Mandy Hager’s Column

Attacking Māori — John Ansell’s Toxic ‘Colourblind’ War

By Mandy Hager

One of the nastiest, most insidious and cynical crusades I’ve seen launched over recent times is John Ansell’s so-called ‘Colourblind’ campaign.

Ansell, the creator of the National Party’s divisive Iwi/Kiwi advertising billboards in the Don Brash-led run-up to the 2006 general election, gave a gobsmackingly racist interview on the excellent Māori TV current affairs programme ‘Native Affairs.’

(I urge you to view it here before you read on:  Series 6, Ep 31, October 8, 2012.)

Backed to the tune of $2 million by the Act Party’s biggest financial supporter, Louis Crimp (who said of white New Zealanders that ‘most of them dislike the Maoris intensely[1]’), Ansell questions Māori status as ‘indigenous’ and goes on to accuse Māori leaders of being ‘a bench of overgrown teenage thugs and extortionists.’

‘Dog-whistle’ politics

What is most disturbing about Ansell’s campaign is that, unlike Crimp (who cannot open his mouth without leaping in head first), he is a seasoned political player and knows exactly how to engage in dog-whistle politics — where political messages employ coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup (read here ‘right wing, white racists’).

He takes issues such as Treaty negotiations, the current water/asset debate, Māori seats, education and crime statistics and twists them to his own agenda to stir people’s unease (most often caused through lack of any real understanding of the issues).

He then reshapes it into a discourse on Māori ‘Greivers’ — building up resentment, jealousy and suspicion. It’s not designed to promote reasoned discussion or any kind of racial harmony — it’s designed to stir up all the basest selfishness of human hearts.

I’m not going to go into his claims — I don’t believe they deserve the air — other than to say I find them offensive, untrue and dangerous. But I feel a few basic questions need to be asked of all Pākeha who question Treaty rights and the ongoing consequences of colonisation.

Why do we accept that the pains of WW1 and WW2 are still worth recognition and redressing (in the case of returned servicemen, for instance) when Māori are told to forget terrible grievances that often don’t date any further back (and if they do, are still fresh in the minds of those whose ancestors were aggrieved)?

Māori have been punished for use of their language in my lifetime — and are still being cheated of their land and rights.

‘Why do you think Māori feature so badly?’

Why do you think Māori feature so badly in health, welfare, education and justice statistics today when you consider they had thriving settlements, trade and local economies before Pākeha arrived?

Even a quick glance at the impacts of colonisation all around the world will show that any culture squashed so cold-bloodedly will suffer the effects for generations — and that the only way to heal this is to acknowledge and then redress the damage.

We’re only half way through this process yet — and, already, we’re reneging on our good intent. There are generations of damaged families to be rebuilt. They need our support and compassion, not our scorn.

Why is the higher education and increasing wealth of Māori something bad? Shouldn’t we be celebrating that we are a nation mature enough to lead the way in restorative justice and human rights?

What’s scary is how easy Ansell and his mates undermine the (very) few good deeds that previous governments have put in place (god knows, there’s still a lot of structural racism that needs addressing to this day) — it plays to the lowest common denominator of closet racists — and it’s ugly, ignorant and mean.

It makes me wonder who is really pulling the strings here. Is Ansell trying to pick up support from the dying Act Party to bolster National’s coalition support? It’s such a cynical enough idea it just might be true. God help us all.


I really liked this column Mandy. Your example of our continued commemoration etc. of WWI and WWII when set against the insistence by some that it’s past time to forget about Māori grievances particularly struck me as I’ve been hunting about for a good example of this kind of double standard. My local paper usually has one letter a day (and I’ve been counting for the last few months!) attacking “greedy” Māori, the treaty “industry” etc. etc. It’s hard to know if this kind of simmering anger is at more or less or the same levels as it has been in, say, the past decade or so. What do you think?