Speaker by Various Artists

The Cult of Forgetfulness

by Che Tibby

I was in Piedmontes, a local supermarket that is a bit of a Fitzroy icon, the other day and waiting in line and I spotted a bloke buying razors, but rather sheepishly for what is a pretty mundane item. I realised the problem when he quickly snatched a packet of trojans and snuck into line, probably with the intention of getting them through the checkout with minimum fuss.

Not wanting to miss a chance to take the piss, I waited till he was looking less nervous and commented that all he needed was a bunch of flowers and a box of chocolates and he's set. His reply? "Yeah, you know she's special when you bother to shave."

Ah. Blokes. The salt of the earth.

This moment of mutually respectful masculinity was interrupted by a person behind us in line FREAKING OUT because the line wasn't moving fast enough. Behind her was another woman who was happy just to wait, but this old biddy was totally losing it.

As it happened the woman in line in front of me was using a credit card, but the EFTPOS machine was kaput (which happens at Piedmontes all too often). The cashier was doing the best she could, but it being Monday afternoon there were few staff rostered on and things were moving pretty slowly.

Why in the hell a person like that comes to 'the legendary Piedmontes' and expects fast and efficient service, or even a well organised shelving system is totally beyond me. That little explore through the over stacked, overpriced and chaotic aisles is part of the experience.

So, while me and this geezer were joking around about his purchases this lunatic was literally yelling at the person in from of me, the cashier, the lady behind her, slamming her shopping basket down, decrying the difficultly of finding anything at all in on the shelves (very true), letting out sighs of exasperation, waving her arms in the air like a muppet and generally acting like a damn nut._And then I produced a Visa to pay for my purchases.

You can tell she wasn't very British. While the rest of us were standing in line like well-trained citizens she simply refused to act with calm reason. Or maybe her medication wore off. Who knows.

Anyhow, you can guarantee the Pope would put her in her place. In my oh so humble opinion the sooner that codger seeks to talk with his maker the better for all of us. But then, being as old as he is his mum probably passed many years ago.

Like most conservatives the old boy seems to suffer that peculiar amnesia about what things were like before the PC revolution. I saw a great button on Tony Blair in a cartoon the other day that said, "kill a 60s liberal for Christ". Maybe since Muslims are proving too difficult to pin down and screw that 'liberals' have become the target of choice. We'll have to put that down to the old us-them dichotomy that makes 'tradition' so attractive.

Back on the home front and in a further exposition of ground already covered by Russell and David, my initial reaction to Trevor Mallard claiming he was indigenous was 'buffoon'. This goes to show two things though. One that Mallard obviously has no idea that it would be the only byte in his speech to go public, and second that it pays to read the entire content of something before you jump to conclusions.

Sure, Mallard is actually about as native as pinus radiata or Watties tomato sauce, but I can understand his point. With the matrilineal and patrilineal lines arriving in '39 and '42 respectively I can relate to the idea of actually being from New Zealand, and probably have as good a claim as most to feel attached to the nation. But indigenous? No.

It's a good thing that the rest of the speech wasn't too bad an outline of a coherent Treaty policy, because otherwise Mallard has opened himself to criticism of aiming to undermine Maori by taking away the one thing that gives the minority society its distinctiveness in the New Zealand political debate.

In a nutshell for those of you who haven't read the speech despite Russell pointing it out to you, he outlined four points that are good and coherent. Number one is that the Crown is the sovereign entity. Stability on this point is good for both Maori and majority. Even if you disagree with government, its good to know its there and at least some of your rights are protected.

The second is that Maori have the right to control or influence things Maori. This is no different to other interest groups contributing to their area of concern. For example, no one would presume to dictate to the Churches what is and is not legitimate for Christians to contribute to New Zealand society and then be able to force them to come to heel.

The third is that Maori are citizens and have the rights and obligations of all New Zealanders. One of the great furfies about Treaty politics is that it gives Maori extra or more rights that everybody else. This simply isn't true. What the Treaty relationship recognises is that Maori have interests in their affairs, and prevents this interest from being taken away. If Maori have received any extra rights it was equality as British subjects, something actively and deliberately denied Australian Aboriginal people up until the 1970s.

The fourth is that there is a system of mutual obligation in place of joint responsibility for both parties, Maori and Crown, to determine what is and what is not within the parameters of 'things Maori', and what is of general or common concern (i.e. everybody's business).

The really tricky thing is to politically determine what these interests or concerns are. Much of what alarmists are labelling the 'grievance industry' is actually an ongoing effort to restore some of the interests taken from Maori unjustly. This means for instance that the 1860s confiscations of Maori land had to be addressed. And to prevent this type of happening in future Maori have to be able to make demands about things that effect their society.

In a practical sense this means people in Wellington making demands as Maori about things Maori. It's pretty easy to skew the picture and depict this as some kind of back-room deal-making or elitism, but to do so is close to scare mongering. Anyone who seriously thinks these types of things can be settled by plebiscite is probably completely naïve. Instead, it's necessary to have leaders running things.

I don't know what it is about Kiwis that makes them freak about the dreaded 'elites'. Maybe it's some of kind of hangover from the not-so-distant days when British nationals were running things, but maybe its time we moved on, because the last time I was in Wellington it was Mallard's definition of 'indigenous' people running things. What this suggests to me is that if you work hard and have an iota of common sense or intellect you too can be part of the governmental chaos.

These mysterious 'elites' in Wellington are instead just people who've found themselves holding the reins of power because they can do the job. Whether we can trust them is another matter. The catch-22 is that you have to be an expert to prove they aren't up to their game (and that's the same if you're a lay or trained expert).

It seems to me that the idea we can all deal with difference and move on to a new and glorious future is a misnomer. In fact, I'm suspicious that it is an unconscious desire on the part of public figures like Chris Trotter or Philip Temple to simplify politics by undermining Maori difference.

The tricky thing is that the two separate issues of historical grievance and ongoing difference are collapsed into one issue of Treaty-gravy-train. To my mind there is an active cult of forgetfulness in New Zealand that wants to remove difference, because it considers difference as being nourished by the Treaty settlement 'industry'. Remove grievance, and Maori will lose political traction, remove Maori political traction and we can all get on with the business of just being New Zealanders.

But the truth of the matter is that this isn't ever going to happen. The PC revolution made sure that the voices in Maori society were finally listened to in Wellington, and no matter how much it's opponents try to manoeuvre it out of the way the Treaty will ensure that it isn't forgotten.

Anyone who's done their OE knows that there is a real sense of being kiwi, and it's much bigger than a lump in the throat. And Maori society, whether you participate in it or not, is a vital part of the experience that makes you and I New Zealanders.