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Luxon should listen, not talk, with iwi Māori - Finlayson

Radio New Zealand logo Radio New Zealand 2/12/2021 Russell Palmer
© RNZ / Mihingarangi Forbes


National's former treaty negotiations minister Chris Finlayson has confidence new leader Chris Luxon can build a strong relationship with Māori, but warns him not to be waylaid by cliches like 'one law for all'.

Luxon, a former businessman, is fresh to politics with only a year in Parliament under his belt and one of the big questions about his approach will be the party's attitude towards Māori.

He took over the leadership after Judith Collins was removed by the caucus last Thursday.

Collins' own relationship with Māori was fractious - on the plus side her deputy Shane Reti has been a staunch advocate for iwi, but her criticism of the government has often relied on tactics that have themselves been criticised as race-baiting.

Speaking to RNZ's The Panel host Emile Donovan yesterday, Finlayson said the kind of relationship building with Māori in politics was different than in business, but was optimistic about Luxon's attitude.

"One leading rangatira said to me 'you will fail if it looks as though you're Moses coming down from the mountain with the commandments ... you've got to listen, reflect, and encourage," - Chris Finlayson and Lady Tūreiti Moxon on The Panel with Emily Loughnan and Louis Houlbrooke (24 min 16 sec)

"I think he's up to it ... because I think he's a very smart guy," Finlayson said. "He's a New Zealander and he wants the best for his country, he knows that there are some big issues of inequality that need to be addressed. I'm sure he'll read the history and know the history of the country."

One of Collins' main lines of attack against the government was via the He Puapua report the government commissioned to assess how it could give effect to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Collins released an unredacted version of the report - which in a bid for unity proposed a Māori upper house to work alongside Parliament, and separate court and justice systems that cater to Māori. She called it divisive separatism, and accused the government of hiding it, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rejected.

Finlayson did not believe the National Party's relationship with Māori had soured in recent years.

"I think you've got to get beyond the rhetoric and look at the record of the National Party in government, and I think that any future National government will engage in the same positive way that others have done over the years with Duncan MacIntyre, Doug Graham and myself. I'm actually very positive about it."

© RNZ / Angus Dreaver


However, he acknowledged there a racist undercurrent in New Zealand that needed to be dealt with.

"Those sorts of things are important. They need to be addressed ... let's not kid ourselves or look at New Zealand through rose-tinted glasses - there are some very serious issues of inequality and injustice that need to be addressed," he said.

"When you look at New Zealand we pride ourselves on our race relations on the Waitangi Tribunal and so on, but it doesn't take much to bring out the nastiness against Māori - and Māori have suffered grave inequalities over the years. I mean, let me give you one single example. If there was a choice between Māori land or general land to be taken, I can tell you now it was inevitably Māori land that was taken under the Public Works Act."

He said he himself had developed co-governance arrangements with Māori, and he was positive the new leadership team would embrace them too where appropriate.

"I think that co-governance has had a bad press over the years ... I don't necessarily see it as a problem and I think that one has to be careful not to be waylaid by cliches like 'one law for all' or 'one system for all' because I think we have to be a bit more sophisticated than that.

"I'm sure that Christopher and his team will see the value of co-governance in a range of areas. So I'm actually very positive about that."

Finlayson suggested the party follow the advice of Tau Henare, who urged Luxon and his deputy Nicola Willis to meet with iwi around the country

"If I made mistakes, it would be that I think it's very sound advice to go out and listen to people across the marae and not simply the leaders," Finlayson said.

"I had a bit of a tendency to sort of meet with the rangatira, but sitting down, saying nothing and listening to the aspirations of iwi members generally is very useful."

"You've got to listen, and not be sort of the typical politician - go in and engage your mouth - but keep quiet, and hear what they're saying and try and see the world through their eyes - and some of the perspectives are different and we have to recognise and accept that and not denigrate it."

That resonated with Lady Tūreiti Moxon who has fought for Māori health equity for years including as the head of Te Kōhao Health in Hamilton, and has been named on the board of the new Māori Health Authority and to help lead the Māori Transition Authority working on eliminating state care of tamariki.

She said the time for National to build a relationship with Māori was now.

"There's been really a lack of real understanding in terms of what a treaty partnership looks - a Tiriti o Waitangi partnership looks like, and what they should be thinking about if they're going to go out and engage with iwi is what does that mean in terms of power sharing, in terms of resource sharing, in terms of decision making."

She said the new leadership duo needed to avoid the rhetoric of their predecessor.

"They need to get away from that language - that we're separatists, that Māori are more privileged and all these things - because we need to be growing and developing - and all the time - but they need to share resources ... I tell you what, people who have power don't want to share it."

"They have to be tika and pono, they have to believe what they're doing is going to be best for all of us, not just for one culture, and that's what it's always been like. And you know - if you have a look at who's at the top of the food chain it ain't Māori, so how do we help that and make that happen to bring Māori into the true partnership on the same equitable level as everybody else."

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