Russia has two ways out of the Ukraine war that avoids economic ruination.  Neither or them involve nuclear weapons

Vladimir Putin’s Russia cannot afford to lose its war with Ukraine because of the economic loss and political upheaval this would cause.  Nor can it afford to win this war because repairing the damage and dealing with the aftermath would cripple its own economy.  Putin still has some options, however nuclear weapons are not one of them.

Vladimir Putin decided on Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014 and associated military support for secessionist movements in Luhansk and Donetsk.  In February 2022 he sought to invade and take control of Ukraine and end its independent statehood.  His decisions were supported by an autocracy made up largely of old male ex-Soviet era KGB and other officials.  Their psychology was shaped by the pride they had in the Soviet Union when it was great and the humiliation when it collapsed.

Long after Britain, German, France and Japan ceased to be imperialist, Russia’s leaders still seek imperial expansion, or at least the “recovery” of lands they consider belong to Russia.  Such imperial ambition far exceeds Russia’s economic capabilities.  Although Russia’s GDP per capita grew from 2000 to 2012, it peaked in 2013 at $16,000, and today Russia’s per capita GDP is $12,200, ranking it behind countries such as Hungary, Poland, Croatia, and Romania.  Russia’s sovereign wealth fund has shrunk by $28B since the Ukraine invasion, leaving $147B.

International Monetary Fund figures on countries by GDP show that Russia is only the 11th biggest economy in the world, lagging behind Italy, Canada and South Korea, and not far ahead of Brazil and Australia.  Its position as the second biggest oil producer explains its financial strength, and also its structural weaknesses as an economy that has failed to develop differentiated technology-based industries. 

Russian macro-economic management has been prudent and adept.  Putin always focused on paying off external debt, and on maintaining large financial reserves.  Russia’s exports are dominated by oil, gas, metals and other commodities.  A fiscal rule meant that oil revenues above a certain level are saved as reserves rather than spent, avoiding currency strengthening and creation of a “Dutch disease” that makes other more knowledge-intensive exports uncompetitive.  This fiscal rule in early 2019 meant all oil revenues over $42 a barrel were allocated to reserves not spending.

Economic development requires the accumulation of productive knowledge and its use in more complex industries.  Harvard Growth Lab’s Country Rankings assess the current state of a country’s productive knowledge, through the Economic Complexity Index (ECI).  Countries improve their ECI by increasing the number and complexity of the products they successfully export.

In 2020 Russia ranked 51 in the world in economic complexity with Ukraine at 49.  The top three countries were Japan, Switzerland and Germany.

Putin’s Russia claims an obligation to protect Russian language minorities in other ex-Soviet states.  This has led to breakaway “republics” in Moldova (Transnistria), Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and of course in Ukraine.

The Ukraine war invites questions about the psychology of autocrats and the events that have shaped them. 

Vladimir Putin was born into a hard scrabble childhood in a Soviet Union left devastated by a Nazi invasion that cost the lives of about 20 million Soviet citizens.  Both of Putin’s siblings died young and he was brought up poor in a communal apartment.  He recounted a story that as a child he would chase rats with a stick.  One day he cornered an especially large and redoubtable rat that suddenly turned on and attacked him.  It taught him there is nothing more dangerous than a cornered enemy.

Putin learnt from childhood that if conflict is inevitable be sure to get the first blow in.  His early mentors included a teacher who taught him self-belief, and his judo teacher who taught him self-defence.  Putin’s career in the KGB taught him how to pretend he was someone else, how to dissemble and to manipulate others.

As a KGB officer in Dresden in 1989 as the Berlin Wall came down, Vladimir Putin saw the GDR authorities and the KGB itself powerless in the face of rampant public demonstrations.  That is, he observed first-hand the Eastern Bloc’s humiliation.  The lesson for Putin might well have been to never again surrender control.

Volodymyr Zelensky was born in the USSR, of Jewish ethnicity, with his first language Russian.  His chosen career was as a comedian and actor.  One of the roles he acted was as Ukraine’s President.  He has “played” that role in real life after winning a landslide electoral victory in 2019.  The orderly transition of power marks Ukraine as an authentic democracy with the rule of law.

When Germany was reunified in October 1990 Gorbachev understood that there would be no expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe.  This understanding was shared by other Soviet and post-Soviet leaders including Yeltsin and Putin. 

However, the Soviet Union broke up in December 1991, with the constituent republics becoming independent.  In December 1991, 92% of Ukrainians voted to leave the Soviet Union, that is to be independent of Russia.  After 1991 Eastern European countries feared Russian domination.  They saw NATO as insurance against a future Russian threat.  Conversely, Russia perceived NATO behaving unilaterally, for example in the former Yugoslavia.

Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994 in return for “guarantees” of its territorial integrity from Russia, the US and UK, as stated in the Budapest Memorandum, December 1994.  The Russian government violated the Budapest Memorandum from 2014 on while the US and UK did nothing to enforce it.

After meeting the influential Eastern European leaders Václav Havel and Lech Wałęsa in January 1994 President Clinton stated that “the question is no longer whether NATO will take on new members but when.”  Within five years the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland had joined NATO and total membership progressively reached 30 countries.

Putin was long suspicious of NATO in general and especially the US.  At a February 2007 Munich Security Conference he criticised the US over issues such as deployment of missile defence systems, expansion of NATO, and the conflict in Iraq.  

At a nuclear security summit in March 2014 Obama referred to Russia as a “regional power”.  Former Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski remarked that Russia needed to have Ukraine to even qualify as a regional power.  Putin never forgot or forgave such remarks, and they helped shape his attitudes towards NATO and to the importance of Russia’s relationship with Ukraine.

Putin felt that the US had behaved dishonourably in promoting NATO’s eastward expansion, and that this posed a threat .  Russia’s defence expenditure had bottomed out at 2.73% of GDP in 1998 and grew progressively to 4.08% in 2021.

NATO defence expenditure trends were hardly threatening to Russia in the years leading up to the 2022 invasion.  In 2014, the year in which Crimea was annexed only the US, UK and Greece were exceeding the NATO target of 2% of a country’s GDP spent on defence.  By 2021 Poland, Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia had also met the 2% of GDP target, however Germany was spending only 1.49% of GDP.  The US is forecast to spend 3.1% of its GDP on defence in 2023 – little of this is specifically related to Ukraine.  Poland is now budgeting for 4% of GDP to be spent on defence in 2023. 

The wild card is Russia’s nuclear capability.  Russia’s formal nuclear doctrine limits nuclear weapons to self-defence, for example if there is an existential threat to Russia itself.  However, many Russian politicians, media figures and social media commentators have advocated use of nuclear weapons either against Ukrainian forces or NATO countries.  The Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov was an early advocate of using tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine.  Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy head of Russia’s Security Council has described nuclear weapons as “the backbone that holds the state together.”  He has repeatedly advocated their use as a serious option.  Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma has said that countries sending more powerful weapons to help Ukraine could lead to “global tragedy that would destroy their countries.”

Putin has alluded to nuclear weapons use on several occasions.  Reflecting on the possibility of a nuclear war Putin once remarked: “Why do we need this world if there is no Russia?”  Such a chilling comment does not mean that Putin is barking mad.  He is still rational, however he is surrounded by sycophantic “advisers” and as a result can seem unhinged from reality.

Surprisingly, ‎the Wagner Group’s Yevgeny Prigozhin is a moderating influence.  Responding to advocates of nuclear retaliation for a drone attack on the Kremlin Prigozhin said: “…of course there should be no talk of using nuclear weapons in retaliation for a drone… making such disproportionate threats to the West made Russians “look like clowns.”

Despite the rhetoric the risk of nuclear warfare is low.  There is no military logic in using tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine when precision-guided conventional munitions can be more targeted and effective. 

Use of even a low yield nuclear weapon against Ukraine would invite a devastating conventional military response from the US.  This might target Russian forces in occupied Ukraine or its Black Sea fleet.  A strong conventional response to a nuclear strike may persuade countries such as North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons because their use creates costs far higher than possible benefits.  Conversely, a failure to respond to Russian nuclear weapon use would normalise it and encourage nuclear proliferation.

What is more likely than a Russian nuclear strike is engineering an “accident” at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.  This could involve sabotaging the cooling system, leading to a Fukushima-like incident.  Rafael Grossi, director general of the  International Atomic Energy Agency has recently expressed extreme concern about the nuclear safety and security risks facing this plant.

Russia will be an overall loser both if it wins or loses on the battlefield.  In both cases Russia’s army will have lost much of its equipment and troops, including from its elite airborne and special forces. 

If Russia managed to defeat and conquer most or all of Ukraine it would be a Pyrrhic military “victory” and an economic disaster.  The weakened Russian army could be drawn into a war against partisans that would drain its strength even further.  A March 2023 World Bank Report estimated it would cost around $411B over ten years to repair war damage Russia has inflicted on Ukraine, with $5B alone to clear rubble from towns and cities. 

Russia is not wealthy enough to bear the huge financial costs of rebuilding Ukraine’s economy, including massive infrastructure repair and restoration of public services.  Its inability to deliver a Marshall Plan for Ukraine would lead to ongoing violence against Russian occupation forces that would dwarf what Russia endured in Afghanistan and in the Chechnya wars. 

 As at April 7, 2023, Russia had about $601B in foreign exchange reserves.  This compares with $630.5B in January 2022, before the war began.  Around $300B of these reserves are frozen, that is inaccessible to Russia in retaliation for its Ukrainian invasion.

Unlike Ukraine, Russia has no wealthy friends it can call on for help.  China might be keen on debt-trapping its weakened neighbour as leverage to “negotiate border adjustments”. 

Russia’s image and credibility have been damaged internationally and it is perceived as a weaker country than before the war.  For example, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is an alliance consisting of six post-Soviet states: ArmeniaBelarusKazakhstanKyrgyzstanRussia, and Tajikistan.  The central Asian states are increasingly distancing themselves from Russia and cultivating ties with China.  In April 2023 Russia sought an explanation from Armenia on why it was undertaking exercises with NATO and not with the CSTO.  Russia’s only reliable ally is Belarus whose President Lukashenko is in poor health, with his election in 2020 widely considered to be fraudulent.

Russia has two ways of ending the Ukrainian conflict while avoiding further military losses and economic ruination.  Russia could sue for peace, probably involving restoration of Ukraine’s 2013 borders and some financial reparations paid to Ukraine.  This would lead to removal of sanctions and enable Russia to recover rapidly economically.  However, Putin would never support such an option because it would be personally humiliating. 

A second option would be for Russia to declare a ceasefire, annex the territory it currently occupies and disengage from the fighting – effectively a fait accompli.  Ukraine might continue offensive action, with Russia fighting only defensively.  In such a case public support for western aid for Ukraine might well diminish.  Putin may support this option.  Sanctions would be ongoing, Russia would stagnate economically and be boxed in by unfriendly powers, but it would survive. 

However, in attacking Ukraine Putin took a tiger by the tail.  If he “lets it go” through declaring peace Ukraine might declare more war, to recover all its lands and perhaps bring down the Putin regime. 

Putin is 70, has health problems and will soon leave the stage willingly or not.  This may clear the way for peace and reparations negotiations and for the rise of democratic forces in Russia.  The Putin regime is discredited, however it has some strong technocrats such as Reserve Bank governor Elvira Nabiullina and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, an economist and tax expert.  It has a core of capable people with clean hands who could form a basis for a government that the democratic countries could deal with.  The end of Russian imperialism and the birth of authentic democracy might eventually see Russia following Ukraine in joining the EU and perhaps even a different type of NATO structure.

In thinking of what may be possible in future it is helpful to look back at Putin’s career.  He was appointed director of the KGB’s successor organisation the FSB in June 1998.  He took over from Yeltsin in 1999 and won the 2000 election fairly.  He turned against oligarchs selectively, for example using trumped up charges of tax law breaches.  An early casualty was Yukos oil company boss and prominent liberal Mikhail Khodorkovsky.  Success in the Chechen war gave Putin an image as a strong leader, and economic buoyancy arising from high oil and gas prices helped him win a landslide election victory in 2004.  This was followed by Putin’s United Russia party winning in the 2007 parliamentary elections.

Due to constitutional term limits Putin was not able to undertake a third consecutive term as President and so from 2008 -2012 he assumed the Prime Ministerial role while Dmitry Medvedev served as President.  Putin won the 2012 Presidential election amidst widespread concern about voting system irregularities.

It was around this time that Putin began to change Russia’s narrative to reinforce his claims for new autocratic powers.  He reinvented Victory Day on 9 May to promote the Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany in WW2 as the most valuable heirloom Russia inherited from the Soviet Union.  Victory Day is used to validate ruthless leadership, to fuel anxiety over Russia’s ongoing security, and to strengthen support for Russia’s leader in direct proportion to the perception of external threat.  Within this there has been a significant rehabilitation of Joseph Stalin and this has included Putin’s use of Stalinistic language.

In 2013, the pro-Russian and corrupt Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych broke an election promise and refused to sign a free trade and political association agreement with the European Union. Instead, he vowed to join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union that consisted entirely of former Soviet “republics.”  

Yanukovych was driven from office by the Maidan popular upheaval in 2014 and Petro Poroshenko became president.  Putin’s response was to invade and annex Crimea, and to foment rebellion in the Donbas and Luhansk regions.  Volodymyr Zelensky then won the presidency in 2019 in a landslide, winning 73% of the vote in a runoff against Poroshenko.

In July 2021 Putin published an essay “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” which makes a convoluted argument that Ukraine never was or will be its own country.  Historical narratives can become self-serving tales that put long-dead people into boxes which are then labelled ethnically, religiously or nationalistically.  Descendants are then expected to show similar traits to their ancestors, to defend ancestral actions and burnish reputations even if this means rewriting history to bring it into line with how we would like it to be. 

This led to Putin “forgetting” historical events such as the Holodomor that saw over three million Ukrainians dying as a result of a famine that Stalin deliberately engineered (Markevich, A. et al 2021).  Putin also forgets the Nazi-Soviet pact.  In fairness, Ukrainians forget about those of their ancestors who took Hitler’s side in the Great Patriotic War.  Putin’s July 2021 essay sought to erase Ukraine’s unique story, language and culture. 

Putin assumed he could take over Ukraine in about a fortnight, that resistance from Ukrainian “Nazis” and Azov battalion members would be minimal, and that if the drug-addled Ukrainian leaders escaped assassination they would flee the country with suitcases fill of cash.

Led by Zelensky the Ukrainians defended their country, its people, culture and language. The war is between Russian autocracy, imperialism and a closed society versus Ukrainian democracy, human rights, rule of law and an open society.  If democratic Ukraine can win against a much more powerful autocratic Russia it gives hope to other democracies and open societies around the world. 

The opening months of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine from early 2022 delivered a windfall gain for Russia through higher oil and gas prices.  Gross domestic product fell 2.1%, according to official data, far less than some early forecasts of a 10% to 15% drop. However, in January and February 2023 oil and gas tax revenue, which accounts for nearly half of total budget revenue, fell by 46% year-over-year, while state spending jumped more than 50%.  Russia is selling its oil at a discount on global prices.

The quality of information from Russia’s Federal State Statistics Service, or Rosstat has deteriorated since the war began.  Official statistics suggest that Russia’s economy contracted by 2.2 percent during the first quarter of 2023.  This is likely to be an understatement.

Gershkovich & Kantchev (2023) reported that Russia’s economy had “shifted to a low-growth trajectory, likely for the long term.” State revenue shortfalls were putting guns before butter.  Furthermore “long-simmering fears in Moscow” that Russia will become “an economic colony” of China are starting to be realized as Western sanctions make Moscow more dependent on Beijing.  In February 2023 the Chinese Ministry of Natural Resources published a new world map that used the Chinese names of cities and regions occupied by the Russian Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  This map renames Vladivostok as “Haishenwai”.

The IMF states that “The loss in human capital, isolation from global financial markets, and impaired access to advanced technology will hamper the Russian economy.”  The labour force has shrunk as young people have joined the army or fled the country to avoid conscription.

Russia is a technological leader only in new ways to kill people.  It is dependent on depleting oil and gas resources.  It has failed to develop a more diverse and knowledge-based economy.  Russia has lost important international connections.  It may lose a third of its industrial base by being completely cut out of global supply chains.  Its entrepreneurial capability has been degraded.  All of this can be blamed on Vladimir Putin, however the arrogance of some western leaders can also be faulted. 

The deeper question for those of us who love Russian people and culture is this: How is it that a nation that has such natural resources and which has produced such great literature, music, philosophy and deep thought for centuries seems unable to produce the leaders, trustworthy institutions and wider polity that its long-suffering people deserve?

References and other reading

Applebaum, A. 2020: Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, Doubleday.

Applebaum, A. 2017: Red Famine: Stalin’s War on UkrainePenguin. Random house,

Applebaum, A. 1994: Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe. Pantheon Books.

Gershkovich, E.’ Kantchev, G. ‘Russia’s Economy Is Starting To Come Undone’  Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2023.

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

Myers, S. L. 2015: The New Tsar. The rise and reign of Vladimir Putin. Simon & Schuster.

Sakwa, R. 2020 The Putin Paradox. I. B. Taurus.

Service, R. 2019: Kremlin Winter. Russia and the second coming of Vladimir Putin.  Picador.

Posted in Cultural issues, Economics, History, Russia, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

The Human Rights Commission needs to do its job and stay out of politics

The Human Rights Commission (HRC) is charged with upholding all New Zealanders’ human rights.  Fundamental rights include free speech, non-discrimination, and equality before the law.

However, the HRC has declined to take action against racist acts hostile to non-Māori.  It did not defend effectively Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull’s free speech rights in New Zealand.  Rather than focusing on its core legal obligations the HRC has now set as a strategic priority the elimination of racism from New Zealand. It believes this will require race-based constitutional change. 

This change is along the lines set out in the 2019 He Puapua document.  This argues for Māori governance of things Māori (rangatiratanga), Crown governance of its own affairs (kāwanatanga), and a joint sphere to deliberate upon matters of mutual concern (the relational sphere). 

He Puapua denies that the Treaty of Waitangi/Tiriti o Waitangi transferred sovereignty/kāwanatanga to the Crown.  In a footnote (p.28) it states incorrectly that “tino rangatiratanga” means “sovereignty”. In fact, tino rangatiratanga means chieftainship or ownership of properties, and this sits within a higher-level Crown sovereignty framework. 

The HRC has restructured itself along He Puapua lines.  This involves a CEO as ‘kāwanatanga leader, and the appointment of Dr Claire Charters, a He Puapua working group leader to a new role as an indigenous rights governance partner.

In recent publications the HRC has diagnosed racism as a white problem with Māori victims.  It indicts white people for racism and argues that Māori can hold negative beliefs about others, however this is not racism because Māori lack power.  The argument is that “prejudice without power is not racism.”  There may be merit in this argument, however in absolute numbers there are likely to be more impoverished and powerless white people in New Zealand than there are Māori. 

There is widespread acceptance that Māori socio-economic outcomes need to improve, however there are different views on how this can be done.  I favour applying economic science to this challenge.

In late 2022 the HRC published a document, Maranga Mai! The dynamics and impacts of white supremacy, racism and colonisation on tangata whenua in Aoteoroa New Zealand.  

Leading figures who put together Maranga Mai! included Tina Ngata, Rawiri Taonui and Linda Tuhiwai Smith.  These are all fine people who have worked hard in their chosen fields.  However, they are activists rather than dispassionate scholars.

Maranga Mai is written in accusatory language.  It.attributes base, dishonest or malicious motives to key European figures in New Zealand history.  In relation to the Waitangi Treaty it argues “that the Europeans who drafted the texts and led pre-signing discussions and assurances with rangatira concealed the full British intentions as outlined in the English version.” 

This charge is untrue, as can be seen by reading the instructions from Lord Normanby to Captain Hobson . In discussions with Māori leading up to Te Tiriti’s signing, Hobson, Henry Williams and others put great emphasis on ensuring Māori knew what they were asked to agree to.  Henry Williams translated Hobson’s presentation into Māori.  Tāmati Wāka Nene spoke in favour, referring to Hobson as “a father, a judge, a peacemaker.”  

McQueen (2020) comprehensively demonstrates that Māori fully understood what they were signing up to in Te Tiriti, including Crown sovereignty and its relationship with tino rangatiratanga.

As was their right, some chiefs did not sign Te Tiriti.  However, all accepted that the Treaty created Crown sovereignty over all New Zealanders.

William Colenso took detailed notes of Tiriti discussions in 1840 and recorded them in The Authentic and Genuine History of the Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.  These notes were attested to by James Busby in the month following the Treaty’s signing. Others who left accounts of the discussions included Hobson, Pompallier and Henry Williams. The Māori perspective was very well reflected in Colenso’s record.

The 1860 Kohimarama Conference was the largest ever gathering of Māori chiefs in New Zealand – around 200 attended.  Many of the chiefs who signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840 were at the 1860 Conference.  Some expressed concerns around land, law and order, and engagement in the political process.  However, they agreed unanimously to endorse Crown sovereignty. 

The first Māori King Potatau Te Wherowhero had not signed the Treaty.  However in 1953 the Queen visited King Koroki and other Tainui leaders at Ngaruawahia and Tainui pledged an “oath of true allegiance” which acknowledged the Queen’s sovereignty. 

Some HRC publications are arguably racist in places and on some issues and this might be challengeable.  The 2022 Supreme Court decision quashing the late Peter Ellis’ convictions saw tikanga incorporated into New Zealand’s common law system.  Under tikanga, mana and reputation carry on beyond an individual’s life. This opens new legal avenues to challenge those who have libelled the reputations of people who gave themselves to advance Māori wellbeing, only to be besmirched after their deaths. 

A test case could be legal action against the HRC to restore the reputations of 19th century Pakeha educators.

Maranga Mai argues that the Crown used colonisation and legislation to structure education to eliminate Māori identity, te reo and culture and to train young Māori to become menial manual and domestic workers. 

In fact, missionaries largely created the foundation for widespread literacy in New Zealand.  In 1816 Anglican missionaries founded the first school in New Zealand established on European lines.  Te Aute College began in1854 as the Ahuriri Native Industrial School and then switched its focus to higher education.  John Thornton, Te Aute College’s headmaster from 1878 to 1912 focused on preparing “Maori boys for the matriculation examination of the New Zealand University” so that Māori could have their own doctors, lawyers and other professionals.

Te Aute educated many influential Māori including Āpirana Ngata, Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa), Māui Pōmare, Edward Ellison, Paraire Tomoana and Rēweti Kōhere. These graduates were educated to the best academic standards available in New Zealand at the time. Their teachers were highly educated Pakeha who also respected Māori culture and often spoke Māori fluently.  Te Aute’s founder, Samuel Williams and Thornton lobbied to have Māori language included at university level in BA degrees.

In 1880 the brilliant polymath James Pope was appointed Inspector of the 57 native schools then operating.  He drafted a native school’s code that set high standards for schools. He insisted that Māori must receive at least as good an education as European children. He visited Te Aute and described the standards reached in mathematics and science as “equal to those of any secondary school in the country”. 

Pope’s Health for the Maori: A Manual for use in Native Schools published in 1884 was embraced by Te Aute college graduates.  Translated into Māori, Pope’s manual was used by the young Āpirana Ngata, Rēweti Kōhere and others as a basis for their campaigns to improve hygiene and sanitation to enhance Māori health. Decades later, Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana gave Pope’s manual an important place in his missionary efforts.  Not bad achievements for colonising white supremacists!

The Treaty/Tiriti established Crown governance and the rule of law, protected property rights, and conferred 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.

The New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 gave the vote only to males who met a property qualification.  This effectively excluded most Māori since their property was held communally.  Four Māori seats were created in 1867 to address this problem.  This gave the vote to all Māori men at a time when Pakeha men without property were voteless.  Women achieved the vote in 1893. 

As our constitution evolved, we achieved universal suffrage before any other country.  We then adopted MMP in 1996 to further counterbalance majoritarian power with wider Parliamentary inclusiveness. 

The Treaty/Tiriti was the starting point 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.

Sadly, the Crown violated Te Tiriti’s property right guarantees, leading to conflict and land loss. Rightly this required restitution through the Waitangi Tribunal and through direct settlements negotiated between government and Māori.  Of course, Māori also violated Te Tiriti, however two wrongs do not make a right.  Treaty settlements are about upholding the integrity of our government system and about showing respect to Māori and restoring mana.

Confusion in today’s Te Tiriti discourse largely arises from activists ignoring the 1840 document and substituting their own interpretations and wishes. For example, in 1840 taonga meant real property such as a tool or a waka, not intangible “property” such as broadcasting spectrum, language or water. 

Te Tiriti is not a constitutional partnership between Pakeha and Māori or the Crown and Māori. Māori are subjects of the Crown, not partners with it.  There are no principles stated in Te Tiriti.  There is no “Aotearoa”; Māori are citizens of Nu Tirani (New Zealand).  They are not referred to as indigenous nor as tangata whenua.

The Musket Wars, including associated take raupatu (rights of conquest), broke many of the linkages between specific hapu and iwi and their lands.  Hapu and iwi borders were and still are contested.  What does “tangata whenua” really mean when economic change has drawn most Māori away from their traditional tribal lands into cities or offshore?

To demonstrate balance, the HRC could prepare a report on the impact of the Musket Wars on Māori in New Zealand, as documented by Ron Crosby, a distinguished historian and Waitangi Tribunal member.  The death toll from these “Māori on Māori” wars likely exceeded that from all other conflicts New Zealand has been involved in combined.  White supremacists slavishly following the dictates of 15th century Papal Bulls can hardly be blamed for this violence and devastation.

The HRC shows little understanding of the psychology underlying phenomena such as conflict between and within groups.  The human mind has evolved modules for coalition recognition and formation.  These coalitions can include nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, avocational and sporting affiliations, social class as well as race.  Tribal affiliation not race was the major source of violence in pre-European New Zealand.  Religious hatred more so than racism led to the mass murder of Muslims in Christchurch in 2019.  Despite these complexities the HRC focuses on eliminating what it labels as white racism by promoting race-based constitutional change!

History shows that race-based societies fail.  No tribally based society has ever succeeded in the modern world.  And yet New Zealand is rapidly racializing and tribalizing its system of central and local government and other institutions. 

It is time for the HRC to return to its core statutory obligations.  In doing so, can we be spared from future “education” about the relevance of 15th century Papal Bulls and doctrines of discovery to the real problems New Zealand faces, such as low productivity, housing affordability, child poverty, mediocre education and decaying  social cohesion?


HRC 2022: Maranga Mai! The Dynamics and Impacts of Colonisation, Racism, and
White Supremacy upon Tangata Whenua in Aotearoa.

McQueen, E. 2020: One Sun in the Sky.  Galatas NZ Ltd.

Posted in Constitutional and Treaty of Waitangi issues, Cultural issues, Economics, History, Learning, education and pedagogy, Maori, Politics | 2 Comments

He Puapua is being implemented, however all is not lost

The Prime Minister is committed to “bread and butter” issues and has dropped or put on hold some government work programmes.  However, Tiriti-related work is still being pushed hard, and He Puapua, Three Waters, and the new curriculum are well underway.   

He Puapua and other initiatives have been undertaken in secret, without significant consultation or public debate and without an electoral mandate.  In relation to Three Waters, probably less than one percent of the non-Māori population are aware that the Te Mana o te Wai statements that iwi and hapu issue are powerful enough to give tribes effective control of New Zealand’s water resources.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi is now at the core of many New Zealand statutes, constitutional and policy documents.  It is disquieting that neither the current nor former Prime Minister, when asked, were able to state all three Tiriti Articles. 

Te Tiriti confers on the Crown governance powers (kawanatanga), including the ability to make and enforce laws, and to uphold the rule of law.  It protects Māori property rights (tino rangatiratanga or chieftainship), consistent with Magna Carta and with common law.  It also makes Māori subjects of the Crown with all the rights and obligations inherent in this.  Te Tiriti protects all New Zealanders, not just Māori. 

As an international treaty a domestic government was needed to deliver on Te Tiriti within New Zealand.  This was given effect to through the NZ Constitution Act 1852.  New Zealand’s constitution and government system evolved, leading to the NZ Constitution Act 1986.  This Act reduced the Crown’s role to the symbolic and procedural and conferred on the elected Parliament the full power to make laws.

However, in recent times power has been shifting away from Parliament to the judiciary, the Waitangi Tribunal, and to other agencies with delegated powers and no (or very little) accountability.

In 1975 the Waitangi Tribunal was set up to investigate and make recommendations on claims of Crown breaches of Te Tiriti.  These claims became more and more expansive, such as the Wai 262 claim relating to ownership of flora and fauna.  The Waitangi Tribunal has expanded beyond its original brief.  It now focuses on developing new sources of dissension as well as on final settlements – if finality is possible in Tiriti claims which can be extended or relitigated.

From the mid-1980s Te Tiriti became subject to judicial activism that created some tension with Parliament’s law-making role.  The “Lands case” in 1987 saw Te Tiriti as akin to a partnership between Māori and the Crown, despite the absence of partnership principles in the 1840 text.  ‘Taonga’ meant real property in 1840, while now it is claimed to include intangibles such as language, cultural ‘property’, water, and broadcasting spectrum. 

In 2014, the Tribunal opined that Ngāpuhi rangatira did not give up their sovereignty when they signed te Tiriti in 1840.  There are concerns that the Tribunal’s processes may become unworkable if the Crown has to negotiate settlements with hundreds of Northland hapu, many of which do not acknowledge Crown sovereignty. 

However, a bigger problem for government is the 2019 He Puapua document that challenges key foundations of modern New Zealand.  These include equal citizenship rights for all New Zealanders, secular democracy based on equal voting rights, and science based on reason and evidence rather than mysticism validated by cultural authority.  He Puapua marks a break from addressing Māori socioeconomic problems as social class issues to focusing more on identity, cultural and constitutional matters.

In Waitangi Tribunal processes and in the He Puapua document there is little or no economic reasoning or evidence in support of proposals being put forward.  Quantitative evidence and economic cost-benefit analysis is rarely used.  I cannot recall a single Tribunal researcher or He Puapua activist who in their work has seriously addressed the most important determinant of wellbeing – productivity growth.

The He Puapua challenge is based on racial distinctiveness, tribalism, and the belief that Māori wellbeing is best addressed culturally and through constitutional change rather than through needs-based and “colour-blind” socio-economic initiatives such as education, employment, and housing.

Beginning as a bi-cultural nation, over the last fifty or so years New Zealand has become a multi-cultural and multi-racial society.  However, especially since the 1980s Māori racial identity has become more salient, and additional race-specific rights have been sought.  Māori have asserted distinctiveness in almost all fields, ranging from citizenship and democratic rights, education, jurisprudence, scientific methods and “ways of knowing”, “digital sovereignty”, spirituality, relationships with the natural environment, and professional and community group affiliations.

The belief in Māori distinctiveness has led to separate representation within institutions as different as the Anglican Church and the Playcentre association.  Māori often have an unofficial veto right within institutions that have adopted bicultural processes.  A 91.75% majority vote to change the Playcentre Aotearoa’s constitution was overruled by the organisation’s Rōpū Māori (Māori Group). At least five of the six Rōpū must approve the change, but only four agreed, so the vote was overturned.

The government is promoting Te Ao Māori and the view that Te Tiriti “principles” must be understood and adhered to across most New Zealand institutions.  This includes almost all central and local government agencies.  It is increasingly extending into trade and professional associations, and even into industries such as real estate. 

Given the minute racial variances in the human genome it is uncomfortable to define people in racial terms.  However, the Māori Land Act and other statutes define Māori as “a person of the Māori race and includes any descendant”.  Only persons of Māori descent can enrol in and vote in a Māori electorate or lodge a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal. 

New Zealand’s legislation, Waitangi Tribunal processes, and reforms in health, education, resource management and local government are making Māori racial identity fundamental to New Zealand’s constitution, society and public services delivery.  Yet New Zealand’s population by racial descent is around 70% European, 16.5% Māori, 15% Asian and 8% Pacific peoples.  Note for this data that total response ethnic groups have been used (where everyone is included in every ethnic group they identify with), so percentages add to more than 100%. 

Asians make up 29% and Māori 13% of Auckland’s population.  It is possible that Asian minorities in future will challenge Māori having superior rights in relation to, for example, acceptance into some study programmes and public sector jobs, and emphasis being given to mātauranga Māori whilst other minority contributions have been ignored.  Some within Asian minorities resent lack of police protection for their small businesses and this could be a future flash point.

He Puapua is driven by middle class people who stand to benefit from it financially, reputationally or through acquiring power and influence.  It is supported by radical judicial or Waitangi Tribunal Tiriti interpretations.  He Puapua summarises a vision and a pathway to its fulfilment by 2040, two centuries after Te Tiriti was signed. 

The He Puapua narrative is essentially that pre-European Māori life, despite some privation, was relatively harmonious and environmentally sustainable.  Māori had their own tikanga (customary law) and unique knowledge base and “ways of knowing”.  Some Māori describe pre-European Māori life as “highly sophisticated” and prosperous. 

The narrative is that Te Tiriti o Waitangi did not cede sovereignty to Britain, with ‘kawanatanga’ giving the Crown only limited powers to control immigrant behaviour.  Tino rangatiratanga meant that the real power was vested in chiefs (rangatiratanga), including control over all their properties.  These included intangible treasures (taonga) as well as real property.  The narrative then argues that principles can be discerned within Te Tiriti, including that it was an equal partnership between the Crown and Māori. 

The He Puapua and related documents recommend, among other things, a Māori health system, a court system based on tikanga, an upper house or parliament; Māori electoral wards, and the statutory protection of Māori seats in parliament.  It seeks compulsory te reo Māori and New Zealand history in schools; joint governance bodies across all government agencies; and strengthening the recognition of Te Tiriti in law.  It recommends greater rights for Māori in areas such as fisheries and resource management.  It proposes that Māori co-design and/or co-govern services which have big impacts on Māori.

He Puapua proposes that more Crown land such as National Parks be transferred to tribal ownership and that tribes be able to impose levies on water, minerals, and petroleum from these lands. 

He Puapua, if implemented, is likely to rekindle tribal rivalries that the Crown quelched from 1840.  For example, during the powhiri to the nationwide kapa haka competition held at Eden Park in February 2023 the tribe claiming mana whenua status in Auckland, Ngati Whatua, clashed with Tainui which still advances historical claims to much of Auckland.  He Puapua could lead to a proliferation of tribal conflicts that the Crown had largely ended after the 1840 Te Tiriti agreement.

The counter narrative to He Puapua is that New Zealand’s good performance as an economy and society is based on democracy, equal rights, an inclusive market economy, and the rule of law.  It pits the values of the Enlightenment, secularity, science and an open society against tribalism, religion, racialism and autocracy.

Billions in Treaty settlements and decades of experimentation with such Māori-centred institutions as wananga, Māori medium schooling, Te Reo training, cultural literacy courses, tax advantages for some Māori businesses and co-governance such as for the Ureweras have all had patchy results. 

Furthermore, invocations to “honour” Te Tiriti, make it central to government activities, and to adhere to “Treaty principles” all rest on shaky foundations.  There is no mention in Te Tiriti of principles or partnership.  Māori are made Crown subjects in Te Tiriti.  It is impossible for Māori to be both subjects of the Crown and partners with it.  Te Tiriti protects the rights of all New Zealanders, not just Māori.

Debates over Te Tiriti are inward-looking, and so it helps to draw on the international context.  The 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  Everyone is entitled to freely hold and express his or her own beliefs and opinions.  New Zealand is a party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).  Our Bill of Rights Act 1990 and Human Rights Act 1993 further guarantee civil and democratic rights, and non-discrimination on the basis of colour and race.

Despite these international and domestic declarations, conventions and laws New Zealand has created superior rights for Māori over other New Zealanders.  Some protections for New Zealanders’ rights are simply not actioned.  For example, the Race Relations Commissioner seems to believe that racism is a white problem only.  Extreme right wing Māori activists can slander or libel whole swathes of white humanity with impunity.

White racism exists and must be eliminated, and we must be especially on guard for unconscious or casual racism.  However, the debate has become unbalanced.  When history is taught at school, young New Zealanders learning about slavery may be told white colonial racists invented it.  They will not be told that slavery was practiced throughout the world, and it was largely white people that ended it.  Over 360,000 white Unionist soldiers died in the American civil war to eliminate slavery.  Students will not be taught that the colonial government in New Zealand ended slavery and cannibalism in New Zealand, with strong support from missionaries and from enlightened Māori leaders.

New Zealand’s media is not formally censored by government.  However, the Public Interest Journalism Fund (PIJF) requires a commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, to Māori as a te Tiriti partner, and a commitment to te reo.  A report commissioned by New Zealand on Air, “Te Tiriti framework for news media” effectively solicits false reporting by insisting that “Māori never ceded sovereignty”, and that: “Reporting on Māori and Māori issues reflects the ongoing colonial constitution of society.”  In effect New Zealand no longer has a free press that allows broad and informed discussion of Māori and Te Tiriti-related issues.

The He Puapua movement, broadly defined, silences its opponents by hostile reactions to alternative views, denying publication rights, speaking rights and venues for meetings, and in some cases threatening violent protests to suppress alternative viewpoints.  Infamous examples have included Massey University’s ban on Dr Don Brash, and disruptions to Julian Batchelors’ nationwide speaking tour against co-governance. 

Bans on books and publishing houses such as Tross publications have been sought.  Yet section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.”

It is notable that the stridency of the He Puapua voice is proportional to the weakness of its arguments and the paucity of its evidence.  The “big lie” tactic is that if you state a big lie with confidence and repeat it often enough people believe it.  Examples include that pre-European Māori society was sophisticated, that Māori never ceded sovereignty, and that Māori gained nothing from colonisation.

The He Puapua document advocates and supports a constitutional revolution in New Zealand based on the advancement of less than 17% of the population at the expense of the remaining 83%.  Key elements include a birth-prescribed (that is, a racial) marker of in-group membership, insistence on the distinctiveness of the Māori in-group, and the revival of tribalism.  It also includes a narrative about a past admired state, a fall from this with attributions of blame, and a desired future state to be achieved by 2040.

However, there is no example of a tribal-dominated country becoming a developed society with good social and economic outcomes.  There is no example of a successful developed country where people’s rights differ due to their racial identity.  He Puapua forces on us a choice between a democratic nation state with citizens born free and equal, versus a state where racial ancestry (that is, an accident of birth) determines some of your rights.

The compulsory history curriculum taught from 2023 will be heavily Te Tiriti and Māori-centred.  It will underplay the benefits from colonisation and the institutions it brought to New Zealand.  It will give only rudimentary treatment to the histories of other New Zealand minorities.  It will gloss over the most violent and socially devastating events in our history – the Musket Wars fought from the early 1800s to the late 1830s.  The Musket Wars killed about 40,000 Māori and sundered the relationships between iwi and their traditional whenua.  By comparison less than 3000 people died in all the conflicts between the Crown and Māori rebelling against it – the New Zealand wars.

The history curriculum will falsely assert that the Māori signatories to Te Tiriti did not understand that sovereignty or the governance that creates laws and enforces them was vested in the Crown.  The curriculum will undermine confidence in New Zealand’s equal rights-based democracy and institutions.  It will thereby help pave the way for race and tribal-based constitutional change as set out in He Puapua. 

Much of the context for He Puapua has been shaped by Waitangi Tribunal processes.  The Waitangi Tribunal is a permanent commission of inquiry that makes recommendations on claims brought by Māori relating to Crown actions which breach the promises made in the Treaty of Waitangi.  The Waitangi Tribunal has exclusive authority to determine the meaning and effect of the Treaty.  It can decide on issues raised by the differences between the Māori and English texts.

The Tribunal has taken the Treaty out of its historical context and given it almost a religious status.  “Presentism” has distorted thinking, with the Tribunal acting as if people in 1840 had the knowledge to behave as we do now rather than as they did in 1840.

New debates are emerging around whether tikanga Māori (that is Māori custom) can become a full part of our legal system.  The High Court is now including tikanga in its deliberations on, for example, the Marine and Coastal Area Act.  This shows the scope, inclusiveness, and heft of common law. 

However, customs and norms evolve to solve practical problems a society faces, given its technology, institutions and surrounding environment.  These problems include, for example, resource management, food safety and conflict resolution.  Some outdated tikanga could become common law, however a safeguard exists in that statute law can be used to overrule common law.  As Helen Clark learned with the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 this may come with serious political consequences.

Tikanga-based principles are relevant to the property rights, mana whenua or other claims of some iwi or hapu.  Principles include ancestral rights (take tupuna), conquest or confiscation (take raupatu), gifting (take tuku) and continuous occupation (ahi kā).  Extensive continuous occupation is referred to as ahi kā roa.  Courts seem to be relaxing the requirement for continuous, unbroken occupation of, for example, coastal marine areas.

In some cases, tikanga already fits easily with New Zealand law and norms.  The Peter Ellis case is similar to the reputational rehabilitation granted to soldiers suffering from shock who were executed for desertion in World War One.

However, tikanga can challenge the paramount interests of a child over the culture that child was born into – the “Moana case” in Hawke’s Bay is an example.  This involved a loving and nurturing Pakeha couple seeking to retain custody of an abused Māori child against the opposition of the child’s birth mother, Māori culturalists and Oranga Tamariki.  The Pakeha couple lacked financial support for legal costs and had to abandon the case.  Sadly, the child may be the biggest loser.

The Peter Ellis case involved tikanga being brought to bear to restore a Pakeha’s reputation.  Might tikanga also be applied to protecting non-Māori rights in other domains?  For example, could a tramping or hunting club with non-Māori membership cite ahi kā tikanga to argue that Tuhoe cannot burn down huts in the Te Urewera area that have been in continuous use?  While such a case would not involve Te Tiriti it may gain some support from the fact that the Te Tiriti text is colour blind, that is, it protects all New Zealander’s rights not just those of Māori.

The key beneficiaries from He Puapua would include a few tribal leaders who are positioned to capture such benefits as water, mineral and petroleum levies proposed in the document.  Nepotism might mean that the benefits would be spread within well-positioned whanau and hapu, and no further.

He Puapua would see dramatic growth in culturally fluent and mainly Māori managers and advisors appointed across the public sector, Crown Entities and universities.  Already changes have been made in science system mechanisms such as the PBRF to grant more funding for Māori compared to non-Māori researchers regardless of their scientific contribution as gauged by international peers.

An effective response to He Puapua would be the strong affirmation of democracy, equal citizenship rights and the rule of law.  We must avoid the debate becoming one of Māori versus non-Maori and ensure that it is democracy and equal rights versus tribalism and racialism.

The NZ Constitution Act 1986 should be reaffirmed as the legislative core of New Zealand’s constitution.  Te Tiriti/Treaty references should be deleted from legislation.  The Waitangi Tribunal and the Office for Māori Crown Relations – Te Arawhiti should be wound down.  Legislation placing public lands and waters in New Zealand into private (Māori) hands should be repealed.

My prediction is that the He Puapua activists will win out on most though not all issues.  They will lose every time they try to cancel Shakespeare.  It may take up to a decade, however they will have to give up on mātauranga Māori being seen as equal to science.  International science does not value mysticism and vitalism. Applied science and technology degrees often have to meet international standards for which mātauranga Māori is irrelevant.  There will be a reversal of some of the more extreme ideas such as giving tribal interests full control of New Zealand’s water.

The biggest ruction may come when thousands of young Māori who have learnt te reo, studied tikanga and mātauranga Māori find themselves struggling for meaningful employment in a globalised rather than a self-referenced world.  Officials who know from their databases the likely returns from different study programmes should then have to explain why this data was not available to those young people.  The officials concerned can probably relax – no-one seems to be held accountable for such public service failings in a country which was once one of the wealthiest and progressive democracies in the world.

Demographics and sociology will in the long run see an end to racialism and tribalism and the damage it does to New Zealand’s social democracy and economy.  However, as Keynes said, “in the long run we are all dead.”  The next generation has a lot to lose, however it also has a lot to gain if Māori and non-Māori can learn how to create a positive-sum game from what is currently at best a zero-sum game.   

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

Racialism, advocacy of violence in poetry and mātauranga Māori

It was a pleasure to read a recent opinion piece by Giselle Byrnes and Meihana Durie on research funding for Māori.  It responded to a piece by former academic Dr Steve Stannard.  While I largely agree with Dr Stannard, both pieces were written in a civil and respectful way.  How depressing then that race brings out the worst in us, as shown by a “poem” from Tuisata Avia, and another flare up in the debate around mātauranga Māori, this time featuring Dr Tara McAllister.

Tuisata Avia’s poem is entitled “250th anniversary of James Cook’s arrival in New Zealand”.  It reads:

Hey James,
yeah, you
in the white wig
in that big Endeavour
sailing the blue, blue water
like a big arsehole

I heard someone
shoved a knife
right up
into the gap between
your white ribs
at Kealakekua Bay.
I’m gonna go there
make a big Makahiki luau
cook a white pig
feed it to the dogs

Hey James,
it’s us.
These days
we’re driving round
in SUVs
looking for ya
or white men like you
who might be thieves
or rapists
or kidnappers
or murderers
yeah, or any of your descendants
or any of your incarnations
cos, you know
ay, bitch?
We’re gonna F… YOU UP.

Tonight, James,
it’s me
Lani, Danielle
and a car full of brown girls
we find you
on the corner
of the Justice Precinct.

You’ve got another woman
in a headlock
and I’ve got my father’s
pig-hunting knife
in my fist
and we’re coming to get you
sailing round
in your Resolution
your Friendship
your Discovery
and your f…ing Freelove.

Watch your ribs, James
cos, I’m coming with
who is a god
and Nua‘a
who is king with a knife.

And then
we’re gonna

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right to defend, however Tuisata’s poem comes close to incitement to violence against a specific racial group.  Complaints have been laid with the Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon, however he sees racism as a white problem and is unlikely to take meaningful action.

Tuisata has effectively weaponised poetry for a racialist purpose.  However, good poetry shows you how others cut up the world, and also how many others have faced similar challenges to you and overcome them.

The great American writer Maya Angelou felt that a little black girl must have written Shakespeare’s sonnet 29 . as it so reflected her feelings as a destitute child, victim of racism and of child abuse, crying out alone before a deaf heaven.  Angelou later wrote Still I rise .  The VUW academic Māmari Stephens, with words as much poetic as prose  wrote of the transformative impact on a lonely child of reading Bulfinch’s Age of Fable .

Māori have composed some of New Zealand’s finest poetry, ranging from Rihi Puhiwahine’s work in the 19th century  to Hone Tuwhare’s fine works and beyond.  Such poetry does not gloss over brutal realities.  Puhiwahine wrote of the impacts of conflict in New Zealand:

Who can raise my fallen ones again? No one but Almighty God, who reigns above us all. All about is now a void; an empty void, a dismal void— Tell me, who caused this void? For seven long years the patu has opposed the sword and loaded gun. Be prepared, be prepared! The worst is yet to come…

Hone Tuwhare’s No Ordinary Sun alluded to the horrors of nuclear weapons.

Poetry including song lyrics has provided a route through which the mana and visibility of the Māori language has been enhanced:  Examples include Lorde and Marlon Williams sing Stoned at the Nail Salon and George Henare and Jennifer Ward-Lealand read sonnet 18 in English and Te Reo.   What I would give for Henare’s voice and elocution!

Dr Tara McAllister is an Auckland University academic with a doctorate in freshwater ecology.  By all accounts she is intelligent, and is well-respected as an ecologist.  From 2015 to 2019 her and her colleagues published papers in natural science, including ecology and toxicity in water environments.  In recent years her published papers have been mainly on racial and gender equity issues and on mātauranga Māori.  

Dr McAllister reacted angrily to Richard Dawkins recently criticising proposals to give mātauranga Māori equal standing with modern science in our science classes.  Her tweets about Richard Dawkins included: “Oh not that fucking twat Dick Dawkins again.  I will not read his fucking white supremacist reckons (stet) on mātauranga…

In a 3 March tweet McAllister wrote:

Of course, the Listener 7 (now the Listener 5) had lunch with Richard Dawkins while he was in NZ. A bunch of sad racist dusty dinosaurs…

Tara McAllister seems unaware that Garth Cooper is Māori, has had a stellar career including advances in diabetes research of particular importance to Māori, and that he has mentored hundreds of Māori and other New Zealand science students.

Dr McAllister also told the media that “Dawkins’ comments are, however, a great example of how clearly white supremacy is ingrained in Western sciences globally, and how colonising scientists continue to attempt to undermine the global resurgence of indigenous knowledge, which I will incorporate into my teaching and research.”

She also said Dawkins’ comments were damaging and – like the public letter from the University of Auckland professors – they “function to embolden other racist scientists in Aotearoa”.

Dr McAllister’s comments inflamed social media outlets.  One typical critic said:

“It disgusts me that people like McAllister keep referring to science as “Western Science”. As a non-white male of South East Asian descent, I’m really [expletive deleted] that this [expletive deleted] would like to refer to science as being a white creation. My ancestors and all their efforts in furthering science mean nothing to her? My people contributed to science a –[expletive deleted] ton. All she’s doing is showing how little she knows about science. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that referring to science as ‘western science’ is racist towards all non-white people who contributed to science.

McAllister, you’re an industrial strength idiot.”

Crude and uncivil language as bad as what we have heard from the other side in this debate!  The tone in social media needs to be softened if its messages are to be discerned and respected.  However, one message has got through.  It is now time to impose a rahui on the term ‘western science’ and replace it with either ‘modern’ or ‘universal science’, or just ‘science.’

Tara McAllister has called on the muses for poetic inspiration in her rhetorical war against her real or imagined enemies in academia:

I am your worst nightmare

My existence challenges your racist assumptions

My presence disturbs your whiteness

I stand in the mana of my tipuna

And I fight for the mana of my mokopuna

I have not come for a seat at your table

I have come to destroy it

I will deconstruct your table

Part by part, piece by piece

I will take screws out while you are not looking

Until your table crumbles into nothingness.

Tara’s poem is less hostile in tone and does less damage to the English language than Tuisata’s.  Tara’s poem actually means something.  It implies that there are fundamental barriers in academia to Māori which require radical change to deal with. 

I am aware of some statistical work underway investigating claims of discrimination (or “institutional racism”) that have been made by Dr McAllister and others, so I will not duplicate this analysis here.

A core purpose of education is to help people enjoy the achievements of all cultures.  Mātauranga Māori is both part of and an enabler of this.  Mātauranga Māori is a mix of observation-based understanding and ways of knowing, sound science, metaphor, working hypotheses that may be cast as myths, and cultural or spiritual beliefs.  Mātauranga Māori leaders such as Mason Durie and Georgina Stewart argue that it complements rather than is a substitute for modern science.  This is basically the view in the famous July 2021“Professors’ letter” to The Listener – a view which Richard Dawkins supported.  Given this broad consensus, why does mātauranga Māori continue to be an inflammatory subject?

Few argue that mātauranga Māori has no place in our education system.  The issue is whether it should have equal standing with modern science.  In my view, only its science-based content should be taught in science classes, and other parts may fit within society and cultural educational fields.

Dr McAllister’s poem articulates the importance within Māoridom of whakapapa, and how this anchors intergenerational identity.  However, this requires narrowing of consciousness to focus on genealogical whakapapa rather than a more cross-cultural whakapapa of the mind.  

One interesting field in psychology is terror management theory (TMT) .  This argues that humans perceive their own mortality and insignificance and overcome their fears through belief in things which give continuity with the past and which persist beyond their lifespans.  This helps explain Dr McAllister’s allusions to tipuna and mokopuna in her poem.

There is another way of overcoming existential isolation and its fears.  This is through universalism that focuses on immortal cross-cultural achievements in music, art, literature and science.  This strengthens what people have in common rather than focusing on what divides them.  Universal human identity therefore overrides inward-looking group identities and double standards of morality between in and outgroups.

Under this philosophy a formal meeting might begin with a short karakia or with any other universal cross-cultural product that all can enjoy.  Examples could include Yo Yo Ma & Itzhak Perlman playing a Dvorak piece, or a Finnish capella.  Kept within limits so that local government council or university academic meetings don’t turn into concerts it might tilt Tara McAllister away from breaking the furniture and allow her to focus on becoming the first-class freshwater ecologist she is capable of being.

Posted in Cultural issues, Learning, education and pedagogy, Maori, Politics | Leave a comment

Can we turn forest slash from waste and risk into a valuable resource?

Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain, as in revenge, have sucked up from the sea contagious fogs; which falling in the land have every pelting river made so proud that they have overborne their continents…

Shakespeare, A Midsummer-Night’s Dream

Cyclone Gabrielle has caused death and destruction, and amplified awareness of the need to manage forestry slash.  Slash is the branches, small logs and other woody material left after plantation forests are harvested, typically from low value hill country.  At best slash is waste.  At worst it can do enormous damage when washed downstream, clogging up rivers, harming pastoral farming and horticulture, damaging transport and other infrastructure, cluttering beaches, and impacting on kai moana.

Key events that have triggered downstream problems with slash include cyclones Bola (1988), Gita (2018), Hale (January 2023) and Gabrielle (February 2023).  Climate change is likely to make such storms more frequent and more damaging.

Pyrolysis biochar can convert the slash problem into environmental and economic opportunity.  The focus should be on biochar’s contribution to our climate change policy as well as productivity and wider environmental benefits. 

There is more carbon dioxide in the soil than there is in plants and the atmosphere combined.  Vegetation soaks up carbon dioxide and sequesters it in plant biomass.  However, this “fast cycle” carbon is stored only for a few months or years until the plant material decays and the carbon returns to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. 

Pyrolysis biochar is “slow cycle” carbon made when biomass is burned in a low oxygen environment and turned into charcoal.  When sequestered in soil this charcoal is known as biochar – a form of carbon that remains in the soil for centuries or millennia.

Biochar is not soil or fertiliser. It is carbon with high porosity and Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC).  Biochar’s porosity and CEC helps water and nutrient retention and recycling and are associated with enhanced microbial activity and with healthier and more diverse soil microbiome.  Biochar also reduces soil acidity.

Phil Stevens makes a superb case for biochar to become a core part of New Zealand’s climate change response , explaining how biochar can deliver environmental and productivity benefits as well as permanently removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  Given the value proposition, what is standing in the way?

The language in New Zealand’s climate change response policies and legislation focuses largely on emissions reductions.  However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has signalled that negative emission technologies that take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as well as reducing emissions are both needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.  Biochar is a negative emissions technology as well as having wider productivity and environmental benefits.

Climate change is so complex that it can only be addressed from multi-disciplinary perspectives.  Lack of progress so far reflects a monumental failure of humanity to think universally and act intergenerationally.  It also shows the limitations of economic theory and practice.  The Coase Theorem implies that the market will solve externalities by itself so long as property rights are complete and transaction costs are minimal.  These conditions are not met in the case of forestry slash.

Some extreme outlier events such as cyclones have impacts vastly disproportional to their statistical probability.   In such cases insurance markets fail.

Garrett Hardin’s “tragedy of the commons” describes the overuse by individuals of a common resource.  Alternatively, a “tragedy of the anti-commons” occurs when too many people have a stake in a resource and often value it so differently that coordination is impossible. 

Elinor Ostrom won her Nobel Prize for demonstrating how small, local communities manage shared natural resources, such as pastures, irrigation water and fisheries.  Faced with Ostrom’s evidence that local communities can self-govern commons in sustainable and efficient ways, Hardin revised his model and described it as the “tragedy of the unmanaged commons.”

Regulation as well as our economic models has failed us.  Since at least 1992 forestry has had a Code of Practice for Forestry Operations which has been updated and includes guidelines to manage slash.  Local authorities have been lax in regulatory enforcement. Regulation tells people what they are allowed or not allowed to do.  However, central or even regional government edict sits uncomfortably with the subsidiarity principle, that is that decision making should be devolved to where the local issues are best understood and where the effects of any actions will lie. 

Regulators may see only a problem that needs to be contained or eliminated.  However, what is needed is a mindset change so people see opportunities in forest slash resources.

The targets for emission reductions differ between countries.  Their scope and amplitude vary among countries in accord with stages of economic development and industry structures.  In New Zealand the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) design, and the rules governing “carbon farming” are complex and ever-changing.  Some international trade in carbon credits has been fraudulent. 

As at March 2023 New Zealand’s policy has been to encourage tree planting on land ill-suited to food or high value fibre production, with this earning carbon credits.  Climate change policy has effectively favoured short rotation radiata pine over other species such as redwoods, or native species, or different land-use options such as extensive pastoral farming using regenerative agricultural practices.

Forestry is extolled as an industry that delivers environmental “goods” such as sustainable materials, biodiversity and (temporary) carbon sequestration.  However, slash that is washed downstream and causes harm is an environmental bad.  The expectation is that slash should be disposed of through burning or be left on the ground to rot with its only value being to stabilise sediment in erosion-prone areas.  These options are carbon-neutral; only pyrolysis that delivers biochar from slash has a positive impact in removing carbon dioxide permanently from the atmosphere.

A mindset change is needed to value slash as a biomass feedstock for biochar production, value-creating uses, and then its permanent sequestration as a carbon store. 

Without international agreement on measuring and pricing soil carbon (including biochar) it is difficult to place a price on biochar from slash.  A shadow price could be assigned.  Shadow prices are assigned to goods not normally traded in markets, such as intangible assets or production costs.  Pricing could include “an insurance premium”, avoided cost, and a value placed on the productive impact of the biochar.

Forest slash is a diffuse rather than concentrated resource.  It is uneconomic to gather it up and transport it to centralised processing facilities, whether these be to make wood chips or biochar. 

For slash the best solution may be to treat it in place, especially if it can be converted to biochar and applied to forest soils to promote forest health and productivity.

Often slash is left in place, partly because no value is seen in it and because it may help prevent sediment erosion.  The slash may also be piled up and burnt.  However, slash piles that burn and smoulder for long periods of time and at high temperatures can create hydrophobic soils that do not retain water well.  With woody materials on the forest floor being entirely burnt, important soil nutrients are lost.

Some gains may come from constructing slash piles differently.  For example, base logs can elevate the rest of a pile above the soil and result in around 10-15% of the biomass being turned into biochar.  There are many types of mobile pyrolysis plants available internationally.  These range from industrial-scale kilns to heat-resistant laminate “blankets” that can be wrapped around a burning slash pile.  These blankets are impermeable to air; however, they have adjustable vents controlling air flow and allowing process calibration.

The East Coast pine forests are owned by many different investors, including foreign, iwi and individual investors.  They have been incentivised by government policies.  Industry in effect captures the benefits and socialises the cost of plantation forestry in steep, erosion-prone country. 

The forestry contracting workforce is beset with problems such as poor safety, low pay, and lack of job security.  It may be possible to smooth out workflows with contracted staff moving from harvesting trees to creating value through biochar production and remedial work, for example to stabilise sediments.            

A Ministerial Inquiry is now underway into the mobilisation of woody debris (including slash) and sediment in Tairāwhiti/Gisborne and Wairoa districts.  It will submit its report to the Minister for the Environment and the Minister of Forestry by 30 April 2023. 

Ministers should note that where emissions reductions fall below what is needed to meet New Zealand’s targets carbon credits may be bought offshore.  As at March 2023 the forecast is this may see New Zealand by the end of this decade spending about $12.8B buying carbon credits from other countries.  Any government that approves such payments overseas for “intangible” and difficult to verify assets may be challenged given the alternatives that could be funded within New Zealand.

The Inquiry is obliged to accept written submissions.  Hopefully these submissions can help catalyse mindset changes in relation to biochar and forestry and lead to at least a shadow price for biochar.  This would help turn waste and risk into opportunities for a more sustainable and rewarding forestry sector in what is one of New Zealand’s most socio-economically deprived regions.

Posted in Biochar, Economics | 1 Comment

Defending New Zealand’s democracy, and why Shakespeare is Kryptonite to tribalists and ethno-nationalists

Economic history tells us that the best outcomes come from inclusive democracy, secular institutions based on science and reasoning, a market economy with macro-economic stability and micro-economic flexibility, and social risk management policies.  New Zealand has such things in place, and yet its democracy and institutions are under attack by advocates for race and tribe-based policies and for constitutional change to transfer power to unelected iwi leaders.  What is going on?

Let’s first understand what democracy is.  It is a system of government where each citizen has an equal vote in electing representatives who draft laws and implement policies they have committed to in their electoral manifestos.  All citizens have equal rights and there is no discrimination based on colour, ethnicity or religion.  The rule of law prevails and binds the government.  Those elected are accountable to voters and they can be dismissed at the next election.  This means their performance must be open to scrutiny through access to official information, free speech, and a critical media. 

Democracy also requires an educated population that shares core disciplinary knowledge such as literacy, numeracy, and science.  It requires critical thinking capabilities and a habit of exercising them.

Democracy is majority rule, and minorities must be protected from tyranny by the majority.  These protections include common law, Magna Carta rights, compensation for regulatory takings, and inclusive voting systems, for example proportional representation. 

New Zealand’s modern history began with early trade contact between Māori and Europeans and was further developed through missionaries and early settlers.

Many European immigrants, mainly British, resented their home countries’ class systems and wanted a more egalitarian society in New Zealand.

The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi was the first step towards a nation state.  As an international Treaty it had no legal force domestically until a government administration had been set up in New Zealand.

The Constitution Act 1852 was the foundation for government in New Zealand.  It established Parliament and the basis for democracy, albeit with the vote limited to private property-owning males, including Māori.  However, in practice most Māori males were excluded since they owned land communally.  This was remedied when in 1867 four parliamentary seats were set up specifically for Māori.  As a result, all Māori men were able to vote 12 years before all European men in 1879.  The Electoral Act gave women, including Māori women the vote in 1893.

New Zealand was a pioneer in social welfare and in the provision of public goods ranging from universal literacy to national parks, some of which were gifted by Māori.  These developments involved colonial institutions drawing heavily on the perceived best practice of Europe’s wealthier countries, augmented by institutions we created ourselves. 

By 1900 New Zealand’s per capita income was among the highest in the world, largely driven by British demand for our agricultural products, foreign direct investment, and such colonial institutions as schools, banks and insurance companies.  However, there were inequities affecting lower socio-economic groups, with disproportionate impacts on Māori. 

By around 1950 New Zealand was still near the top in per capita income and lacked extremes of wealth and poverty.  However, while much wealthier in absolute terms compared to a century before Māori still lagged other population groups in relative terms.  Reasons for this included Māori being concentrated in poorer parts of the country, the effects of the New Zealand wars on some though not all iwi, poor educational aspirations and achievement, and prejudicial Pakeha attitudes. 

“Colonial institutions” are widely blamed for relatively poorer socio-economic outcomes for Māori.  This may be true for the Native Land Courts from 1865, however key institutions such as schools, hospitals, public research agencies, Parliament, the Reserve Bank, the Commerce Commission and our trade services have worked quite well for New Zealanders.  Some Māori institutions, for example Kōhanga Reo may have performed quite well, while others such as Wānanga have been patchy with many students receiving poor post-study outcomes.

From about the 1950s Māori migration into the cities eroded some whanau and hapu structures, though it also led to economic gains.  Sociological problems co-existed with near full employment.  Māori-dominated gangs had significant presence by the 1970s.  Some gangs formed around group identities other than race.  The Mongrel Mob began in the early 1960s with largely young Pakeha males in Wellington and Hastings. 

With interventions such as the 1973 domestic purposes benefit, the social welfare system helped create benefit dependency and led to single parent (mainly fatherless) households.  Neglect and abuse are problems for too many Māori children.  Most early European visitors to New Zealand commented on how caring and solicitous Māori parents were with their children, and so traditional Māori culture cannot be blamed for today’s problems.

New Zealand is a successful small democracy.  Māori socio-economic wellbeing has improved dramatically since 1840 and Lindsay Mitchell (2021) demonstrates the progress made under and because of colonisation.  No Māori living today would swap places with one living in pre-European times.

Despite the gains New Zealand has made in its short history there is now a concerted effort to replace much of its democratic system and public assets with control by unelected tribal interests.  Yet there is not a single tribal society in the modern world that has succeeded in delivering high living standards and equity.

Power-driven tribal leaders, politicians acting for one racial group rather than all New Zealanders, academics without scholarship, government-funded journalists, judges behaving like conviction politicians and pusillanimous public servants are undermining New Zealand’s democracy and key institutions.  Much of their strategy is set out in the racialist He Puapua document.  This involves making Te Tiriti o Waitangi and te reo Māori more fundamental to life in New Zealand, weakening New Zealand’s democracy, discrediting science in favour of traditional beliefs, and claiming that all colonisation was harmful to Māori and that colonial institutions should be abolished.

He Puapua proposes widespread ‘co-governance’ which really means that around 16% of the population would have the same or more power than the other 84%.  He Puapua is “racialist” in the sense that it categorises people by race.  It is not however a “racist” document in the sense of being hostile towards non- Māori people. 

Specific initiatives have included unelected regional council seats, iwi effectively taking control of New Zealand’s freshwater resources, transfer of public lands to iwi control, and making Te Tiriti o Waitangi the foundation for resource management, much of the education system and for local government.  So far, the only major defeat for the racialists and tribalists has been when they sought to end funding for a schools-focused programme based on Shakespeare’s plays, using the argument that Shakespeare was a colonial imperialist.  This led to such uproar that the funding was reinstated.  It seems that Shakespeare is Kryptonite for tribalists, racialists and ethno-nationalists, probably because his works instantiate all human psychology and therefore are a force for human universality.

Few of the key racialist and tribalist initiatives have been notified in election manifestos.  There is little media scrutiny, partly because Government funding for the media from the Public Interest Journalism Fund is conditional on “Commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and to Māori as a Te Tiriti partner and a commitment to te reo Maori.”

The Te Tiriti framework for the news media states falsehoods such as: “tangata whenua o Aotearoa Maori have never ceded sovereignty to Britain or any other state.”  The guidelines then assert that: “As a result of colonisation we live in a society that perpetuates racism and inequities”.  In the glossary “tino rangatiratanga” is falsely defined as “sovereignty” or “ultimate authority.”

Māori socio-economic outcomes need to improve.  However, rather than taking a needs focus and delivering socio-economic interventions informed by economic science the focus is on Te Tiriti o Waitangi commitments and Waitangi Tribunal deliberations, developing cultural solutions to Māori problems, and constitutional change which includes though is not limited to “co-governance”.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi commitments and Waitangi Tribunal deliberations

The preamble to the Treaty makes clear that its purpose is to create a settled form of government and to secure peace and good order.

Article One confers on the Crown governance powers (kāwanatanga or sovereignty). 

Māori ceded all sovereignty in the sense of the right to create and enforce statute law.  They recognised that a strong central government was needed to end the Musket War violence and other conflict within Māoridom.  It was needed to deal with lawless Pakeha, and to protect property rights as set out in Article Two. 

Māori may also have been wary of possible French retaliatory attack in response to the killing of Marion du Fresne and 24 of his crew in 1772 in the Bay of Islands.  Treaty Article Three effectively conferred the Crown’s protection against external military threats.  A century after the Treaty was signed New Zealand was fighting for its survival against Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire.

Article Two protects property rights and is based on Magna Carta principles.

While the Crown’s mandate to govern the country was indisputable, Māori did not specifically cede tikanga, that is their customs and norms.  Tino rangatiratanga implied some independence and self-determination at the hapu and whanau levels.   The Crown for centuries had recognised limitations to its powers imposed by Magna Carta and common law.

Magna Carta was issued in 1215 and aimed to protect the English nobilities’ property rights by limiting the Crown’s powers.  It catalysed a dynamic relationship between property rights and political power that led to the emergence of the modern British democracy.  It created a basis for human rights protection by linking it to property rights.  Magna Carta established the principle that no one is above the law – it established the rule of law.

As Kipling wrote in relation to Magna Carta’s signing at Runnymede:

No freeman shall be fined or bound,
Or dispossessed of freehold ground,
Except by lawful judgment found
And passed upon him by his peers.
Forget not, after all these years,
The Charter Signed at Runnymede.”

Article Three made Māori subjects of the Crown.  Te Tiriti makes clear that it protects the rights of all New Zealanders, not just Māori and not just chiefs.

Activist judges have re-interpreted the Treaty/Te Tiriti of Waitangi as a ‘partnership’.  Yet there is nothing in the documents that remotely supports partnership between Māori and the Crown.  Māori cannot be both subjects of the Crown and partners with it.

New Zealand ceased to be a colony and became a Dominion in 1907.  It adopted the statute of Westminster in 1947, and in that year the UK parliament gave the New Zealand General Assembly full power to alter or repeal the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852.  

New Zealand’s constitutional evolution culminated in the New Zealand Constitution Act 1986.  This affirmed Parliamentary sovereignty, and the Crown’s role was reduced to the symbolic and procedural. 

However, since then the 1987 Court of Appeal “Lands case”, the Waitangi Tribunal’s “findings”, and academic activism have pushed for constitutional change that confers new rights and powers on Māori, especially those organised within tribal structures.

The Waitangi Tribunal was created in 1975 initially to hear and make recommendations on claims after 1975.  Then in 1985 it was extended to hear claims dating back to 1840.

The Treaty of Waitangi Act aimed “to provide for the observance of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi”, and the Tribunal was given the power to decide what this meant, with “exclusive authority to determine the meaning and effect of the Treaty as embodied in the two texts”.  A democratically-elected Parliament has delegated much power to a non-elected tribunal.

The Waitangi Tribunal’s membership is appointed on the recommendations of the Minister for Māori Affairs, with consultation with the Minister of Justice.  It has around half Māori and half Pakeha members, as if these are the only ethnicities in New Zealand.  It has in the past had top historians such as Michael Bassett and Richard Hill, and Ron Crosby remains a member.  However, it lacks expertise in economics.

Comparative institutionalism and counterfactual analysis are undiscovered country for the Tribunal.  It does not appear to undertake cost benefit analysis.  Litigants seem to bear little cost or risk, encouraging unrealistic claims that incur costs to investigate and which can sometimes impose indirect economic costs.  An example is the delays in modernising New Zealand’s intellectual property laws caused by Wai 262.  This claim took so long to resolve that it has been termed the “Jarndyce versus Jarndyce” case, named after the Bleak House court case that went on for so long the litigants were long dead while generations of lawyers kept living off the fees.  

The Tribunal does not appear to have strict boundaries over what it can investigate.  Rather than the textualism school of legal interpretation which focuses on the plain meaning of the text that the 1840 signatories actually signed up to, the Tribunal takes a “presentist” approach that imposes 21st century politics, ideology and “language elasticity” on words and actions 183 years ago. 

A good example is “taonga” which in 1840 meant a valuable physical object.  Now in 2023 it means anything of value, from objects, language, cultural knowledge, water to broadcasting spectrum, and no doubt sometime in the future to fresh air.

The Tribunal now functions as a cross between a statutory body which can make determinations and a partisan lobby group for a racial constituency. 

Tribunal reports now make assertions which are manifestly false and yet which become accepted “truths”.  An example is the contention that the Treaty/Te Tiriti did not involve Māori ceding sovereignty to the Queen, despite the evidence from scholarship, from speeches made by the chiefs who signed the Treaty, again affirmed at the Kohimarama conference in 1860. 

Tribunal reports on Wai 1040 opined that Ngapuhi did not cede sovereignty.  John Robinson gives the evidence that Ngapuhi fully understood that they were ceding sovereignty.

The Tribunal in a Wai 1040 report also asserted that the Crown breached Treaty principles, despite the fact that no principles are stated in the Treaty.

Cultural solutions to Māori problems

One thesis is that Māori socio-economic problems result from loss of Māori culture, language and identity.  However, most of the challenges that low socio-economic Māori face are employment, incomes, housing and net worth, not identity problems.  Vast investment has gone into te reo Māori language training and to some extent tikanga .  There is no evidence this has paid off socio-economically.  On the other hand this may not have been the purpose of the provision offered to students. 

Lourie & Rata (2014) assessed the practice and consequences of a culture-based curriculum that is promoted as the solution to educational underachievement by a section of the Māori population.  They argue that the ‘cultural solution’ is itself a contributor to educational under-achievement.

We do have some hard evidence about what works from the nineteenth century.  Te Aute college was established in 1854 and especially between 1878 and 1912 when led by John Thornton it implemented a curriculum along the lines of top rate English grammar schools.  Te Aute’s mathematics and science achievement was assessed as ‘equal to those of any secondary school in the country’. 

Te Aute’s graduates included Āpirana NgataTe Rangi Hīroa and Māui Pōmare who became great Māori leaders of their times.  It is worth noting that Ngata placed great emphasis on nurturing Māori culture and language as well as education that aimed at lifting Māori incomes, wealth and living standards.  Pōmare was more focused on modernisation and abandoning cultural practices that he considered held Māori back.

Constitutional change and co-governance

The constitutional conflict in New Zealand is not between Māori and non-Māori.  It is between liberal democracy and equal citizenship versus birth-ascribed racial identities and tribalism. 

Co-governance so far is achieving patchy results.  As one example, Ngāi Tūhoe’s operational entity Te Uru Taumatua has carried out mass destruction of huts in Te Urewera, asserting its authority over what was once a National Park.  This is against the opposition of many other Māori, including Tūhoe, as well as non-Māori. 

If the Three Waters initiative is operationalised as set out in the legislation it will be overly influenced by people appointed on the basis of race and kinship rather than merit.  At best this is a recipe for mediocrity, at worse it will lead to nepotism on an unprecedented scale.

If we fail to defend New Zealand’s democracy, we will no longer be an outwards-looking and progressive nation.  We will regress to a hybrid regime made up of a weakened system of parliamentary democracy and racialistic tribalism.

Way forward

A way forward is to meld together the best from Māori identity and cultural affirmation and outwards-looking democracy.  Some tikanga can fit within our common law system.

Tino rangatiratanga in Te Tiriti is best defined as self-determination that starts with individuals and subsidiarity and from this base leads to collective action.  Te Tiriti was signed largely by Rangatira that headed whanau or hapu rather than Ariki that were paramount iwi chiefs. 

Tino rangatiratanga can evoke self-betterment, creating choices in one’s life and innovative collective action rather than being perceived as a political slogan.  It depends on individual self-motivation and purposeful work and endeavour.  It is degraded by welfare dependency, grievance mentalities, and blaming colonisation or events over a century ago for today’s challenges.

In these troubled times many wish for a Volodymr Zelensky to lead us and for the courage of the Ukrainian people.  However, we can all be leaders in our own little ways, and New Zealanders do not lack courage when they understand the issues.


Lourie, M. Rata, E. 2014: A critique of the role of culture in Māori education.  British Journal of Sociology of Education. 35 (1) pp. 19-36.

Mitchell, L. 2021: Māori Social and Economic Indicators under Colonization: A Picture of Progress.

Posted in Constitutional and Treaty of Waitangi issues, Cultural issues, Economics, History, Learning, education and pedagogy, Maori, Politics, Shakespeare | 2 Comments

Submission on the Natural and Built Environment Bill

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission on the Natural and Built Environment Bill.

In my view the strongest part of the Bill is the central place it gives to te Oranga o te Taiao as a concept.  This is defined in the legislation as:

(a) the health of the natural environment; 
(b) the essential relationship between the health of the natural environment and its capacity to sustain life; 
(c) the interconnectedness of all parts of the environment; 
(d) the intrinsic relationship between iwi and hapū and te Taiao.

(a) to (c) inclusive warrant support, however the wording in (d) needs reconsideration.  As drafted it implies that the only New Zealanders with intrinsic relationships with the natural environment are Māori who are affiliated to specific iwi and hapu tribal structures.  This excludes the 84% of New Zealanders who are not Māori, and those Māori for whom iwi or hapu tribal structures are not paramount in their identity.  

The weakness in the Bill is its overly dominant focus on Māori iwi and hapu interests and world views.  This weakness is so pervasive within the Bill and so profound in its impacts that it requires a rethink of the whole new legislative package.

The Bill refers to Crown obligations and Treaty principles, leaving the impression these were stated in the 1840 Treaty/Tiriti.  In fact, they were invented from the 1980s by judicial, political, and tribal activists.  They are constitutionally untethered, lack fidelity to the Treaty/Tiriti text, and imply Māori lack agency and capacity for self-determination (tino rangatiratanga).

The Bill seems to tacitly assume that resources are best managed using Māori customs (tikanga) and traditional knowledge (mātauranga Māori) rather than modern scientific methods and disciplines such as ecology, geology, planning, surveying, architecture, building, infrastructure, and property and contract law.

The legislation seeks to make Māori custom or tikanga sources of law within New Zealand.  For example, the NBE Bill states that: “All persons exercising powers and performing functions and duties under this Act must recognise and provide for the responsibility and mana of each iwi and to protect and sustain the health and well-being of te taiao in accordance with the kawa, tikanga (including kaitiakitanga), and mātauranga in their area of interest.” 

This might imply that tikanga (customs) and mātauranga (Māori ways of “knowing”) are fixed in time and by tradition and should not be open to challenge.

Inevitably there will be conflicts between tikanga and mātauranga Māori assertions, and evidence from modern, universal science.  The former may depend on custom backed by authority and the latter on evidence that is always open to challenge. Shakespeare over four hundred years ago warned against too much belief in unchallenged customs:

“What custom wills, in all things should we do it,
The dust on antique time would lie unswept,
And mountainous error be too highly heaped
For truth to overpeer.”

Shakespeare, Coriolanus

It is evidence rather than customary beliefs that must prevail in environmental and resource management in a modern, open, and secular society.

Compared to the current Resource Management Act the proposed new system erodes democracy and accountability to voters.  It shifts much decision making to non-elected tribal representatives who may wield power far beyond their capabilities to exercise. 

The proposed National Māori Entity will be powerful and pervasive.  Organizations with such heft and with few statutory constraints require a strong accountability regime to perform well.  This accountability regime is yet to be developed.  

The Regional Planning Committees will be making significant decisions that will impact on the lives and wellbeing of citizens.  These committees should be subject to democratic accountability, probably through requirements for election of key people.  However, as the legislation now stands there is little electoral accountability, and none in the case of Māori members of the Regional Planning Committees.

The proposed legislation is overly complicated and will generate such interpretative and operational costs that it may prove unworkable.  The Government would be wise to withdraw the proposed Bills and replace them with enabling legislation that does not discriminate on race lines.

This legislation should vest decision-making in local communities and focus on improving the speed and lowering the cost of local decision-making processes.  It should acknowledge the role of property rights and reflect understanding of the economics governing externalities and how public goods may be best provided.  Decision-making must be accountable to affected communities, including but not limited to Māori.

Posted in Constitutional and Treaty of Waitangi issues, Cultural issues, Economics | 1 Comment

Do we really need a racialised environment and resource management system?

A visitor to New Zealand who read the Natural and Built Environment and the Spatial Planning Bills would assume our country was populated largely by Māori tribes whose customs and traditional knowledge could solve resource management challenges.  In reading the Bills in more depth she would infer the tribes were impeded in using their knowledge by a powerful, yet unhelpful entity termed “the Crown.”  To her relief she would then “learn” that 183 years ago the tribes and Crown had signed a Treaty which stipulated principles and the Crown’s obligations in relation to Māori.  Legislation based on these principles and obligations was being enacted to ensure Māori had adequate input into natural and built environment and spatial planning issues.  So far, so good!

However, when reading the Bills in isolation she would not realise that self-identified Māori make up only about 16% of the New Zealand population, and almost all have some non-Māori blood.  Furthermore, few live on tribal land or live in tribal ways.  If our visitor then read the Treaty itself, she would learn that the Crown obligations and principles stated were not actually from the Treaty and had in fact been invented from the 1980s on by judicial, political, and tribal activists.  She would be surprised to learn that the Bills largely ignored 84% of the New Zealand population.

However, the biggest surprise of all would be the argument legislators seemed to be making that resources are best managed using Māori tribal customs (tikanga) and traditional knowledge (mātauranga Māori) rather than modern scientific methods and disciplines such as ecology, geology, planning, surveying, architecture, building, infrastructure, and property and contract law.

Over the last fifty or so years the apartheid system in South Africa has been abolished, and segregation has long since ended even in America’s Jim Crow States.  The Natural and Built Environment and the Spatial Planning Bills are part of a wave of New Zealand legislation that departs from the progressive arc of history and are regressive.  These Bills create new race-based rights and privileges that further divide New Zealanders. 

The 1986 New Zealand Constitution Act marked the point where the Crown’s role was reduced to the symbolic and procedural, and our democratically elected Parliament became sovereign in New Zealand.  In a Parliamentary democracy power comes from people’s votes not out of the barrel of a gun, or from tribal, judicial or political activism.  Authentic democracy can only function in an open and informed society where people have equal rights and exercise them.  This is what we are rapidly losing.

Democracy Action has published an excellent critique of current resource management issues at: Resource management law replacement shaping up to be a can of worms.  Submissions on the Natural and Built Environment and the Spatial Planning Bills are due by 11.59pm on 5 February 2023.  

The new system replacing the Resource Management Act requires decision-makers to produce three key planning documents: 

  • A National Planning Framework (NPF) on matters of national significance, produced by central government.
  • Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) based on this Framework, produced by Regional Planning Committees (RPCs).
  • Following the approval of an RSS the RPCs will develop Natural and Built Environment (NBE) Plans.

Implementation and consenting will continue to be councils’ responsibilities.

Among the objectives for the new resource management system is “to give proper recognition to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and provide greater recognition of te ao Māori including mātauranga Māori.”  All persons exercising powers under the legislation must give effect to the principles of te Tiriti o Waitangi. “Giving effect to” is stronger than the RMA’s current requirement for the Treaty of Waitangi’s principles to be “taken into account.”

A National Māori Entity will be established.  It will be a statutory entity and will operate independently of the government of the day.  Māori are expected to determine its membership.  The entity will monitor and assess whether the resource management system is giving effect to the principles of te Tiriti.  It will provide direct input into NPF development, it can nominate members to be considered for appointment to an NPF board of inquiry, and it will have the right to be heard at inquiry hearings.  It can provide advice to those in the resource management system, either proactively or on request.  It can be consulted by the Chief Environment Court Judge when the Judge is making appointments to Independent Hearing Panels (IHPs).

An NBE strength is recognising and upholding te Oranga o te Taiao. This concept is defined in the legislation as:

(a) the health of the natural environment; 
(b) the essential relationship between the health of the natural environment and its capacity to sustain life; 
(c) the interconnectedness of all parts of the environment; 
(d) the intrinsic relationship between iwi and hapū and te Taiao.

(a) to (c) inclusive warrant strong support, however (d) is racially focused and fails to recognise the deep relationships New Zealanders have with te Taiao.

Under the new legislation the Māori voice is paramount.  Māori, especially at the iwi and hapu level will be able to participate at all levels of the resource management system, including direct roles in decision making. For example, local authorities are to come together with Māori to prepare and agree on a Natural and Built Environment (NBE) plan for their region, and along with central government, to agree on a regional spatial strategy (RSS).

Regional Planning Committees (RPCs) will be established with decision-making autonomy – they are not accountable to elected local authorities.  Local authorities are required to agree with iwi and hapū on the composition of the RPCs.  An RPC must include at least two Māori members, who are to be chosen by iwi/hapū.  In addition, RPCs must consult with iwi and hapū groups during the preparation of strategic plans. 

The Regional Planning Committees will be making significant decisions that will impact on the lives and wellbeing of all citizens.  These committees should be subject to democratic accountability, probably through requirements for election of key people.  However, as the legislation now stands there is little electoral accountability and none in the case of Māori members of the Regional Planning Committees.

For non-Māori New Zealanders input into resource management may largely be indirect, that is through the councillors elected in local body elections, and by providing feedback on details of draft regional plans that are at an advanced stage and therefore difficult to change substantively.

Instead of treating all New Zealanders as equals regardless of race, this legislation confers extra rights on Māori.  Despite some implausible Crown legal advice, the legislation seems to clearly breach section 19(1) of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 that ensures freedom from discrimination based on race. 

Compared to the current Resource Management Act the proposed new system erodes democracy and accountability to voters.  It shifts much decision making to non-elected tribal representatives who may wield power far beyond what their numbers justify.  While many of these people will be knowledgeable, skilled and dedicated, the overall impact is to reduce the pool of available (non-Māori) expertise that can be brought to bear in natural environment protection and resource management.

Good law needs to use unambiguous language, be clear in intent, provide certainty, and be workable.  That is, people must understand and be able to respond to it.  Common law has been built up over many years as precedents have been established and shared understandings have been widely adopted. 

Terms such as ‘tikanga’, ‘kaitiakitanga’ and ‘mātauranga Māori’ are core elements of the legislation.  Precise definitions of these terms will be needed for the legal system to function effectively. 

Much tikanga from pre-European times died out after European immigration to New Zealand, and through the influence of missionaries and colonial institutions.  Integrating tikanga concepts into our legal system may not fit easily with the common law system and may conflict with statute law.  However, non-Māori New Zealanders are often comfortable with rahui that have no legal basis but a logical purpose, such as protecting fisheries stocks. 

The Peter Ellis case saw tikanga recognise that a person’s reputation has an existence beyond his life.  Such tikanga illustrate Māori universalism not exceptionalism.  Some World War One soldiers who fled the fight were shot for desertion.  When medical advances showed that shell-shock rather than cowardice was to blame the dead soldiers were pardoned and their reputations exonerated.  Statues of heroes in one time can become toppled statues of anti-heroes as history is rewritten.  The King Richard 111 Society was founded in 1924 to promote a more balanced view of a monarch who had been demonised in Shakespeare’s play. 

Inevitably there will be conflicts between tikanga and mātauranga Māori assertions and evidence from modern, universal science.  The former may depend on custom and authority and the latter on evidence, and it is evidence that must prevail in a modern, open and secular society.

The legislation seeks to make Māori custom or tikanga sources of law within New Zealand.  For example, the NBE Bill states that: “All persons exercising powers and performing functions and duties under this Act must recognise and provide for the responsibility and mana of each iwi and to protect and sustain the health and well-being of te taiao in accordance with the kawa, tikanga (including kaitiakitanga), and mātauranga in their area of interest.” 

The Regional Planning Committees (RPCs) are required to develop a Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) under the Spatial Planning Act, and a Natural and Built Environment Plan under the Natural and Built Environment Act. These committees will be made up of local government representatives, Māori, and central government officials where central government involvement is needed for the RSS development.

The resource management reforms are more about instituting a race-based system than creating a more efficient resource management system.  It may be appropriate to intervene to overcome barriers to Māori engagement in resource management or any other such fields.  However, the Bills do not remove barriers so much as create powerful new race-based institutions and regulatory processes that privilege Māori over all other New Zealanders.

The government would be wise to withdraw the proposed Bills and replace them with enabling legislation that does not discriminate on race lines.  This legislation should vest decision-making in local communities and focus on improving the speed and lowering the cost of local decision-making processes.  Decision-making must be accountable to affected communities, including but not limited to Māori.

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

How our defence investment decisions can help lift New Zealand’s economic complexity and performance

China and the United States are the world’s two superpowers and New Zealand needs good relations with both.  We look to the United States to uphold liberal democracy and the international rule of law.  New Zealand is part of the Five Powers (“Five Eyes”) arrangement which largely focuses on surveillance and intelligence gathering and involves combat capabilities.  The $2.4B cost for the P8-A Poseidons to replace the Orions is part of the price we pay for Five Powers membership.  It is a good political investment.

Australia is New Zealand’s closest ally.  Our current defence expenditure is about 1.5% of GDP, compared to Australia at about 2% (2020 figures).  Australia expects New Zealand to invest more in defence, and support for this seems to be growing in Parliament.  However, we also need to uphold our nuclear-free policy, given Australia’s plans to acquire nuclear-powered submarines. 

Despite shared values and close defence ties, the United States and other democracies restrict New Zealand’s primary industry exports.  In contrast, our free trade agreement means China is by far our largest export market. 

The dilemma seems simple: how do we harmonise our liberal democratic values with the economic benefits of our relationship with a China we regard as autocratic? 

Liberal democracy has its flaws and is under threat.  President Trump promoted insurrection on 6 January 2021, and later threatened to “cancel” parts of the US Constitution if he was again elected as President.  New Zealand is currently enacting swathes of race-based legislation that weakens or removes democracy in areas such as resource management, local government, public lands and waters.  New Zealand is still a democracy, and so far, free expression is only being limited on the margin.  However, our democracy is slowly eroding, and we are in an increasingly weak moral position to lecture China on its governance and human rights policies.

Despite their frictions, the United States and China both benefit economically from trade, and they need to cooperate to address global issues such as climate change and pandemics.  They need each other and the world needs them.  However, increasingly they are locked into strategic competition over key technologies, military capabilities, and the interpretation of international laws, rules, and norms.  These relate for example to space, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and some intellectual and resource-based property rights. 

Potential flashpoints include freedom of navigation in international waters, claims over the South China Sea, Taiwan, and North Korea’s bellicosity and its nuclear weapons programme.

New Zealand is dependent on a few commodity exports and lacks many knowledge-intensive manufacturing and services (KIMS) businesses that can export sophisticated and differentiated products, whilst retaining core business operations in New Zealand. 

Harvard University publishes an Atlas of Economic Complexity that ranks the complexity of a country’s exports.  Economic complexity is a good proxy for prosperity.  It also signals resilience.  That is, the more complex a country’s export mix the greater its ability to avoid or manage commodity-based economic shocks, such as the wool price collapse in New Zealand in 1966 and the global oil price shocks in the 1970s.

Economic complexity reflects a country’s past innovation performance.  It also signals its generativity – the ability to create something new, and the willingness to promote younger generations’ wellbeing and long-term futures.

From the founding of Glaxo in the late 19th century to Rocket Labs in 2006 and Kea Aerospace in 2018 New Zealand has always been good at creating new, knowledge-intensive businesses.  However, it struggles to grow them to scale in international markets while retaining core competencies and benefit streams in New Zealand.  This reflects factors such as the small size of the domestic market and shallow and short-term capital markets.

Government procurement programmes can give KIMS businesses the market scale and the longer timeframes they need to invest and grow.  It can ensure that New Zealand businesses develop the technologies and capabilities to help the economy diversify and become more knowledge and skill intensive, with these capabilities both anchored in New Zealand and looking outwards to international markets.

New Zealand in its trade and its domestic procurement agreements has in the past taken a purist free trade approach which has made it difficult to preferentially favour our own KIMS.  There are ways around this.  Many countries explicitly favour their own defence and security industries.  New Zealand industry had substantial input into the ANZAC frigate building programme in the 1990s because of the political support for this.

Furthermore, since 2001 a Treaty of Waitangi clause has been included in all our Free Trade Agreements.  This reserves New Zealand’s right to implement special domestic policies for Māori that are not offered to persons of other countries that are party to the agreement.  There are also preferential rules in our procurement policies favouring Māori businesses. 

Dame Anne Salmond and others point out that Te Tiriti o Waitangi protects the rights of all New Zealanders, not just Māori.  This effectively means we can use the Treaty clause as we wish to protect the interests of all New Zealanders, for example by ensuring that key government procurement contracts go to New Zealand businesses.  Professor Jacinta Ruru from Otago University could run a masterclass for trade and defence officials in applying Te Tiriti to almost any property or investment transaction in New Zealand.

Recent technological advances, New Zealanders’ entrepreneurialism, and the greater investment we could make in defence and security from now until the 2030s create an opportunity to help diversify our economy and reduce our dependence on commodity exports.  This may also strengthen our foreign policy independence, as well as lifting productivity and the prosperity this leads to.

Success would require a political mandate for procurement policies to be used explicitly for economic development purposes, and government willingness to take technological and diplomatic risks.  For larger procurement projects such as replacing the ANZAC frigates there must be multi-partisan support over several electoral cycles.

The Defence Capability Plan 2019 forecasts out to 2030 and beyond the new capabilities Defence may need.  This includes intelligence capabilities, and semi-autonomous and remotely operated technologies.  The Plan also reinforces the importance of digital capabilities as critical enablers across operations, and signals greater investment in cyber capabilities.

The current Plan is to grow the Defence Force by around 1500 service personnel. The Army’s size will grow to 6000 personnel by 2035.  The Army would receive new equipment, which may include small scale Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to support operations.

For the air force the “big ticket” Poseidon purchase has been made and the existing C-130H Hercules will be replaced by a new fleet of Hercules C-130 (J) in 2024.  Further strategic airlift investment may also be considered.

Based on existing published Defence documents, and using business as usual assumptions, around $5-6B of new naval capital investment may be committed from now to the 2030s.  This includes and is not limited to:

  • $1B to replace maritime helicopters
  • $600M to $1B to replace the two Offshore Patrol Vessels with vessels better suited to the Southern Ocean and other tough environments
  •  $3B at a minimum to replace two frigates
  • A new sealift vessel, with uncertainty over budget costs

It is understood that these investments have yet to be contracted for and different priorities can therefore be set.

New Zealand’s Defence Assessment 2021 concludes that the two principal challenges to New Zealand’s defence interests are strategic competition and the impacts of climate change.  “Strategic competition” can be read to mean competition between an increasingly assertive China and incumbent powers, notably the United States.  The focus on China has meant little emphasis has been placed on where Indonesia sits in Australasian strategic thinking.  The Assessment recommends that New Zealand must concentrate its defence efforts on the Pacific, though it might have a wider Indo-Pacific role.  A further defence policy review update is now underway. 

Over the last forty or so years low-cost weapons have been able to inflict disproportionate losses on high-cost combat systems.  Shoulder-launched Stinger missiles proved devastating against the Soviet air force in Afghanistan.  The Falkland’s war showed how vulnerable large, high-cost warships were to subsonic, low cost anti-ship missiles. This lesson was relearned in 2022 with the loss of the Russian flagship Moskva to Ukrainian anti-ship missiles. 

The Ukraine war highlights the importance of precision targeting for its cost effectiveness as well as lethality.  Precision targeting depends largely on technology and componentry that is widely available, except for pariah states.  The Ukrainians have showed the importance of innovation in the combat environment.  This has included makeshift combat drones developed from recreational models.  Some Ukrainian-made software converted readily available tablets and smartphones into sophisticated targeting tools the Ukrainian military now uses widely.  Simple 3D printers make spare parts so soldiers can repair heavy equipment in the field.  Technicians convert pickup trucks into missile launchers.

Much future conflict up to the 2030s and beyond is likely to be mobile, dispersed among small combat units, information-intensive and precision-based.  It will exacerbate the vulnerability of forces centred on high-cost assets such as aircraft carriers, frigates, and tanks.  Aircraft carriers now look like sitting ducks when facing the latest anti-ship missiles and torpedoes.

There is currently no certain defence for ships against multiple anti-ship missile attacks or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) swarms, let alone conventionally armed hypersonic missiles which are already being deployed.

Higher defence and security investment is needed due to the greater demands on our military.  This goes way beyond combat operations and includes fisheries and other resource protection, environmental (including climate change) monitoring and response, disaster relief, peace keeping, search and rescue, Antarctic operations, and hydrographic mapping. 

Increasingly defence and security services will have to address risks in the “grey zone” between peace and war.  For example, seabed infrastructure is vulnerable.  Around 95% of world internet traffic passes through just 200 underwater fibre optic cables.  Unit 29155 is a Russian armed forces branch that operates clandestine operations in other countries.  In 2022 it is alleged to have attacked utility, communications and transport infrastructure in Scandinavia, Germany, France and Poland.

Even those of us with the deepest pacifist convictions understand that Hitler had to be stopped militarily, that Kim Jong-un’s North Korea is dangerously unstable, that “Black Swan” events such as 9/11 can come as if from nowhere, and subnational conflict is possible in several smaller Pacific states.  For example, the 1987 coup in Fiji was driven by racism against the Fijian Indian community.  There were outbreaks of violence against the Chinese minority in Tonga in 2001 and 2006.  New Zealand’s defence planning might need to give more emphasis to how we deal with subnational conflicts, preferably through early intervention before emerging conflicts get out of hand.

On a completely different scale, Australia’s near neighbour Indonesia has a population of 275 million people.  In the Indonesian mass killings of 1965-66 around 500,000 to 1,000,000 people died.  The victims were mainly communist sympathisers, Gerwani women, ethnic Javanese Abangan,  ethnic Chinese and alleged “unbelievers“.  Up to 100,000 people may have died during the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. 

Our defence forces must be ready and equipped for combat operations.  We should not however “shadow box” with China, a country that has been largely at peace with the democratic world since the Korean war was fought on its doorstep in the 1950s.  China provides a lot of aid to less developed countries, albeit with some risks of “debt entrapment”.  It seems to have been a moderating influence on Russia.  Xi Jinping in late 2022 is believed to have warned Vladimir Putin against the possible use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.  This seems to have worked – Putin has stopped opining on the subject.

New Zealand naval capabilities should not be overly geared to multi-lateral fleet exercises.  Such exercises require high cost, high speed frigates with advanced weapons that we will never use.  For example, the newAustralian Hunter-class frigates are 10,000 ton and will cost around $A3.9B per ship (2018 estimate).  This is way beyond our needs and means.  New Zealand does not need multi-role fast frigates that can keep up with carriers – it needs workhorses not racehorses.

Our military needs to be more flexible and be underpinned by dual-purpose technology with both military and civilian applications.  It needs to be more focused on non-combatant operations in the Pacific.  For example, climate change will damage small Pacific states through rises in sea levels, soil and freshwater salinity, harm to coral reefs and to local fisheries and other impacts we cannot predict.

New Zealand could never remotely be self-sufficient in defence; however, a much higher proportion of its defence budget could be spent domestically.  This could include leading-edge skill investment in fields such as design, AI, imaging, 3D engineering, and aerospace and marine precision engineering.  It is such enabling technologies that can deliver wider spill-over benefits.

New Zealand should lift its defence and security investment by perhaps 0.2% to 0.5% of GDP over the next decade or so.  Much of this investment would relate to security in the wider rather than the more narrowly military sense. 

Our current approach to defence investment involves replacing old frigates and other major military assets with updated new versions, even though technological change and the nature of warfare have changed radically and not incrementally. 

We should avoid “follow on” replacements of the Seasprite maritime helicopters and move instead straight to UAVs to carry out the functions currently undertaken by manned naval helicopters.  This could involve DARPA-like calls for proposals from New Zealand businesses and entrepreneurs.  It might see supercharging of the Defence Technology Agency to encompass “skunk works” and “MacGyver-like” approaches, as well as more conventional cooperative research work with other agencies and research student internships.

In short, we should show confidence in our businesses, entrepreneurs and research students and see what they can come up with when given some big defence and security challenges that New Zealand may need to face.

New Zealand needs to build up its maritime design capabilities to ensure our naval procurement responds to our challenges.  We have probably invested more in America’s Cup sailing design than in ensuring our naval vessels are designed to handle New Zealand conditions.  The Lake-class inshore patrol vessels commissioned in 2009 were not suited to rough New Zealand seas.  The two Protector class offshore patrol vessels were built in Australia to a design used by the Irish Naval Service.  Design errors meant the boats were 100 tons heavier than planned, however they were too short in length to easily handle Southern Ocean and other extreme conditions.

The sealift ship HMNZS Canterbury was built in Rotterdam based on a commercial ferry design.  It cost $130M and entered service in 2007, however design flaws in its RHIB system caused a fatality and its landing craft had to be replaced.  The ship was not seaworthy in some marine conditions.  The overseas builders of the ship agreed to pay $85M towards remedying some of the ship’s defects. 

A core New Zealand naval weakness is that it is platform-based rather than modular.  This means that as technology advances, instead of introducing new modules to an existing platform the whole platform needs to be upgraded at high cost and loss of operational readiness.  For example, one frigate took around three years to be upgraded.  Modularity decouples a warship’s mission systems (or payload) from the platform that carries them. 

Currently the Navy has nine ships in service from six different vessel classes.  Only the HMNZS Aotearoa, the ice-strengthened naval tanker and support ship fulfils a specialist role that requires a single ship class.  Our Navy needs more functionality through modularity and fewer classes. 

Except for HMNZS Aotearoa, all ships in our existing fleet will reach the end of their economical service life between 2032 and 2035.  The 2019 Capability Plan proposes to acquire in the mid-2020s an additional sealift vessel.  This new vessel will have greater lift capacity than HMNZS Canterbury.  The proposed new ship will provide a flexible military asset, including hospital facilities, planning spaces, and self-defence capabilities.  Following 2030, HMNZS Canterbury will then be withdrawn from service.

In the 1980s Harry Duynhoven, MP for New Plymouth actively campaigned for the Danish Thetis-class patrol frigate to be built in New Zealand with design assistance from Danish industry.  Others in the Just Defence lobby group favoured the British Castle Class patrol vessel commissioned in 1982.  This was 1,427 tons, with a 20 knots top speed and a 10,000 nmi range.

Duynhoven was ahead of his time as the Thetis class had several big advantages over competing frigate options.  It was about the same size as the ANZACs, however it has a range of about 8700 nmi compared to the ANZACs’ 6000 nmi.  It is also ice-strengthened.  The Thetis class was also more advanced in its StanFlex modular design system that allows different modules to be carried on the same platform depending on the intended mission. 

The one advantage the ANZAC frigate had was a 27-knot maximum speed compared to 21.8 knots for the Thetis class.  However. the slower Thetis-class speed can be an advantage as it means these vessels cannot be expected to participate in high speed, carrier-led task forces engaging in potentially confrontational naval exercises.

A former New Zealand Defence Minister Dr Wayne Mapp is an advocate of the Canadian Harry DeWolf-class vessel.  This is ice-strengthened, of 6,615 tons, a speed of 17 knots and a 6800 nmi range.  It seems inferior to either the ANZAC or Thetis designs on most criteria.

New Zealand industry was actively involved in the ANZAC frigates project in the 1990s.  Our industry has some strengths in design and build and we can source components from almost anywhere in the world.  A vessel based on an updated Thetis design as the platform and more differentiated modules dependent on mission would seem ideal for New Zealand.

It is critical to have design and build processes and capabilities within New Zealand.  It doesn’t matter if you must import most of the inputs if you control the core design and build functions.

It is sensible to invest more in dual-purpose technology that serves both civil and security markets.  Examples might include distributed generation, cybersecurity technologies, and environmental monitoring UAVs that can switch to being missile platforms.

There are some interesting defence-related businesses in New Zealand, all with specialised niches.  HamiltonJet has long had a significant niche in patrol craft water jet propulsion.  Rocket Labs makes New Zealand one of a small number of countries that launches satellites. 

Kea Aerospace in Christchurch is working on stratospheric aviation that can revolutionise data acquisition and communications for applications such as environmental monitoring, precision agriculture, disaster management and maritime domain awareness.  Dawn Aerospace is pioneering space plane technology. 

Small UAVs with both civil and military applications have been developed in Auckland at a fraction of the cost of overseas equivalents.  The New Zealand Konihi can be built for around $5000 compared to the United States Dragon Eye system at around $85,000.

Much of New Zealand’s future combat strength may well be in UAVs and missiles they launch, whether using army, naval or air force platforms.  The United States is deploying a Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR) to Okinawa, organised into smaller units armed with UAVs and missiles rather than tanks and artillery. 

In future New Zealand soldiers could be organised in squads of twenty or so operating their own UAVs and other weapons systems from the backs of 4WD vehicles.  Given the littoral environment there may be opportunities for smaller New Zealand designed combat craft to play a role in our defence planning.

New Zealand’s defence and security investment should favour multi-purpose technologies.  It should be geared to economic development through procurement processes and a knowledge and skills rather than a capital-intensive focus.  Skills developed and knowledge created in fields such as defence-related marine technology, UAV aerospace, digital, AI and cybersecurity would be expected to be portable to civilian markets, creating valuable spill-over benefits to the wider economy.

If the above strategy was successful, we could apply it to other non-defence and security challenges.  Examples could include distributed sustainable energy systems and energy storage.  Eventually we would see a higher rating for New Zealand in the Economic Complexity Index (ECI).  This would reflect an economy more sophisticated and differentiated in products and services and less prone to trade barriers.  We would also have many new sources of learning and knowledge application, spurring innovation in new fields and in paths untrodden.

Further reading

Greener, P.  2020: New Zealand’s future maritime helicopter options.  Line of Defence Magazine. 

Watts, A. 2023: Modularity: what our partners are doing to build future-focused navies.  Line of Defence Magazine.

Watts, A. 2021: Modularity and the Shape of New Zealand’s Next Naval fleet.  Line of Defence Magazine.


I drew on good articles by Andrew Watts and Dr Peter Greener.  I was impressed by the quality of key Defence documents – they were written by thinkers with no sign of  Colonel Blimp being present.

Posted in Economics, History, Politics, Science and innovation, Ukraine | 3 Comments

Science, mātauranga Māori, and the national curriculum

The biggest problems in New Zealand’s schooling system are poor literacy and numeracy.  This results from factors such as too little direct instruction as compared to child-led learning, inadequate use of phonics, and “fads” such as modern learning environments.  We also lack a knowledge-rich national curriculum that gives all New Zealand students a good educational start in life, and with this a basis for democracy and civil society.  The evidence is that socio-economic background is the main determinant of differences between Māori and non-Māori educational achievement.

Given all this, it is surprising how much emphasis the Ministry of Education (MoE) is giving to race as a key variable in education.  MoE seems more focused on promoting Māori racial and cultural identity than, for example, professional identities.  “Māori succeeding as Māori” is a recurring trope.  A wisely sardonic Māori kuia once said to me that New Zealand has too few Māori in the professions and too many professional Māoris (sic).  This was decades ago, and she spoke in a whisper.  By now the prevailing zeitgeist will have silenced her completely.

MoE’s Te Hurihanganui initiative launched in 2020 included “white privilege” and racism in schools as root causes of poor Māori educational outcomes.

Te Hurihanganui defines “tino rangatiratanga” as Māori exercising their authority over their tikanga and taonga.  It associates this with decolonisation of the education system.  In the 19th century missionary schools, and later government-funded schools played a key role in Māori education.  For example, Te Aute college was established in 1854 on English public-school lines and set high educational expectations for its students.  Te Aute graduates included top Māori professionals, politicians and intellectuals, including Maui Pomare, Apirana Ngata and Peter Buck.  Colonisation had benefits, and much is owed to the British missionaries and teachers who sacrificed so much to educate their Māori compatriots.

Proposed changes to the New Zealand Curriculum focus on “obligations to Te Tiriti o Waitangi” and enhancing “Te Tiriti-honouring practice.”  It is assumed that racism causes inequity, and that “western science” has dominated in New Zealand whilst mātauranga Māori has been “deliberately disrupted by colonisation.” 

It is claimed that te Tiriti provides for the active protection of te Reo Māori, tikanga Māori, and mātauranga Māori, which are claimed to be taonga under te Tiriti.  However, nowhere in te Tiriti are these claimed taonga mentioned.  ‘Taonga’ in 1840 meant real property such as a waka, a whare or a fishing net.  It did not include, for example, language, water, ‘cultural property’, or later discoveries such as broadcasting spectrum. 

In MoE documents references are made to te Tiriti creating an equal partnership between chiefs and the Crown.  However, it is impossible for Māori to be both subjects of and equal partners with the Crown.  The “equal partnership” argument is a modern invention absent from the 1840 documents and devoid of credible scholarship.

MoE contends that te Tiriti includes “a promise that Māori would retain their sovereignty (tino rangatiratanga)”.  Equating ‘sovereignty’ and ‘tino rangatiratanga’ is invalid.  Article 1 of the Treaty/Te Tiriti transfers to the Crown “sovereignty” (in English) or in Māori “kawanatanga” (governorship).  Māori acceptance of Crown sovereignty is clear from records of debate among Māori at the Treaty signings in 1840, from the later discussions at the 1860 Kohimarama conference, and from many other sources. 

Tino rangatiratanga protects Māori property rights and reflects Magna Carta principles.  It could also mean economic self-determination at the individual, whanau and hapu level.  However, it cannot mean sovereignty and the right to make laws as set out in Treaty/Tiriti Article 1.

Integral to the new Te Tiriti-Honouring and Inclusive Curriculum Framework is the relationship between science and mātauranga Māori and how this relates to identity.  In a background paper for MoE, mātauranga Māori is said to “provide a world view and an identity for those who have whakapapa Māori.  For those who do not have whakapapa Māori, engagement with mātauranga Māori provides an opportunity to explore and understand the Māori world view; however, it does not provide identity.”

MoE assumes two major “ways of knowing” in New Zealand: science and mātauranga Māori.  However New Zealand has long been a multicultural society. Every ethnic, racial or cultural group has a different body of traditional knowledge and belief.  This is typically shaped by past learning, the wider physical, technological and social environment, and the influence of ideas, technologies and flows of knowledge from other people and from cross-disciplinary sources. 

MoE documents show little real interest in the traditional knowledge and beliefs of New Zealand’s large Asian and other minority (non-Māori) cultures.  However, people from these cultures tend to succeed through their own endeavours. 

It is argued that there is a unique Māori knowledge base and ways of learning (‘mātauranga Māori’) that existed before European contact and that these are valuable in the modern world.  Mātauranga Māori is a complement to rather than a substitute for science.  Advocates argue that mātauranga Māori is undervalued and that it should be valued and funded at similar levels to science. 

A 2019 New Zealand Science Review special issue defined mātauranga Māori as “Māori knowledge, Māori methods of knowledge creation, and Māori ways of knowing.”  Sir Mason Durie contended 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.”

All advanced countries invest substantially in science that transcends cultures and is universal.  Science follows agreed disciplinary rules internationally rather than local and culture-specific rules. 

As Diamond (1997) noted, people in Eurasia and parts of the Americas had the domesticated crops and animals to support economic surpluses, and the trade and other connections to learn from others.  However, isolated and migratory groups were limited by their resource base and poor access to new technology and ideas.  Some such groups became so isolated that their technological capabilities stagnated and sometimes went backwards.  Aboriginal Tasmanians gave up bone tools and fishing gear.  Polynesian societies lost pottery-making skills, and Māori whose ancestors sailed to New Zealand on multi-hull sailing canoes (waka hourua) reverted to single hull canoes and forgot how to build and sail larger ocean-going vessels.

The first New Zealanders lacked most major food crops and domesticable animals and had no metallurgy, pottery or written language.  This made it impossible to build up the surpluses needed for labour specialisation.  Māori do not appear to have undertaken plant breeding on any significant scale.  This likely reflected factors such as the narrow genetic variation within the kumara, yam and other staple food crops that Māori had available.

Before European contact, Māori had no trade connections with the outside world that could open up access to new ideas and technologies.  As a result, New Zealand Māori delivered no significant innovation in 800 or so years of pre-European settlement.  This had nothing to do with lack of curiosity or intellect.  Had the Māori population included Thomas Edison, James Watt, Tim Berners-Lee, Bill Gates, Ross Ihaka and Steve Jobs they would still be “sucking the cold kumara” in abject poverty because the conditions for science-based innovation were absent.

Science aims to continuously advance knowledge and seek universal truth.  In contrast, much traditional knowledge or belief such as mātauranga Māori is local.  MoE states that “a mātauranga Māori programme will be locally based, drawing on the knowledge and understanding of the iwi and hapū of the locality where the schooling is located.  For an interface between mātauranga Māori and science to be successful, a science programme should also be locally derived.”

MoE’s support for a local focus for mātauranga Māori is intellectually limiting, hampers scalability, and reduces the generalisability of the learning undertaken.  It also undermines the vision of a national curriculum that delivers powerful knowledge to all New Zealand students on an equitable basis.

Mātauranga Māori includes mythology and religious belief as well as secular content and scientific method.  However, while science itself must be rational and secular, scientists can achieve great things in their field whilst also holding beliefs or having passions that sit uneasily with scientific method. 

Gregor Mendel was an Augustinian friar as well as a founder of genetics science.  Blaise Pascal was as much a theologian as a mathematician.  Isaac Newton was a devout though unorthodox Christian who devoted years to studying alchemy and Biblical chronology.  Newton’s theory that white light is a mixture of unaltered spectral colours drew on techniques with roots in alchemy.  Long after his work on alchemy was forgotten, Newton still earned from his physics and maths the epitaph “Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night; God said,’Let Newton be’ and all was light.”

Lord Byron’s daughter, Ada Lovelace was a leading mathematician whose work influenced the development of digital computing.  She used poetic, pattern-based language to describe mathematical insights, seeing no need to separate poetry from science.  She valued metaphysics as much as mathematics, viewing both as tools for exploring “the unseen worlds around us”.  This may well be what Sir Mason Durie is referring to as “explorations of the interface” and “opportunities for creating new knowledge that reflects the dual persuasions.”

Mātauranga Māori is proposed to be woven into our national science curriculum.  This may create risks when science and myths are confused.  For example, no “mauri” or indeed any other “life force” exists within inanimate objects.  Therefore, including such concepts in any science curriculum harms students’ education.

New Zealand graduates need to compete in domestic and international marketplaces.  Our qualifications need to be respected internationally and remain portable to other countries.  We may value mātauranga Māori, however we cannot expect it to be valued outside New Zealand. 

Science involves understanding of how and why things work as they do.  It is not limited to learning what is, but also why things have come to be.  Knowing how to prepare karaka berries is knowledge; trying to find out why and how they are poisonous, and how preparation removes the poison, is science that can then be a platform for other applications   It is these platforms that achieve scalability and leverage off rapidly diminishing marginal costs.

Traditional knowledge is rarely accompanied with a deeper understanding of causation.  However, such knowledge can trigger rigorous scientific analysis that can lead to significant advances.  Japanese traditional knowledge includes indigo dyeing, which involves fermenting indigo leaves to extract dye.  This was an artisan craft until science explored how the microbial fermentation process worked.  This led Japanese scientists to new fuel cell developments.  In this case, traditional knowledge inspired new science.

Science needs connections to others’ research, and reliable ways of storing and disseminating information.  Oral cultures require ways of organising knowledge so it can be transmitted through the generations.  For example, oral poetry from Homeric times used recurring lines such as “young Dawn shows her rosy fingers” to help structure and aid the recall of poems of the length of The Iliad or The Odyssey.  Richard Dawkins used Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as a device to order his Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life.

In Māori culture whakapapa became a means of structuring knowledge and facilitating its recall.  Māori also encoded useful knowledge in memorable tales.  An example is the story of Mahuika’s fury with Māui for wasting her nails and flame, with her last embers deposited in the kaikomako tree.  This tale reminds future generations that kaikomako wood can be used to make fire. 

Fundamental to New Zealand’s future is its capacity to engage with and learn from the wider world.  We must be an open society and be part of the global “Republic of Science”.  Our science must be delivered in the language and style appropriate to people overseas.  If we talk only to ourselves no one else will listen and over time we will have nothing left to say.

Some argue that mātauranga Māori knowledge can only be known by those inside Te Ao Māori and skilled in kaupapa Māori.  It is fundamental in science that no knowledge is protected from challenge, including from outsiders.  Knowledge that requires protection is belief, not science.

The Māori Centre of Research Excellence Nga Pae o Te Maramatanga may do good or bad for Māori engagement in science and their subsequent career paths and socio-economic wellbeing.  Its research outputs as reported in its end of December 2021 report are overwhelmingly in society and culture and identarian fields.  There are some health and environmental outputs largely from a cultural or sociological perspective.  Few of the researchers seem to be developing knowledge and capabilities that will greatly boost their employment prospects outside of academia and government circles, let alone make a big difference to the world.

A risk we are creating is that some of New Zealand’s finest minds may be diverted into ideological “research” and political advocacy and fail to develop fully their skills in critical reasoning and rigorous scientific method.  Society may reinforce this while it is the prevailing zeitgeist, and then it will walk away, leaving misled graduates in the wrong fields with devalued degrees and angry with a system that duped them.

Mātauranga Māori reflects what Māori have learned or come to believe through centuries of observation.  Beliefs that are erroneous need to disappear and not be protected.  While mātauranga Māori resulting from observation of environmental processes can be ongoing, modern scientific method has taken over from most traditional “ways of knowing and believing” internationally.  Rather than funding mātauranga Māori we will get more value from applying modern science to the priorities Māori and other New Zealanders have and engaging more Māori in outwards-looking science that matters for the world.

For example, Peter Lucas Jones of Te Hiku Media is using artificial intelligence to develop Te Reo speech recognition software. The AI and the speech recognition software are science not mātauranga Māori.  However, the science is being applied in the first instance to Māori cultural priorities and it can then go wider. 

It is great that science and ways of learning are stirring increasing interest in the Māori community.  We should manage science education so we deliver more people of the calibre of Shane Reti, Ross Ihaka and Garth Cooper.  We must avoid creating a generation of embittered identarians who blame all that is wrong with their lives on “western science” and colonialisation.

On these issues I have given my views.  Where do you stand?


Diamond, J.  1997 Guns, Germs and Steel.  W. W. Norton.

Posted in Constitutional and Treaty of Waitangi issues, Cultural issues, Economics, Learning, education and pedagogy, Maori, Science and innovation | 9 Comments