Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Phil Goff and the race card

November 27th, 2009

phil goff, the race card
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Playing the race card is one of those claims that is meant to shut down any further debate, and Phil Goff knew the risk that he was running – since he referred to the likely criticism on that front quite explicitly in his speech to Grey Power in Palmerston North. For example :

I reject strongly the allegation the Prime Minister made that anyone who has concerns about this deal is playing the race card.

Race is a red herring in this deal. It’s about subsidies for big corporations, and I am not going to shy away from saying so.

I opposed a special deal for Rio Tinto, just as I oppose the special deal for a Ngai Tahu corporation.

Just as we as taxpayers had to pay for Rob Muldoon’s supplementary minimum prices to farmers that many of you here will remember – so someone has to pay for the subsidies of today.

The subsidies aren’t free – ordinary New Zealanders have to pay for them – and in this case for generations to come.

The burden of paying will fall disproportionately on people less able to pay – hard working Maori and Pakeha taxpayers alike.

This is not a time to put at risk the concept of full and final settlements.

You see, when we considered this issue last year, Cabinet decided not to go down this route.

We looked at it and decided we would have created a permanent class of ‘post-Treaty asset’ – Assets that were once part of a Treaty settlement would forever be eligible for compensation if they were ever affected by adverse decisions by government.

On one level of course, this is merely postmodern politics : ie, Goff is trying to pre-empt criticism by acknowledging its likelihood. Goff is not politically naïve. He knows he is playing to a gallery that includes racists, and that Labour can expect to reap a political advantage from that quarter. Yet the issues he was raising in Palmerston North were also substantive, and not reducible to mere dogwhistling to rednecks. Given the nature of the deal done between National and the Maori Party in Parliament this week over the ETS, he was in something of a ‘damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t’ situation when it came to mounting an attack on it. Calling the deal ‘ shabby’ and opposing its benefits to particular Maori tribes ( and large iwi corporations) at the taxpayer’s expense is not playing the race card. It is more like truth in labeling.

His critics – especially those on the left – need to consider where they stand on the issues he dealt with in the Grey Power speech. Do we think that ‘ full and final’ Treaty settlements should be open to further compensation if and when unforeseen events – like an ETS – lower the value of some of the components of that deal ? Given the historical grievances at the core of those settlements, there is a strong case for doing so. Goff does himself few favours by waving around the legal opinion by Helen Aikman QC that the Crown has no legal obligation to do so.

The question is whether there is a moral obligation – barely a decade after the signings – to ensure that a century and a half of grievances are laid to rest. While I disagree with Goff’s narrow and legalistic response to this issue, I don’t think he should be condemned for raising the question and giving his five cents on it. Especially when the parties who do seem willing to re-open these deals include a National Party that has campaigned on a need to resolve all Treaty deals within a very tight and unrealistic timeframe.

So does National now believe in full and final Treaty settlements or not – or will it selectively revisit them whenever it needs to lock down a deal with the Maori Party ? National after all, played the race card when it promised to end the Treaty process for good and for all on a specific date. Is it now to be exempt from criticism ( and allowed to freely accuse others of playing the race card ) whenever it chooses to back pedal on core policy?

Similarly, it is hardly playing the race card to query whether the re-opening of the foreshore and seabed issue will not be divisive. Given the grief ( much of it self-inflicted) that Labour has experienced over this issue, Goff can be allowed some satisfaction at the likely fallout for National and the Maori Party, once the Key government gets down to fashioning a workable compromise between the incompatible interests at stake here. Undoubtedly, it will be a divisive process, as Goff says. It could also, as he says, prove in the end to be just a limp process of re-branding : “In reality it may be no more than simply renaming the existing Act, with pretty much the existing arrangements.”

Sometimes, division and conflict are necessary steps before a compromise can be reached. It is depressing that Goff still seems unable to accept that Labour’s legislative attempt to impose a lid on the competing rights at stake in this issue was wrong, and indefensible. Again, while I disagree with Goff, I’m glad his speech has revealed where Labour is likely to position itself next year, once National unveils its own imperfect attempt at reaching closure on the foreshore and seabed.

The one area where Goff’s speech did hit home cleanly was over the failure of the ETS deal to meet the environmental challenge. The rewards for big polluters, Maori and pakeha, are indefensible. So however is the response that calls Goff’s speech an instance of ‘playing the race card.’ Unlike Don Brash at Orewa, this speech dealt with specific and substantive issues – and if its faults are also substantive, they should be attacked on those terms.

After all, if the Maori Party are going to become the kingmakers in future New Zealand elections, they – and we- are going to have to learn how to debate their shortcomings without being called racists for doing so. The fact racists will undoubtedly prey on such criticism is not a reason for remaining silent, or for giving the Maori Party a free pass.


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    1. 9 Responses to “Phil Goff and the race card”

    2. By Danyl Mclauchlan on Nov 27, 2009 | Reply

      Goff makes some good points in his speech; but you can’t get past the fact that he’s titled it ‘Nationhood’ after Don Brash’s Orewa speech, and that he used it to announce he’s backtracked on his previous position on the foreshore and seabed bill, an issue that has nothing to do with the ETS.

    3. By George Darroch on Nov 27, 2009 | Reply

      Much of Goff’s speech is fine.

      However, much of it is an attempt to set the mainstream against the Maori Party, and it may succeed. But Goff has done it in such a way as to attack the Maori who support the broad direction of the Maori Party, a party that has always been incomprehensible to Labour.

      What is offensive is his attempts to delegitimise Maori offense over the Seabed and Foreshore as unreasonable, and as “being cynically opened for politics”, rather than being on the basis of the loss of mana whenua.

      Also designed to set the Maori Party against the mainstream his deliberate use of the “grievance industry” meme that National, ACT and New Zealand First have so thoroughly mined.

      Also despicable is his attempt to whip the “birthright to the beaches” meme of Maori threatening to deny access that he just a few lines previously attacks National for using.

      He talks about re-opening wounds in order for them to fester. What irony.

    4. By George Darroch on Nov 27, 2009 | Reply

      It should also be noted that recent polling shows Labour’s support among Maori has continued to collapse. I can see why.

    5. By Jum on Nov 28, 2009 | Reply

      This sort of feedback from supporters of Labour, or at least, leaners towards, is what I have always liked about the ‘left’ – they are not afraid to call their leaders to account.

      Unfortunately,the other side focus and subject the ‘left’ to ceaseless attacks as if they, the ‘right’ can do no wrong. This will probably lose Labour the next election, because of their sense of fair play.

      Meanwhile, NActM’s poster boys Harawira and Henry continue to attack all sorts of people including mothers and intellectually handicapped people and the press and voters love them. It seems that women and vulnerable members of our society are open season for these men.

      New Zealanders continue to fascinate me with their senselessness and their misogyny.

    6. By bunny on Nov 28, 2009 | Reply


      Only a Kiwi woman would try to turn a debate about racism into a debate about sexism.

      I only have one thing to say about the defective sexist women in New Zealand. 30000 men short because they all left NZ. I come from a family of three men, all left NZ because of the women, all married. Two to Australians and one to a POM. Think about it.

    7. By mike on Nov 28, 2009 | Reply

      Jum – Agree with your comments.

      Earlier this year there was a scoopit link on this site to a study about the political style of US conservatives. It concluded their default mode was typically a sociopathic “win at all costs” “never admit you’re wrong” approach.

      It is a mystery of history that the poor majority usually let themselves be ruled by the rich majority…

    8. By Joe Blow on Nov 30, 2009 | Reply

      I’m a Labour Party voter and I agree with Goff’s statements that the burden on the tax payer is too high under the new agreement and I think Goff’s comments about Hone were fair enough but the ‘preferential treatment for Maori’ line has gone too far. Even if he has somehow managed to wangle it in his speech that he isn’t playing the race card after all when I first heard him coming out with this I didn’t hear anything about not re-opening Treaty Settlements I heard ‘preferential treatment for Maori’ loud and clear! And I’m sure that dog whistle was heard loud and clear elsewhere.

      So what if some QC retained by Crown Law said “there is no evidence of a breach of the Crown’s obligations”. That doesn’t mean that it won’t go to court and end up being quite the opposite conclusion, but then I guess if that happened and Goff was in government he would just legislate over the court’s decision like Labour did with the Foreshore and Seabed Act… I wonder how much that whole process would cost the taxpayer over the coming years?

      In any case, the reason some of these pre-1990 forests would be worth less under the ETS is because they were valued on the assumption that they could be cut and turned to dairy. If anything a deal whereby these forests stay forested while iwi get compensated through more forests being planted on Crown land does not sound like a bad thing for the environment if you ask me.

      I think Goff should stick to the issues that really rangle such as the cost to the public through a slower reduction rate in free credits and Hone being a wise guy rather than getting sucked into the race game.

      I’m sorry to say this Gordon but I never thought I’d see him stoop so low. He’s looking very desperate. Unlike Don Brash he’s leading a centre-LEFT party so he might find that what he gains in racist swing voters he losses in the support he already has. It’s likely to turn GREEN… I hope the Winston Peter’s gloss doesn’t work for him and we’ve heard the last of this. Still the latest polls haven’t been taken pre-grey power speech so he might gain in the polls and want more… Let’s hope not!

    9. By dana delaney.china beach. on Dec 10, 2009 | Reply

      Hah, Bunny, you think that’s proof? I come from a family of 8 women, all left New Zealand because of the men, all married, 1 married a swede, 1 a mexican, 1 married an american, another a russian, then there was the cuban, somehow an australian was permitted, I beleive ther is an iranian, and also an israeli, how many is that, that’s 8. So they all did pretty well for themselves and enjoy life a lot. Think about something.

    10. By Joe Blow on Dec 10, 2009 | Reply

      Why did they all have to leave NZ? I just went overseas got married and brought her back here. Much easier. All the Kiwi girls overseas were too busy chasing foreign accents to notice little old me anyway… My cousin just married a Chilean man who lives here and my sister is with a young Japanese joker whose lived here 3 years now… Nice fella…

      I think its all really about the fact that we’re about as exotic to each other as a fart under the bed covers late at night…

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