Shane Te Pou: David Seymour’s sequel to Don Brash’s Ōrākei speech

OPINION:

If you ever find yourself cornered at a barbecue with a libertarian – and, with libertarians, being cornered is always on the cards – I suggest you ask them to name their favourite libertarian government and their best policy accomplishment. The answer, of course, is that no such government has existed anywhere on the planet – at least as far as recorded history goes. This always strikes me as remarkable given some of the weird political ideologies that have managed to prevail at various times. Think of North Korea’s idiosyncratic blend of doctrinaire Marxism-Leninism and hero worship. Even Social Credit won a provincial election in Canada once.

Any number of weird and wicked political brands have had time in the sun – but not so libertarianism, which stays forever the minor hobby horse of small but supremely self-confident white people.

Perhaps that’s why our own libertarian standard-bearers have always been so willing to discard its philosophical aspirations in favour of populist rabble-rousing, as successful a political formula as libertarianism is not.

I had intended to write today about the proposed new history curriculum but, in the course of my research, I found myself stuck on Act Party leader David Seymour’s recent speech to Milford Rotary – in effect, a kind of sequel to Don Brash’s Ōrākei speech, but the kind of straight-to-video howler nobody asked for with a lesser-known actor in the lead and even worse writing.

It was at the Milford Rotary Club where he unveiled his party’s support for a referendum on co-governance, which he insists will be a red line in any future coalition negotiations. As I read through his remarks it struck me that I’ve never seen, heard or read anything from Seymour longer than a soundbite. This speech, however, represented an attempt by Seymour to build a case for a referendum and a critique of successive governments’ approaches to implementing the Crown’s obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi. But it is not a good-faith effort. In fact, the whole thing is stunningly disingenuous.

The speech is peppered with rhetorical devices and sleight of hand designed artfully to obscure the unpalatable and muddle meaning.

Perhaps the most egregious example is Seymour’s framing of the debate around the Treaty partnership as a Manichean struggle between supporters of democracy and its opponents. He does this upfront by casting himself as a defender of “liberal democratic values” in a speech announcing a policy that represents the worst kind of majoritarian illiberalism.

Two other key planks of the liberal democracy Seymour swears to uphold fail to get mentioned in the speech: namely, the importance of honouring treaty obligations, and providing guardrails to protect minority groups from having their electoral disadvantage deployed against them in unjust ways. The idea that voters in 2026 get to determine our constitutional arrangements, notwithstanding prior commitments, isn’t liberal democracy – that’s just naked power.

Another galling aspect of Seymour’s speech is the flagrant misrepresentation of what the government and others are actually saying on the subject of co-governance. He claims, for example, that the current Government’s approach to Treaty partnership means “it doesn’t matter what you do in your life or how you act that counts; what matters more than anything else is which group you are a member of”.

I could have missed it, but I’m not aware of anyone suggesting anything like that – in any context, ever. It’s making cartoon villains of your adversaries and debasing the discourse.

We won’t get anywhere in this country if politicians exploit and inflame divisions through increasingly narrow partisan channels in ways that amount to disinformation. This kind of intellectual dishonesty is exactly the thing successive governments have avoided over the past four decades on Treaty matters, opting for good faith over short-term political advantage.

If Seymour expects us to take him seriously, the least he can do is the same.

On another note, I want to pay tribute to the recently departed Dame June Jackson, whose passion and love for people took her from a job cleaning Parliamentary offices to tireless and effective leadership, activism and advocacy for Auckland Māori. A life of service and love.

E te kahurangi, te kuia morehu, a Dame June Jackson, rere atu tō tika ki te whare makeao o Hinenuite pō.

E moteatea ana te ngakau no te mea, kua ngu tō reo. Takahia atu ra te ao wairua ki te huihuinga o ngā kahurangi e tatari mou.

Haere, haere, oki oki atu ra, e moe!

Farewell e te Kahurangi (Dame), e te kuia, as you descend to the house of Hinenui te pō, the death of all mankind. Our hearts lament, as your voice has been silenced, trample the pathway of the spirits, to the gathering place of those who await you.

Farewell, farewell, rest, layeth.

• Shane Te Pou (Ngai Tuhoe) is a company director at Mega Ltd, a commentator and blogger and a former Labour Party activist.

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