Hard News by Russell Brown

More in sorrow

So was that the speech of a man who wants to win the next election - or one who just doesn't want to lose it too horribly? I ask, because it appears to me that any government that actually sought to implement the full extent of the programme outlined last night in Don Brash's speech would be utterly consumed by it.

From the unilateral extinguishment of customary rights to the potential abandonment of support for Maori broadcasting, Brash appears to have set the National Party on a course that could only lead to the courts - for a long time - via the streets. If you're tired of Treaty issues now, you wouldn't really want to be living here then.

Brash is, of course, quite right when he depicts the Treaty of Waitangi as a poorly-drafted rush job. It is not a constitution. But he allows himself to forget that it has repeatedly in the past two decades been tested in our highest courts - the Court of Appeal and then the Privy Council. We have come a long way on this. (Does anybody else find it ironic that those who cried longest and loudest for the retention of the Privy Council are the happiest to consign its case law to the bin?)

As Michael Cullen pointed out, while he preaches one law for all, Brash wants to abolish common law rights solely because they belong to Maori. Labour might be accused of the same thing in case of the foreshores issue, but can at least claim to be seeking a decent compromise.

Another irony of the new, hardline stance is that Brash would potentially wield the axe over much that is truly the legacy of the National governments of the 1990s: including Te Puni Kokiri, the Ministry of Maori Development. See if you can guess who released this passage:

The role of the Ministry is to ensure that mainstream policy, legislation and agencies recognise specific Maori needs where Maori are at a disadvantage, when compared with the remainder of New Zealand society. Te Puni Kokiri no longer delivers services but rather acts as a policy and monitoring unit for the Government.

One example of how this new approach works is in the health sector. Under legislation, Maori health must be specifically addressed and we now see Maori policy having considerable impact on Maori health initiatives. There are now new and innovative approaches to old problems, with Maori health initiatives involving Maori in designing and delivering health programmes to Maori.

One result of mainstreaming is the considerably improved responsiveness to the needs of Maori from the mainstream agencies.

That was issued in 1993 under the auspices of National's arch-dry - and then Minister of Maori Affairs - John Luxton, and it reflects a bipartisan consensus that has held for a decade and a half. And yet this is the same "racial" approach to public health that Brash claims to believe is creating a "dangerous drift to racial separatism".

Brash also claims to still see a role for iwi-based providers and agencies, but given the extent to which the rest of National's new policy seems dedicated to the de-recognition of Maori you can only conclude he's trying to have his cake and eat it. It just doesn't wash.

The speech is framed in Brash's dry, meticulous tone to the extent that it's curiously difficult to feel angry about it - as John Armstrong points out in the Herald this morning (where the story has been consigned to a page six ghetto), he might have chosen the Orewa Rotary club for his speech, but he's no Muldoon. Yet it does seem sufficiently blithe, desperate and naïve as to engender a response of well, sympathy, actually.

Anyway, on a happier note, I delighted to announce that David Slack, our lately prolific guest, will be joining Public Address as a regular blogger just as soon as the nuts and bolts are in place. I've known David since we were part of the original Iconz crowd in the early 1990s (you tell the young people what the Internet was like in those days and they won't believe you, etc.).

He's an extremely interesting man, as you may have deduced from his guest posts so far. It occurred to me a while ago that someone so able at writing speeches to order might well be holding a reservoir of yet-unexpressed writing on his own account. So I asked him to have a dabble and we discovered that was indeed the case. Now it's on. Excellent!