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Dr Muriel Newman

Independent Constitutional Review Panel established

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Last week the Waitangi Tribunal released a report proposing that more money should be given to the kohanga reo movement. In spite of over $1,000,000,000 of taxpayers’ money being spent on the movement over the past 20 years, the Tribunal alleged there had been wide-ranging breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi and called on the government to apologise for not doing more. They have also recommended that the legal costs incurred by the Kohanga Reo National Trust in taking this claim against the government, should be paid for by taxpayers.

This new report by the Waitangi Tribunal follows hard on the heels of their report on the Maori Council’s claim for fresh water. Even though the Tribunal has no jurisdiction to hear new historic claims lodged after 1st September 2008, they took the case and unsurprisingly found that Maori had some proprietary ownership rights to a public good resource that is owned by no-one!

The fact is that the Waitangi Tribunal plays a central role in the Treaty of Waitangi grievance industry. This insatiable gravy train, with its increasing demands for separatism – power, money and public resources – is being driven by the iwi elite, their lawyers and consultants.

With the support of National, the Maori Party’s aim is to cement separatism in place, by replacing our present constitutional arrangements with a new written constitution based on the Treaty of Waitangi as supreme law. Such a move would replace parliamentary sovereignty with a legal document to limit what our elected Parliament can and can’t do – transferring supreme power into the hands of unelected judges, who cannot be dismissed.

In other words, love them or hate them, under our present constitutional arrangements, if we don’t like what our supreme lawmakers – our democratically elected Members of Parliament – are doing, we can vote them out! That’s because under New Zealand’s present constitutional arrangements, our Parliament is supreme. It can make laws concerning anything – although any law that it does make, cannot bind a future parliament. That’s why it is a well-established convention, that major constitutional change requires a mandate of voters through a binding public referendum process. Any major constitutional change, that does not gain the approval of citizens through a binding referendum, should be deemed illegitimate.

With that in mind, the process for implementing constitutional changes that result from the Maori Party’s review, has set alarm bells ringing. During the launch in December 2010, the Deputy Prime Minister Bill English explained, “Of course, we will keep in mind that enduring constitutional changes generally require a broad base of support. Significant change will not be undertaken lightly and will require either broad cross-party agreement or the majority support of voters at a referendum.

These weasel words mean that they are not planning to hold a referendum on any constitutional change recommendations at all. If they were, they would be shouting it from the rooftops, because making major policy decisions through a public referendum process is a popular thing for any government to do.

Instead, they are planning to garner the support of vested interest parliamentary parties, and impose constitutional change onto the country through a vote in parliament.

The reason is practical. Any government that tried to impose a Treaty based constitution onto the country through a public referendum would face defeat. New Zealanders do not want to live in a separatist nation. We want to live in a country where our future is determined, not by the colour of our skin or the accident of our birth, but by the contribution we make as individuals.

As a result, we need to take a stand against any plan to replace our constitution without the express approval of the public through a referendum process – anything less is completely and utterly unacceptable!

These concerns and more led the New Zealand Centre for Political Research to launch the Independent Constitutional Review – an alternative people’s review to counter the Maori Party’s $4 million taxpayer-funded “consideration of constitutional issues”. Their sham review is being conducted by a stacked Advisory Panel, which will put forward a pre-determined recommendation to the government next September, for a new written Treaty-based constitution.

The majority of New Zealanders – Maori and non-Maori alike – are overwhelmingly opposed to a race-based future. That’s why we are fighting back.

The Independent Constitutional Review website at ConstitutionalReview.org will be the focal point for our campaign.  It contains a wide range of background information – on the constitution, the plans by the iwi elite to gain constitutional status, the government’s deceitful review process, and what it all means for our future. The website outlines numerous ways that supporters can get involved and help, including how to donate to the campaign and how to volunteer and assist.

We launched the Declaration of Equality, to create a movement for change. Our vision is a country where all New Zealanders are equal in the eyes of the law, with special treatment based on need, not race. There would be no race-based seats and no race-based laws. The Waitangi Tribunal, which has outlived its useful life, would be abolished. And the Treaty of Waitangi – which is part of our past, not our present, nor our future – would be returned to the archives of history.

As part of our “people’s review” – and to counter the Maori Party’s biased Advisory Panel – we would like to announce that we have now established an Independent Constitutional Review Panel (ICRP). Made up of a group of New Zealanders of diverse political backgrounds, we share a common concern that an out-of-control Treaty industry has become a serious threat to New Zealand’s prosperity and integrity as a viable nation.

Our panel is led by David Round, a constitutional law and Treaty expert from Canterbury University. He is joined by Associate Professor Elizabeth Rata from Auckland University, Professor Martin Devlin from Massey University, Professor James Allan from Queensland University, journalist and author Mike Butler, and myself – Dr Muriel Newman former MP and founder of the NZCPR think tank. Other members will be added to our Panel over the next few months.

The ICRP Chairman David Round has now issued our first press release. Responding to the Waitangi Tribunal’s kohanga reo report, he has called for the Tribunal to be abolished: “The Waitangi Tribunal’s report on kohanga reo makes it clear why the Tribunal should be abolished. The Tribunal is now clearly nothing more than a grandly-named Maori lobby group. Its recommendations are pure politics. Governments have poured over a billion dollars into kohanga reo over the last two decades, and that was only a part of wider taxpayer support for the Maori language. We might reasonably expect a word of thanks for this generosity. But instead the Tribunal …demands, not just more funding, but an apology for not doing enough. To demand an apology for not being more generous is not just ungracious and ungrateful, but downright arrogant. The tribunal is behaving like a greedy bully.”

More details on the ICRP membership can be seen on the Independent Constitutional Review website at www.ConstitutionalReview.org, along with the articles they have produced for our constitutional review campaign.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator is ICRP member James Allan, the Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland. I met Professor Allan a decade or so ago when I was a Member of Parliament and he was teaching constitutional law at Otago University. In light of the Maori Party’s plan to replace our present constitutional arrangements with a new written constitution enshrining the Treaty of Waitangi, I invited him to share his views:

“I think it would be a disaster for New Zealand to move to a written constitution of the sort almost certain to be offered. And I would run a mile from incorporating or entrenching the Treaty into any such instrument, not least because overwhelmingly no one knows what it means when applied to any specific issue. So all you will be buying is the views of the top judges, instead of your own, the voters.  That’s not a trade I would ever make.”

In his article A written constitution for New Zealand, Professor Allan explains that introducing a written constitution would radically weaken our democracy: “That’s the point of a written constitution.  It trumps parliament. It overrides parliamentary sovereignty.  It enervates democracy. Now that may be a good thing if you reckon you can get a more favourable deal out of a committee of ex-lawyer judges in Wellington than you can out of the democratic process. But for democrats like me it is an appalling prospect.”

He describes how constitutions are vulnerable to being ‘filled up’ with new meanings by judges, and how they are increasingly regarded as a ‘living tree’, in that their words stay the same, but their meaning can change over time:  “The exact same thing can be said of the Maori Party’s push to have a written constitution that incorporates the Treaty of Waitangi. The latter has little content in its few short paragraphs. Talk of its ‘principles’ inherently involves a lot of ‘stuffing it full of latter day content that no one at the time imagined or intended’. And if, as is overwhelmingly likely, the top New Zealand judges adopt the same sort of ‘living tree’ interpretive approach that we see today in Canada, Europe, and amongst most or many of the top judges in the US and Australia, then there is absolutely no predicting in advance what may be imposed on Kiwis some time down the road. Remember, the words can stay exactly the same but their imputed meaning can change and alter as the top judges see fit.”

If you haven’t supported ourcampaign as yet – by signing the Declaration of Equality, donating, volunteering to help, informing your contacts about what is going on – then please make a start. Four years ago when we saw the Maori Party’s radical coalition proposal for iwi control of the foreshore and seabed – through the repeal of public ownership – we thought the National Party would come to its senses and never let it happen. We were wrong. The law was passed under the radar of public opinion, with most New Zealanders kept in the dark.

The same strategy – keeping it all under the radar of public opinion – is being used for the Maori Party’s plan for constitutional change. But the ramifications are so serious that they threaten to divide our country forever. Please do what you can to spread the word. It should be the Declaration of Equality that the government adopts, not a Treaty-based constitution.

I will leave the final word on the Maori Party’s plan, to Professor Allan: “So in my opinion, expressed from over here in Australia, this is a terrible idea. It needs to be knocked back. And I have my fingers crossed that you can all achieve that outcome.”