Simon Bridges is proof Māori don't need their own electorate seats - Don Brash

Former National Party leader Don Brash has held up Simon Bridges as proof Māori don't need their own electorates to get into positions of power. 

Dr Brash, who also led the ACT Party for a short time and currently spokesperson for lobby group Hobson's Pledge, says the controversial He Puapua document is "dangerous for our future" by forcing Kiwis to "choose between their Māori ancestors".

"Every single person who identifies as Māori in this country also has Pākehā ancestors," he told The AM Show on Thursday.

He Puapua is a report written by the Government's Declaration Working Group, but not Government policy. It's essentially a bunch of ideas on how the Government can fulfill its obligations under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the National-led Government signed New Zealand up to in 2010.

According to the UN, the declaration "establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world and it elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms as they apply to the specific situation of indigenous peoples".

The declaration says indigenous people - in our case, Māori - have the right to "freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development" and "to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs". 

This includes "the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education" and "the right to be actively involved in developing and determining health, housing and other economic and social programmes affecting them and, as far as possible, to administer such programmes through their own institutions".

The report was handed to the Government at the end of 2019, but quietly set aside as the country soon found itself focused on the fight against COVID-19. It came back to public attention in mid-April when the ACT Party called on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to publicly reject it and National Party leader Judith Collins asked questions about it in Parliament

Matthew Tukaki, chair of the National Māori Authority, said conversation about He Puapua since then has "descended into madness". 

"For me it's not about co-governance. It's about Māori aspiration," he told The AM Show, appearing with Dr Brash in a fiery encounter. 

"If you talk to everyday Māori right across this greatest country of ours, what you're hearing is people that just want to aspire - hope, opportunity, aspiration. They just want to make sure that we bring down health disparities; they just want to make sure that they're in their own house they own, that they're not renting from somebody down the road; they just want a job; they just want to make sure their kids go to school with shoes on their feet. That means having a say in decision-making."

Dr Brash and Tukaki on The AM Show.
Dr Brash and Tukaki on The AM Show. Photo credit: The AM Show

There are already Māori-only seats in Parliament and on local councils. Tukaki wants more.

"I would obviously like to see more Māori seats in Parliament, and I'll tell you why. That's because the Māori population is increasing - if you look at the average size of an electorate, and then you have a look at the average size of the Māori population, my goodness - we should have, you know, another couple of electorates in Parliament...

"Let's have a conversation about the future of the Treaty of Waitangi and constitutional arrangements - look, I love [Queen Elizabeth II], but she ain't lasting the next decade. Let's have a conversation about what the future looks like not only for Māori, but for New Zealand."

Dr Brash, whose leadership of National in the mid-2000s is best remembered for the party's controversial 'Iwi/Kiwi' billboards, says there's no need.

"Half the Māori in the country are not on the Māori roll. They choose not to be identified as separate from other New Zealanders."

He questioned Tukaki's reading of He Puapua, saying it wasn't about "aspiration" but "separate operations in healthcare, separate operations in justice, separate operations in education… What we're looking at is a situation where constitutionally, they will have a preference. It is totally inconsistent with any concept of democracy."

As for whether Māori need help getting into Parliament, Dr Brash said even if you removed the Māori seats, "there are still as many Māori in Parliament as would be expected from theri proportion of population".

"There are lots of Māori who have won electorate seats, for example - Simon Bridges, for example," said Dr Brash, prompting Tukaki to scoff in disbelief.

"Simon Bridges? Are we really going for Simon Bridges?"

"Obviously we want Māori to participate in our country and our decision-making and so on," Dr Brash continued, "but 12 months back - I don't know the data right now - the leader and deputy leader of National, leader and deputy leader of New Zealand First, deputy leader of Labour, co-leader of the Greens and even the leader of the ACT Party were all Māori."

Twelve months ago, the leader of the National Party was actually Todd Muller, and his deputy was Nikki Kaye, who infamously rejected accusations the party was too white by wrongly claiming finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith was "obviously Ngāti Porou", when he wasn't. Before that, Bridges was leader, with Paula Bennett - also Māori - his deputy. 

"I want a situation where every New Zealander is treated equally, I want a situation where people are dealt with on the basis of their need - if they need help with housing, with healthcare, give it to them. That's the way it's always worked," said Dr Brash.

Tukaki said that's not how it's historically worked in reality, where Māori are routinely discriminated against

"We have been treated as second-class citizens in our own land. We have been treated like cattle in this country, on somebody else's paddock. We're not asking for a takeover, Don - we're asking for equity. We're asking to make sure that our children, our grandchildren have every chance in the world to be all they can be. That includes Pasifika kids, Chinese kids, Indian kids and Pākehā kids."

Claire Charters, a University of Auckland academic who contributed to He Puapua, told RNZ in May none of its contents was necessarily Government policy, even though some of its suggestions - such as a new Māori health authority - are being worked on already. 

"The report - and also us, as authors - were really motivated by unity, rather than division. By this idea that to have a successful and flourishing Aotearoa New Zealand, we need to recognise our founding constitutional document, and that Māori are failing in this system. And, until there's equality for Māori, it will be very difficult to have a unified state."