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Dr Muriel Newman

Focus on review

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After a year of operation, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of spending of public money, most New Zealanders still have no idea that a government review of our constitution is underway.

Two recently held Focus Groups confirmed that fact. A professional facilitator guided discussion around a series of questions about the state of race relations in New Zealand and the government’s constitutional review. On the issue of race relations, the groups were very well informed. They were emphatic that the Treaty of Waitangi was no longer an historic symbol of unification but had become a political weapon of division. The Waitangi Tribunal was also seen as divisive and backwards looking.

Overwhelmingly the groups supported the notion of equality – New Zealand as a country where all people are treated as equals, “If you are a citizen, you are a citizen, a Kiwi – you should be treated the same”. And they emphasised that New Zealand was no longer a society of two races, but a country of many. They thought that while people should keep in touch with their background culture and heritage, they should be prepared to blend in and become Kiwis first and foremost.

Many saw biculturalism as divisive, dangerous, and backwards looking – segregating everyone on the basis of race was not the way for a modern society to move forward.

One immigrant mother told a story about how her daughter no longer wanted to go to school, “All the Pacific Island and Maori kids are ganging up on her because she’s the only white girl in the class and they are saying they are going to kick her out of the country. Now these are 12 and 13 year olds and they are serious. And she’s saying she doesn’t want to live here any more because she doesn’t feel at home, she doesn’t feel she belongs …” Nowadays, racism is brown against white.

They felt it was time that the Maori seats and other symbols of a bicultural past were abolished. New Zealand had evolved and moved on – “one people, one race, one country”.

When it came to the constitutional review, there was very little awareness of it at all. The following statement was read out: “The possible outcomes for this review could be a proposal to place the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in a written constitution based on biculturalism. This would mean that all Acts of Parliament would be tested against these principles and the rights outlined in the Treaty would be able to be enforced by Maori in a way that’s not possible at present. In effect such power would legally enforce Waitangi Tribunal decisions as well. The governance of New Zealand could be radically changed”.

The response was deep concern. They felt a bicultural constitution was asking for trouble. They worried that if it protected Maori, then it would exclude everyone else, and they asked, “Do Maori have more value than everyone else? It’s making us different people when we are all one race and should all be treated the same.”

They understood the present constitutional arrangements to be working and were suspicious of what it was that the government was trying to push through. They were fearful of what it might mean for them and worried that it would speed up the exodus of good Kiwis to Australia. They felt that any changes to the constitution should not be decided by politicians but should be put to a binding referendum of voters, “It shouldn’t be left up to the politicians”. They wanted to know who the people running the review were, and they wanted to know why it was being undertaken at a time when everyone already had more than enough to worry about. As one woman said, “they need to listen to what New Zealand wants – what the majority wants and put it into practice rather than say ‘we’ll do the survey, we’ll listen to you all but at the end of the day we’re going to make the decision for you!’”

They have good cause to worry. The government’s “consultation” process is a $4 million sham. The Maori Party led review is engineered to deliver a predetermined recommendation – a need to “modernise” our constitutional arrangements by introducing a new written constitution for New Zealand that recognises the Treaty as our “founding” document.

The implications of this are alarming and profound. A Treaty-based constitution would enshrine Maori privilege, turning non-Maori New Zealanders into second class citizens in their own land. A new written constitution would give un-elected Judges supreme power over our elected Members of Parliament, ensuring that no future Parliament could ever remove the Treaty from our constitution. New Zealand would forever be locked into a future of separatism and racial division.

This review is underway because the National Party agreed to it in 2008, when they signed their confidence and supply agreement with the Maori Party. A Constitutional Advisory Panel acceptable to the Maori Party was appointed by the Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and the Minister of Maori Affairs Pita Sharples in August 2011. Five of the 12-member panel are Maori studies academics with vehement anti-colonialist views, and seven are on record as saying they regard the Treaty of Waitangi as New Zealand’s founding document.1

Although budgets are tight across the public sector, over $4 million of taxpayers’ money has been allocated to the panel for this review. Their objective is to lead an “engagement process” that delivers a final report to the government between September and 14 December 2013 on New Zealanders’ perspectives on our constitutional arrangements. The report is to include details of where reform is considered “desirable”.

Maori have been singled out as needing special segregated consultation. Half of the $4 million budget has been earmarked for that purpose. The end result will be a biased report that will not reflect the views of the majority of New Zealanders. This is exactly the same strategy used during the build up to the foreshore and seabed law change. The whole process is an absolute disgrace and should be discredited.

Professor Martin Devlin, a member of our Independent Constitutional Review Panel, examined the government’s engagement strategy in detail. His scathing analysis was published as an NZCPR guest commentary in September.

In spite of their $4 million budget, the government’s advisory panel has decided that the best way to “have a conversation” with New Zealanders is not through open public meetings, but through private meetings with carefully-selected interest groups. Some of the groups approached have expressed concern that by agreeing to become involved, their names will be used by the Panel as “evidence” that they are undertaking widespread consultation and have widespread support. The groups named on the Panel’s website (HERE) are:

Aotearoa, Education Institute, Employers and Manufacturers Union, Ethnic People’s Advisory Panel, Federation of Multicultural Council, Forest and Bird Protection Society, GABA (Gay Auckland Business Association), Human Rights Commission, Independent Maori Statutory Board, Kōhanga Reo Trust, Local Government NZ, McGuinness Institute, Monarchy NZ, Museum of New Zealand – Te Papa Tongarewa, National Council of Women, National Urban Māori Authority, NZ Law Society, Office of the Clerk, Pacific Peoples Advisory Panel, PACIFICA, PPTA (Post Primary Teachers’ Association), PSA (Public Service Association), Recreation Association, Republican Movement of Aotearoa NZ, Royal NZ Foundation of the Blind, Rugby Union (NZRU), Rural Women NZ, Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc), New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations, Te Atakura Society for Conscientisation, Te Mana Ākonga (National Māori Tertiary Students’ Association), Te Rūnanga Nui o Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori, Temple Sinai – Wellington Progressive Jewish Congregation, Vice Chancellors – Universities NZ, Young Nationals, Youth Law, Grey Power, Te Hunga Roia Māori Māori Lawyers’ & Law Students’ Association, Anglican Church, Collaborative for Research & Training in Youth, Student Volunteer Army, Council of Social Services (Christchurch), Waitangi Associates, Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce.

In September the Advisory Panel released a 70 page propaganda-filled document, New Zealand’s constitution: the conversation so far. Promoted as a “background” paper, to inform the public about our existing constitutional arrangements, I asked this week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, Canterbury University law lecturer David Round – the Chairman of our Independent Constitutional Review Panel – to critique the report for readers. He concludes that the panel that wrote the report is little more than a spokesman for further Maori privilege, that their report avoids unpalatable facts and difficult questions, and that it contains numerous examples of half-truths and racist political positions to push the view that much greater legal authority must be given to ‘Treaty principles’ to entrench a racial minority in a position of perpetual privilege.

An example highlighted is on the role of the Treaty. “Here things start to get really bad. This section, which claims to be a summary of the present situation so as ‘to inform a conversation about the future’, is subtitled ‘The Treaty of Waitangi in Our Constitution’. This of itself is misleading. The Treaty is not part of our constitution. The panel claims that the Treaty has an ‘accepted position as the founding document of New Zealand’. At a legal level, this is simply untrue. The Treaty, as every judge still says, has no legal status. It is, of itself, not part of our law… Yet anyone reading this section would naturally assume from this description as our ‘founding document’ that it was the legal foundation of our state. Not to spell this out carefully is, putting the best interpretation upon it, negligent ~ and since it is impossible to believe that this document was not extremely carefully written, we must suspect that it is deceitful.”

In his report, David reminds us that, “This whole inquiry is a concession to the Maori Party. This is radical Maori’s big chance. If they pull this one off, they will have won. They will be on top forever, the rest of us ~ those who have not decided to flee to Australia ~ helots in our own land.”

His statement, “This is radical Maori’s big chance. If they pull this one off, they will have won. They will be on top forever, the rest of us helots in our own land” says it all. That’s what this battle is all about. Constitutional power and the right to the co-governance of New Zealand is what the Maori elite have been seeking all along. Thanks to National, it is now within their grasp. Unless this review is discredited as a political power grab by the Maori sovereignty movement, New Zealand stands in a position of grave risk.

David ends his report with this. “A lady recently sent me a news item reporting that Peter Sharples, the leader of the Maori Party and Minister of Maori Affairs, wanted to see more teaching of ‘Maori history’ in schools. The lady commented ‘They never stop pushing, do they?’ No, they never do stop pushing, and that is why they are succeeding. That is why we are on the back foot; because we sit quietly and comfortably at home while the rabble-rousers are imbuing their following – both the no-hopers and the young flash ones who are doing very well – with a sense of perpetual grievance.”

If you want this gravy train to stop, we need your help. Stand up for New Zealand – for our future by signing the Declaration of Equality on the Independent Constitutional Review website at www.ConstitutionalReview.org. Share these articles with your contacts and urge them to take a stand and sign the Declaration as well. You can also volunteer your skills and energy, and donate to our public information campaign on the website. This nightmare is only happening because National is allowing it to. How far will they go? Do National MPs really understand the underlying agenda? Do they realise that the Maori Party’s plan is to usurp the sovereignty of Parliament and that un-elected judges would be in control? Do they realise that a Treaty-based constitution would require Maori to have a binding say on every single law that goes through Parliament? Do they realise that they too are being manipulated and that if the future of our country is to be protected, they too must take a stand? And what do opposition MPs think? Will any of them support the majority of New Zealanders who just want us all to be equals?

  1. Read Mike Butler’s article Treaty beliefs in their own words