5 Jun 2024

Why Tuku Morgan labelled David Seymour a 'political idiot'

From 30 with Guyon Espiner, 3:00 pm on 5 June 2024

Tukoroirangi Morgan helped establish Māori Television, has been the spokesman for the Māori King, and was once described as the most reviled politician in New Zealand.  

He grew up in poverty, in a home where te reo Māori was the first language and has spent his life fighting for that language, as a journalist, a politician, a member of the Kiingitanga, and - currently - as chair of Waikato Tainui.

Now, he says that Māori face an existential battle against the government for their rights, their culture, and their language. 

Guyon Espiner asks Tuku about whether he stands by his recent claim: that the government have rendered Māori an almost nullity. 

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"Absolutely. There are achievements that have been won as a result of courage and determination by our forebears."  

"Leaders before my time were able to fashion a pathway so that people like me and my grandchildren could enjoy Te Reo Māori, and have the opportunity to do things for ourselves, both socially and environmentally."  

"As the chair of Waikato-Tainui, I have a responsibility to make sure that those things that were entrenched in our treaty settlement are promoted and upheld by this government - including the preservation of our Reo, and the notion of holistic wellbeing for all my people."

Te Reo seems to be thriving in New Zealand society today. More people are speaking it, learning it, non-speakers understand more of it. Will government policy really have a negative effect on that? 

"It’s the public narrative that they promote - this notion that our language is irrelevant and inappropriate in modern society. I think the undeniable responsibility of the crown is to be a good partner. And that partnership was enshrined in the Treaty of Waitangi. We should be working together not against each other."

"Modern New Zealand society has embraced Te Reo Māori [but] what we have is a whole bunch of ageing white males who continue to perpetuate this notion that Te Reo Māori is a sidebar."  

"Even [former political ally Winston Peters] is a problem. There is only one place where this language belongs, and it's here in this country. We can't go anywhere else. Our existence, our uniqueness as a people, hinges around our Reo, our culture." 

Waikato-Tainui is taking the Crown to the High Court over government policy towards official use of Te Reo in the public sphere?

"We're taking this decision to the High Court because it is certainly a breach of [the Tainui treaty settlement]. We're very confident that our case before the High Court will be successful, because the Crown has walked away from its obligation to preserve, promote and maintain our Reo by the actions and the narrative that [the government] are saying publicly."

"Look, I do understand, and I can accept, that there are old white people around this country who have a problem with it, because I think their minds are fixated on a certain view of the world. They don't embrace change."  

"They're unbending, they are inflexible, and they're unwilling to face this inevitable browning of our societies. Because in 40, 50 years' time, two-thirds of this population will be brown." 

"Younger New Zealanders are far more accommodating, in terms of encompassing a culture that not only belongs to Māori, but actually belongs to every New Zealander. It’s what makes this country unique and different to any other country in the world. Because this culture is only found here."  

"Māori culture is a living culture. And it's a unique culture and it can belong to every person in this country."  

Tells us about establishing Māori Television, now Whakaata Māori. The Māori Council had to take their case for Māori TV to the Privy Council before it succeeded? 

"It was a tough ride. But these transformational phases in Māori development will always be tough, because we are up against a Pākehā a view of the world that is unbending and inflexible."  

"I’m pleased that our judicial finding gave rise to the opportunity to have Māori television in this country. Long overdue. But these are battles that our people have endured over generations. Even down to Treaty settlements, everything that has happened in a significant way to Māori has come, for the most part, as a result of legal action."  

"And that's unfortunate, because what that says to us that there are people in society who will continue to impede the progress of Māori, obstruct the progress of Māori, unless there's a judicial finding, and it's in our favour."  

Tukoroirangi Morgan

Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

You were one of the first news reporters on Māori-language news programme Te Karere, in the 1980s. What do you make of the state of television right now?  

"The fact that you have a commercial American giant sitting behind TV3 [means] our people will always be in the margins.  The fact that they're going to get rid of [TV3 news], and there are changes at Television New Zealand, means that we become insignificant in the television world of news and current affairs."  

"And that is a major problem for us, because without that there is no debate. Without that there is no accountability." 

You faced public venom and ridicule after being accused in Parliament of misspending public funding on clothing, including an $89 pair of underpants, while at Aotearoa Television Network. What do you make of that now? 

"I did what I did, because I believed that money was mine." 

"When I participated in mainstream politics and went into parliament, it was obvious that I became a very easy target for the Helen Clark-lead opposition."  

"I mean, some of my colleagues have purchased a single suit worth more than $4,000. The issue for me was not about the clothing. The issue for me was the intent, and the blatant and obvious racism that emerged as a result of me being targeted by the Labour party." 

"Every receipt, every activity that I undertook when I was at ATN was subjected to an intense 18-month investigation by the Serious Fraud Office, and the SFO investigation cleared me of everything." 

"There was no contrition on the part of the Labour Party. There was no apology at all. So that's the reason why I don’t intend on being apologetic for what I did."  

You were an MP at the time, in the newly formed New Zealand First under Winston Peters. What do you think of Peters today? 

"I think Winston has changed."  

"At that time, [when I was in New Zealand First] we had all the Māori seats. We had strong Māori MPs who were confident, who were highly skilled, and who were articulate and understood the issues."

"And even with the jagged edge of the [current] New Zealand First Party, and the utterances of Winston Peters...[Māori] are still at the bottom of the social consequences of unemployment, poor health, education, under achievement."  

"All those things are not new to us. And despite whatever Winston says, or any other politician, Māori or otherwise, we're still at the bottom. I think there's a bit of Trumpism here in this country. I think that politicians look abroad and pick up on what they think might work.  And there's some crazy ideas out there in this right-leaning government."  

"Notwithstanding the fact that when Labour was around, they had an opportunity to transform our people and they didn't take it."

Would you ever go back into central government politics? 

"I'm done with central politics. But I do want to say that there is an opportunity that beckons our people - to go from the Pākehā roll back onto the Māori roll."  

"We will always be bystanders and a supporting act to the main party, unless we jump back onto the Māori roll, and as a result create more Māori seats."  

"But unless our people get serious about politics, and make the jump, and go back onto the Māori roll we will always be spectators to the political process. That's certainly my observation."  

"And as I look at the last election and the results, there is an emergence of young Māori who are much more articulate, much more visionary about where they want to go. There was a large landslide victory in the Māori seats, and I think that augurs well for our people."  

"I think what we need to do is to use all forums of the media, including social media, to try and say to our people, that if we want to participate, and if we want to make real change, we have to be involved in a much more significant way in the political process, we need more people in Parliament."  

Your family history is steeped in the Kingiitanga. Earlier this year, the Māori King called a massively attended hui, rallying against current government policies. What did you make of that? 

"I am a staunch supporter of King Tūheitia. My support will never waver. I was raised in the Kingiitanga and I will go to my deathbed still 100% committed to the Kingiitanga."   

"The reason why the Kingiitanga was formed in 1858 was to stop the sale of land to the Pākehā and unite our people, so that we had a unique voice of unity."  

"In January more than 10,000 people turned up [to Turangawaewae Marae] because of an earnest desire to rally. And the subsequent hui at Ratana, and then at Waitangi, tells me that the relevance and the appropriateness of the Kingiitanga is still strong." 

"There are young voices peppered amongst the old ones. There's a much better approach to the narrative."  

"And I am confident that as we progress to the hui-aa-motu in Hastings, and then down to Christchurch, that the sense of urgency and concern around government policies is still there."  

Tukoroirangi Morgan

Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

ACT party leader David Seymour has proposed a referendum on a Treaty Principals Act. What's your response to this push from ACT?

"The treaty is about partnerships – Māori and the Crown. Simple as that."  

"You can't give the same rights to an immigrant to this country. That has been long entrenched. Not only in law, but in our history since 1840."  

"What Seymour is saying is that every other New Zealander has the same rights as Māori. And that's a nonsense, under the treaty, in terms of our rights to te whenua, to the taiao, to the environment. All those things that that are safeguarded in the treaty are things that belong to Māori and to the Crown."

What are your thoughts on the changes proposed that would say, 'the government would honour all New Zealanders' chieftainship of land and property. New Zealanders would all be equal under the law and have the same rights and duties?'

"That's there anyway. That's in the current statute. What he's trying to do is manipulate a historic agreement, so that it's shared on the same basis as that which was promised to Māori."  

The National Party have effectively shut down any prospect of ACT’s treaty proposals going ahead. What if they changed their minds and agreed to ACT’s demands? 

"I think that you will see action in this country, protest in this country, opposition in this country never seen in the history of this country before."  

"There are those of us who will not sit still in and remain idle." 

"If this bill is passed, and it goes beyond the first reading, there'll be hell to play, simple as that. There'll be hell to play. It's an attack on an agreement that was enshrined in a trusting way by those Rangatira in 1840. You’ve got a political idiot here, who is trying to modernise a document that will make the 1840 signing a nullity." 

What does 'Co-Governance' mean to you? 

"Partnership. Here's the thing, the Waikato River, since 2010, has been under what we call the Waikato River Authority, where there are equal number of iwi and an equal number of Crown representatives, and it's worked."  

Should there be 50/50 representation when Māori only make up 17% of the population?  

"Well, here's the problem that we have in terms of history. In our iwi, 1.3 million acres were taken, rendering our iwi landless. Is there any justice to that?"  

"Built on the back of that dispossession, the theft of our lands, is that nearly 30% of this country's GDP comes out of my Rohe. 75% of the water that comes into Auckland comes out of the Waikato and its associated water bodies."  

"Waikato-Tainui has been a mere spectator as successive councils have degraded the river, to the extent that we can't even take food from it, or swim in it. Now, you talk about justice; you talk about this 17% of the total population. It’s absolute nonsense. I'm talking about justice here.  We've been on the wrong side of history."  

"So, when we cut deals, and we are smart enough to get these negotiations around co-governance, we should actually be applauded for taking a much more innovative approach, because in the last 100 years we've watched councils degrade our water."  

"History has treated my iwi horrifically. We've been the casualties of deceit."  

What shots have you got left to fire? 

"Lots of them. We're an iwi now who has economic power, nearly $2.4 billion of assets. We're capable of doing what we need to do to protect that which is our own and protect the future of our young ones."  

"Because in the end, it's the young ones who we serve."