Hobson’s Pledge can easily be dismissed, but that ignores why it was launched.
Don (“I'm not a racist, my wife is from Singapore”) Brash’s recent re-incarnation as William Hobson can be easily dismissed as either the boring winging by the oh-so-opressed white middle class male (as Laura McQuillan did on stuff), or as the insignificant ramblings of a politician who is way past his use-by date (as the Radio NZ cartoonists did). Both have very good points, but they also miss what this is about.
Brash and the other people behind “Hobson’s Pledge” are not just a group of concerned citizens. Brash may be gone from the political stage, but he still hangs out with his mates from National and Act, and he is still a member of the elite, and so are the other people behind the pledge group. The fact that a simple press release from a previously unknown group gets nationwide coverage shows how much clout these people have.
Whenever seemingly bizarre ideas are suddenly pushed out there as if the whole country had been talking about them for months, this often serves another purpose. No one expects that the “1law4all” party associated with “Hobson’s Pledge” will get any traction at elections. But what it does provide is an opportunity for other parties to make their agenda look reasonable and politically ‘centre’.
This is a common tactic in politics. If a government wants to, say, cut social welfare payments, it pushes some fringe group that demands the abolition of all social services (usually this role is given to groups like ACT). Suddenly, the government plans don’t seem so outrageous any more, and many people will be relieved when the more radical plans aren’t fully realized.
This is happening here as well. John Key himself called Brash a “broken record” and dismissed his group as irrelevant. But the subject is being talked about and any change in government policy on this issue will be seen against the background of Brash’s ramblings.
The second purpose this serves is known as “framing an issue”. Prior to releasing its policy on an issue which it thinks will win an election, a political party frames that issue as the most important election issue. So be prepared for the upcoming election campaign 2017 and a revamp of the “Kiwi vs Iwi” slogans of 2005. “Hobson’s Pledge” is simply an announcement that the right-wing wants to make the issue of alleged “Maori privilege” an election issue.
Mihingarangi Forbes on Radio NZ exposed how little substance there is to the Hobson group’s claim of “Maori privilege” – the most revealing answer from the Hobsons was “we are a very simple, single focused movement relating to the issue of equality in governance and property rights; other issues are not for us.” Property rights, who would have thought. By claiming that they represent the true spirit of the Treaty, and then saying that it’s all about property rights, the Hobson brigade might reveal more about the real purpose of the Treaty than they wanted: that the Treaty was never intended to give equal rights to Maori and Pakeha.
But in the end it doesn't matter how weak their arguments are. The whole exercise simply serves as a means to get the issue on the national agenda.
This is not the first time. When Don Brash held his “one law for all” speech in Orewa back in 2004, he was widely condemned as a the racist he is. But the result was Labour’s Seabed and Foreshore confiscation. That piece of legislation might have been met with even more resistance (and from sectors of society that Helen Clark could not have easily dismissed as “haters and wreckers”) if it hadn’t been preceded by Brash’s speech.
The issue this time around is likely to be freshwater rights. In April this year, Brash’s other avatar, the “New Zealand Centre for Political Research” launched a campaign to warn against giving Maori any say in decision making about water rights, using the scare tactic that Maori would be “demanding a royalty each time the tap is turned on.” That would of course be totally unacceptable because we all know that the only organisations allowed to charge money every time the tap is turned on are multinational corporations.
As natural resources are increasingly commodified, these kind of campaigns are becoming more and more important.
So expect to hear a lot more about how evil Maori are stealing your drinking water in next year's elections.