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 | 2 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

The Water Services Entities Bill raises the question: What does Labour stand for?

From the Labour Party’s formation in 1916 until the early 1970s people knew what it stood for.  It supported a strong voice for people in workplaces and through their local government and Parliamentary representatives.  It was a colour-blind, class-oriented party.  It believed in equality of opportunity.  It was innovative in international affairs and social policy.

Labour had the courage to carry out radical economic reforms from 1984, whilst at the same time banning nuclear-armed warship visits from our closest allies and standing up for our sovereign rights to do so.

National governments adopted and often expanded on policies Labour had initiated.  National were competent economic managers, with the exception of the Muldoon-led administration of 1975-84.  Robert Muldoon was intellectually able, had feelings for the underdog, and read well the electorate’s mood.  However, his decision to abolish the Kirk government’s compulsory superannuation scheme in 1975 was surely the single worst economic decision ever made in New Zealand. 

Axing the Kirk scheme explains much about our subsequent low domestic savings rates, our capital shallowness, high real exchange rate, low productivity, and imbalances that favour the non-tradeable over the tradeable sector.  These factors mean our innovative, knowledge-intensive businesses struggle to access the patient capital needed to become major international enterprises that are still retained in New Zealand.

The irony is that Labour, supported by the Greens, is now on the cusp of passing probably the worst legislation enacted in New Zealand since 1975 (or perhaps ever).  If enacted, the Water Services EntitiesBill will effectively transfer control over New Zealand’s waters (including geothermal and coastal as well as freshwaters) to tribal interests.  This will create at best a deadweight loss to the economy and at worse rent-seeking, ticket clipping and nepotism on a monumental scale.  

Managing water assets, infrastructure and services requires hydrologists, geologists, engineers, trades people, microbiologists, financial managers and a host of other capabilities.  Māori input is necessary and valuable.  However, the Bill implies that tribal Māori alone have unique knowledge and expertise that can meet the key challenges in water management.  It assumes that tribal leaders will act in the interests of all New Zealanders.

Rather than being configured around catchments, the Entities are based on loosely defined iwi boundaries that are historically and legally questionable and which do not reflect Māori demographics today, let alone those of New Zealanders as a whole.

How did we get to this point under a Labour Government?  Social class politics evolved from the 1970s into today’s identity politics.  The Parliamentary benches are now more diverse than ever before in gender, race, ethnicity, tribal, religious and other terms.  They are not however diverse in social class.  Most MPs are from the professional and management classes, are home owners with high incomes as well as high net worth.  Few Labour MPs have built a business with all the travails this involves.  Some have graduated from student political roles to jobs in or clustered around Parliament without ever having to make a product or deliver services that people in markets want to buy.

Up to the 1980s te Tiriti settlements involved reparations for historical injustices.  However, especially since the 1987 Lands case, the focus has shifted to one of a supposed ‘partnership’ between Māori and the Crown.  The Māori activist voice has moved from socio-economic concerns to wider identarian, political and constitutional ambitions. 

The scope of te Tiriti issues has widened far beyond the intent of the signatories in 1840.  “Presentism” involves interpreting te Tiriti as a modern rather than an 1840 document.  For example, in 1840 ‘taonga’ meant tangible physical property such as a spear, a fishing net or a waka.  It did not remotely mean, for example, language, intellectual and cultural ‘property’, broadcasting spectrum or water.

The 2019 He Puapua document proposed radical constitutional and other changes in New Zealand.  Amongst many other initiatives it signaled a future intent for Māori to impose levies on water (as well as on other resources).  He Puapua has set the scene for many Labour Government policy initiatives.  TheMāori caucus” has been a driving force in support of this.  Some MPs in this caucus may have forgotten their duty to act for all New Zealanders, not just a racially-defined subset.  In future, some may be asked to “check their privilege…”

The Water Services Entities Bill has triggered rigorous scrutiny.  Independent financial analyses have highlighted weaknesses in the government’s assumptions, the naivety of its debt financing proposals, and the failure to consider lower cost alternatives, including the more effective use of regulation – see Castalia: Five big problems with three waters.

The lack of effective governance structures and reporting mechanisms to ensure accountability will likely lead to performance failings and create fiscal risk.  The Entities’ debts will ultimately become public liabilities.  It is possible that the Water Services Entities will be a financial disaster of economy-wide significance.

While councils are nominally owners of the proposed Entities, legal opinions point out that councils have no conventional ownership rights.  The Water Services Entities Bill expropriates councils’ water-related assets and transfers them to “co-governed” Water Services Entities.  The real control over what happens with water will sit with a few tribal leaders.  Te Mana o te Wai statements exclusively provided by iwi and hapu will cover all water use matters.  These statements are binding on everyone exercising duties and functions under the Act.

The Water Services Entities process has been shambolic, dishonest and unprofessional.  At one stage a Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) was submitted to entrench in law a provision in the Bill that would require 60% of votes to change or repeal.  Strong criticism from constitutional lawyers and the Law Society saw the Labour government back off this proposal.

Dr Muriel Newman has documented The dishonesty, subterfuge and contempt for democracy in the Water Services Entities process.  The select committee received over 88,000 submissions, most of which strongly opposed the Bill or key elements of it.  However, the public consultation process gave no opportunity for input into such fundamental issues as the inclusion within the legislation of geothermal and coastal as well as freshwater resources.  Consultation was token in that it was clear that the Bill was a fait accompli well before consultation was completed.   Recruitment for key jobs in the new entities was underway before consultation was finished.

Dr Newman also asks questions about who is actually running the country, noting the Māori caucus influence and the evidence that at times key Cabinet Ministers and the Prime Minister herself have been blindsided by developments and lacked detailed understanding of the Bill’s ramifications.

Taken overall, the Bill gives tribes effective control of water in New Zealand.  This has never been in the Labour Party’s election manifesto and New Zealanders have never voted for it.  Enactment of the Water Services Entities Bill will besmirch New Zealand’s reputation as a democracy with quality institutions.  However, it will teach the need for eternal vigilance to safeguard democracy.  It may also force the Labour Party to reflect on what it stands for.


Posted in Constitutional and Treaty of Waitangi issues, Cultural issues, Economics, Maori | 2 Comments

Colonisation is now to blame for genocide, ecocide and climatechange 

Last week Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, a New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence hosted the 10th International Indigenous Research Conference.  Dr Rhys Jones from Auckland University delivered the keynote address titled: “Indigenous climate justice: from decarbonisation to decolonisation and relational restoration.”

Dr Jones argued that “climate change is really just one manifestation of colonialism or an intensification of the environmental impacts of colonisation.”  He stated that “modern colonial societies have really been built on the process of genocide and ecocide, and can only continue through ongoing genocide and ecocide.”  He then said “we have got to think not just decarbonisation but decolonisation.  What that really means is committing to upholding indigenous rights and restoring indigenous sovereignty.” 

The relationship Dr Jones posits between colonisation and carbon emissions is not well supported statistically.  The largest cumulative emissions since the industrial revolution have been from the US, China, Russia, Germany and the UK.  In 2020 the largest emitters were China, the US, India, Russia and Japan.  Europe has been historically the major driver of colonisation and yet its emissions are tracking down more rapidly than elsewhere in the world.

Humanity has altered the environment, including the climate, long before colonialism emerged.  An example is soil carbon loss.  This is critical in climate change since there is more carbon in soils than in both terrestrial plants and the atmosphere combined.  Agriculture began around 12,000 years ago, and since then around 133 billion tonnes of carbon have been lost from soil and ended up as atmospheric carbon dioxide. 

It is widely accepted that to avoid catastrophic climate change we must extract carbon from the atmosphere as well as reduce emissions.  That is, we need negative emissions technologies.  Indigenous people created such technology over thousands of years, manifested in Amazonian terra preta (black soils) and carbon-rich black soils in West Africa.   These soils were likely created accidentally through charcoal being added with food scraps and other waste into infertile soils, turning them into enduringly fertile, carbon-rich black soils.  While most soil carbon is lost to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, charcoal endures as a permanent soil carbon store.  For more detail see what should we do about climate change and indigenous people, kaitiakitanga and biochar.

Contrary to some perceptions, on a population-adjusted basis indigenous societies are not more environmentally benign than modern, industrialised ones.  Both Māori and Pakeha wasted resources when they were abundant and developed sustainable practices only when resources became depleted.  In pre-European times Māori were responsible directly or indirectly for the loss of about half New Zealand’s forest cover, and the extinction of over forty bird species. 

In modern times, some Māori groups have given priority to commercial interests over environmental protection.  For example, in 2013 government mooted an ocean sanctuary surrounding the Kermadec Islands.  However, Māori interests opposed this, arguing that the proposed sanctuary breached possible future fishing rights.

The 2019 He Puapua document aspires to a future state where Māori would “receive royalties for the use of particular natural resources such as water, petroleum and minerals.”  He Puapua effectively supports conservation estate land being exploited for petroleum, which would result in increased carbon emissions.

The 2013 Tūhoe settlement deed converted Te Urewera from a National Park to an identity as a legal ‘person’ in its own right.  The settlement deed conferred protection for Te Urewera’s indigenous biodiversity and ecology and guaranteed public access to Te Urewera.  

However, the tribal authority Te Uru Taumatua (TUT) has failed to protect biodiversity.  Inaction on pest control risks ecological degradation and extinction of more endangered species.  TUT has stated its intention to “remove the Western influences and their imprint within Te Urewera”.  It has been burning or breaking up huts.  Given growing mainstream (including Māori) opposition to extremism, TUT’s interpretations of decolonisation seem unlikely to lead to book burning or Kristallnacht (although the Prime Minister had to intervene to prevent Creative New Zealand cancelling the alleged colonial imperialist, William Shakespeare.)  Overall, the evidence increasingly suggests that transferring public conservation estate from DoC to tribal control risks bad environmental outcomes and community divisiveness.

Where environmental management can go badly wrong is when privileged business, tribal or sectarian interests exploit legal or political processes for rent-seeking purposes.  What was once the “Three Waters” reforms has now become “Five Waters” due to some late backroom amendments to draft legislation.  The Five Waters legislation if enacted will set up a racialist system to manage New Zealand’s water resources.  It will make corruption and nepotism possible on a monumental scale.  However, on the positive side it will teach people lessons about not taking democracy and institutional integrity for granted.

It is often contended that economic growth is environmentally damaging.  However, the environmental Kuznets curve hypothesis suggests that environmental degradation increases at early economic development stages.  However, when income reaches a certain level local environments improve.  For example, air and water quality is now far better in modern cities than it was 100 years ago.  Today, London is no longer threatened by industrial “pea souper” fogs, and the Thames is swimmable.  In Wellington, biodiversity is flourishing due to pest control and the Zealandia wildlife sanctuary that we can afford to pay for.

However, the environmental Kuznets curve applies largely to local rather than global issues.  While anthropogenic climate change is generally accepted, much climate change science is still contested.  Climate change has varying impacts on different parts of the world.  It raises moral dilemmas over who historically is to blame for emissions and who should pay for what. 

Evolved human psychology gives insights into humanity’s struggle to address global issues such as climate change effectively.  Our minds have evolved to recognise and commit to coalitions, whether based on family, tribe, race, nationality, religious, sporting or other affiliations.  We are hardwired for coalition thinking and not for racial coalitions specifically (see Kurzban et al 2001).

Coalition psychology works at multiple levels including the nation state.  A problem shared by a local community or nation state can be dealt with at these levels.  However, addressing climate issues requires a collective global response which goes far beyond the scope of existing coalitions.   

New Zealand is best to stay committed to global fora and agreements, and at the same time encourage our communities to work towards local and indigenous solutions

Dr Jones’ references to “restoring indigenous sovereignty” fail to recognise that indigenous people are typically tribal and do not think in terms of nation state sovereignty.  Furthermore, no unsubsidised indigenous tribal society has ever succeeded in delivering good living standards sustainably.  No one will abandon well-performing institutions with colonial origins to return to those existing in pre-European New Zealand.  People may well however adopt some tikanga that may meet today’s needs, for example rahui as a resource management protocol.

Dr Jones is sceptical about the market system, and he seems to be overly inward-looking.  International scientific cooperation and open flows of ideas and data are needed for effective climate change responses.  International trade can often mitigate negative environmental externalities.  For example, it is better to use hydroelectricity to make aluminium at Bluff than to use coal-powered generation to make this metal in other countries.  

There are good arguments supporting indigenous or other developments that address environmental issues at the local level.  Devolution and the subsidiarity principle can facilitate more local or indigenous input into problem solving.  Elinor Ostrom’s work shows how rules can be designed to manage collective resources in an economically and ecologically sustainable way.  This can range from Bali irrigation systems to Maine lobster fisheries and Swiss alpine pastoral grazing.

Reflecting cultural drivers and legal constraints on land sales some Māori collectives are taking an intergenerational view consistent with addressing climate change. Inalienable Māori land is free from capital gains-driven distortions in farm operations, tilting land use to the long term.

Resources such as oil and gas fields concentrate economic and political power in specific places with benefits captured quite narrowly.  In contrast, decentralised industries such as distributed energy (wind, solar) and farming diffuse power.  Many technological responses to climate change are consistent with a more distributed energy system and a more equitable economy and society.  This is what we should be aiming for, rather than perpetuating untruths about colonialism, and dismissing whole swathes of humanity as being dependent on ongoing genocide.


R Kurzban, J et al 2001: Can race be erased? Coalitional computation and social categorization.  National Academy of Sciences 98 (26), 15387-15392

Posted in Biochar, Constitutional and Treaty of Waitangi issues, Cultural issues, Economics, Maori, Politics, Science and innovation, Shakespeare | 2 Comments

Comment on Fair Chance Inquiry Interim report

Below is my submission to the NZ Productivity Commissions Fair Chance Inquiry Interim Report.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the NZPC’s Fair Chance Inquiry Interim Report.

The NZPC team has worked hard on this Report and has canvassed many perspectives and cited some useful literature.  I agree with the proposed focus on equity, which seeks equality of outcomes through complementary but distinct initiatives for disadvantaged groups. 

However, there are big weaknesses in the Report.  It is narrow and inward-looking, and in places racially partisan.  The Report’s framing is dominated by Māori perspectives to the exclusion of those of most other New Zealanders.  Whilst there is significant coverage of the Pacific community, Asian New Zealanders are hardly considered at all.

In my view the Fair Chance Inquiry should be based on need and on horizontal equity not on racialism.  A horizontal equity approach will still overlap significantly with a Māori-centric approach.  

I disagree that Māori disadvantage results from colonisation and institutional racism.  A more convincing argument is that too much focus has been placed on culture and identity and too little on socio-economic class issues (see Michaels, 2006).

The Report has inadequate focus on improving educational and labour market performance and lifting productivity as the key drivers of reducing disadvantage.

The Report makes some questionable assertions and claims with weak supporting rationale or evidence.  Examples relate to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and to colonisation and its impacts:

Te Tiriti o Waitangi

The Report states that “despite the Crown’s obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi they fail to provide equitable outcomes for Māori.”  The Treaty/Te Tiriti does not obligate the Crown to provide equitable outcomes.  It is an international agreement to create a central government and rule of law, to protect property rights, and to make Māori Crown subjects (with all the rights this implies).

As the distinguished scholar Dame Anne Salmond has pointed out, Te Tiriti is a colour-blind document that protects the rights of all the people of New Zealand, not just Māori.  Te Tiriti was never intended to determine specific outcomes.

Colonisation and its impacts

The Report states that “the decline in the socio-economic status of Māori began with a deliberate assimilation policy and laws such as the Native Lands Act 1865 that alienated Māori from their lands and broke down traditional collective social structures.”  This statement ignores the devastating impacts of the “Musket Wars” fought between Māori tribes from about 1807 to around 1837.  These wars cost around 40,000 Māori lives, compared to total losses of less than 3000 people from all sides in all the “New Zealand Wars” (see Crosby 2020).  

New Zealand ceased to be a British colony in 1907, and the fact that we have freely chosen to retain institutions we inherited from Britain suggests that these institutions have served us well.  Māori-centric institutions we have developed, for example wananga, have had a patchy track record.  

Colonisation delivered great benefits to Māori when we compare living conditions of Māori before European contact with conditions after colonisation began in the 19th century. 

No Māori today would be prepared to return to the institutions and living standards of precolonial New Zealand.  The challenge is how we can lift living standards and wellbeing for all New Zealanders, putting most emphasis on those who are the most disadvantaged.  This suggests a focus on education and labour market interventions, housing, tax policies and economic development initiatives.  Change to some institutions we adopted from Britain may be needed, however no case has been made for fundamental decolonisation (whatever that might look like).

Failure to address some key determinants of permanent disadvantage

The Report fails to address adequately some key determinants of permanent disadvantage.  A good example is the long-standing poor performance of our schooling system, as tracked through PISA, PERLs and other internationally comparable data.  The Report does not draw effectively on work done by the NZ Initiative, and by academics such as Professor Elizabeth Rata on educational issues.  The Report shows almost no awareness of the IDI-based Post Study Outcomes (PSO) data available to both the Ministry of Education and the TEC.  This data has huge but underutilised potential to guide improved performance in tertiary education as gauged by employment, incomes, and other benefits of tertiary education.

Failure to draw adequately on the research evidence

The Report lacks analytical depth in some key areas, and this is reflected in the paucity of the literature cited in the References section from p. 142.   While Lusitini (2022) makes good use of data from the Christchurch Health and Development Study, the Report does not draw in depth on many findings from the 50 years of research by the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit on factors relevant to permanent disadvantage.

Furthermore, the Report does not draw significantly on the work of such international researchers as Sendhil Mullainathan,  Martha Farah, James Heckman, Raj Chetty and (at a more philosophical level) Michael Sandel).  There seems to be little if any awareness of leading-edge work by for example K Paige Harden.  

At the end of my comments below I have included references to some further reading that might help future work on the Fair Chance Inquiry.  I am happy to discuss some of the insights from this work with NZPC staff if that is useful.

Responses to key questions

My specific comments on some key questions are:

Q. 6.10: What do you see as the necessary changes to our policymaking and funding frameworks so that they respond better to supporting those in persistent disadvantage and prevent the intergenerational transmission of that disadvantage?  

I believe that a life course development approach should be taken.  I also strongly recommend an analysis of individual development accounts to address both our equity and our economy-wide productivity challenges.

Q6.17 Do you think that our fiscal rules and approach to accounting for future government liabilities constrain our ability to address persistent disadvantage?

Our current fiscal rules and processes are essential to provide both macro-economic stability and micro-economic flexibility.  Without them we face serious economic risks, including the exacerbation of permanent disadvantage.

References and wider reading relevant to the Fair Chance Inquiry

Agostinelli, F. et al 2020: ‘Home and school in the development of children.’  NBER Working Paper 26037.

Anderson, E. 1999: ‘What is the point of equality?’ Ethics Vol 109, Number 2. pp. 287-337. 

Attanasio, O. et al 2021: ‘Early childhood development, human capital and poverty.’  NBER Working Paper 29362.

Attanasio, O. et al 2020: ‘The persistence of socio-economic skills: Life cycle and intergenerational evidence.’ NBER Working Paper 27823.

Banerjee, A. Mullainathan, S: ‘Limited Attention and Income Distribution.’ AEA Session “Psychology and Development: Theory and Experimental Evidence.

Barcellos, S. et al 2021: ‘The effect of education on the relationships between genetics, early-life disadvantages, and later-life SES.’  NBER Working Paper 28750.

Barrett, B.; Rata E. (Eds) 2014: Knowledge and the Future of the Curriculum. International Studies in Social Realism.  Basingstoke, UK, Palgrave Macmillan

Belsky, D. et al 2019: ‘Genetics and the geography of health, behaviour and attainment.’  Nature Human Behaviour 3, 576-586.

Belsky, D. 2018: ‘Genetic analysis of social-class mobility in five longitudinal studies.’  PNAS July 31, 2018 115 (31). 

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Thank you for considering my comments.

Dr Peter Winsley

Posted in Cultural issues, Economics | Tagged , | 1 Comment

New Zealand’s democracy faces its greatest challenge

Racialisation and tribalisation, less government openness and more centralization are endangering New Zealand’s status as a western democracy.

“The West” is not a geographic place nor a particular ethnicity, race or religion.  Singapore, Japan and South Korea are as much “western” countries as Denmark, Britain or Canada.  They share values such as democracy as a voting system through which politicians are elected, individual rights, and the rule of law.

Democracy as a voting system

Democracy means one person, one vote, and free, fair and regular elections.  It means majority rule.  The risk of a “tyranny of the majority” is moderated through proportional voting systems, laws governing equal treatment and non-discrimination, and through the common law assertion that the law must treat everyone equally.

In New Zealand, democracy is being eroded by legislation and funding that fosters racialization and tribalization of core local government and resource management functions, and which places undue emphasis on race in the education, health and other sectors.

To function effectively, liberal western democracies require an educated population with the capabilities to engage with civil society and democratic processes.  There must also be independent and critical mediato support an informed society and to hold governments to account. 

The Public Interest Journalism Fund (PIJF) allocated $55m to various media outlets, with one eligibility criterion requiring adherence to a partisan view of Te Tiriti o Waitangi issues.  The PIJF did not close down free media in New Zealand, however it slants how the media deals with Te Tiriti issues.  This has contributed to the unofficial banning and de-platforming of those who challenge even the most extreme claims associated with Te Tiriti.

In a healthy democracy all citizens must have the same rights of citizenship and a shared sense of nationhood.  Professor Elizabeth Rata sees huge risks in New Zealand being divided on “ethno-nationalistic” or racial lines.  She argues that democracy requires a secular education system that ensures all students share rich knowledge that enables them to fully participate in society.

Individual rights

Individual rights are stipulated in human rights legislation in New Zealand and other western countries.  Democracy is threatened when individual rights are eroded.  Free speech is fundamental to human rights and to democracy.  As in other western democracies free speech in New Zealand is at risk because of concerns about “hate speech” being used to stifle the debate and dissenting views needed for an open society. 

Individual rights are linked to decentralisation and to subsidiarity.  The separation of powers of the executive, the legislature and judiciary are important safeguards against a concentration of functions that can erode individual rights and democracy.

Key government reforms focus on centralisation of local and central government functions.  Centralisation is neither good nor bad, depending on the merits of the case.  But the Government is electing to conflate centralisation with co-governance, or at minimum with far greater obligations to implement treaty principles as it sees it.  One example is the Three Waters reforms that aggregate community assets into larger entities that unelected tribalists will have effective control over.  Another example is centralising formerly regional polytechnic functions into one top-down entity, Te Pukenga.

Rule of law

The rule of law holds that all are equal before the law.  The law binds everyone, including the Government and its Ministers.  People and institutions that wield power must do so within legal limits and be accountable for their actions.  The rule of law cannot be ignored or overridden for partisan reasons or political convenience. 

The rule of law assumes that legislation is prospective and not retrospective.  It is bolstered by norms such as consultation on new legislation, and where appropriate, compensation for regulatory takings.

Law and binding agreements are international as well as domestic.  Te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi was an international treaty that was our first step to independent nationhood.  It promises “ngā tikanga katoa rite tahi” – equal rights for all.  New Zealand’s self-interest requires compliance with, for example, international trade facilitation rules.  However, we have not fully complied with some international commitments.

Some current government initiatives do not sit well with United Nations and other international obligations.  Article 26 of the United Nations International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights asserts that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to its protection without any discrimination.

In 1972 New Zealand ratified the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).  This requires New Zealand to promote equal human rights and freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural and other domains.  New Zealand must prohibit and condemn distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race or ethnicity.

Furthermore, section 19 (1) of the Bill of Rights Act 1990 affirms the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds set out in the Human Rights Act 1993.

Despite these obligations under international and domestic law, New Zealand has enacted legislation and taken co-governance initiatives that discriminate between Māori and non-Māori.  

Social norms, civic society and culture underpinning democracy

Democracies subject politicians to formal checks and balances and these are supported by informal norms that all sides agree to.  These include for example the acceptance of the results of an election, and the peaceful transference of power to the newly elected.  Donald Trump failed to overcome both the formal checks and the informal norms that support democracy in the United States. 

In contrast, democracy is vulnerable in countries where the social norms supporting it are not well developed, understood and deep-rooted.  Viktor Orbán has been Hungary’s prime minister since 2010, previously holding the office from 1998 to 2002.  He has curtailed press freedom, eroded judicial independence, and undermined multi-party democracy.  He has labelled the result “illiberal democracy”.

Russia’s modern history shows that enacting well-drafted legislation and constitutional documents cannot, by itself, lead to a well-functioning democracy.  The Russian Constitution is a model for an inclusive, human rights-based democracy that is a good global citizen. 

However, Russia lacks the social norms, civic spirit, mindsets and political culture to uphold its Constitution, and in practice it is routinely and selectively ignored.  For example, Russian territorial annexations are illegal in international law and effectively violate its Constitution, however this has not stopped them happening.

Russia was a nascent democracy under Boris Yeltsin in the late 1990s.  After he took over from Yeltsin from 1999, Vladimir Putin centralised more power in the Kremlin and expanded the FSB, the KGB’s successor.  Even from these early stages he used the law to persecute political enemies rather than confer justice on them.    

By around 2012 Putin was above the law, with the tacit consent of government officials and oligarchs he had enriched and whose loyalty he commanded.  In February 2022, Putin’s army invaded Ukraine.  It had taken Putin 22 years to turn a nascent democracy into an autocracy where politicians, business leaders and investigative journalists who oppose his rule may be shot, poisoned, imprisoned, exiled or die in “mysterious circumstances”.

What are the differences between western democracy and autocracy?

Narratives about a country’s history, culture, and what it stands for can profoundly influence how a country behaves.  These narratives differ between autocracies and democracies. 

Autocracies typically base their narratives around a favoured group identity that shares history, genealogy, language, culture, ideology, and perhaps religious ties.  A liberal western democracy must be inclusive of people from diverse backgrounds and multiple identities who share common nation-state citizenship, even if they have little else in common. 

This means a diverse, multi-ethnic, and multi-lingual country can be unified politically at the nation state citizenship level regardless of the other identities that matter for people at other levels.  Examples include Switzerland and Singapore whose citizens are strong in their diverse racial and cultural identities, whilst uniting in their shared identities as Swiss or Singaporean citizens. 

How is New Zealand’s democracy threatened?

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.

Most nations have a narrative or “story about themselves” which validates their history, builds pride and purpose, and gives guidance for the future.  The tribalistic attack on New Zealand’s democracy starts with discrediting the existing “western democracy” narrative and writing a new one.  The new narrative is Māori-centred and attributes today’s problems to colonisation and racism. 

The narrative argues that New Zealand needs decolonisation.  Creative New Zealand declining funding for Shakespeare’s “canon of imperialism” and claims that mātauranga Māori be funded on equal terms with universal science reflect a tribalistic “decolonisation” agenda.  This tribalism conflicts with western democracy and its foundations in the European enlightenment, reason, science, and secular, “colour-blind” government.

The overt direction is a turning away from the best of what has been thought and created in the world, to a smaller, insular and ethnocentric education system centred on what knowledge a tiny population with very primitive technological development, at the edge of the world, could accumulate.  This is consistent with the risk that Professor Elizabeth Rata signalled.

European colonial institutions must be done away with; however, it is never clear which ones, and what can be put in their place. 

Western democracies are outward-looking and linked to humanity’s cultural heritage and to leading-edge science.  A tribalistic, “decolonisation” ideology is inwards looking, suppresses critical thinking, and creates barriers to accessing the best that universal humanity can offer. 

The tribalistic alternative narrative infers that New Zealand has two cultures, Māori and Pakeha, with tokenistic nodding to Pacific peoples.  It ignores other cultural groups such as Asians and does not accept that many people (perhaps most of the population) think of themselves as New Zealanders, and often as well-travelled “citizens of the world.”

As brilliantly elucidated by Chris Trotter, official New Zealand government health policy documents imply that racism is akin to a disease spread by Pakeha that harms Māori without being spread by Māori.

A new constitution for New Zealand is emerging without an explicit democratic mandate.  The Labour Party did not include in its 2020 election portfolio some key policies it intended to introduce.  The 2019 He Puapua report proposing radical, race-based constitutional change was even kept secret from the Labour-led government’s key coalition partner. 

New Zealand’s government is creating institutions, policy and funding initiatives that have constitutional implications without formal public debate, and then presenting them as “fait accompli”.  Examples include giving Māori representation and powers in public sector and local body agencies far in excess of their population numbers. 

The Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill abolished the democratic right of communities to oppose separate Māori local government electoral wards.  Retrospective legislation was used to cancel petitions demanding that referenda be held on Māori wards.  The Canterbury Regional Council (Ngai Tahu Representation) Act created seats for non-elected tribal representatives who cannot be held accountable to voters.

Co-governance effectively transfers public assets and core government functions to tribal entities.  In some cases, this amounts to de facto privatisation.

Co-governance has been introduced incrementally, perhaps so that it becomes a default expectation.  In some initiatives tribal representatives are given veto rights. 

However, co-governance is achieving patchy results.  As one example, in October 2022 Ngāi Tūhoe’s operational entity Te Uru Taumatua began destroying 48 huts in Te Urewera, asserting their authority over what was once a National Park.  Some believe that Te Uru Taumatua is seeking to erase any sign of non-Tūhoe presence in Te Urewera.  However, the hut destruction is opposed by many other Māori, including Tūhoe, as well as non-Māori.

The Three Waters reforms effectively give Māori tribalists control over New Zealand’s freshwater resources.  In practice, governance matters more than “ownership” because it confers effective control.  Tribal governance effectively privatises water ownership and it will also confer de facto tribal ownership of, for example, national parks and other public assets.  Such fundamental changes in effective ownership (“co-governance”) are occurring without being put to the electorate to vote on.

Māori have much to contribute to improving water quality, however they do not have a monopoly on knowledge of freshwater issues in New Zealand.  Our freshwater management system must reflect the hydrological, ecological and human settlement characteristics of our water catchments, not arbitrary tribal boundaries.  The Three Waters system is doomed to failure in its current form.

New Zealand’s name is progressively being changed to ‘Aotearoa’ without a referendum.  The compulsory history curriculum likely to be taught from 2023 will be heavily Te Tiriti and Māori-centered.  It will underplay the benefits from colonisation and the western institutions it brought to New Zealand.  It will be silent on many key historical events.  It will ignore the most violent and socially devastating events in our history – the Musket Wars fought from the early 1800s to the late 1830s. 

It 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.  Pre-European Māori had no conception of nation state sovereignty.  However, 1840 Māori were acutely aware of the need for a central authority that could end conflict, and could create and enforce laws that defined and protected people’s rights.

The curriculum will undermine confidence in New Zealand’s equal rights-based western democracy and institutions.  It will thereby help pave the way for race and tribal-based constitutional change as set out in He Puapua. 

New Zealand has one of the oldest and most pathbreaking democratic systems in the world.  It now has to recognise the great existential threat race-based tribalism poses.  The new tribalistic narrative is being uncritically accepted by many in politics, academia and the media.  It underpins the He Puapua report and its associated ideology.  It is being translated into fundamental constitutional, legal, and institutional change. 

Overall, we seem to be heading towards a dual system of government made up of a weakened democracy and more powerful tribal structures.  This can lead to a divided country with poor performing and nepotistic tribal institutions and with critical thinking degraded with mysticism, if not regarded as a form of hate speech! 

We must defend the strengths of liberal western democracy without descending into sectarian or racialist divisiveness.  In doing so perhaps we can draw inspiration from the one country which is fighting for western democracy, for its culture, and for its very survival: Ukraine.  Volodymyr Zelensky has broken with ethno-nationalism and promoted democracy grounded in equal “colour-blind” rights, common citizenship identities, and commitment to human universality.  Perhaps Ukrainian children can inspire us.

Posted in Constitutional and Treaty of Waitangi issues, Cultural issues, Learning, education and pedagogy, Maori, Politics, Russia, Ukraine | 4 Comments

What is really behind Creative New Zealand’s withholding of funding for a Shakespeare festival for secondary school students?

Creative New Zealand has withheld funding for a Shakespeare festival for secondary school students that has been run successfully for around thirty years.  It argues that Shakespeare’s work focuses on “a canon of imperialism” and questioned whether “a focus on an Elizabethan playwright is most relevant for a decolonising Aotearoa in the 2020s and beyond”. 

There is a long history of seeking to confine Shakespeare to one time period, culture, or even to deny he wrote his own works. Yet Shakespeare continues to flourish and keeps us linked to universal culture in even the most inward-looking, identarian times. 

A senior theatre lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington, Nicola Hyland, said that British colonisers used Shakespeare’s works as an example of how people should act.  However, Shakespeare’s canon is not a book of moral precepts telling us how we should behave.  Shakespeare’s works instantiate supreme human reality and every nuance in human psychology.  If you are sufficiently immersed in his work not a day goes by without feeling the presence of his mind, and more sublimely a realisation of the unity of the human psyche.

Dr Hyland, who is of Te Atihaunui-a-Pāpārangi, Ngāti Hauiti descent, is also presumably of some unstated European descent, however this is of no moment for Shakespeare who is only interested in the whakapapa of the mind.

Dr Hyland argues “It would be a massive, awesome act of decolonisation if we discovered our own stories first and discovered Shakespeare afterwards.”  An even more awesome act might be to deeply engage students in a truly universal genius whose works traverse all cultures and epochs.  Dr Hyland might note that Shakespeare’s works are being constantly refreshed through new theatrical interpretations that have nothing Elizabethan or colonial about them.  People from all backgrounds can be moved by sonnet 30 set to music in New York street scenes.

Shakespeare in works such as Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet stripped away the shallowness of ethnic differences and what family you are born into to reveal underlying common humanity.  Noting our ageing population King Lear givesinsights into the challenges that can come with despised old age.  Observing the tragic plight of displaced people from Syria or Ukraine Shakespeare understood the pain refugees feel. 

Shakespeare’s works encompass all human psychology and are emancipatory not imperialistic or colonising.  The great black American writer Maya Angelou felt that the author of sonnet 29 must have been a little black girl because it expressed so well what she had felt as an outcast, destitute, the victim of racism and of child abuse, crying out alone before a deaf heaven:

When in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least.
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Shakespeare was centuries ahead of others in understanding racism and colonialism.  In earlier less enlightened times Othello was said to be a play about jealousy, “the “green-eyed monster”.  In fact, Othello is about race, and more broadly about identity.  Academic teachers whether in drama or other fields who worry about student engagement and retention should read: The upstart crow and why I feel I belong here.

Shakespeare stood on the cusp of European colonisation of the New World, with all its violence and dispossession, and also its potentialities and generativity.  Miranda in The Tempest cries:

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in it

Those who remove Shakespeare from the stage so they can “decolonise” drama will shrink rather than expand young people’s consciousness and critical faculties.  That may not be the intent of Creative New Zealand withholding its funding but it will most certainly be the effect.

Posted in Cultural issues, Learning, education and pedagogy, Maori, Politics, Shakespeare | 5 Comments

Te Tiriti, racialism, tribalism and democracy in New Zealand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Te Tiriti o Waitangi and democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local government reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water Services Entities Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decolonisation, retribalisation and tikanga

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

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

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

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

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

Environmental issues and co-governance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health policy

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

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

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

Concluding comments and way forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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