In keeping with the Government’s propaganda campaign to manipulate the public into supporting wide-ranging and fundamental changes to our legal, constitutional, and democratic governance arrangements, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), through its National Science Challenge, has sponsored a guide for legislators and policymakers to use when talking to the public about co-governance.
The guide demonstrates the way in which co-governance can be sold to the public using 'positive narratives' and ‘shared values’ that draw attention away from the fundamental democratic rights that are being eroded when it comes to the governance of our natural resources*.
It is a simple but manipulative strategy, aimed at what the document calls ‘persuadable audiences’. Once these audiences are influenced, this is then used as social proof - the social phenomenon where we tend to conform to a particular behaviour in order to ‘fit in’.
The guide is intended to help policymakers understand the ‘unhelpful ways’ the public thinks about co-governance and to provide ways to navigate around these ‘traps’. The so-called ‘unhelpful ways’ includes the idea that there should be ‘one law for all’. It describes this as ‘universal fairness thinking’ claiming that:
“Universal fairness thinking is a concept that describes thinking that excludes the context in which people make decisions and assumes that fairness means everyone should be treated the same in the law. This thinking ignores the impacts of colonial privilege and harm in assessing what is fair in contemporary contexts”.
The guide also states that, to avoid the shallow thinking of separatism or ‘us versus them’ when talking about partnership or co-governance, policymakers use messages that emphasise solidarity such as “standing shoulder to shoulder”, and “working together”. It says that instead of using human rights language, it’s better to use intrinsic and collective values to communicate about issues of collective wellbeing.
It suggests replacing ‘unhelpful thinking’ with ‘helpful thinking’, such as:
“When mana whenua-led kaitiakitanga is honoured, and environmental management centres on local expertise and knowledge, the benefits are collective and shared by all of us, including te taiao.” (the natural environment)
“Expertise is about perception, not technical expertise”, and suggests that a key to conferring expertise and credibility is repetition.
“People of the Treaty (tangata Tiriti) need to understand the importance and validity of mātauranga Māori, to see and discard the harmful narratives about co-governance and Māori and to know that co-governance and Tiriti-based partnerships that properly balance decision making will work for the benefit of the environment we all wish to protect”. People of the Treaty refers to everyone who is not of Māori descent.
*The guide is specific to the National Science Challenge on New Zealand’s Biological Heritage, designed to help people who are designing legislation, policies and practices for bio heritage protection to have better conversations with the public about the importance of tangata whenua-led environmental management. However, it is easy to see its instructions being applied across the board.