is in a state of constitutional crisis. Newly elected
President Mohammed Morsi has granted himself near enough to
absolute dictatorial power in order to neutralise the
judiciary - the only branch of the state not already under his
control. This act of absolute control has again divided his
county. On the one hand are his Muslim Brotherhood supporters,
and on the other, a largely secular and liberal opposition
along with the nations’ judiciary. Two people have been
killed and hundreds injured as civil protest grows.
is worth noting the parallels between what is happening in
Egypt and what is going on in New Zealand - over
In Egypt, President Morsi is attempting to force through a
draft constitution that would impose a new Islamic vision on
In New Zealand, using a low-profile government constitutional
review, the Maori Party is attempting to force through a new
bicultural constitution that would impose the vision of the
Maori sovereignty movement onto the country.
In Egypt, the draft constitution states that the Islamic
institution Al-Azhar must be consulted on any matters related
to Sharia law, a move that critics fear will give clerics
oversight of legislation.
New Zealand, a new bicultural constitution would require an
institution like the Waitangi Tribunal to be consulted on all
new laws to ensure they complied with the Treaty of Waitangi,
a move that would give the Waitangi Tribunal oversight of all
Egypt, the new constitution seeks to define the
“principles” of Islamic law by saying it reflects
theological doctrines and tenets. It is claimed that by trying
to define the intentionally vague “principles”, the reach
of Sharia and its influence on the country will be vastly
New Zealand, a bicultural constitution would almost certainly
redefine the “principles” and the rights outlined in the
Treaty of Waitangi so they can be enforced by Maori in a way
that’s not possible at present. This would massively expand
the reach and influence of the Treaty on the country. Such
power would have the effect of legally enforcing Waitangi
Tribunal decisions as well.
In Egypt, critics are arguing that the constitution is being
“hijacked” by the Muslim Brotherhood in an attempt to
“kidnap Egypt from its people”.
New Zealand, it is the Maori Party who is attempting to
“hijack” the constitution in order to radically change the
governance of New Zealand.
Egypt, the President is expected to call for a nation-wide
binding referendum on the draft constitution within the next
two weeks to give voters the final say on whether his new
constitution passes into law or fails.
that is where the parallels end.
New Zealand, although we have a long and stable democratic
tradition, astonishingly, the Government has not ruled out
completely bypassing the public over what could become the
most radical constitutional change in our history. Instead of
guaranteeing that any major constitutional change would only
be approved as a result of a binding referendum of voters, it
look likely that the majority will be locked out from having a
week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, Professor James Allan of
Queensland University, a constitutional law expert and member
of our Independent Constitutional Review Panel, explains:
country in today’s democratic era to change its constitution
without in any real way asking its own citizens would be a
disgrace, the sort of thing one might expect after a military
coup in Pakistan or as a consequence of a passing whim of Mr.
Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Or,
to focus on more salubrious nations, the sort of thing the
amazingly democratically-deficient European Union might, and
did, do before moving to the euro currency.
yet, unbelievably, that same disgraceful possibility is a real
one here in New Zealand of all places.
It is a real possibility because Deputy Prime Minister
Bill English, at the launch of the Constitutional Review in
December 2010, stated that ‘significant change will not be
undertaken lightly and will require either broad cross-party agreement or the majority support of voters
at a referendum’.
key point to notice is that Mr. English is clearly implying
that New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements –
arrangements that have been amongst the world’s most
successful over the past century or two – might be changed
solely on the basis of ‘broad cross-party agreement’.
that is a completely bogus and illegitimate way to change New
Zealand’s constitution.” To read the full article, click HERE.
Professor Allan goes on to explain that there are in general
two legitimate methods commonly used by governments for major
constitutional change. One is to hold a binding referendum as
most countries do - and as they are doing in Egypt. The other
is for parties to make the issue such a major part of their
manifesto that voters are given the chance to have their say
through the ballot box at the next election. The fact that
neither of these options has been definitively championed, could
mean, as Professor Allan surmises, that the top echelon of the
National Party will stitch up a deal with the Maori Party –
and possibly the Labour Party - in favour of cross party
support for a bicultural constitution, bypassing the public
before you say no, that couldn’t possibly happen, what about
the National Party’s secret deal with the Maori Party to
commit New Zealand to the United Nations Declaration on the
Rights of Indigenous People? And don’t forget the foreshore
and seabed debacle. No supporter of the National Party would
have believed at the outset, that the party could have
possibly considered doing a deal to repeal public ownership of
the coast to open it up for Maori tribal claims - when it
hadn’t even been mentioned in their election manifesto. But
they were wrong.
it comes to power, National, like most political parties, is
more than capable of sacrificing almost anything for the right
to rule. The National Party sacrificed public ownership of the
coast in order to retain the support of the Maori Party and
the right to govern again. However, given the underlying
tensions between the founder of the Maori Party and the Labour
Party, it is unlikely that the Maori Party’s support would
have gone anywhere else - even if National had refused to do
more than hold a review, which is all their coalition
Zealand is in exactly the same position now as it was back
then. The National Party has done a coalition deal with the
Maori Party that included a review of our constitutional
arrangements. It has committed $4 million of taxpayers’
money to the project. The Maori Party is very clear – it
wants a new written constitution enshrining the Treaty of
Waitangi as supreme law. The question is would National will
go that far? Knowing the divisive impact a bicultural
constitution would have on the country, would National sign
away our social cohesion and unity to satisfy the Maori Party?
If they did, they would, of course, claim they were doing it
“in the interest of stable government”. In truth they
would simply be deal-making to fortify their diminishing
chances of governing after the next election.
question of what National may or may not do is clearly
something that we cannot answer. What is a concern, however,
is that they are using a deliberate strategy of keeping the
whole constitutional review under the radar of public opinion.
That means there is a genuine risk that the country as a whole
will remain largely unaware that any major threat is on the
same cannot be said about Maoridom. A whole separate
engagement process has been set up for active consultation
with Maori. Some $2 million out of the total $4 million budget
has been allocated for this purpose. This means that
supporters of the Maori sovereignty movement will be extremely
well informed and very aware of what is at stake. They will no
doubt be encouraged to actively engage in support of a new
bicultural constitution with the Treaty as supreme law.
With a pro-Treaty bias underpinning the whole government
review process - including the appointment of the Advisory
Panel - it is clear that a public referendum would be our only
real democratic safeguard. A public referendum asking whether
New Zealanders want a bicultural constitution would raise
awareness of the issues to enable every voting-age Kiwi to
understand what is at stake.
a public referendum held on the proposal to introduce a
bicultural constitution into New Zealand resulted in a massive
defeat, it would send a definitive message to the government
that New Zealanders want to move forwards not backwards, that
we are a nation of many peoples not just two, and that we
completely reject the notion that race should define our
future in New Zealand.
years before the Maori Party did its 2008 deal with the
National Party to launch a review of “New Zealand’s
constitutional arrangements”, the then Labour Government had
established a special Select Committee of Parliament to
undertake a sweeping review of “New Zealand’s
constitutional arrangements”. The Select Committee, which
reported back in August 2005, had spent nine months
undertaking the review to conclude that “There are no urgent
problems with New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements”.
fact, more than any other, demonstrates that in spite of all
the soft-soaping rhetoric, the sole purpose of the
National/Maori Party review is political self-interest.
Select Committee’s investigation found that the most widely
used process for constitutional change is through a public
referendum. They reported that New Zealand’s only Royal
Commission into electoral affairs recommended its suitability
for New Zealand: “The 1986 Royal Commission in New Zealand
recommended that referenda ought to be held on major
explained that “using
referenda to consult citizens directly on constitutional
issues is beneficial because it acknowledges the fact that a
nation’s democracy and its constitution ultimately rest on
support from the people”.
Select Committee also reported on the results of a decade-long
investigation into constitutional issues that had been carried
out in Australia. They believed it was relevant to New
Zealand’s situation. The investigation found there was,
“overwhelming public support for referenda as part of the
process for constitutional change”, and that public trust
was an essential element in any discussion of constitutional
arrangements - which means ensuring that “information and
activities are independent
of party politics”.
on these two criteria, the current constitution review being
held in New Zealand is an abject failure. With no guarantee
that major change will need to be approved by voters through a
public referendum, the whole process is a disgrace. And with
the Maori Party controlling the review, there is no
possibility that the process could be deemed to be anything
but political, so they fail on the public trust criteria as
Meanwhile we will watch developments in Egypt – as outrage
over the political manipulation of their constitution builds
– with interest!
week’s poll asks: Do
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2. Report of the Constitutional Arrangements Committee, Inquiry
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