`Iwi Tax’ – top-drawer race propaganda

datePosted on 11:12, March 6th, 2009 by Lew

Hard on the heels of my article about giving the overworked minions of the Corporate News Machine ready fodder to work with, The Dominion Post this morning proves my case by running ready-made racist propaganda soundbites from the fisheries industry.

The linked article makes it quite explicit that the fee levied by Ngāi Tahu is nothing to do with them being Māori and the fishermen being Pākehā – it’s to do with them being the owners of a resource which they (as owners) consider to be in need of investment. Their business model is to extract a rent from that resource, and they have decided to raise that rent by constraining commercial access to those who are prepared to support continued investment in the resource by paying a commercial use levy. This is no different in principle than the Transit Agency increasing road-user charges to increase investment in roads, or from a landowner charging higher fees for Fonterra producer-shareholders to graze his property because he wants to adhere to the Clean Streams Accord (and that costs money), or from a resort owner increasing his fees in order to improve the quality of the accommodation.

The fisherfolk and their lobby group the Seafood Industry Council are not trying to play on the economic issues, because they know they have no case. So they’re playing this on symbolic issues – the (coincidental) facts that the product of the lake (tuna) is a Ngāi Tahu tāonga, and the fact that Ngāi Tahu are Māori, they (the commercial fishermen) are (I assume) Pākehā, and the ownership of the lakebed is the result of a Treaty settlement. None of these facts are actually relevant to the case in point – there’s no evidence that there is any discrimination, and it doesn’t matter by what legitimate means the owners acquired control of the resource. Just because it’s the result of a Treaty settlement doesn’t mean they somehow have less right to extract rents from it. So Ngāi Tahu’s case seems invulnerable on material grounds, but it is vulnerable on symbolic grounds. The commercial interests here are cynically trying to leverage the undercurrent of anti-Māori-development racism, pushing the Iwi/Kiwi button in service of their legally invalid cause.

It’s not an `iwi tax’ – it’s a `conservation levy’, and only payable by commercial users. They can’t come out and declare themselves anti-conservation, but it seems that in NZ it’s just fine for them to come out and declare themselves anti-iwi.

L

16 Responses to “`Iwi Tax’ – top-drawer race propaganda”

  1. Anita on March 6th, 2009 at 11:31

    I wouldn’t even call it a levy or link it to conservation.

    If I were to let some people use my back garden to grow vegetables (let’s pretend it’s not already full :) charging them a fee would be neither a levy nor a conservation issue.

  2. BeShakey on March 6th, 2009 at 11:39

    If I were to let some people use my back garden to grow vegetables (let’s pretend it’s not already full :) charging them a fee would be neither a levy nor a conservation issue.

    Particularly if, as is apparently the case here, they did significant damage to your garden which threatened to undermine any future ability for you (or anyone else) to grow vegetables there. (For those that aren’t good on extended analogies – they are over-fishing)

  3. Socrates on March 6th, 2009 at 11:53

    It’s not an `iwi tax’ – it’s a `conservation levy’, and only payable by commercial users. They can’t come out and declare themselves anti-conservation, but it seems that in NZ it’s just fine for them to come out and declare themselves anti-iwi.

    It’s neither… it’s a revenue gathering exercise..

  4. Lew on March 6th, 2009 at 11:55

    Socrates,

    It’s neither… it’s a revenue gathering exercise..

    For a declared purpose, conservation. If they don’t use the resulting revenue to pursue conservation, they can rightly be attacked on that ground. But there’s no basis to do it in advance.

    L

  5. BeShakey on March 6th, 2009 at 14:35

    It’s neither… it’s a revenue gathering exercise..

    That still fails to explain what justifies the faux outrage at an organisation charging a levy/fee/tax* for use of their resources.

    * Note, it can’t actually be a tax because iwi don’t have the right to tax people. I think the use of the term is simply to play off against people’s dislike of taxes, and their horror at the thought that Maori could have that kind of power.

  6. Lew on March 6th, 2009 at 14:42

    BS,

    * Note, it can’t actually be a tax because iwi don’t have the right to tax people. I think the use of the term is simply to play off against people’s dislike of taxes, and their horror at the thought that Maori could have that kind of power.

    Exactly right, there’s this whole layer on it as well. Thanks B.

    L

  7. Assorted Links From My Internet Travels…

    Common sense on the absurdly-named “Iwi Tax.”…

  8. KINTO on March 9th, 2009 at 15:00

    Does any one here keep a record of how often and for what topics the Dom Post breaks out the red ink in the headline?

  9. Ieuan on March 9th, 2009 at 15:55

    The main objection that the fishermen had to the Ngai Tahu levy was the way it was imposed.

    Firstly it was presented as ‘accept this 15% levy or stop fishing come the 1st Feb’ and secondly it is a percentage of turn-over meaning the fishermen have to present reports to Ngai Tahu of revenue. The final agreement was an 8% levy but from comments made by the fishermen (on Radio Live) they would prefer a flat fee to cut out the red tape involved.

    I am unsure as to why you think this is racist? Can’t the media criticise Ngai Tahu over their actions or is any such criticism ‘racist’?

  10. Lew on March 9th, 2009 at 16:35

    Ieuan,

    Firstly it was presented as ‘accept this 15% levy or stop fishing come the 1st Feb’ and secondly it is a percentage of turn-over meaning the fishermen have to present reports to Ngai Tahu of revenue. The final agreement was an 8% levy but from comments made by the fishermen (on Radio Live) they would prefer a flat fee to cut out the red tape involved.

    None of that information was in the linked report, which is what I was commenting on.

    I am unsure as to why you think this is racist? Can’t the media criticise Ngai Tahu over their actions or is any such criticism ‘racist’?

    Criticising Ngāi Tahu – or anyone else – is fine, and not all criticism of Ngāi Tahu is necessarily racist. But criticism of them trying to exercise their property rights with the emphasis being on the fact that they’re an iwi group, not on the nature of that exercise or its practicalities isn’t `criticising them for their actions’, it’s criticising them for who they are, and that’s racist.

    Use of the phrase `iwi tax’ is prima facie racist, since it’s neither a tax nor leveled by the group because they’re an iwi – the same levy for the same reason could be (and frequently is) leveled by resource holders of other ethnicities. Ngāi Tahu being an iwi isn’t germane to criticising the levy – it’s just a useful symbolic device for demonising it. That they choose this particular device rather than others signifies that their case probably doesn’t have very much merit.

    L

  11. Anita on March 9th, 2009 at 21:14

    leuan,

    If the media were to describe my demand that my employer pay me for the hours I work for them as a “feminist tax” it would be farcical.

    If the media were to describe high country farmers charging for the use of shearers’ quarters by trampers as a “Pākeha tax” it would be ridiculous.

    What is it about the popular view of the world that makes calling a property owner requiring payment for use of their property an “iwi tax”? And do the media reinforce that view by doing so?

  12. […] papers the Dominion Post and the Waikato Times cheerfully running their “iwi tax” racist propaganda line, eel fishermen working (or not working, presently) in Lake Ellesmere/Te Waihora now claim in […]

  13. Ieuan on March 10th, 2009 at 09:26

    Anita: Your two examples are for situations in which people are in agreement with the service being provided and the payment involved, that is not that case with Ngai Tahu and the fisherman.

    Regarding the term ‘iwi tax’, the Maori word ‘iwi’ means tribe or clan (which is what Ngai Tahu are) and the use of the work tax in this context means a ‘forced payment’, given that this sums up the situation from the fisherman’s point of view I struggle to see how you find this term objectionable and again I definitely don’t agree that the term ‘iwi tax’ or the Herald article is racist.

    Interesting that Rik Tau, who was one of the Ngai Tahu’s primary treaty negotiators has now come out against the agreement calling Ngai Tahu ‘High Handed’ and one of the fishermen (Clem Smith) has said ‘It’s not a Maori-Pakeha issue, but a bullying corporation treating some small people badly.’

  14. Lew on March 10th, 2009 at 10:19

    Ieuan,

    Interesting that Rik Tau, who was one of the Ngai Tahu’s primary treaty negotiators has now come out against the agreement calling Ngai Tahu ‘High Handed’ and one of the fishermen (Clem Smith) has said ‘It’s not a Maori-Pakeha issue, but a bullying corporation treating some small people badly.’

    I just posted on the change in position.

    Anita: Your two examples are for situations in which people are in agreement with the service being provided and the payment involved, that is not that case with Ngai Tahu and the fisherman.

    Neither of the examples assume that the person against whom the demand of payment is made must agree, and neither does the case in point. At the most basic level, the eel fishermen are free to go elsewhere if they aren’t prepared to pay the levy. Of course, that would be less than ideal for both parties, but the point is that there are no bars on the figurative windows. The examples are both quite apt.

    If you can explain to me why the matter of Ngāi Tahu being Māori is somehow relevant to their wanting to extract an additional rent from their resource in the name of reinvestment in that resource, then you might have a point. What makes `iwi tax’ racist is that they’re racialising a business decision because of the people who made that decision – not because of any characteristic of the decision itself. Claiming the defence of “this sums up the situation from the fisherman’s point of view” is very weak – for one thing, today’s change in Clem Smith’s position shows that it doesn’t actually sum up their position, and for another thing just because it’s “their point of view” doesn’t make it right or valid. You’re arguing the reverse of the Lebowski Defence, viz, “That’s just your opinion, man.”

    L

  15. Ieuan on March 10th, 2009 at 10:35

    ‘The Big Lebowski’ now that is one hell of a great movie.

    I think in this case we can just agree to disagree, after all one of the great things about New Zealand is you can have a discussion about race and it doesn’t get nasty.

  16. Lew on March 10th, 2009 at 10:35

    Ieuan,

    I think in this case we can just agree to disagree after all one of the great things about New Zealand is you can have a discussion about race and it doesn’t get nasty.

    Hah, that’s a good one.

    L

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