We will be a nation only when we all fully belong here

When will we feel Waitangi Day is our national day? When everyone agrees we all fully belong here.

That is at the heart of the arguments over the Treaty of Waitangi, which Don Brash has now sharpened.

Brash says the Treaty now divides those whom in 1840 he says it united.

He views the Treaty through ideological eyes, those of a classical liberal (which is also ACT’s ideology). To a classical liberal all citizens are equal — but only in the formal sense of individual equality before the law. Group rights are anathema and so are laws or government actions directed at groups. Tribes are groups.

To a traditional National liberal from National’s liberal-conservative heyday — before the 1980s revival of classical liberalism — citizenship required more than formal legal equality: at least some reduction in inequality of opportunity. This grew out of acceptance in the 1940s of a limited welfare state.

This in essence is what political scientist Barry Gustafson, an adviser to successive National leaders, has argued: Maori get help from National — though as needy individuals no different from any others.

Gustafson was once a social democrat, a Labour candidate and office holder. Social democrats think citizenship entails the ability to participate fully in the economy and society. For this, disadvantaged groups need active government help through workplace laws and education, health, housing and welfare.

Social democrats also think there are group rights and think in terms of helping groups.

This is lightyears from classical liberalism. But classical (old-style) social democrats do agree with classical liberals that for public policy purposes race is irrelevant. The former focus on class; the latter on individuals. Brash last week approvingly quoted Chris Trotter, an advocate for classical social democracy.

Modern-day social democrats such as the current Labour leaders accept ethnicity is a factor. Poor Maori are not just part of a class but a group with special characteristics and needs, to be addressed through policies directed to Maori as a group or tribes as groups.

Add in the Treaty and the courts’ reinterpretation of it since the mid-1980s and modern social democrats readily reach a belief in ethnic group rights. It is a short step to special status for Maori as the indigenous people.

This leads on logically to recognition of the Treaty as an instrument not just for remedying historical breaches of contract over land but for ensuring respect, through public policy, for taonga (which include sacred sites and taniwha) and then to requiring special consultation.

In this thinking, delivery of social services through tribal or other Maori agencies — which, incidentally, Brash accepts, within the general framework, as an exercise of “choice” — becomes a group Maori right.

Indigenous status, group rights and special consultation add up to power-sharing. The core argument between Maori and the present government is about how much power-sharing. Classical liberals reject power-sharing. They say there is only one-person-one-vote.

The great majority of New Zealanders would instinctively agree. Very few subscribe to Brash’s ideology but few can comprehend why out of the Treaty has sprung a set of group rights from which they are excluded. That makes them uneasy or resentful. Furthermore, because they can see no limits yet to how far the Treaty will reach they grow fearful or angry.

And they think nothing is flowing for them from the Treaty.

This was a point Bill English (a conservative, not a classical liberal) made last year: the Treaty created rights for both parties, he said, and it was time others’ rights were debated.

It is, of course, logical that the Treaty has been one-sided so far. If those Maori who feel they are Maori — and that is at the least more than half of those with Maori ancestry — were to feel fully part of this nation there needed to be redress, recovery and respect.

And if they didn’t feel fully part of this nation the awful social and economic statistics would continue to stain and destabilise this society and blight the economy. So everybody stood to gain. Brash’s liberal-conservative National predecessors understood this.

But a one-way Treaty leaves us less than a nation. We will be a nation when not only Maori but the “others” feel indigenous here.

That needs, first, a self-confident majority popular and high culture (developing fast since the 1970s), which unashamedly claims and celebrates its European roots (patchy so far) and cross-pollinates richly with the Maori (just beginning). This may take another generation.

Then it needs Maori, confident in their recovered culture, to accept the indigenisation of the “others” (whose ancestry most — all? — Maori share anyway). That may take a generation or two.

And meanwhile? Waitangi Day will be a day of argument, sometimes, as Brash made it last week, hotly divisive. Hang on tight. The ride to nationhood is long and rocky.