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Bob Edlin

Constitutional Change by Stealth

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Cash contributions for Maori projects are no secret – but what about the constitutional changes?

Just a few days before Waitangi Day the government announced it has earmarked several million more dollars for Maori projects.   During Waitangi Day commemorations it may express its willingness to give iwi leaders a greater say in governance, too (but without providing critical details).

Empowering iwi leaders in the name of “partnership” is a matter with profound constitutional implications, of course.  But when Point of Order raised questions last September about the government’s co-governance agenda and the constitutional  impacts on all Kiwi citizens, we received no answers.

The cash component of the government’s generosity is not so secret.  Some of it was included in announcements made by the PM and the Minister of Handouts two days ago at Otamatea Marae.

This statement was among them:


$100 million investment to support Māori landowners and drive regional growth

The Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) will invest up to $100 million to help unlock the economic potential of whenua Māori and build prosperity in our regions, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones have announced today.

“An integral part of any inclusive and successful regional economic development strategy lies with supporting Māori landowners to create new opportunities that will lift incomes and the wellbeing of our regions,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“Access to capital remains a challenge for Māori landowners as the special status of their land means commercial banks are less willing to lend to them. I’m pleased that through the PGF, we’re in a unique position to be able to support these landowners.

“Funding will enable Māori to access the capital required to progress projects which are investment-ready and will ultimately support moves towards higher-value land use.”

The statement noted that research released in 2013 found about 80% of Māori freehold land was under-utilised or unproductive. Modelling of the impact of bringing this land into primary sector production and increasing its productivity showed significant economic benefits, including jobs.

But the weight anyone should give to such employment assurances has been brought into question by this press statement from National’s Paul Goldsmith:

Behind the hype, slush fund creates just 54 jobs

Shane Jones’ Provincial Growth Fund has created just 54 jobs in its first year, making a mockery of the Government’s claim to be helping regional New Zealand, National’s Economic and Regional Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

“The Fund is all about maximising NZ First’s re-election chances in 2020 but the Prime Minister is fully on board, turning up in small towns supposedly with an open cheque book and a feel-good soundbite. Trouble is, it’s big on hot air and miniscule on substance.

“Despite all the hoopla, only 38 of the 135 announced projects have received funding and just 3.4 per cent of the funding has actually been paid out. That’s $26.6 million for 54 jobs, or the equivalent of $490,191 per job.

While up north the PM and Jones made an announcement regarding development generally around Kaipapa:

Investing to kick-start key infrastructure in Kaipara

The Government will help pave the way for future economic growth in Kaipara with a $20.39m investment from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) to strengthen the district’s transport infrastructure and food and horticulture sector.

The Government will invest $19.41 million to upgrade transport links in Kaipara. An additional $6.84 million will be invested from the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF); this plus local contributions bring the total investment in Kaipara transport infrastructure to $27.26 million.

“We will also explore upgrading Kaipara wharves and water transport with the Kaipara Moana helping the district leverage more benefits from the Kaipara Harbour, the biggest in New Zealand.

“The Government will also invest $980,000 towards Kaipara Kai – a project that will explore new crop and stock types, and aquaculture opportunities for the region. The initiative will also promote high-value cropping on the district’s significant fertile whenua assets by utilising existing soil and crop research and environmental best-practice. This will move faming activities further up the value chain as well as developing capability in the local farming community.

Next day two more Beehive statements were pitched directly at Maori.  The first of these said:

Investment to deliver better connected marae and communities in the regions

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today that the Government will invest $21 million to ensure even more New Zealanders in the regions can access modern and reliable digital services in their community.

The funding package announced today will connect marae to the internet and establish Regional Digital Hubs (RDHs) in towns enabling local people and businesses to access digital services.

And the second statement said:

Minister congratulates Te Rūnanga O Whaingaroa on housing initiatives

Māori Development Minister Hon Nanaia Mahuta today announced an investment of up to $2.3 million into the Whaingaroa Community Development Project.
The first tranche of funds, $650,000, was made available at the end of January.
The project is focused on housing initiatives in Tākou Bay including housing repairs and affordable home ownership options through investment packages.

We await official statements on the further ceding of governmental power to iwi leaders, but decisions were portended in a report from Radio NZ last Thursday headed Iwi leaders encouraged by government ahead of Waitangi

RNZ said tribal leaders at the Iwi Chairs Forum in Waitangi had welcomed the government’s willingness “to give Maori a greater say in the way the country is run”.

Described as a generally staunch opponent of the Crown, Ngati Kahu chairwoman Margaret Mutu was reported as saying that – “for the first time in her life” – she believed the government backed Maori.

Her increased confidence comes from government ministers backing the forum’s new Te Tiriti Partnership Framework.  The framework is about engaging with the Crown and enabling Maori to determine the way they live their own lives.

She calls it a “true partnership” under Te Tiriti o Waitangi – the te reo Maori version of the treaty.

Mutu was one of 160 iwi chairs and executives in Waitangi for the first Iwi Chairs Forum of the year.

Fellow far north leader Haami Piripi of Te Rarawa said he, too. felt a renewed sense of optimism about the future.

“It’s certainly become evident of the current government that we are maturing as a nation, we’re understanding our constitutional status a lot better.

“Twenty years ago nobody knew anything about Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Now people are much more informed and anybody with common sense would realise that this is going to mean some sort of constitutional transformation for everyone.”

Ngati Whatua chairwoman Dame Naida Glavish, however, said she was unhappy the review of Whanau Ora was months overdue and she was not convinced “a true partnership” was forming.

“We cannot say that for across the board issues that impact Maori, we cannot say that, for instance, in Whanau Ora with Oranga Tamariki, we cannot say that with water, we cannot say that with a whole range of issues.”

The RNZ report gave a pointer to the amount of governmental muscle which iwi leaders hope to flex.

Late last year, the iwi chairs rejected a government proposal to be part of a new water advisory body Te Kahui Wai Maori. 

Waikato iwi chairwoman Rukumoana Schaafhausen said joining the body was not off the cards, but iwi would need more. 

“That’s largely on the basis iwi are the Tiriti partner and what that means for us is direct engagement so we are not just another stakeholder.”

Ardern last week met representatives of the Iwi Chairs’ Forum behind closed doors.

The doors were opened to media only to allow the public to witness “the hot button issues” identified by iwi chairs and how they were presented to Ardern, the NZ Herald reported.

But before the meeting Ardern renewed her pledge to Maori, stating her Government placed wellbeing central to its policies and this was a reflection of a Maori world view.

Some months ago Point of Order noted that Kelvin Davis, whose ministerial domain had been expanded by the establishment of the Office for Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti, had yet to reply to questions aimed at establishing if he supports the establishment of more co-governance arrangements around the country and – if so – in which areas of public administration and governance?

We also asked:

  1. Will the promotion of co-governance arrangements be among the objectives of the newly established Maori-Crown relationship agency?
  2. What does the Minister believe is meant by the Treaty “partnership” (it is not actually mentioned in the Treaty of Waitangi) and when was a Treaty “partnership” first officially invoked for governmental policy-making purposes?

We put similar questions to Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.

We further asked Peters if he and his party have the muscle and/or the inclination to use their position within the coalition government to impede the growth of co-governance arrangements in the public sector.

Neither minister replied.

The establishment of the Office for Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti is intended to “help facilitate the next step in the Treaty relationship – moving beyond the settlement of Treaty grievances into what it means to work together in partnerships”.

Announcing the decision, Davis said:

“Several other Government units and offices will be consolidated into the agency, including the Crown/Māori Relations Unit, the Office of Treaty Settlements, the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Team and the Settlement Commitments Unit. The consolidation will bring a sharper focus and efficiency to the Government’s work with Māori,”

Among the new agency’s aims, it will

  • co-design partnerships, principles and frameworks to ensure that agencies “generate the best solutions to issues affecting Māori”;
  • provide a cross-Government view on the health of the Māori Crown partnerships; and
  • deal with other matters including the constitutional and institutional arrangements supporting partnerships between the Crown and Māori.

This raised the questions we sent to Davis’ press secretary, among them:

  • Does the Minister have any concerns that New Zealand’s democratic institutions and systems are gradually being altered by co-governance arrangements to devalue concepts such as one citizen, one vote, and to put some council decision-makers (appointed, not elected) beyond the reach of voters?
  • Can the Minister foresee any other constitutional implications in the work of the new agency?
  • And – if so – who will consider constitutional changes and how will they be implemented?

In response to Parliamentary questions, Davis said Māori had wanted his portfolio to have its own agency with its own “mana”.

The Government had agreed to establish the Office for Māori/Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti.  It would  help facilitate

“… the next step in the Treaty relationship, moving beyond the settlement of Treaty grievances into what it means to work together in partnerships.”

An important role will be “to ensure that the Treaty of Waitangi is a successful partnership between Crown and Māori” but Davis was vague about the agency’s powers.

The iwi chairs seem to have a better grasp of what is going on than our elected Parliament.  This portends the insidious continuance of shifts of power and authority in our governance arrangements without informed public debate and approval.

This article is reproduced through the kind permission of the author – first published on the Point of Order blog HERE.