Native Affairs: Brash versus Sharples
One almost has to feel sorry for Don Brash in regards to his Native Affairs performance last night. Up against fellow former academic Pita Sharples, the two Doctors battled it out in a performance that made Brash's arguments seem woefully inadequate and trivialized. Presenter Julian Wilcox was in form, highlighting the incendiary language that ACT has used over the last few weeks in contributing to a race-baiting electoral climate. Sharples won hands down, in another signal since ACT sacked campaign manager Ansell that a repeat of the 2003 Orewa speech on forced assimilation is falling like rocks to the bottom of a pond in a political climate that is rapidly changing.
Brash seemed incapable of explaining why the constitutional differences in the way Maori, Pakeha and tau iwi (immigrants) mattered. This is perhaps not surprising, as the constitutional 'apartheid' that ACT have been claiming does not hold so well when translated into the actual social statistics for Maori. What looks good on paper does not translate directly into overall advantages for the entire group, and the argument that Maori are privileged over Pakeha is quite easy to refute, particularly for those who know the impact tight economic conditions are having on one of our most marginalized groups.
Brash's inability to provide clarity over his central argument then descended into a variety of claims through which he fumbled, seemingly embarassed at some of his own assertions. Brash then brought up the unelected Maori wards for Auckland, to which Wilcox replied that this was the result of Hide's legislation. Brash then attempted to frame Hide as not wanting the legislation, but being forced by others into accepting it. Ouch. Wilcox then brings up the issue of ACT calling Maori 'separatist militants', Brash replies that Sharples is one. Round three down and Sharples is still maintaining his cool, while Brash looks increasingly flustered. Round four begins with highlighting the phrase in the ad that insinuated that under Maori amendment to the Resource Management Act, farmers will need to "bribe the tribe" to succeed. Brash hits back with anecdotal opinions, which are never a strong position to argue from in politics, and argues for a group of enraged farmers in Tauranga, before backing down to concede that there is a bit of "poetic license" in the phrasing. Sharples then asks why the race-based inflammatory framing when this could be handled by his party in Government? Brash replies that only Rodney Hide is there, which only serves to highlight how the party is beginning to fracture. Wilcox interjects with "you did that", and Brash is still failing to gain traction. Brash claims that Maori politicians are attempting to enforce an animist view of society that does not wash with Pakeha or Maori. Oh dear.
There is then some discussion over the WAI 262 claim going through the Waitangi Tribunal. While Brash attempts to leverage the animist assertion to conclude that Maori are in a pre-European world, Sharples gives solid examples of how protecting New Zealand plants from foreign patents is protecting all New Zealanders. Anyone who has followed the Monsanto debate over 'Terminator' seeds, or the Indian battle to keep Basmati rice from being patented or the mass suicide of 1,500 farmers in India due to the impact of GM crops (a plight highlighted by Prince Charles), might see some benefit in keeping our food stores local. Sharples future-thinking response to insults that imply a primordial world view still left him firmly in front.
So, the debate returns to the H in Whanganui, to which Brash replies "I was born there so I feel a bit more sensitive than others". Maori, he says, had no written language so it is fine for Pakeha to spell it in the way they see fit. When asked if he believes that Maori should have control over their own written language, Brash replies that "for me, it's not a huge issue, I just resent the fact that 77% of Wanganui residents didn't want the h". A classic flip-flop that makes their issues appear petty and trivial (which it is).
To add insult to injury, Key has called Brash's claims over the Marine and Coastal Areas Act "factually incorrect". Even the Herald editorial today is calling ACT's claims those of yesteryear. The outbursts from ACT seem to be making little dent on their polls, or be doing little to quell claims of a fractured party. One thing is clear, that ACT is going to need to change tact if they want to be a serious player, or at least come up with arguments that have clarity under pressure rather than those that are emotive but weak and based on underlying racist assertions. At least if politics fails Brash this year, he may still have a career on talkback.