Right wing plays anti-Maori card in dash for votes

SIX WEEKS ago, Richard Prebble, leader of the right-wing ACT New Zealand party, drove to the summit of One Tree Hill, a volcanic peak overlooking Auckland, to call for restrictions on Maori claims to land confiscated by European settlers.

The choice of venue was deliberately provocative. One Tree Hill was the site of a Maori pa (fortified village), and it was once crowned by a totara, a native tree sacred to the Maoris. The totara was felled by the Europeans in 1876 and replaced with a pine, now leaning at a perilous angle after a recent attack on it by chainsaw-wielding Maori activists.

In tactics reminiscent of those employed by Pauline Hanson's One Nation party in Australia last year, ACT has waged an unashamedly populist campaign for votes in tomorrow's general election. It is demanding a 10-year time limit for the settlement of land claims, and also wants a 20 per cent flat tax rate, harsher prison sentences and a clampdown on welfare "scroungers".

While the party is not openly racist in the manner of One Nation, which opposed immigration and Aboriginal land rights, its message has struck a chord with disaffected blue-collar and rural New Zealanders. Opinion polls suggest that its share of the vote has risen to 10 per cent, from 6 per cent at the 1993 election. As the prospective coalition partner of Jenny Shipley's ruling National Party, ACT politicians will be given cabinet posts if the Nationals win the most seats tomorrow.

With Helen Clark's Labour Party 10 points ahead in a poll in today's New Zealand Herald, that scenario looks unlikely. However, ACT - which uses resonant phrases such as "One Country" - is poised to send up to 15 MPs to the 120-seat parliament in Wellington.

It is the party's anti-Maori platform that has proved most divisive in a country that prides itself on good race relations. One Labour MP, David Jacobs, accused ACT of being fascist and warned that a National-ACT government would lead to "blood on the streets".

At an ACT rally in central Auckland yesterday, attended by elderly people and businessmen, plus a scattering of shaven-headed thugs, many of the speeches were drowned out by chanting demonstrators. Mr Prebble, nicknamed "Mad Dog", taunted the protesters, telling one: "Madam, help is on its way. We are going to find you a job. Yes, you're going to enjoy working. I know it will be a new experience."

ACT has tapped a vein of racism in New Zealand by attacking the "grievance industry" of claims made under the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, in which Maori tribes ceded sovereignty to the British Crown in exchange for the rights and privileges of becoming British subjects. A tribunal set up 10 years ago to process compensation claims has become a focus for the frustrations of white New Zealanders who resent what they regard as hand- outs to the Maoris.

The demand for a time limit, while unpopular with most Maoris, is relatively mild. ACT knows that the race card must be played with caution in New Zealand, where most people regard themselves as fundamentally fair-minded. Race relations are far better than in neighbouring Australia, not least because Maoris make up 15 per cent of the population and are well integrated.

ACT was founded by Sir Roger Douglas, architect of New Zealand's radical economic agenda of the Eighties, and Mr Prebble was a minister in the Labour government that implemented it. Speaking at ACT's campaign office, which is located in a seedy area of Auckland full of strip bars and massage parlours, Mr Prebble shrugged off the racist label.

"People make those sorts of statements because they're not willing to debate," he said. "We have had the courage to raise the issues that the other parties have run away from."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Telesales Executive - OTE £30,000

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This precious metal refining co...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Conveyancing Fee Earner

£20000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Conveyancing Fee Earne...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - £40,000 - £70,000 OTE

£40000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Case Handler - Probate

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn