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Act leader David Seymour speaks at a campaign event in 2020. (Photo: Greg Bowker/Getty Images)
Act leader David Seymour speaks at a campaign event in 2020. (Photo: Greg Bowker/Getty Images)

The BulletinJanuary 29, 2024

David Seymour says he won’t back down on Treaty bill

Act leader David Seymour speaks at a campaign event in 2020. (Photo: Greg Bowker/Getty Images)
Act leader David Seymour speaks at a campaign event in 2020. (Photo: Greg Bowker/Getty Images)

The Act leader says Māori leaders who criticise his Treaty Principles Bill should be wary of ‘inciting baseless racial resentment’, writes Catherine McGregor in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Seymour laments ‘divisive’ response to proposed bill

If people thought the Act leader would try to strike a more conciliatory note after a week of outrage over his Treaty Principles Bill, they were very wrong. David Seymour gave his annual state of the nation speech in Auckland on Sunday, and devoted much of it to a defence of his highly controversial proposed legislation. Its critics say the bill is divisive, but Seymour said in fact it’s those who call the bill “racist” who are sowing division. Māori leaders with “the ear of the young” should ask themselves if they’re dealing with the issues responsibly, “or simply inciting baseless racial resentment”. Viewing the Treaty as a partnership had ingrained the idea that tangata whenua and tangata tiriti “each have different political and legal rights”, he said. “This is not only untrue, it is incompatible with the fundamental democratic value that all citizens are equal under the law.”

Density rules on the chopping block

Another section of the speech that raised eyebrows, at least among the yimby set, was Seymour’s criticism of the Clark, Key and Ardern governments for allegedly claiming “there was no housing crisis when ownership rates were in free fall and houses cost 10 times income”. That’s rich, say housing advocates, given Act’s eagerness to delete mandatory Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS) from the statute books. On Saturday, Newshub reported that a new law to that effect is “being written”. While the government has a number of policies to promote new housing, making MDRS optional for councils – which many councils have been advocating for – risks slowing down the homebuilding rate while pushing new developments onto greenfield sites. It’ll also mean more resource consent requirements – ie, red tape. It’s all about Act “continuing to argue for more regulation and fewer property rights for people when it comes to housing,” says Greater Auckland’s Matt Lowrie, tongue presumably firmly in cheek.

‘The sweet spot between not racist enough, and too racist’

Back to the Treaty Principles Bill, and what it means for the government. In the Sunday Star-Times (paywalled), Andrea Vance sardonically congratulates Act for nailing “that sweet spot between not racist enough, and too racist” with their approach to a bill they know is almost certain not to pass. The real question, she says, is how PM Chris Luxon got himself into this situation in the first place. “National loses every way out of this exercise, a conclusion anyone who spent more than 10 minutes thinking about this issue would have drawn.” In the Herald (paywalled), Thomas Coughlan considers how Labour stays relevant while Treaty issues dominate the political debate. “Labour cannot and should not back down from its position at the political vanguard when it comes to championing Māori,” Coughlan writes. “However, the advent of a left-wing Māori Party, with a large presence in Parliament does present a challenge that Labour hasn’t faced in some time, if ever.”

The controversial history of state of the nation speeches

The Act leader’s state of the nation speech is a longstanding tradition. While such speeches had already been delivered by other party leaders, the first from an Act leader that I can find was the one by Richard Prebble in February 2004. He was speaking just a fortnight after National leader (and later Act leader) Don Brash had given his own state of the nation address at Orewa. That famous speech was focused on what Brash termed the Treaty “grievance industry” and the unwarranted injection of Treaty Principles (them again) into legislation by Helen Clark’s Labour government. The speech led to a surge in support for National and, according to a 2018 data analysis by Stuff, may have ultimately helped steer a dramatic change in government rhetoric. “Clark’s mentions of the Treaty fell from about one mention in every eight press releases and speeches in 2004 to just one in 100 in 2005.”

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