Duncan Garner blasts 'injustice' for Māori under Helen Clark's Government

The current debate about racism in New Zealand prompted Duncan Garner on Friday to blast "injustice" for Māori under Helen Clark's Government, although he doesn't believe the former Prime Minister is racist. 

African-American man George Floyd died in May when a police officer - since charged with murder - kneeled on his neck. It has led to a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and thousands of people around the world protesting racism and oppression. 

The value of statues commemorating individuals linked to colonialism or involved in the slave trade or wars has also been questioned. Over the last week, it's been announced monuments in New Zealand and around the globe will come down.

Speaking on The AM Show on Friday, host Garner threw out the question of whether Clark or her Government was racist. 

Neither sports reader Jim Kayes nor news reader Amanda Gillies believed she was.

Garner also made it clear he didn't think the former Prime Minister was racist, but not before listing off issues he believes arose for Māori under her administration. 

"It was Helen Clark and her Government who denied Māori the chance to go to the High Court to contest the ownership of the foreshore and seabed. It was the rise of the Māori Party as a result, it brought the Māori Party into power, and it had the Hikoi of Hope to Parliament which was massive, 23, 24,000 people," he said.

"That was the darkest day for Māori in terms of access to the courts. They saw that as racism. We are talking about racist statues and getting rid of these things from the past. How do you, therefore, judge Helen Clark's Government and Helen Clark based on that one? Māori saw that as a heinous injustice.

"Māori walked from all over the country, in the hikoi, to Wellington because that was their greatest day of injustice."

While Garner said Māori took offence to those policies, Clark wasn't racist. 

"The Helen Clark that I know, reasonably well, will be horrified at what I've said and I don't believe she's a racist."

The debate about the ownership and access to foreshore and seabed is regularly pointed to as a significant controversy for the Clark Government. It involved legislation being passed in 2004 which gave ownership of the land to the Crown, not Māori who claimed possession. The controversy led Tariana Turia to resign as a Labour minister and step down from the party. She went on to begin the Māori party, which later joined a Coalition with National and repealed the law. 

Speaking in 2017 to RNZ, Clark said she had no regrets for how she handled the issue. She said Kiwis' ability to walk along the coast may have been threatened without the Foreshore and Seabed Act. 

"It wasn't an easy call, but here we are, years later - how much substantially has changed about the position?

"If someone had given us the brilliant advice that [the foreshore and seabed] could be classified as not belonging to anybody that might have been quite helpful, but I don't recall ever having such advice."

Clark's Government enacted many other policies and initiatives affecting Māori, however. Her administration's final Budget aimed to "harness" the entrepreneurship, youthfulness and dynamism of Māori. It committed money towards the Māori Trustee, injected funding into Māori Business Aotearoa New Zealand and Māori wardens, and promised new facilities to showcase Māori culture to tourists among other things.