ACT leader David Seymour has indicated that a referendum on what the Treaty of Waitangi might mean will be one of his party’s bottom lines in any coalition negotiations with National.
Seymour set out his negotiating priorities in answer to questioning at a public meeting in Hastings on Saturday evening.
Cutting public waste, in particular, 15,000 public servants, would be his second priority.
But ominously for National, he repeated his threat three weeks ago not to join a coalition but to vote for every piece of legislation on a bill-by-bill basis if he would not get his bottom lines.
That would mean he had a continual veto power over every piece of government legislation.
Ironically, in the neighbouring seat of Napier, now one of the most marginal in the country, neither the National nor Labour candidate listed race relations as the main issue when spoken to by POLITIK.
They both agreed that the cost of living was the number one issue in the Hawke’s Bay.
However, in rural Hawke’s Bay, ACT billboards saying “End division by race” dot roadside farm paddocks and orchards.
Race relations are an issue in the Bay primarily because of the link between Maori and gangs.
In the Eastern Police District, which encompasses Hawke’s Bay, the number of people on the police gangs register has risen by 71 per cent in six years.
Seymour doesn’t talk much about gangs in his stump speeches to his supporters but instead talks about the Treaty.
“I think we need to celebrate and embed our Treaty properly understood,” he said.
“At the same time, we need to get rid of the 1980s style judicial interpretation, which is that it created a partnership between races; it never was.
“That’s one invention, and it’s a creature of its time; it’s not the Treaty. “
ACT’s policy says the Government must “clearly define the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.”
It would do that by: “passing a Treaty Principles Act through Parliament and putting it to referendum for confirmation by the people.
“It will say that the Government has the right to govern, that your property and possessions are protected, and that all New Zealanders are equal under the law.”
“The question is, what does it (the Treaty) mean? “Seymour asked the meeting.
“That’s why I think it’s absolutely critical that the next Parliament takes the bull by the horns, has a proper debate about the principles of the Treaty and legislates for the avoidance of doubt.
“The Treaty is a document of certain principle that says we are all equal and the same.
“Take that approach, then I think we would be a much better society.”
He said that ACT wanted to change the Government.
Then he said he hoped National and ACT would have a really tight relationship.
“We’re going to have a relationship where we will sit around the table and say, here’s what we’ve put down in writing that we’re going to achieve, and this is when we’re going to achieve it by.”
He said there would need to be a work plan.
“At the top of that list is we’ve got to have this honest conversation about our democracy and the role of the Treaty in it today.”
He said the next two priorities would be government waste and over-regulation.
Seymour has repeatedly said on the campaign that to deal with government waste would require firing 15,000 public servants.
“Yes, we should fire 15,000 bureaucrats; some people say that’s tough. I say don’t worry if anyone notices, we’ll hire them back,” he said.
But Seymour warned National leader Christopher Luxon about what would happen if he did not agree to ACT’s top demands.
“What we’re going to be doing is saying, of course, if you don’t want to work properly together, that’s okay. You will still be Prime Minister, but we’ll work more distantly, and we’ll have to work through vote by vote to do it,” he said.
That bland statement is a threat, which would mean ACT would have a veto over every single Government bill.
It is a highly likely scenario, given that Luxon has already rejected the idea of a referendum on the Treaty.
He made that clear on Newshub’s “The Hui” last Tuesday when host Julian Wilcox asked him whether he could guarantee under his leadership there would not be a referendum.
“I think it is divisive, and it’s not something we’re supportive of,” he said.
19 km away in Hastings’ twin city, Napier, Labour’s candidate Mark Hutchinson does not list race relations as the biggest issue.
Holding a street corner meeting on Saturday in an affluent Hospital Hill Street, Hutchinson was busy answering questions about the cyclone, insurance and civil defence.
On the doorsteps, people wanted to talk about the cost of living.
“What’s emerging to me more and more on the doorstep is the cost of people’s housing,” he said.
“Actually, they are annoyed that a block of cheese has gone up, but the real economic insecurity is among those people that have bought recently when properties have been really expensive, and they’ve got a big mortgage, or they’re renting and, you know, people are having their rents forced through the roof.”
Retiring Labour MP Stuart Nash held the seat at the last election with a majority of 5856, but the way polling is going, it could now be the Labour seat right on the cusp between National and Labour.
It is, therefore, a useful indicator of middle New Zealand opinion.
Hutchinson is from Napier and is a clinical psychologist who has worked in business in both New Zealand and Britain.
In some ways, he is in the same mould as Nash, a business-friendly candidate with a long family pedigree in the Labour Party.
He is sceptical about how urgent an issue race relations is.
“I’m finding is that if we can have an out-in-the-open conversation, that voters here can see that, actually, this is an issue that’s been whipped up by the right to get voters dog-whistling,” he said.
“People think that things are happening that aren’t.
“There’s a lot of mistruths that have been spread forcefully by ACT and New Zealand First and a little bit by Democracy New Zealand here.
“And National sort of give it a smile and a nod and let the discussion happen because it suited them.
“I think that they’ve let a very unpleasant cat out of the bag there, and I think the two main parties need to stop it.”
National’s candidate Katie Nimon, 32, started her career in advertising before taking up a marketing role with the family bus company, Nimon’s.
She then worked for three years as the company’s general manager and then as the transport manager for the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council.
She had spent Saturday morning campaigning at Napier’s Farmers’ Market, but her list of top issues is not all that different from Hutchinson’s.
“Ultimately, the issue across the whole country is the cost of living. It’s a big one,” she said.
“And crime, I think crime is exacerbated here in Napier, and that’s something that a lot of people care about.”
Ironically, there was a murder in Hastings on Saturday night.
She blames the Government for the deterioration in race relations.
“I think we’re getting more and more divided in many ways,” she told POLITIK.
“Unfortunately, what we see is a confusion around who’s against who and why. People just feel like they’re against someone.
“And I’ve seen, you know, landlords versus tenants, I’ve seen employees versus employers, I’ve seen town folk versus rural, and I’ve seen Maori versus Non-Maori, and everyone stops and sort of turns around and thinks, why do I feel this way? And all of it has come down to government decisions that have been made for people.”
She said much of the current debate could be traced back to He Puapua, but she worries that it is getting out of control and that even applies to attitudes toward Te Reo.
“What’s really unfortunate is there are generations of people that connect the lack of control of the narrative and not being part of the journey back to care and respect and cultivation of a language.
“And those two things are completely different.”
Hutchinson’s analysis is not out of step with mainstream Labour thinking, but because there is some uncertainty about how National will react when both NZ First and ACT make their demands about race relations, it is not easy to say whether Nimon represents mainstream National thinking.
But if she does, then that might be an indication of how difficult National could find it to form a government.
Chris Bishop might have been more correct than he might have imagined when he said yesterday that there was a real possibility of a second election.
He said that might happen if both sides got a combined total of 60 seats,
However, Seymour’s comments suggest that National and ACT could have the numbers to form a government but that National would regard the demand for a Treaty referendum as a step too far.