Paul Goldsmith
Paul Goldsmith

Peter Williams: Where would New Zealand be without colonisation?

Opinion 09/06/2021

OPINION: I think the National Party is running scared. In the aftermath of the party’s education spokesman Paul Goldsmith offering his opinion that colonisation was “on balance” good for Maori, all the bravado, all the calls to stop the separatism and divisiveness as recommended in He Puapua have just all gone up in smoke. 

Various National MPs, including Judith Collins herself, seem to be treating Paul Goldsmith as if he has smallpox. Nobody seems to be agreeing with him, well not publicly anyway. Has the National Party just raised the white flag and surrendered the race relations debate?

When did colonisation start and when did it finish? There seemed to be a suggestion that the arrival of James Cook in 1769 was the start, but surely that is a stretch. There were a limited number of Europeans here in the 50 years between Cook's arrival and the signing of the treaty and the relationship between locals and visitors were generally good. There was trading and there were missionaries. 

The biggest issue for this place in those years was the constant inter-tribal conflicts, known these days as the musket wars that continued on and off for over 30 years. Bringing an end to them was one of the reasons the Confederation of Chiefs signed the treaty. 

So let’s say colonisation began in 1840, and then officially when New Zealand became a colony in 1841, but when did it finish? Some might even ask, has it finished now? Do we say that when New Zealand became a Dominion in 1907 or fully independent from Britain in 1931 that the days of colonisation were over? Is it even worth asking whether it was good or bad? 

The reality is that it has happened, and is there any point in playing a blame game for the sins of the past? Is it not better that we learn from the mistakes of history to ensure that they are not repeated in the future? But let’s consider some of the good and some of the bad from the years of colonisation. 

Surely the most important good to come from it is the rule of law and system of governance. Remember that up till 1840 there was no law. That’s why the country was in a state of virtual civil war for all those pre-treaty years. Even though there was no official police force till 1886. There was no government until the Constitution Act of 1852 and the first elections in 1853. The concept of one man, one vote was introduced early to New Zealand. That included Maori and then in 1893, women. Wasn’t that a preferable system to ruling chiefs or monarchs with succession dependent on bloodlines or warfare? 

The arrival of the missionaries and other Europeans brought education, literacy, technology and more easily grown food types, like potatoes. See, colonisation wasn’t all bad. 

Yes, the second half of the 19th century in Waikato, Taranaki and Bay of Plenty brought about war, land confiscations, and an ugly period in New Zealand history. Yes, there was a long period of time when Maori were denied progress and privilege in New Zealand as the European settlers became the dominant group. But in the last fifty years has there not been a real effort to right the wrongs of the past? Has not New Zealand recognised that many, many injustices were inflicted on Maori in breach of the Treaty during the latter years of the 19th century? And that the treaty settlement process is an agreed way of recognising and compensating for what has gone on. 

But in the 21st century, don’t we have to accept a few things? 

1. New Zealand is proud of its democratic history. 

Say what you like, but the people voting for their government, and with every adults’ votes counting for equal value, is something this country should hold on to very tightly.

2. New Zealand is now a multi, multi-cultural society. 

Some of us Europeans have family trees in this country dating back to the 1840s. We don’t have anywhere else to go. This is our land too. We can’t help what happened in the past. We can look to make it better in future. And making it a better place in the future depends on the rule of law and on democracy - and they are still, nearly 200 years later, the best things that colonisation brought to this country. 

That’s possibly why Paul Goldsmith reckoned that “on balance” colonisation was good for this country. Any attempt to change those two basic precepts is just fraught with danger. And I can’t believe that his National Party colleagues have wimped out of supporting him.

So how are you seeing the current state of the National Party? Do they know what they stand for? And was Paul Goldsmith right or wrong about colonisation being “on balance” good for the country? He said - and I quote: “When we stand back and look at New Zealand and what we have created, which is the result of colonisation, I think on balance, New Zealand is a good thing.” 

Can you really disagree with that? Wouldn’t you rather live in this country than anywhere else in the world?

Listen to Peter WIlliams every weekday morning from 9am on Magic Talk.