Whakatau 2023 | Racism

Hipkins commits to calling out racism and defending Te Tiriti

Labour leader Chris Hipkins is continuing to target his political opponents over their rhetoric about Māori, saying it’s race-baiting.

He says political leaders of the past have typically been race-baiters themselves or taken a middle ground - and he will instead call out racism wherever he sees it.

Those he’s accusing say he’s “desperate”, using “dirty tactics”, and is objecting to the idea that “all New Zealanders should have the same rights”.

Hipkins’ speech

Hipkins was in Kawakawa, south of Kerikeri in Northland - in part to announce an $8.9 million government funding boost to help small communities and marae rebuild after the floods, and shore up for the future.

But every day is a campaign day for the party leaders at the moment - especially with Labour languishing in the mid-20s in recent polls - and Hipkins was geared up for a speech after the previous night’s Newshub debate which - unlike the previous week’s - pundits largely thought he’d won.

“You worked with him for three years,” Luxon said to Hipkins, referring to NZ First’s Winston Peters; “and I’d never do it again,” replied Hipkins, who ruled out working with NZ First, though that was long after Peters had already done the same to Labour.

Hipkins’ speech on Thursday continued the same line of attack, not sparing his own party in his criticisms, saying leaders from both main parties had generally adopted one of two approaches.

“It’s depressing that the options seem to have been race-baiting, or just keeping quiet. I’m not going to choose either of those options. I’ve decided to do something novel,” Hipkins said. “That is to tell the truth and to stick to my own values in this election campaign. I’m going to be open and transparent about why I support a Māori Health Authority, why I believe in Te Tiriti, and why I think it’s important to our future that Māori and the Crown work together.”

He soon moved to singling out all three leaders of the parties the previous night’s poll had predicted would be able to form a government: Luxon, Peters and ACT’s David Seymour.

“In the first leaders’ debate, Luxon reiterated his commitment to abolishing the Māori Health Authority in favour of ‘one system for all’,” he said. “One-liners like ‘one system for all’ [are] putting the narrative that Māori somehow are getting things that other New Zealanders aren’t. This approach plays on people’s fears - it’s not pretty and it’s wrong. It also ignores basic facts.”

He pointed to statistics on persistent health inequities for Māori: “that ‘one system’ is failing 20 per cent of our population, and it’s failed them for decades ... it isn’t even one system for all; it is a worse system for some.”

Next, to Seymour, and his policy to redefine the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi - something historians and other experts have said shows little understanding of the past 50 years of debate on the topic.

“That move would undo decades of progress and decades of legal precedent,” Hipkins said. “For a party of law and order, they’ve got no respect for the rights of others. For example, David Seymour has interpreted tino rangatiratanga only as a right to authority over property - not self-determination in the way that scholars, the courts, and most importantly, Māori have defined it for over a century.

“His new proposed Treaty Act makes no mention of Māori, or the Crown, or hapū, or iwi. In fact, it only refers to all New Zealanders. It’s as if history never happened.”

He then targeted Peters’ claim that Māori are not indigenous to New Zealand, and looped back to his performance the previous night.

“I’ll repeat the quote that I used last night on the TV debate: ‘Cry if you want to, we don’t care, you pushed it too far. And we are the party with the cultural mandate and the courage to cut out your disease and bury you permanently’. I will not stand for that kind of overt racism. And I will call it out wherever I see it and wherever I hear it.”

He had used the quote - spoken by New Zealand First candidate Robert Ballantyne this month - to challenge National’s Christopher Luxon about why he was willing to work with people who would say such things.

Luxon had said he did think the quote was racist and unacceptable, “but what I’d say to you is, I’m being clear about it, I want people to know what’s at risk at this election and three more years of you with Te Pāti Māori and the Greens”.

Peters and Seymour, Hipkins told the Kawakawa audience, would “chip away at [the Treaty’s] place in our country until all that’s left is rubble”.

Luxon, Peters and Seymour respond

Luxon said he disagreed completely with Hipkins’ characterisation of National’s policy as race-baiting, arguing it was a desperate ploy to claw back voters’ flagging support.

“Chris Hipkins is a desperate guy in a desperate situation and he has no record to run on, and he has no ideas to take the country forward and sadly, sadly for him I think he’s turned the debate into a very negative one and a personal one.”

Not long after Hipkins was giving his speech, Peters put out a media statement accusing him and Labour of a “dirt campaign” over the Ballantyne quote.

“Our candidate Rob Ballantyne made those comments in a speech at a Rotary candidate meeting three weeks ago in Timaru. The media was there, filmed it, wrote an article about the meeting, but never mentioned that so-called “outrageous, deplorable, and racist” quote in their article,” the statement said.

“If the mainstream media had been reporting my speeches that have been packing halls for the last two years, they would know that Mr Ballantyne’s comments about co-governance and the Māori elite come exactly from my speeches, and the media has been found out now for their concerted attack to shut us out of this campaign, and in an attempt to marginalise a critical party in the 2023 election.”

Approached by RNZ, Peters said Hipkins’ claim about the quote was “utterly false”.

“I don’t have any problems with it at all apart from the dirty tactics of the Labour Party, which I warned about three days ago were going to begin - and sure, right on target, they did it last night in Hipkins claims’ which was utterly false.

“Then, sadly the National Party leader agreed to it. Here’s the point: what Mr Ballantyne said was that co-governance was a disease and we were going to stamp it out. And I’ve been saying that for more than two years and since I discovered what they were trying to do.

“They’re cancelling out democracy in this country and that’s what he was talking about.”

Luxon did not appear to be of the same view about Ballantyne’s comment but continued to distance himself from Peters.

“I don’t condone those statements at all, I think they’re vile and offensive comments from an individual - what I’m saying very clearly to the New Zealand people is I don’t necessarily want to work with Winston Peters but I will pick up the phone and actually make that call as a last resort if it means avoiding three years of more of the same.

“I’m sure I can work with him, I’m sure I’d be able to work with him if I need to. But that’s not my preference.”

Seymour was similarly offended.

“I think it’s a pretty awful thing for anyone to say but I guess ultimately it’s up to New Zealand First to decide if that’s where they want their standards to be. We’ve got free speech, it’s up to them how they use it I guess.

“If it was directed at a race of people then it is precisely the sort of rhetoric that ACT is opposed to. We oppose identity politics and categorising people by race - and we oppose that sort of verging-on-violent rhetoric as well.

“I think the comments are pretty grotesque and you won’t see anything like that from ACT.”

He criticised Hipkins’ attack as an assault on universal human rights.

“Chris Hipkins’ objection is that ACT says all New Zealanders should have the same rights ... can you actually believe a Labour Party prime minister’s attack line is ‘my opponents want everyone to be equal and actually I prefer a series off quasi-judicial findings of the Waitangi Tribunal, which say we aren’t politically equal’.”

Any suggestion it was not too different from ACT’s rhetoric over its Treaty policy was “absolutely absurd,” he said.

“The way the Treaty is currently being interpreted is highly divisive: It says we are tangata whenua and tangata Tiriti, in partnership between races, and each person has a role in society based on their ancestry. That’s never been a good idea. Nor is it supported by what the Treaty actually says or the events surrounding its signing.”

Luxon has also previously distanced himself from Seymour’s Treaty policy, but the ACT leader seemed confident he could be persuaded.

“I think the National Party understand that the Treaty has become a source of division rather than unity in New Zealand, and there will need to be courage to have an honest, healthy, constructive and humanistic debate about how our Treaty can be something that actually unites New Zealanders with the same rights and duties.”

RNZ also approached Ballantyne over his quote but he said he had no further comment to make.