in the justice and corrections systems; however the evidence is still patchy and some successes that might occur may not always be scaleable.

Environmental issues and co-governance

Māori and non-Māori New Zealanders have had similar attitudes to environmental protection at comparable economic development stages.  The first New Zealanders were hunter-gatherers who slaughtered flightless bird species to survive.  Large forest areas were burnt to create space for horticulture and only later did a sustainability ethos emerge.  European settlers mirrored this transition from exploitation to sustainable resource management.

In recent times Māori business interests have resisted a marine sanctuary around the Kermadec islands and have challenged proposals to reduce exotic (pine) forest retentions in the ETS.  Their arguments are commercially logical; however they don’t suggest that iwi are likely to be better environmental stewards than for example DoC.  It is noted that the He Puapua document envisages iwi charging levies on water, petroleum and minerals from national parks, that is putting financial interests ahead of environmental protection.

Furthermore, some iwi will be less committed to universal science and more dependent on traditional belief systems such as mātauranga Māori in environmental management.

In December 2021 DoC received a report from its independent Options Development Group (ODG) that proposed a partnership with tangata whenua in managing the conservation estate. 

Māori provide valuable input into natural environment issues, however others in the community also have strong interest and expertise.   The ODG assumes a tangata whenua partnership, rather than Māori being DoC partners alongside for example environmental groups, tramping and mountaineering clubs, international tourists, scientific research organisations and of course local non-Māori.

The ODG report states that “the knowledge systems of kawa, tikanga and mātauranga evolved from and sustained the natural environment for hundreds of years prior to the signing of Te Tiriti in 1840.”  However, over this time New Zealand’s natural environment went backwards, as documented in evidence of species extinction and shrinkage of forest cover due to human impacts. 

The ODG seems to be advocating transferring national parks out of DoC management to be co-managed by Crown and iwi representatives.  Models suggested include governance entities comprised of solely tangata whenua representatives, or of tangata whenua and Crown representatives.  Options also include the “return” of land to tangata whenua for conservation purposes (including outside of Te Tiriti settlements). 

Te Urewera was disestablished as a national park in 2014, as a result of the Ngai Tuhoe Treaty settlement, and is now administered by the Te Urewera Board, which comprises joint Tuhoe and Crown membership.  The partnership Tuhoe entered into with DoC seems troubled.  Parts of Te Urewera Great Walk were closed for months following safety concerns as huts, bridges and boardwalks had deteriorated. Repairs have since been completed. 

There is some iwi support for conservation land being used to harvest bird and other species of cultural value, in conflict with the purpose of conserving them and enhancing biodiversity.  The iwi’s opposition to 1080 makes some pest control impractical given budget constraints.

Māori do cite their relationships with lands of “deep spiritual or cultural significance”, however non-Māori also draw spiritual sustenance from natural environments important to them at a deep level. 

Health policy

Chaired by Tipa Mahuta, the Te Aka Whai Ora Māori Health Authority aims to apply a Te Tiriti lens to delivering health services to Māori.  The alternative is to allocate health resources on the basis of need rather than race, ethnicity, religion or other such variables. 

There is strong international evidence that socio-economic factors are major determinants of health outcomes.  This evidence should lead to a needs-based, horizontal equity approach.  However, politicians have opted for a race-based approach that includes a Māori Health Authority and the enabling legislation the Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) Bill.  Bryce Wilkinson’s recent comment on the health reforms highlights weaknesses in the Bill.

Common assertions justifying a separate Māori Health Authority include that “systemic racism” and “white privilege” are major contributors to Māori health problems and that “decolonizing” the health system will improve Māori health and longevity.  Dr Lawrie Knight has discredited the key assertions made to justify the Pae Ora Healthy Futures Bill

Concluding comments and way forward

The racialisation and tribalisation reforms will damage New Zealand’s economy and its democracy and lead to a more divided society.  Most people will lose, and the winners will largely be a few well-positioned tribal leaders from whanau with strong political connections.

However, while promoted by a small minority the reformists might well succeed in implementing their objectives.  This is because just a few people with a concentrated self-interest can capture disproportionate rewards.  The costs they impose on the majority are spread thinly and may be difficult to attribute to specific interventions. 

The reformists use comforting language such as “co-governance”, “sharing power”, “partnerships” at a time when the prevailing zeitgeist is of a democratic western world that has lost its confidence.  They also engage in “magical thinking”, such as that changing New Zealand’s name to “Aotearoa” will somehow deliver tangible benefits. 

The reformists propose race-favoured initiatives (that are racist by definition) and then dismiss criticism as “racist”.  This tactic is intellectually shallow and morally bankrupt.  It is also highly effective.

New Zealanders have proven since at least the 1980s that they are a fair-minded people committed to costly action to remedy past wrongs that blight the present. This fair mindedness is being exploited by a small, well organised, ideologically driven group to overcome opposition to what is a profoundly anti-democratic, unprogressive and illiberal agenda.  It is an extremely cynical strategy.

An insidious outcome from racialization and tribalization in New Zealand is that people are born with different rights depending on parental race.  This is incompatible with equal opportunity and a fair society, and inevitably pits people against each other on racial lines.  No country has ever thrived when citizenship rights have been race-determined. 

Tribalization is a stage of development that all peoples go through.  It is kinship and relationship-based.  However, relationships do not scale and therefore marginal costs do not diminish as dramatically as with more modernistic economic development stages, and so productivity gains are poor. 

Bahrami-Rad et al (2022) show a strong negative relationship between kinship intensity and economic development and prosperity.  “Kinship intensity” is a measure of how deeply individuals are enmeshed in tribal and other kin networks.  Kinship intensity strongly correlates with lower levels of impersonal trust, innovation and democratic governance and higher levels of nepotism and corruption.

There is no example of a kin-based tribal society succeeding economically and socially in the modern world. 

We must end the racialism and tribalism of New Zealand society and restore full democracy.  To underpin democracy, we must invest in an education system that focuses on rich disciplinary and content knowledge, and enhanced literacy (including digital) and numeracy.  We need to promote open society mindsets and universal science that, in transcending cultures, connects us to the wider world and draws the best from it.  This requires leadership that creates opportunities for all New Zealanders not just those born with privileged tribal genealogy.  As Mason Durie wrote:

“Good leaders join networks so that their followers can have greater opportunities. Bad leaders develop walls so that outsiders cannot get in and insiders cannot get out.”

As well as leadership, New Zealand needs “weavers” who can draw threads together to support everyone’s rangatiratanga, that is their self-determination.  Anne Salmond is a weaver, as are Mason Durie, Shane Reti and Elizabeth Rata.  Chris Trotter offers engaging comments from a left-leaning perspective.  David Seymour has made the connection between liberal economics and tino rangatiratanga.  Increasingly, eminent economists such as Bryce Wilkinson are adding rigor to the debate.

A big challenge faced is how to support Māori cultural resurgence while ensuring that tamariki are not misdirected away from universal science and Enlightenment reasoning into racialism, tribalism and outdated customs and beliefs.

What helps impel the tribalism and racialism in He Puapua is the socio-economic gaps between many Māori and non-Māori.  However, these gaps cannot be addressed through tribalism and “co-governance”.  They require needs-based policies to achieve horizontal equity.  This is where the focus should be to deliver better outcomes for all New Zealanders, in fidelity with the commitments made in Te Tiriti o Waitangi.


Bahrami-Rad et al 2022: Bahrami-Rad, Duman and Beauchamp, Jonathan and Henrich, Joseph and Schulz, Jonathan, Kin-based institutions and economic development (August 25, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=

Te Pūtahitanga 2021: ‘A Tiriti-led Science Policy Approach for Aotearoa New Zealand.

Posted in Constitutional and Treaty of Waitangi issues, Cultural issues, Economics, History, Learning, education and pedagogy, Maori, Politics, Russia, Science and innovation, Ukraine | Leave a comment

The Ukraine war, the PRC’s rise, and how New Zealand’s defence and security policies may need to change

The Cold War’s end and the rise of globalisation meant New Zealand rapidly adapted to a more benign world and spent little on defence. 

Our navy and air force are now largely for logistical support and surveillance, and we have no tanks, jet aircraft or heavy artillery.  In contrast, the share of GDP Australia spends on defence is larger than that for most developed economies, including in the Asia-Pacific.  Australia has among the latest military equipment and has a significant defence industry.  It is investing in robot jet aircraft and in nuclear submarines.  No doubt Australia considers that New Zealand free-rides on its defence expenditure, and this suggests future pressure on us to carry more of the Australasian defence burden.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to NATO committing to increased defence spending. However, NATO so far has done barely enough to keep Ukraine in the fight, let alone to restore its borders as they were on 23 February 2022.  A decisive NATO-supported Ukrainian victory is needed for NATO to be credible in Europe in future.

There are risks with NATO “scope creep”.  The June 2022 NATO Madrid Summit Declaration included a strong challenge to Russian aggression – this is core NATO business.  However, the Declaration also referred to “systemic competition from those, including the People’s Republic of China, who challenge our interests, security, and values and seek to undermine the rules-based international order.”   

NATO needs to focus on Europe and the North Atlantic.  Other western defence arrangements can be designed to deal with specific challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.  These challenges include upholding the freedom of navigation that supports trade, and protecting nation-state sovereignty.  However, this can lead to aggressive brinkmanship, can be wrongly interpreted, or can simply cause accidents due to ships or aircraft coming too close together and colliding.

An analogy from history might argue that the 1915 Gallipoli expedition began in a principled way as more of a cultural mission than a militarily aggressive adventure.  The intent was for three peaceful emissaries from Britain, Australia and New Zealand to sail through the Dardanelles in support of the principles of freedom of navigation and freedom of association.  It was thought prudent to provide a small body guard for these three cultural ambassadors, however some military genius in London decided that this “small body guard” should be 15 battleships and 50,000 soldiers, thus setting the stage for a military debacle.

The above paragraph, far from nonsensicality, accurately reflects not literal historical facts but how military and political minds can become unhinged enough from reality to lead to catastrophe.  Vladimir Putin stating that Ukraine does not exist!  With 100,000 Russian soldiers and thousands of tanks, trucks and artillery guns deep inside Ukraine Putin’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirms that Ukraine exists and then says that Russia hasn’t invaded it!  

The assumption seems to be that because defence expenditures are soaring in Europe they have to soar in the Asia-Pacific.  This means New Zealand must decide on who its enemies are and spend more to counter them – unless of course we conclude that, while we have differences with some countries, we have no real enemies.

Of course, there are big security issues in the Asia-Pacific, including North Korea’s nuclear arms programme, Taiwan’s status, and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.  The PRC is becoming more assertive and in some cases belligerent, however the historical context matters.  Western countries humiliated China when she was weak, and Japan’s aggression from the 1930s cost millions of Chinese lives.  China resents other nations trying to box her in and reduce her options. 

Deng Xiaoping’s reforms from the late 1970s on have seen the PRC move from poverty to become the second biggest economy in the world in GDP terms, and possibly the biggest if measured through PPP measures.  This economic growth and wealth creation has come from the private sector more so than from the government.  However, the PRC government has balanced authoritarianism with innovation, has cracked down on corruption, and has fostered scientific and technological capabilities ranking with the best in the world in most fields.

New Zealand moved fast and adeptly in developing trade relationships with China and we have benefited enormously.  However, as Chris Trotter recently noted, from 2017 – 2022 New Zealanders’ opinion of China has deteriorated markedly.  The Asia New Zealand Foundation in June 2022 reported that the number of Kiwis who view China as a “friend” has fallen from 62 percent in 2017, to just 13 percent last month.  Meanwhile, the number viewing the PRC as a “threat” rose from 18 to 58 percent.  Trotter attributed this shift largely to an American-led campaign to demonise and isolate China.  He highlighted the economic risks if we alienated the PRC through too close association with a confrontational US line.

New Zealand’s economy is based on a small commodity export mix with one dominant buyer (China).  China does not share our democratic values, however it shares our market ones, and this may be where our efforts should focus.

Some western countries have challenged the PRC over its internal affairs.  Many of these issues fall outside New Zealand’s expertise and therefore we cannot offer an informed opinion.  In such cases it may be best for New Zealand spokespeople to stay silent and appear to be fools rather than opine on a subject and remove all doubt.

For example, it is unclear what if any stance New Zealand should take in relation to the Uighur people that make up the largest ethnic minority in the Xinjiang region.  Claims of genocide are nonsense.  Civil liberties as we conceive of them have been breached, but what do we know about the problems the PRC is trying to solve, and what are the counterfactual scenarios? 

How can New Zealand’s government criticise, for example, the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong while at the same time pushing the undemocratic and racialist proposals for constitutional change set out in the He Puapua document?

Rethinking our defence and security policies must start with affirming what is good about them.  Rightly we chose to ban nuclear weapons in the 1980s.  In explaining to angry allies such as the United States and Britain why we went our own way we were blessed with a silver-tongued Prime Minister David Lange who loved the English language and could charm the birds out of the trees.  At an Oxford Union debate televised globally he brushed aside a naïve student’s pro-nuclear argument by saying “I can smell the uranium on your breath.”  Sometimes his passion for language led to a tempest of words where the meaning was so cloaked in metaphor, allusion, symbolism, literary references and sometimes straight out jokes that the US State Department employed linguists to try and understand what he was talking about.

We also declined to participate in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  A fundamental principle is New Zealand should never go to war to win trade, market access or other such economic advantages. 

In the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 the US called for “a coalition of willing” countries to participate.  Australia’s willingness was motivated by trade advantages.  I vividly recall sitting in Minister Jim Sutton’s office at the time and feeling great pride when my Minister said: “the day we go to war to secure a trade advantage is the day I leave politics.” 

Australia did achieve some trade gains in return for its participation in the Iraq invasion.  However, Australia’s uncritical adherence to the US’s stance on so many issues harmed its relations with the PRC.  It may also have contributed to PRC sanctions on Australia in 2021.

What is New Zealand as a country, what do we stand for, and what are we prepared to fight for?  New Zealand is a “western democracy”, a term which loosely describes societies with shared values rather than a shared geographic region.  Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are as much western democracies as Britain, Sweden, Ukraine and Canada.  

A democracy has a one person, one vote system, with all votes being equal.  Democracy is based on individual equal rights, freedom of speech, of sexual preference, of religious, political and other beliefs, property rights protection, and privacy. 

Democracy flourishes in open not closed societies, and so an independent and critical media is needed.  In some countries, the media can be censored, told to promote a particular “party line”, or banned from using certain terms.  Investigative journalists who probe too deep can, as in Russia, be bullied, exiled, poisoned or shot.

New Zealand’s Nicky Hager has for decades held our military to account for inept and dishonest behaviour in, for example, Afghanistan.  He has also documented the inordinate time our frigates have been engaged in Middle Eastern operations rather than resource protection in the Pacific.

However, media freedoms are rapidly eroding in New Zealand.  The Public Interest Journalism Fund restricts its funding to media outlets that conform to a highly politicised interpretation of a Treaty entered into between the Crown and Māori in 1840!

Democracy requires the rule of law both domestically and internationally.  Domestic law can be so loosely drafted that its interpretation can be arbitrary and capricious.  New Zealand must work hard to support the rule of law, not the rule of those who interpret that law.

Western as well as authoritarian regimes have undermined international law.  The American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was of doubtful legality, and it made possible ISIS’s emergence.  The invasion also violated a long-standing principle that western democracies never attack first, yet they do defend themselves when attacked.

Strong populist politicians can do a lot of damage to democracies.  The United States has yet to fully recover from Donald Trump.  Viktor Orbán has almost single-handedly undermined Hungary’s democratic system by curtailing press freedom, eroding judicial independence and undermining multiparty democracy.  

An important international issue is whether to have formal relations with countries, or with the governments in those countries.  The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances of December 5, 1994 saw the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom committing to uphold Ukraine’s sovereignty in return for Ukraine transferring its nuclear weapons to Russia.  However, when Russia breached this agreement in the 2014 annexation of Crimea it argued that it signed the Budapest Memorandum with a different government, not with the current Ukrainian government it considers “illegitimate”. 

Of course, this argument does not stand up to analysis.  International agreements are entered into by countries and not by governments.  Russia has no respect for international law and Ukraine could not enforce the  Budapest Memorandum in the UN or a law court – it has had to fight to survive.

As the PRC becomes stronger and more assertive in the Asia-Pacific region new risks may arise that New Zealand cannot “assume away”.

Tiny Pacific micro-states can be independent, sovereign countries only in the best of times, and even then they need substantial assistance in economic development, disaster relief, defence and security.  They are now facing existential climate change risk. 

The PRC has the biggest fishing fleet in the world and this fleet’s operations are likely to be environmentally unsustainable.  Its fishing fleet behaves at times like a floating imperialist militia which can occupy some tiny atolls or outcrops and then be very hard to shift.  

The PRC offers developmental finance to cash-strapped island mini-states, however this can lead to “debt entrapment” and compromise sovereignty.

New Zealand needs to be on good terms with the United States as well as the PRC and Australia.  New Zealand will be pressured into increased defence and security investment.  However, there may be ways to mitigate the net economic costs.  For example, an enhanced contribution might include strategic technologies that have dual civilian and military applications.  Examples of such technologies in other countries include cybersecurity skills, Finland’s 5G capabilities, Taiwan’s semiconductor industry and Turkey’s drone technology. 

The Ukraine war has triggered a massive energy crisis in Europe.  New Zealand could set itself a goal of being a world leader in managing renewable energy intermittency and storage challenges.  This would constitute a strategic defence capability as well as contributing to economic growth and environmental sustainability.

New Zealand has a huge technical continental shelf, however it has put little effort into exploring for rare earths and other metals and minerals needed for advanced technologies used in civil as well as military applications.  Understanding our continental geological resources and investment in materials science needed to exploit them would contribute to security as well as economic objectives.  

New Zealand could contribute research in support of ambitious Australian projects such as the loyal wingman air force project.  Surveillance drones for the EEZ and beyond would be within our technological capability.  Cybersecurity and AI are dual purpose technologies that could support New Zealand knowledge-intensive businesses competing in international markets

The Ukraine war has changed things fundamentally and reinforced realities that some of us have denied.  Nuclear-armed countries do not get attacked.  Independently-minded countries such as Finland and Sweden have joined NATO because they are not strong enough to stand alone. 

If New Zealanders conclude that we are too small to be a viable nation state that stands alone it can consider radical constitutional and other such options.  Australia’s constitution includes provision for New Zealand to become a state within Australia.  The two countries are already quite integrated economically, and at some stage a full merger might be in both countries’ interests.  It may even be seen by one or even both countries as a condition of surviving existential risk.

Posted in Constitutional and Treaty of Waitangi issues, Economics, Maori, Politics, Russia, Science and innovation | 4 Comments

Submission on Te Ara Paerangi Future Pathways Green Paper

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Te Ara Paerangi Future Pathways paper.

My academic research background is in the economics and management of research, science and
technological innovation. My relevant career experience has been in strategic policy roles in DSIR,
MAF and MED. I was Strategy and Policy manager in the Foundation for Research, Science and
Technology (FRST) from 1990 to 2000. These were formative years in the design of our current RS&T

More recently I was Principal Economist in TEC. Currently, I am an independent consultant
working entirely on pro bono issues that interest me and which I see as important.

My comments on Te Ara Paerangi Future Pathways are organised under the headings below:
 Relevant history of New Zealand’s Research, Science and Innovation (RSI) system
 Setting research priorities
 Te Tiriti and the RS&I system
 Mātauranga Māori, science and the RS&I system
 Improving participation, well-being and productivity of the RS&I workforce
Some specific questions posed in the Future Pathways paper are also addressed in my comments.

Relevant history of New Zealand’s Research, Science and Innovation (RSI) system

The science system restructuring from 1989 to 1992 involved the separation of policy (MoRST),
purchasing (FRST) and provision (CRIs, universities and other research providers). It was based on
FRST “purchasing” (funding) science outputs, and it was up to providers to manage the inputs they
needed to deliver these outputs. Inputs included staff salaries and overheads, consumables, capital
equipment and infrastructure.

Devolution to providers of decisions on infrastructure investment and related asset management
has been an important success factor in the current system. However, it has always been recognised
that different arrangements need to be in place for some assets and capabilities such as nationally
significant databases and collections and measurement standards.
Full cost pricing and funding of inputs aimed to foster fair competition between providers and to
ensure institutional sustainability (and therefore system sustainability). A particular concern when
universities entered the competition in the early 1990s was avoiding marginal costing of university
bids, and insisting on their full costing. This avoided universities cross-subsiding their bids using
Vote: Education resources.
To permit cross-subsidisation would have made university bids for FRST funding artificially cheap
compared to CRI bids and would have had negative effects on universities’ teaching function. The
cumulative effect of this would have been the undermining of infrastructure, balance sheets and
workforce security. Full cost funding has helped encourage the good links that currently exist
between university and CRI researchers.
In the early 1990s Government research laboratories such as in DSIR and MAF were converted into
CRIs, essentially to be run on commercial lines. With hindsight it would probably have been better
to establish CRIs with an ethos of getting their science working for New Zealand, with profitability
being a condition of staying in operation and on the leading-edge rather than profit being an end
purpose or driver. This might have led to a non-profit organisational form rather than a more
commercial business model.
An important decision was made early in the reforms that intellectual property generated through
research would be owned by research providers, not by FRST or by other central government
agencies. This continues to be the right approach to intellectual property management for publiclyfunded research.
Administrative and transaction costs are big issues in our science system. This partly reflects
administrators compared to researchers having too much influence in process design and how
research overheads are costed. Power and mana need to move from administrators to scientists.
Excessive administrative costs partly reflect funding process design, “product clutter”, and the
proportion of funding that is allocated competitively. For example, bids to the Marsden Fund have a
low success rate and that means much valuable time of highly capable scientists is wasted on
preparing quality bids that are unsuccessful.

Setting research priorities

I was managerially responsible for science priority setting and research strategy development for
FRST-funded research from 1990 – 2000. A key lesson is government should set only high-level,
outcome-oriented priorities. These need to take a long-term view – in strategic research the future
has more rights than the present.
RS&I providers working closely with industry, other users and communities need to translate the
government’s high-level priorities into more detailed research strategies.
In developing priorities and research strategies we must recognise New Zealand is a miniscule
research player internationally, except in a few fields. We need a strong focus on extending
international science and applying it to New Zealand’s needs.
Science is an enabler and cannot, by itself, deliver outcomes. We need strong alignment between
researchers and the industry and other capabilities needed to adopt, commercialise and otherwise
apply enabling science to the outcomes we want to deliver.
Scientists are adept at reframing their research interests to match the language and key words in
government science priority statements. This can at times unhelpfully subvert the government’s
intent. However, it generally reflects the fact that scientists are closer than governments to where
the science has got to, how it is changing, its generativity, and its innovation potential. Scientists
should therefore be given a lot of freedom to operate.

Te Tiriti and the RS&I system

Te Tiriti o Waitangi set the early foundation for the development of New Zealand’s government
system, however it was never intended to give detailed direction to operational policy and
processes. In New Zealand a zeitgeist has been created that argues that Te Tiriti is both a MāoriCrown equal partnership agreement and a stand-alone constitution that prescribes how New
Zealand and its government institutions should function. This zeitgeist is created and sustained by
people who in some cases are motivated by power rather than by New Zealanders’ wellbeing.

Te Tiriti was not a partnership agreement between Māori and the Crown. It was an international
treaty that became the starting point for New Zealand’s constitutional evolution as a democratic,
rights-based country and society.
International treaties are enforceable domestically when they are translated into domestic law and
regulation. The New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 established representative government in New
Zealand and created one of the world’s oldest continuously operating Parliaments.
The New Zealand Constitution Act 1986 is now our key constitutional document. It recognises the
Queen as head of state. However, in practice the 1986 Act marks the point where the elected
Parliament became fully sovereign, with the Crown’s roles being symbolic and procedural. It is now
Parliament not the Crown that makes laws. It is the elected government and its executive that has
relationships with its citizens, not Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth the Second or an ill-defined
The Treaty/Tiriti marks New Zealand becoming a British colony and the 1986 Act marks New Zealand
becoming an independent democracy.
There are issues with “scope creep” in Tiriti discourse and advocacy. Routinely, claims are made
about putative Tiriti “obligations” that are simply not stated in the Tiriti document itself and could
not have been in the signatories’ minds. For example, Te Pūtahitangi states that “Article 3 of Te Tiriti
means Māori must have access to resources to support levelling across the science system.” It
effectively argues for mātauranga Māori or kaupapa Māori research, knowledge and “ways of
knowing” to be funded at the same levels as the rest of New Zealand’s science system, plus
additional funding to compensate for alleged under-funding in the past that supposedly breached Te
Tiriti Article 3. There is no basis in Te Tiriti even metaphorically for such claims.
It is not possible to base RS&I policies, priorities and funding processes on Te Tiriti. However, Anne
Salmond’s Kiwis versus Iwi: Beyond the Binary gives deep insights into Te Tiriti as a relational, colourblind and equal rights document that is inclusive of all New Zealanders. It may be possible at a
philosophical level to infer that Te Tiriti would support an RS&T system that caters for diversity and
individuality, and which works for all New Zealanders – ‘nga tangata maori katoa o Nu Tirani.’

Q 12 s4.5 in the paper asks “How do we design Tiriti-enabled institutions?”

Some see Te Tiriti as foundational for New Zealand’s constitution, public services delivery, property
rights regimes, water and other natural resources management and our institutions more generally.
Te Pūtahitanga proposes Tiriti-based guidelines for RS&I funding, appointment of Māori Chief
Science Advisors to key government departments, establishment of a Mātauranga Māori
Commission, and regionally-based mātauranga Māori policy hubs.
However, Te Tiriti itself provides no guidance for how we design and manage our RS&I institutions.
Te Pūtahitanga does not articulate what problems it is trying to solve and what Te Tiriti has got to do
with solving them.

Mātauranga Māori, science, and the RS&I system

Te Pūtahitangi argues that “mātauranga Māori” or “kaupapa Māori science” should have equal
status with “Western science” and “Western knowledge systems”. The He Puapua report also
recommends that mātauranga Māori be valued and resourced equally to “western science”
(Charters et al, 2019, p. 74).

However, science does not arise from or belong to the “West”. It is the creation of many cultures
over centuries. Currently, three of the world’s five biggest investors in science are Asian not
“Western”. China’s investment is second only to the United States, Japan is in third and South Korea
in fifth place. India is the seventh largest investor. The term “western science” should not be used –
“science” or “universal science” is the right language.
Universal science is broad enough to encompass holistic, inductive and action research, and ways in
which science can be held accountable to the community. It can encompass how people work
together, including in respectful, collegial and mana-enhancing ways.
Mātauranga Māori is made up of cultural, religious and spiritual beliefs, and of knowledge built up
through observation and through trial and error that can be classified as science.
Mātauranga Māori and science are in counterpoise. Leading Māori thinkers in indigenous
knowledge and belief systems and in science education seem to agree that mātauranga Māori
complements science rather than being a substitute for it.

For example, Mason Durie (2005) argued that “indigenous knowledge cannot be verified by scientific
criteria, nor can science be adequately assessed according to the tenets of indigenous knowledge”.
Rather, “Each is built on distinctive philosophies, methodologies and criteria.” Arguments about the
validities between the two systems distract from “explorations of the interface”, and the
“subsequent opportunities for creating new knowledge that reflects the dual persuasions.”

Georgina Stewart, a leader in Māori science education, in addressing whether there is such a thing as
‘Māori science’ wrote that it “depends on what is meant by ‘science’…it is not the case, for example,
that there is a base of traditional Māori knowledge that can replace the standard school science
curriculum… The idea that scientific data can be swapped for oral texts and so forth is clearly
ridiculous.” (Stewart, 2019).

Stewart also argues “against equating mātauranga Māori with science, since I think it is better
conceived as a form of philosophy of science, rather than as a form of ‘science’ itself. This approach
possibly allows ideas from mātauranga Māori to inform science at a values level, below the level of
the empirical knowledge base, without needing to claim that mātauranga Māori is the same as
science or uses scientific methods.” (Stewart, 2022).

Much mātauranga Māori discussion focuses on how science can be made more inclusive, more
respectful of indigenous knowledge, and more responsive to community aspirations. Māori who
have felt alienated from science want it to serve their needs and be mandated by and accountable to
the community. This can involve the people in a community being active agents in research rather
than passive research objects. These Māori perspectives should be supported.

It is important that Māori are engaged in research at earliest inception stage, that they can articulate
how they see their interests being served, and that they can be well-placed to adopt and apply the
results. A mātauranga Māori approach might involve scientists working with local communities on
co-design of research proposals before they proceed. It may involve reframing science as “here to
serve” and “here to listen”. Such approaches to research are not limited to indigenous communities
and are a big part of the international science policy and research planning scene – see Sarewitz
It is argued that mātauranga Māori can complement science’s reductionist strength with more
holistic thinking. However, science often has to be reductionist given the complexity of the
challenges it faces. Furthermore, multi-disciplinary research and integrative and holistic approaches
have been part of universal science for hundreds of years. Astrophysics, plate tectonics,
evolutionary biology and ecology do not commend themselves to the small or the narrow minded.
Great scientists such as Kepler, Newton, and Darwin were in awe of the natural world and its
interconnections and drew deep insights from them. They saw beyond simplifying reductionism.
Some eminent Māori scientists have expressed concerns that too much focus on mātauranga Māori
can have negative unintended consequences. In a prescient 2007 paper G Raumati Hook critiqued
the Vote RS&T-wide policy framework Vision Mātauranga and saw its risks:
While the idea of Vision Mātauranga is culturally attractive, and indeed respectful and embracing,
the reality may be something quite different. It’s a bit like saying to Māori, “Listen up. We’re building
this technology thing over here and you can help, but you’re going to have to use only the knowledge
you have that comes under the heading of philosophy, religion, art, language, and culture to achieve
it…Vision Mātauranga while culturally flattering might not give Māori the keys to the technological
world of tomorrow. The only way that Māori will achieve economic parity is through technological
parity, and the only way they will achieve that is through science and math education. Māori must
look to their academic performance (Hook 2007).

Similar concerns arose in the wake of the media storm triggered in July 2021 by seven Auckland
University professors who wrote a public letter responding to MoE proposals relating to mātauranga
Māori in the Māori school curriculum. These proposals included the NCEA addressing “the ways in
which science has supported the dominance of Eurocentric views, including science’s use as a
rationale for colonisation of Māori and the suppression of Māori knowledge.” Also included was
discussion of “the notion that science is a Western European invention and itself evidence of
European dominance over Māori and other indigenous peoples.”

One of the public letter’s signatories was the esteemed biological scientist and medical researcher
Garth Cooper, who is himself Māori and who has done a great deal for Māori health and to enhance
young Māori student achievement in science. Professor Cooper was concerned that teaching “Māori
kids about the colonising effects of science [would] lead to loss of opportunity.” He observed that
Ross Ihaka who co-created the R open-source programme language can be credited with “the most
important thing that’s come out of New Zealand in the last 100 years. I think of young Māori
scholars that would be the next Ross Ihaka basically missing out because they were told that science
was a colonising influence of no interest to them.” Cooper considered that the proposed NCEA
changes would “disenfranchise” young Māori from pursuing STEM subjects (see Ross 2021).
New Zealand science must be outward-looking and meet international publication, quality
assurance, epistemological, professional and regulatory expectations and practices. Our science
must be recognised overseas and be delivered in the language and style appropriate to an
international audience. There are indications that some mātauranga Māori science may struggle to
meet international standards.

Lillis & Schwerdtfeger (2021) note that a search through the Web of Science for evidence of worldleading research in the science-oriented part of mātauranga Māori reveals a modest increase in
numbers of publications over the last five years, but none in mainstream, high-impact-factor
journals, and none in chemistry, physics or mathematics.

Some mātauranga Māori-related research has triggered ridicule in international science circles. An
example is Wehi et al (2021) claiming, on the basis of unsubstantiated oral “evidence”, that Māori
may have been first to discover the Antarctica (in fact a Russian ship did so in 1820).
Furthermore, the “Listener letter” controversy over inclusion of “indigenous knowledge” and “ways
of knowing” in our science education, and the Royal Society’s investigation of two of the professorial
signatories has triggered sharp criticism from such international luminaries as Richard Dawkins and
Jerry Coyne. This puts New Zealand’s science system “on notice.” However some of the criticism
may be ill-informed. For example, Professor Dawkins seems to believe that we are actively teaching
Māori creationist myths in our science classes. While such mythology is part of mātauranga Māori I
have so far seen no evidence of it being taught in science classes.

There are concerns with the focus of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, the Māori Centre of Research
Excellence (CoRE). Its top-level governance and leadership is dominated by law and indigenous
studies academics and is not strong in the natural sciences.

The CoRE should be commended for the energy it is putting into encouraging Māori engagement in
research, and it has made progress with this. However, the research supported seems
disproportionately focused on cultural, indigenous and sociological studies rather than on natural
sciences that are more connected to New Zealand’s socio-economic and sustainability challenges.
The CoRE’s research is valuable culturally to Māori and to some other New Zealanders. However, it
is unclear whether the research outputs and the skills developed through delivering them will be
valued in private or public sector markets or internationally. This raises concerns about the poststudy outcomes for Māori graduates whose study and research choices have not been well
connected to industry and to international demand.

Q 5, s2.3 in the paper asks: “What are your thoughts on how to enable and protect mātauranga
Māori in the research system?”

There are two concepts here: enablement and protection. Enabling mātauranga Māori is best done
through inclusiveness of Māori within the research system, with Māori researchers within our
institutions deciding the extent to which mātauranga Māori can add value to institutional research
programmes. Māori researchers may make this call, or Māori in local communities can bring their
knowledge to bear on, for example, natural environment and resource management research.
In relation to protecting mātauranga Māori in the research system, science treats knowledge as
incomplete and open to challenge, not “protected” from it.

What needs to be safeguarded are links between our researchers and the leading international
science in important fields, and the ability to apply what is learnt in the New Zealand context.
Protecting mātauranga Māori means ensuring our science institutions have researchers who are
both on the international leading edge and have the capacity to link this to our domestic context and
knowledge bases, including mātauranga Māori.

Some argue that research about one culture by people from another culture can be “colonising” and
domineering. Indigenous knowledge should, it is contended, be a property owned and controlled by
indigenous people. This argument is articulated in Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s 1999 book Decolonising
Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Peter Munz’s review of Decolonising
Methodologies is a devastating response to Smith’s arguments.

There is a tension between “protecting” mātauranga Māori knowledge or belief and making it
available to others. Te Pūtahitangi argues that elders fear that by sharing knowledge that can be
commercialised they risk knowledge losing “sacredness” and “fertility.” “Knowledge that is profane
has lost its life, its tapu.” It states that mātauranga must always retain the mauri of tangata whenua,
and indeed of the whenua itself. These fears, feelings and convictions are powerful, common among
many cultures, and must be respected. However, they are not part of science any more than
morality plays are part of economics.

Mātauranga Māori’s value can only be established when it is open to scrutiny, falsification or
validation. To be productive, knowledge must be disseminated beyond she/he who holds it.
Without this, knowledge cannot be scaled to achieve diminishing marginal costs in adoption, thereby
delivering the rising output from less input that drives productivity growth and therefore wider

We do not need new funding for mātauranga Māori itself, however we do need many more Māori
researchers in the natural sciences, many of whom may apply a cultural (“mātauranga Māori”)
perspective in their work and in their relationships with colleagues and with the communities they
serve. In my view, a stronger (and merit-based) Māori presence in our research institutions would
enhance inclusiveness and respect for individuals and upholding of their mana. It would make work
environments more collegial, team-based, and grounded in New Zealand’s needs. It would also
open up people’s thinking about how others “cut up the world.”

Improving participation, wellbeing and productivity of the RS&I workforce

A fundamental long-term problem we face in RS&I is our school sector’s performance decline over
the last two decades, including in maths, science and literacy. This is well-documented in
international studies such as PISA, PIRLS and TIMSS. Our school system must improve. We must
also do better in facilitating young people’s engagement in STEM at secondary school level and
managing transitions to tertiary education STEM qualifications and high skill employment.
It is agreed that Māori are underrepresented in STEM disciplines and in the university scientific
workforce. However, we know a lot about what works in addressing this underrepresentation and
we should build on what we know. FRST’s Tūāpapa Pūtaiao Māori Fellowships scheme operated
effectively from 1997 to 2006 (see Hook 2007).

Otago and Auckland Universities’ pathways for Māori to study medicine have effectively “closed the
gap” in Māori representation in medical degree graduations.

In 2016 Massey University initiated the Pūhoro STEM Academy to encourage young Māori school
students to excel in science, technology, engineering and maths. Te Pūtahitangi states that Pūhoro
STEM Academy has faced funding challenges. In fact, Pūhoro had 1000 students in 2021 and has
received three years of new funding to boost numbers to 5000. An agreement has been signed with
Waikato University to extend the Academy to the Waikato region, and this model can be rolled out
more widely.

We need to ensure a welcoming and enabling institutional environment for Māori researchers.
Māori kawa, tikanga and culture in general can help ensure that research institutions are grounded
in our communities rather than functioning as “ivory towers”.

References and further reading

Charters, C. et al 2019: He Puapua: Report of the working group on a plan to realise the UN
declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Corballis, M et al 2021: In Defence of Science. The Listener 4 July 2021.
Durie, Mason 2005: ‘Capturing Value from Science: Exploring the interface between Science and
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Posted in Constitutional and Treaty of Waitangi issues, Cultural issues, Economics | Leave a comment

Submission on the Water Services Entities Bill

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Water Services Entities Bill.  I am a recently retired public sector economist with strong interests in sustainable development that meets all New Zealanders’ intergenerational needs. 

My comments relate to:

Intervention logic

A convincing case for radical change to our water management system has not been made.  New Zealand’s overall water quality is very good, as attested by Ministry of Health water quality audits and ESR’s surveillance reports.

It is argued that the water Entities will be more efficient than local authorities due to their scale economies. This takes no account of local councils achieving efficiencies by spreading their administrative cost overheads over a range of council functions.

Where the system can struggle is with smaller councils with limited financial resources.  In such cases Government can take a more targeted approach supported by fair apportionment of funding between government and local authorities, that is between taxpayers and ratepayers.

Around thirty percent of New Zealand’s total land area is public lands administered by rate-exempt agencies such as DoC.  For some local authorities such rate-exempt public land makes up almost 90 percent of the council area.  Government paying rates on such land would have a big impact on investments that could be made in council water and other infrastructure.

There are other infrastructure funding models that can be applied.  Central and local government water infrastructure funding could be based on the 50:50 funding models used for roading.  There is scope for co-operation between councils where scale economies can be achieved.  Dr Eric Crampton has suggested “revenue bonds” as are used to fund American urban infrastructure.

Instead of embarking on radical structural change as envisaged in the Water Services Entities Bill, central government could draft a short Bill that empowers

councils and council-controlled entities to use a range of funding mechanisms to support water and other infrastructure investments.  Revenue bonds for example would pay for themselves, with councils forbidden from using rates and general revenues to pay them off.

A few councils have neglected their core business such as water service infrastructure.  This is partly the result of amendments to the Local Government Act 2002 that expanded the role of local councils from a restrictive core services to a more permissive mandate.  This saw some spending shifting to non-core council projects such as sports stadiums and cultural assets.  The lesson is local government must stick to its core business.

Organisational design and governance issues

The proposed organisational design and governance arrangements are complex and make it difficult to gauge the incentive structures for the key parties and how the community will hold them accountable.  Each Water Services Entity will be controlled by an unelected board of twelve members.  Six will be appointed by iwi, the other six members will represent all the councils contributing assets to the Entity. This means, for example, that just six people will represent all twenty South Island councils and twelve people will have control over South Island freshwater resources and infrastructure. 

Co-governance means that the new water companies will be directed by “Regional Representative Groups”, which will be half controlled by elected local politicians, and half controlled by mana whenua iwi.  Therefore, the elected local governments that currently own and control water services will lose half of their control, despite in theory still owning the companies. 

Quality of legislative drafting, supporting arguments and consultation

The government claims local authorities will continue to own water infrastructure and communities will continue to have a say in water management.  However, the Bill’s drafting does not support these claims.  Clause 166 of the bill states that a “territorial authority… (a) has no right, title, or interest (legal or equitable) in the assets, security, debts, or liabilities of a water services entity (and the constitution cannot confer any such right, title, or interest…); and (b) must not receive any equity return, directly or indirectly, from a water services entity…”

Councils will retain none of the substantive ownership benefits. It is ownership in name only, not in practice.

Furthermore, it is implausible to claim that a local authority will influence the management of the water assets when it’s role in the governance arrangements is diluted by 50 percent by iwi interests in the first instance, and that a further 50 percent interest is diluted by other local authorities within the Entity.

Communities have been excluded from meaningful input into the Bill’s development.
Councils were instructed not to consult with their communities over the reforms, and clause 14 of Schedule 1 of the Bill specifically withdraws the consultation requirement on councils to engage over changes to the way water services will be provided. This is an effective ban on communities having any say over reforms which effectively strip them of assets they have built up, while greatly reducing local input into water services through elected councils. 

At first glance it is puzzling how little media scrutiny is being applied to the Water Services Entities Bill.  The reason seems to be that the $55M Public Interest Journalism Fund is restricted to media outlets that promote a politicised and unscholarly view of te Tiriti o Waitangi that comes from a misunderstanding of 1987 Appeal Court deliberations. 

Dame Anne Salmond observes that in 1987 Sir Robin Cooke as a Court of Appeal judge noted that the Crown had a duty to act in good faith towards Māori in ways “akin” to a partnership.  He never stated that the Treaty was a partnership. 

However, Tiriti o Waitangi activists have asserted that Māori never ceded sovereignty, that te Tiriti was an equal partnership between Māori and the Crown, that core government functions should be co-governed, and that in effect the democratic rights of around 83% of New Zealand’s population should be degraded as a condition of co-governance.

The Public Interest Journalism Fund’s eligibility criteria effectively exclude from media funding the work of people as diverse as historian and ex-Waitangi Tribunal member Michael Bassett, the distinguished anthropologist Dame Anne Salmond, Don Brash a top New Zealand economist, and left-leaning blogger Chris Trotter.

Race and tribal-based water management

The Entities seem to align to traditional mana whenua tribal boundaries not to freshwater catchments and their underlying geology and hydrology.  The legal standing of mana whenua relationships is problematic. 

Tribal mana whenua relationships with particular water systems have weakened since Māori have become increasingly urbanised, disconnected from their rohe, and are in some cases living abroad.  Many Māori have connections to multiple iwi, and this blurs mana whenua relationships with particular catchments and water resources.  In practice, the mana whenua voice in Water Services Entities would be a small part of the views of Māori as a whole, which will confuse who has authority to act and who will be accountable for decisions made.

The exercise of mātauranga Māori and tikanga can be valuable.  However, water management needs to be on a catchment basis, and universal science, modern hydrology and monitoring technology are the key scientific tools that can be brought to bear. 

The origins of the Three Waters proposal seem to be in the 2019 He Puapua report which sets out a vision to achieve by 2040.  This vision includes:

“there will be significantly increased return of Crown lands and waters, including takutai moana [marine and coastal areas], to Māori ownership…”

Māori would “receive royalties for the use of particular natural resources such as water, petroleum and minerals.”

He Puapua also aligns with or foreshadows other major initiatives such as local government electoral reform, resource management reform, and establishment of a stand-alone Māori primary health authority.

“Co-governance” is innocent and collegial language that masks inherent race-based ramifications.  Taken to its logical end, “co-governance” means the end of equal voting rights in a colour-blind New Zealand.  It violates the principle of horizontal equity.  It likely breaches the Bill of Rights Act, the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) that New Zealand ratified in November 1972.  

Recently the Attorney General ruled that a Council Bill to create co-governance was discriminatory to non-Māori and in breach of the Bill of Rights Act 1990.  He urged the Council to withdraw the Bill, and it did so.  Similar discrimination could be created by the Water Services Entities Bill which may breach the Bill of Rights Act.

There is no example of a successful race-based or tribal society in the modern world, if “success” is gauged by human and civil rights, democracy, and institutional integrity and trust.  Key weaknesses in tribal forms of organisation are that relationships don’t scale, and kinship relationships can lead to nepotism.  The risk of nepotism may only be apparent and not real, however perceptions matter. 

A key part of the reforms is the creation of the new water regulator Taumata Arowai. Managing the regulator is a Board of seven, two of whom are members of a five-member Māori Advisory Board. According to the regulator’s controlling legislation whatever the Māori Advisory Board decides, the regulator must enact – or explain why it has not done so.  This means the chair of the Māori Advisory Board holds one of the most powerful positions in the new system. 

Tipa Mahuta – the Minister’s sister – has been appointed chair.  She is no doubt highly competent, however she will have to work hard and visibly to demonstrate her independence and to build confidence in Taumata Arowai.


Concluding comments

It is now clear that a key purpose of the Water Services Entities Bill is to strengthen race-based, tribal rights over New Zealand’s freshwater resources.  This conflicts with our democratic system, a system which must be “colour-blind”, and protect minority as well as majority rights. 

It may be that some naïve support for the Bill will come from those who recognise that the socio-economic gaps between Māori and other New Zealanders should be closed.  However, these socio-economic gaps can only be closed through, for example, education, employment, and initiatives to build net worth.  They cannot be addressed through natural resource-based “rent-seeking” where benefits are captured by tribal elitists with little prospect of benefits trickling down more widely.

Given the immense amount of work officials have done on this work programme I am sorry I could not be more positive.

Dr Peter Winsley

Posted in Constitutional and Treaty of Waitangi issues, Cultural issues, Maori, Politics | 3 Comments

Russian language is a world treasure and must not be weaponised or cancelled

we’re not frightened by a hail of lead, we’re not bitter without a roof overhead- and we will preserve you, Russian speech, mighty Russian word! We will transmit you to our grandchildren free and pure and rescued from captivity. Forever!

Courage by Anna Akhmatova, 23 February 1942, Tashkent

The conflict in Ukraine risks lasting damage to one of the world’s greatest cultural treasures – Russian language.  Damage will come from the Putin regime “weaponizing” language.  It may also come from western “cancel culture”, and from heavy-handed Ukrainian “language laws” that diminish the role Russian plays in Ukraine’s cultural life.

Vladimir Putin’s special military operation in Ukraine has had unintended consequences such as malnutrition and possibly famine due to grain exports through the Black Sea being blockaded. 

The operation has “achieved” the opposite of what was intended.  Rather than stop NATO enlargement it has triggered Finnish and Swedish applications to join.  Russia sought to “denazify” Ukraine, and then struggled to find Ukrainian “Nazis”, other than some Azov Regiment fighters with incriminating tattoos.  However, it found Nazi behaviours in its own ranks, such as in its 64th motorised infantry brigade and other units subject to war crimes investigations.

The “demilitarisation” that Russia sought has instead seen western countries flooding Ukraine with arms, and Germany committing to massive defence expenditure increases.  Russian leaders and commentators have hinted at and sometimes directly threatened nuclear weapons strikes.  This, and tensions with China, North Korea and Iran mean more countries may develop their own nuclear weapons to deter aggression from existing nuclear powers.

Not all Russian goals in Ukraine are openly stated.  President Putin would not like a prosperous, liberal-minded and westernised neighbour against which Russians can compare their own society.

Furthermore, Putin did his academic thesis on the role natural resources such as gas and oil play in economic development.  He is aware of Ukraine’s vast and underexploited mineral wealth.

Ukraine is second only to Norway in known European gas reserves (noting that Russia’s reserves are in Asiatic Russian regions).  Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014 and of much of the rest of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast this year means it now controls most of Ukraine’s potential offshore hydrocarbon resources.

Ukraine has among the world’s largest iron ore, manganese and titanium reserves.  It is believed to have the largest rare earth reserves in Europe.  Lithium, beryllium, niobium, and tantalum reserves seem to be concentrated in or or near Russian or pro-Russian occupied areas.

At its simplest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a continuation of imperial expansionism that goes back centuries.  Since Ivan the Terrible in the sixteenth century, Russia has expanded at an average rate of around 50 square miles per day for hundreds of years.  However, some wealth is not material, geographically contained, or valued in market exchange.

An economist might describe cultural achievement as a “non-rival good” – that is, your “consumption” of a poem, story or folk song does not stop me from enjoying it.  It can take years to write War and Peace and centuries to create Russia’s folk song heritage, yet once these cultural treasures exist the marginal cost of enjoying them is very low or nil.  However, language fluency is needed to fully explore the depths and subtleties of such cultural “products”, and this fluency will erode if Russian language declines in use in Ukraine and elsewhere.

Many great Russian writers translate well into other languages with little “lost in translation”.  Dostoevsky’s psychological intensity, Tolstoy’s wideness of mind, Gorky’s hard scrabble life portraits and Simonov’s grittiness in his Great Patriotic War poems all “translate themselves.”  Yet much is lost in, for example, Pushkin and Mandelstam where words are translated yet something ineffable is missing.  Some multi-lingual people are equally fluent in, for example, Russian, Turkish, French and Italian.  However, they may choose to read for pleasure only in Russian to connect with its untranslatable depths and subtleties.

The Putin regime has tried to link Russian language use outside Russia to loyalty to Moscow.  This is reflected in its active promotion of Russian language enclaves in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.  All these enclaves are about Russian power projection more so than protecting Russian language.  This may have the unintended consequence that affected states will start to discourage Russian language least it becomes divisive.

People from all cultures can enjoy great literature and music that draws people together rather than divides them.  Language does not need to be attached to a nation, territory or ethnic group, and it can stand above or transcend political differences. 

In 2019 the incumbent President Petro Poroshenko sought re-election under an “army, language, faith” banner.  This could imply that strengthening language and identity associated with it would enhance Ukraine’s security and wellbeing in some ill-defined way.  Volodymyr Zelensky focused his presidential campaign more on inclusiveness, treating diversity as a strength and consistent with building a unified nation state.

Zelensky could cite Switzerland and Singapore as examples of successful multi-cultural and multi-lingual countries where citizens identify with and will defend their nation state.  Ethnic and language differences are therefore subsumed to support the nation state’s ability to act for all citizens.

Volodymyr Zelensky won the 2019 election in a landslide.  He was elected to fight corruption, work for peace, enhance economic performance, and to develop Ukraine as a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual western democracy that could pathway to EU membership.  Zelensky is a native Russian speaker.  His election win was a defeat for both Ukrainian ethno-nationalism and for a Russian imperialism that equates Russian language with political loyalty to Russia as a nation state. 

President Poroshenko, in his last days in office before Volodymyr Zelensky took over, signed a new language law in May 2019.  This included measures to enhance Ukrainian language use in education, publishing, the media, business and cultural affairs.  While widely supported, it was probably uncomfortable for Zelensky to “inherit” this law which, while rightly focused on fostering the Ukrainian language, did not address concerns that Russian language use would diminish.

In July 2021 Zelensky’s government enacted a law protecting the language and cultural rights of indigenous peoples in Ukraine, notably Crimean Tatars.  Consistent with the United Nation’s declaration on indigenous peoples, such legislation protects minority languages.  It omits groups whose language and other rights are already upheld by an existing state, such as for example England, PRC and France where the respective languages are hardly endangered minority ones!

In March 2022, filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa was dismissed from Ukraine’s National Film Academy for supporting screening films even by those Russian filmmakers who had spoken out against Putin’s invasion.  The Academy’s doubtful but understandable argument was that “when Ukraine is struggling to defend its independence, the key concept in the rhetoric of every Ukrainian should be his national identity.”

Finland and Sweden will soon be NATO members and Russia will need to deal with the defence and security issues this raises.  The war in Ukraine will eventually end, and Russia and Ukraine will still be neighbours that need to work with each other. 

Ukraine seeks EU membership and as such Ukrainians will have to think about their EU as well as their nation state identities.  Eschewing “cancel culture” and valuing Russian language as a cultural treasure will support President Zelensky’s vision for a liberal and inclusive democracy that values diversity and rejects ethno-nationalism. 

Posted in Cultural issues, History, Politics, Russia | Leave a comment

Herbert Hoover saved millions of Russian lives through famine relief.  A century later Russia risks creating malnutrition and perhaps famine for millions

In 1921-22 Herbert Hoover, through his famine relief work saved millions of Russians from starving to death.  A century later, malnutrition if not famine will result from Russia’s blockading of Ukraine’s grain exports. 

History remembers Herbert Hoover as a failed Depression-era US President, not as a great humanitarian who saved millions from starvation.

Hoover was a brilliant engineer and logistics manager whose achievements included providing food relief services to Belgium during WW1.  In 1921 he was Secretary of Commerce when word came of an emerging crisis in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.

In 1920, drought in Soviet Russia had led to failed harvests and famine risks.  World War One, the Russian revolution and civil war had caused massive disruption.  Red Army “war communism” saw peasant surpluses requestioned.  State capacity to deal with a famine crisis was limited, and the Soviet Union itself only came into being in 1922.

In mid-1921 calls went out internationally for help.  Maxim Gorky published an open letter seeking European and American support.  “Gloomy days,” Gorky wrote, “have come to the land of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Mendeleev, Pavlov, Mussorgsky, Glinka and other world-prized men…Russia’s misfortunes offer humanitarians a splendid opportunity to demonstrate the vitality of humanitarianism… I ask all honest European and American people for prompt aid to the Russian people.”

Hoover took responsibility and his leadership quickly saw the American Relief Administration (ARA) running 19,000 kitchens in 28,000 towns and villages in Russia.  These fed around 11 million of the 16 million threatened by starvation.  The ARA also helped with medical services.  By 1923 the drought had broken, the ARA had imported seed grain, and the New Economic Policy (NEP) had abolished prodrazvyorstka (forced grain-requisition).

Maxim Gorgy in a personal letter to Hoover wrote that “Your help will enter history as a unique, gigantic achievement, worthy of the greatest glory, which will long remain in the memory of millions of Russians whom you have saved from death”.  The Soviet government presented Hoover with a scroll stating that the Russian people “will never forget the help given them.”  However, by his death in 1964 the Soviet press was condemning Hoover as “a spy for the bourgeoisie.”

Today, Russia’s blockading of Ukraine’s grain exports through Black Sea ports is inflating food prices for poorer people in less developed countries, and this will lead to malnutrition and perhaps famine. 

President Putin has said that the blockage of grain exports will be eased only if sanctions on Russia are removed.  He contends that difficulties in supplying grain to international markets resulted from “erroneous economic and financial policies of Western countries”.  However, sanctions imposed by the US and allies are not preventing the export of Ukrainian or Russian agricultural products and inputs, including food and fertilizer.

There is no military logic to the blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea pots.  Russia would lose nothing and gain much goodwill through ending it. 

Posted in Economics, History, Politics, Russia | Leave a comment

Where are the Nazis in the Russia-Ukraine war?

Russia argues its Ukraine invasion aims to “de-nazify” a country run by “drug-addled Nazis”.  What does “Nazi” mean today, and who are “Nazis” in the Russia-Ukraine war context?

In 1941 Dorothy Thompson asked who goes Nazi? and identified some pointers you might find in a large gathering of acquaintances.  Today however, “Nazi” is more a loose slur term applied to people “we” may not like.  The term “Nazi” alludes to far-right extremists, especially those with racist (including antisemitic), xenophobic and ethno-nationalist views.  Such extremists tend to be inward-looking rather than internationalist, authoritarian rather than democratic, and to be conservative on family and LBGTQ matters.  

Ethno-nationalism assumes that identity reflects ancestry and this shapes people’s behaviour today.  How a defined group (Jews, Russians, Ukrainians) behaved a hundred years ago is seen as predictive of how it will behave today.  This leads to conflicts over what and how history is remembered.  Statues are raised and toppled, legislation is enacted and repealed, and school history curriculums are developed and fought over.

Vladimir Putin once published an essay arguing that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people,” a “yedinyi narod.”  Putin must surely reflect on how much blood can be spilt before Russians and Ukrainians become bitterly divided for at least the next generation.

What do voting statistics tell us about Ukrainian “Nazism?”  In Ukraine’s 2019 parliamentary elections a coalition of far-right parties secured just over 2% of the vote.  In the 2019 presidential election Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a Russian-speaking Jewish centrist won 73% of the vote in the run-off against the moderate incumbent Petro Poroshenko.  This compares for example with Marine Le Pen winning 41.5% compared to Macron’s 58.6% of the French presidential election run-off vote in 2022.

If Ukraine has a significant far-right or neo-Nazi political movement it is almost invisible in public discourse as well as in elections.  Nor is it obvious on the battlefield.  The Azov Volunteer battalion that formed in reaction to the 2014 invasion of Ukraine did attract extremists, notably Andriy Biletsky.  However, Azov is now part of the Ukraine National Guard and is apolitical.  Biletsky was elected to Parliament in 2014 and he lost his seat in 2019. 

The Azov fighters are melting away in their last stand in the Mariupol steel works.  They are extraordinarily brave.  No war crimes have been attributed to them in this conflict.  In contrast, there is well-substantiated evidence of Russian atrocities against large numbers of Ukrainian civilians.

Since its election in 2019 Zelensky’s government has broken with ethno-nationalism and promoted equal rights for all the country’s citizens.  What matters is Ukrainian citizenship that confers equal rights and which transcends ethnicity, religious and other such identities.

Ukraine is becoming more culturally inclusive and has actively protected minority cultures.  In July 2021 it enacted legislation “On the Indigenous Peoples of Ukraine.”  This granted special protection for the cultural heritage and language of Crimean Tatars as well as Turkic Judaic groups.  Attitudes within Ukraine to LBGTQ issues are becoming more accepting.  These progressive changes are hardly Nazism at work.

Some Russians hold neo-Nazi views and actively promote them.  For example, the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) is an extremist ethno-nationalist group that supports pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and has been involved in conflicts in Libya and Syria. 

Vladimir Putin’s strongest supporters domestically and internationally are at best “far right” and at worst overtly neo-Nazi.  Ramzan Kadyrov who heads the Chechen Republic has been accused of a long list of human rights violations, including multiple murders, and has enriched himself through Putin’s patronage.

Igor Girkin was active in the Crimean annexation and the war in Donbas.  In 2014 he opined that Russia’s “liberal clans” must be destroyed in favour of “law enforcement” ones.  In June 2019, Dutch prosecutors charged Girkin for murder through the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and issued an arrest warrant for him.  Girkin has recently resurfaced advocating general Russian mobilization for the Ukrainian war.

Far-right organisations such as the Wagner Group and the Rusich neo-Nazi unit do some of the “dirty work” for Putin’s regime.  The Wagner Group  functions like a mercenary private army that operates in similar ways to the Einsatzgruppen on the Eastern Front in WW2.  It is alleged to have tried to assassinate President Zelensky and other Ukrainian leaders.  It has also been linked to recent civilian massacres in Mali.

Putin’s strongest international relationships are with far-right politicians and movements.  They include Viktor Orbán and Marine Le Pen who share his ethno-nationalist and culturally conservative views.  The only German political party to oppose military aid to Ukraine is the far-right Alternative for Germany – Russia helps fund it.

Putin’s American supporters include fringe GoP politicians, some Fox News commentators and Alt-Right activists.  Donald Trump’s initial reaction to the Ukrainian invasion was to call Putin “a genius” for what Trump seemed to mistake for an adept real estate transaction.

Vladimir Putin is a far-right authoritarian, however he has never been antisemitic.  In 1998 a communist Duma member Albert Makashov denounced Jews as a “scourge” that should be removed from the country.  Putin, who was then Director of the Federal Security Service, faced Makashov down.  He announced an investigation into the remarks, doing so with the Lubyanka in the background.  This sent a message that hateful antisemitic rhetoric was intolerable. 

On 1 May the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov opined that having a Jewish president (Zelensky) does not preclude Ukraine being run by Nazis.  He then stated that “the biggest anti-Semites were Jewish, including Hitler”.  Israel’s foreign minister Yair Lapid said this “unforgivable” falsehood debased the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust.  Russia’s foreign ministry responded that Lapid’s comments largely explain “why the current Israeli government supports the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv”.  Vladimir Putin apologised to Israel’s Prime Minster for these comments.

Putin has long promoted an ethno-nationalist, traditionalist narrative for Russia.  This is reflected in the 9 May Victory Day celebrating the Red Army’s defeat of Nazi Germany in WW2.  The Red Army was not “the Russian Army”.  All Soviet nationalities served, including seven million Ukrainians, of whom 1.65M died.  Of the Red Army’s greatest WW2 leaders Zhukov was Russian, however Timoshenko was Ukrainian and Rokossovsky was Polish.

In Putin’s narrative WW2 is dated from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 2022.  However, the German-Soviet non-Aggression Pact was signed on 23 August 1939.  A secret protocol to this Pact divided Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence.  Eastern Poland, LithuaniaLatviaEstonia, and Finland fell within the Soviet sphere. 

German forces attacked Poland on 1 September 1939, with Soviet forces invading on 17 September.  World War Two therefore began as a joint Nazi and Soviet attack on Poland.  Poland ceased to exist as a nation on 29 September 1939.  Around 22,000 Polish citizens later died in Stalin’s Katyn massacre in April-May 1940. 

Victory Day creates a link between the Soviet Union’s glories and Russia today.  It has been used to rehabilitate Stalin, and to validate ruthless leadership, including Putin’s.  Russia’s human rights organisation Memorial International which chronicled Stalin-era crimes was closed by court order in December 2021.  

Some of Stalin’s crimes must never be forgotten.  For example, many Ukrainians argue that Stalin engineered the 1932-33 great famine or Holodomor – “murder by hunger” in which millions of Ukrainians died.  Markevich et al (2021) provide powerful statistical evidence supporting this allegation; that is that Stalin’s government manipulated food shortages to ensure that Ukrainians bore a disproportionate share of the famine burden.

The Russian Constitution states that Russia “united by the millennium history, preserving the memory of the ancestors who conveyed to us ideals and belief in God… honours the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland, ensures protection of historical truth.  Diminution of the heroic deed of the people defending the Fatherland is precluded.”

The Soviet annexation of the Baltic states in June 1940 and Stalin’s invasion of Finland in November 1940 were all mandated in the secret protocol to the German-Soviet Pact.  However, in Russia today references to Nazi-Soviet collaboration are now effectively criminalized.  

Given how important defeating the Nazis in1945 is to Russia’s “story about itself” it is psychologically appealing (though dishonest) to label any other enemies of Russia as “Nazis”.  After weeks of fighting Russia had not identified a Nazi presence in Ukraine and the case for invading Ukraine seemed more and more tenuous.  The arguments for the war then began to change.

On 5 April 2022 the former Russian President and close Putin ally Dmitry Medvedev argued that an important war goal was “to convert the bloodthirsty and the total, fabricated-myth-laden consciousness” of some Ukrainians.  “The goal is peace for future generations of Ukrainians and the possibility of finally building an open Eurasia, from Lisbon to Vladivostok”.

“From Lisbon to Vladivostok” is the slogan of “Eurasian philosophers”, notably Aleksandr Dugin, who argues for Russia to dominate the Eurasian continent extending from Portugal to the Pacific Ocean.  This Russian Eurasian imperial ambition is of course dreamland.  For example, China is much bigger in population, wealthier, and far more technologically advanced and diversified than Russia.  China must surely see that Russia is the weaker party and can never lead Eurasia.

Despite its unreality, Putin is influenced by the Eurasian philosophers.  Dugin is described as “Putin’s brain”.  One hopes he is not also Putin’s science teacher.  In June 2012 Dugin opined that chemistry and physics are “demonic sciences”, and all Orthodox Russians need to “unite around Russia’s president in the last battle between good and evil”.  Dugin may of course be right that Putin is in his “last battle”. 

The theme of “good versus evil” recurs in the Russian rhetoric, sometimes with Orthodox religious imagery.  Vyacheslav Nikonov, Deputy Head of the State Duma declared on 18 April that the conflict in Ukraine “is a metaphysical clash between the forces of good and evil … This is truly a holy war we’re waging and we must win.”  It is difficult to reconcile such rhetoric with the “special operation” language Putin used on 24 February 2022.

Apocalyptic language about holy wars that must be won is disquieting given how often Russian media personalities, officials and politicians allude to nuclear weapons.  In reflecting on nuclear war Putin once said “why do we need this world if there is no Russia?”   

Russia has been investing heavily in “first strike” nuclear weapons that can defeat all countermeasures.  It also has tactical nuclear weapons and military protocols over their use within a conventional conflict.  It now seems to have a nuclear technological edge over the United States. 

Far-right autocracies tend to be strengthened by real or imagined enemies the population can rally against.  Putin has consistently framed “the west”, especially the United States as Russia’s enemy.  He has worked most actively from about 2014 to undermine western democracy and values, and to encourage “identity politics” and separatist movements that weaken the west.

Some Russians are contemptuous of Ukrainians, even while contending they are close family and not strangers or enemies!  Nobel Prize winning writer Joseph Brodsky’s poem On Ukrainian independence is an ill-tempered ethno-nationalistic example.  However, “neo-Nazism” goes beyond contempt and ethno-nationalism and always involves pathological hatred. For example, in New Zealand the He Puapua document that proposes anti-democratic constitutional change is a deeply racialist, ethno-nationalist document.  It is not however a hate-filled document.

What now comes through from the Russian government and media is hatred towards Ukrainian people.  On 3 April 2022 the Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti published an article by Timofei Sergeitsev on what should Russia do with Ukraine  It comes close to inciting mass executions of Ukrainians as occurred at Bucha.  Significantly, after international publicity about the Bucha massacre, Putin bestowed the honorary title of “Guards” on the 64th Motor Rifle Brigade, the unit held responsible for the atrocities.  This is a tacit endorsement, if not encouragement of such war crimes.

In 2000 Putin said that “history proves that all dictatorships, all authoritarian forms of government are transient.  Only democratic systems are not transient.  Whatever the shortcomings, mankind has not devised anything superior.”  He says quite different things in 2022, perhaps because the mask has slipped and the real Putin has revealed himself, or because autocratic power has corrupted him.

Autocrats concentrate power, which means they can be decisive and effective.  It also means they must take personal responsibility when things go wrong.  Putin’s belief that “Nazis” ran Ukraine implied most Ukrainians would welcome Russians as liberators.  However, the Ukrainian nation united and defeated the Russian army’s attempts to seize Kyiv and other cities.  Putin was accountable for the Russian failure, however so far it has not been too damaging for him politically.

Autocrats may or may not be charismatic, however they attend to their image and the media falls in line with this.  Putin’s image is carefully honed.  Putin bare chested in Siberia, hunting with a high-powered rifle!  Putin holding a candle in church in an outbreak of performative religiosity.  Diving to recover ancient Greek amphora!  Putin wrestling a black bear, or warding off a pack of hungry wolves with a flaming brand.  And so it goes on until he appears more frail and ill-starred by events and his image starts to fade.

We will learn a lot from Vladimir Putin’s speech later today at the 9 May Victory celebration event.


Markevich, A. et al 2021. The Political-Economic Causes of the Soviet Great Famine, 1932-33.  NBER Working Paper 29089.

Posted in History, Maori, Politics, Russia | 7 Comments

A Russian state media article on “what should Russia do with Ukraine” – is it chilling, a wake-up call, or something else?

On 3 April the Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti published an article by one Timofei Sergeitsev titled “What should Russia do with Ukraine”  It argues that Ukraine is run by Nazis and that Russia’s main objective should be “denazification”.  It contends that “The collective West itself is the designer, source and sponsor of Ukrainian Nazism.” It states that “Denazification wilI inevitably also be a de-Ukrainization…the de-nazification of Ukraine is also its inevitable de-Europeanisation”. 

The article suggests that Ukraine’s statehood and cultural identity should be eliminated.  It seems to leave open the possibility of a residual state in the “Catholic province” in western Ukraine.  The Russian Orthodox church has blessed the “special operation”, and no doubt Mr Sergeitsev believes God is on his side.  

The article comes close to advocating mass executions.  It was published during a time of extensive coverage of the discovery of the bodies of civilians allegedly murdered by Russian soldiers in Bucha.  Mr Sergeitsev’s article risks mandating further such atrocities.  If this happens, may “God” forgive him.

The article was published in a state media outlet, which implies some official mandate. However, it is so likely to inflame hostility to Russia, and it so incriminates its government that its publication may have been in error – an editorial oversight. 

Mr Sergeitsev’s article may be retracted.  However, milder versions of his arguments are heard in other Russian outlets.  This is troubling for those of us who love both Russian and Ukrainian peoples and cultures, and who abhor violence. 

The argument, from what appears to be a Russian far-right nationalist, that Ukraine is run by “Nazis” has a self-satirising flavour.  It requires a detailed critique at a later date. 

In the meantime, the folk songs below reflect Ukrainian cultural richness and uniqueness.  Russian songs are also included, because cultural exchange must be fostered and not sanctioned or “cancel-cultured”.  The war is ultimately not between Ukrainians and Russians.  It is between democracy, human rights and self-determination versus authoritarianism and nationalistic aggression.

Russian and Ukrainian Cossacks have gifted songs and other cultural treasures to the world.  This song is a classic:

Ukrainian folk song – A Cossack rode across the Danube

Taras Shevchenko is for Ukrainian poetry and language what Pushkin is for Russian.  This Ukrainian song sets a Shevchenko poem to music:

The Mighty Dnieper Roars and Bellows

A chilling, and brilliantly done version of a Ukrainian folk song:

Oh, don’t go Hryts

A Ukrainian patriotic song, sung by Eileen:

Oh in the meadow red viburnum

The Ukrainian national anthem has a beautiful melody.  There are many excellent online versions – see links below:

Children sing Ukrainian national anthem

 Ukrainian singers perform the national anthem remotely

Ukrainian national anthem with some scenes from Ukrainian history

A Ukrainian song accompanied by traditional Ukrainian string instruments:

Oh, and on the mountains the reapers are reaping

A famous Ukrainian folk song.  Note that the Kuban Cossack choir alluded to is a Russian ensemble that sings mostly in Russian and sometimes in Ukrainian.  It also turns poems into songs, including Ukrainian poems:

Ukrainian Folk Song ‘Young Halya’ Kuban Cossacks slideshow

Like Ukrainian culture, Russian folk songs traverse frontiers:

March of the Exiles

A (hilarious) excerpt from a 1948 film where Soviet (not “Russian” or “Ukrainian”) wheat farmers sing while working in the wheat fields – working only for the honour and joy!  Those were the days and why did they ever end?  Now we can see why “the breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of our times!”

Ivan Pyriev. Cossacks of the Kuban (1948)

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If key decisionmakers listen carefully and with open minds to this interview peace will break out in Ukraine, and will endure

Some wisdom from Finland, an interview

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Some Ukrainian (and Russian) songs for peace

To lighten these dark times this Ukrainian joke song is as much beloved by Russians as by Ukrainians: You tricked me

Ukrainians and Russians share Cossack culture – this Ukrainian folk song could just as easily be Russian: A Cossack rode across the Danube

The struggle for democracy and human rights is as much in Russia as in the Ukraine: A Moonlight Night – Dedicated to All Brave Ukrainian and Russian People who stand up to tyranny

Folk songs convey through the generations wisdom that endures the test of time, such as in Oh, it is not yet evening  where impetuous leaders are warned they can lose their heads…A version with English subtitles and special appeal to horse lovers is: here

I am not naturally religious, but on other hand there are no atheists in a fox hole, and this song is strangely calming: Russian spiritual song: The Good Shepherd

Two leaders are contending in the struggle.  One is brave, humanistic, inclusive and true, however his country lacks both guns and butter.  The other is smart, articulate, calculating and powerful, however he cannot cough up historical furballs and he has isolated himself from others.

Tolstoy counselled to “give the enemy a golden bridge home.”  The respective leaders need to deescalate, acknowledge each other’s mana, and agree on a just and enduring peace.

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