David Seymour: The speech Jacinda Ardern should have given on Ihumātao

Opinion 30/08/2019

By David Seymour, leader of the ACT Party.

E ngā mana, en ngā reo, e ngā karangatanga maha. Tēnā kotou.

Greetings. It’s my special privilege to address this nation today about Ihumātao because it’s an issue that goes to the heart of who we are as a country. This Government believes in shared prosperity, and I want to tell you what that means in relation to Ihumātao.

I’ve heard some barracking that I should provide leadership on this situation, but curiously that’s where the alternative ‘leadership’ stops. So, as Prime Minister, please allow me to lay out how our nation will find its way through this impasse.

First, let me acknowledge something. It’s wrong that the land at Ihumātao was taken against the wishes of its owners in 1863. But lest we forget, that land was taken by conquest before then. That was wrong, too.

Modern New Zealand has drawn a line under property by conquest.

We’ve said ‘no more’ because insecure property rights help nobody. That’s something we have in common with the protestors at Ihumātao. We do not agree with taking land without the owners’ free consent.

That’s why there’s a widespread consensus that privately-owned land is not available for settling Māori-Pākehā grievances. Leaders in Māoridom agree because they own property and want to live in a country with secure property rights, too. All of our shared goals require a system of property rights.

That property rights matter is not opinion, it is fact. Some people say there are many truths and ways of looking at the world and that all views are equal. That’s just not true, especially when it comes to the importance of property rights. We can actually look at evidence to find the best way of doing things.

If you study how different countries do things, the ones with strong property rights are prosperous. These are countries where, if you own a piece of property, you own it. You cannot have it taken off you unless you freely and genuinely consent to sell or gift it.

What happens in countries like that? They’re the countries where people can afford the health and education and environmental policies that my Government is committed to delivering. Take the Scandinavian countries. They all have very secure property rights.

Then look at places where nobody owns anything with any certainty, and the strongest thugs own everything by default. These places are basket cases. Zimbabwe, much of Central America, Communist Russia. I’m not looking to offend anyone, just telling the truth. Countries with weak property rights are also weak when it comes to human welfare. There are no exceptions.

Interestingly, they are also weak on the environment. Countries where nobody cares about property because they don’t own it are poor environmental custodians.

More interestingly, countries with weak property rights are also weak on rights for women. One of the most important feminist battles is for women to be able to own property. Here that battle was won long ago, in some countries, incredibly, it continues even today.

Countries with weak property rights are also weak on solving poverty. The poorer the property rights, the poorer the people. If you doubt any of this, I’d urge you to look at the international comparisons of countries with and without property rights.

We do not want to live in a country with weak property rights.

How do property rights help a country? Quite simply, they let people plan their futures. If you can’t be sure you’ll own the things you own today tomorrow, how can you invest? How can you get a bank loan to support your investment? How do you keep your spirits up when everything you’ve worked for is just taken away? You can’t.

Property rights are the starting point for this discussion because without a system of property rights this government cannot achieve its other goals. Let me turn to the protestors at Ihumātao.

I accept you believe you are on a crusade for justice. You see the great injustices or Māori deprivation that live on in spite of years of attempts by successive Governments trying to alleviate it. You are right to want a better deal for Māori who have the bad end of nearly every social statistic we measure.

My Government is committed to innovative social programs and adequate investment to solve such problems.

But let me be clear. You are not going to achieve that by returning New Zealand to a world of property by conquest.

I mean that in two ways. First of all, you will not be allowed to do it. Second of all it would be a disaster if you did. New Zealand cannot become a place where anybody could lose their property if a group of protestors showed up.

If you think for a moment that we are going to find $40 million and buy it off Fletcher, I’ll tell you you’re dreaming. If you think another iwi are going to surreptitiously find the money and buy it, you’re dreaming.

You’d be dreaming because that outcome would be a nightmare for New Zealand.

It amounts to saying that if someone camps out on your property for long enough, then you may be bullied into selling it. People need to be able to own property, and plan their futures around using it, such as by building homes.

The current system of property rights enjoys support from every group of New Zealanders. It is my job to defend that system on behalf of New Zealanders, both Māori and Pākehā, and that is what I’m going to do.

So, what happens from here? I’m appealing to the good sense of the protestors at Ihumātao. You cannot restore the mana of your ancestors by damaging the Aōtearoa you inherited from them. I call on you to respect property rights and leave the land to its rightful owners under the law.

If you do not, let me tell you what will happen by way of a famous story about the Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau. Not Justin, but his father, Pierre. Pierre was a politician of the liberal left, and a social reformer. When faced with the destruction of Canada’s most basic values, though, he stood to hold the country together. They asked him, in a situation a similar to this, how far would you go, Mr. Trudeau?

“Well,” he said, “just watch me.”

David Seymour is leader of the ACT Party.