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Maori Privilege

A furore has recently broken out over statements made by a New Zealand television presenter and commentator, Mike Hosking. Now I should say before I continue that I am no great fan of Hosking and I don’t watch his show because I object to his continual presentation of unsubstantiated opinions as if they were facts. But I try not to let my overall impression of people prevent any possibility that they might have got things right on certain occasions, and I think he is right this time.

Well, it’s not so much that Hosking is right, more that everyone else is wrong. And, of course, I don’t literally mean everyone else because there are some people (me for example) who have seen this for what it really is. OK, maybe I should explain…

The comments were in relation to the actions of Andrew Judd, the mayor of the New Zealand city New Plymouth. Judd wanted more Maori (the original inhabitants of New Zealand) representation on the city council so he proposed setting up a ward which could be contested only by Maori. Before he carried out this plan though he ran a referendum which overwhelmingly rejected the idea (83% voted against it).

In addition Judd claims that he was exposed to various forms of abuse because of the idea and has decided not to run for mayor again in the future.

On the TV current affairs show “Seven Sharp”, Mike Hosking said this: “He [Judd] is completely out of touch with middle New Zealand. There’s nothing wrong with Maori representation on councils because any Maori who wants to stand for a council is more than welcome to do so, and you can sell your message and if you’re good enough you’ll get voted on. Simple as that.”

This immediately caused an avalanche of complaints, accusations of racism, and calls for an apology. Why? Is there anything offensive or racist saying that everyone should have equal opportunity to participate in local government? Is it not more racist and offensive to suggest that one group should have greater privileges than others based purely on their race?

And even if you believe that there is a justification to provide extra help for Maori to get onto councils that is fine, but surely the counter-argument should also be considered. The the pros and cons can be looked at and a reasonable conclusion might be reached. If the supporters of Maori wards are so keen on shutting down alternative views you do have to wonder what they are scared of. Is it that they don’t think their arguments can stand up to any contradictory evidence?

I don’t think many people would deny that there is racism in New Zealand (along with every other country). It’s very common for people to think that their culture is superior to others and I think that opinion should be considered. I know some Maori who consider their culture superior because it allegedly has a greater connection with the natural world, for example. Is that racist?

But giving one race extra privileges which aren’t available to others is clearly racist, and that’s what Judd wants to do. He might say that he just wants to compensate for the real disadvantage Maori have and that is a fair point. But the opposite point is also fair and it should be possible to state it without the ridiculous outpouring of irrelevant nonsense we have seen over the last few days.

And yes, I know that it tends to be people from the left who have objected most strongly to the comments Hosking (who is clearly from the right) has made, and that I usually see myself as being politically left. But that’s why I don’t like political labels so much: there are many traditional left ideas which I disagree with.

Also, I’m really sorry to hear of the examples of racism that some Maori have encountered in their lives. If someone lost their job because their boss couldn’t pronounce their Maori name properly that would be totally unacceptable to most people, but that isn’t really relevant here.

What is relevant is that some people want to solve problems of racism by instituting racist policies. I don’t think many people would be comfortable with that, and I think Hosking is absolutely right saying that anyone contemplating an action of that sort is out of touch with middle New Zealand (although I do admit that is just another Hosking opinion, supported by very little objective evidence, and presented as a fact).

Also, think about what this says about Maori. Every other “minority group” (women, Asians, older people, poor people, etc) might have trouble getting onto councils as well; for example, I think women are still under-represented. But only Maori want that extra help that no one else gets. It seems to me that anyone who thinks Maori need this race-based privilege, which no other group gets, is actually assuming they are in some way inferior.

Who knows, maybe I’m wrong. But there is one thing I know for sure: shutting down the debate by using the bogus label of racist and getting offended by a contrary view is not the correct way to have a fair and reasonable discussion on any matter. So on this occasion (and probably not many others) I say: well done Mike, you make a good point!

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