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Dr Muriel Newman

Open letter to the Prime Minister

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Dear Prime Minister,

New Zealand has reached a defining moment in race relations.

On one hand, the aggressive demands of iwi for ownership rights to water, wind, and other natural elements that are public good resources, are not only without foundation, but are now preventing you from governing according to your electoral mandate.

And on the other hand, the promoters of Maori sovereignty – which includes members of the Maori Party – are pushing ahead with their plan to replace New Zealand’s constitution with one based on the Treaty of Waitangi as supreme law. As you will be aware, this move would give un-elected Judges superior powers over our elected Members of Parliament.

The approach they are using is cunning. A review of our constitutional arrangements was demanded by the Maori Party as a condition of their confidence and supply agreement with your Party – even though a recent Parliamentary Select Committee investigation had found there was no constitutional ‘crisis’ in New Zealand needing to be addressed. They then hand-picked the members of the review panel, in order to control the review process and ensure the final recommendations to be submitted to your Government in September of next year will include a new ‘written’ Treaty-based constitution.

They will then insist that the proposal to replace New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements with a written constitution that enshrines the Treaty of Waitangi, be passed by Parliament, rather than being put to the public for their approval through a binding referendum – even though a binding referendum is the preferred process used by governments for implementing major constitutional change. With the Maori Party holding ‘king-maker’ power within our MMP Parliament, they are confident that politicians will act in their own best interests and support the passage of their Treaty-based constitution into law – even if the public are overwhelmingly opposed and the consequences for the future of New Zealand dire.

Prime Minister, given that you have delegated the leadership of the constitutional review to your Deputy Prime Minister, Bill English, and the Minister of Maori Affairs, Pita Sharples, you are now reliant on others to keep you informed about these crucial matters. That is why, on behalf of many New Zealanders – who are extremely concerned about this major threat to Parliamentary sovereignty and race relations – I am writing to you to draw your attention to the fact that the review process has already been captured by those who seek to entrench iwi in a position of unassailable racial, legal, cultural and economic superiority over all other New Zealanders.

Because the review has now been tainted by those with a predetermined agenda, we ask you Prime Minister, to call off the review before it causes any lasting damage to our democracy. In order to ensure this sort of opportunistic attack on the sovereignty of Parliament does not happen in the future, we further ask you to stand up for New Zealand by abolishing special treatment based on race and restoring equal rights for all citizens.

Prime Minister, as you know, New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements are based on those of the UK. They can be found in many of our Acts of Parliament, in the principles of common law, and in the long-standing conventions that we use. The sovereignty of our Parliament is inherited from the common law of England. As it stands, Parliament has the power to abolish racial privilege and restore the equality of citizens for the common good.

It is the sovereignty of Parliament that the extremists – who are now in control of the constitutional review process – are seeking to change. They plan to convince the country that we need a new ‘written’ constitution that recognises the Treaty of Waitangi as our ‘founding document’. If they succeed in introducing a written constitution into New Zealand with the ‘principles of the Treaty’ as a higher law, then Parliament will no longer be supreme. That means, if any future Parliament was to attempt to restore true racial equality in New Zealand, their laws would be struck down by judges on the basis that they were in breach of ‘Treaty principles’ that guaranteed special status for those of Maori descent.

In other words, Prime Minister, if you allow a Treaty based constitution to go through on your watch the consequences for the country – in terms of a deepening racial divide and increasing bitterness – will be irreversible. For all of its faults, as a democratically elected body, Parliament is our final check against tyranny. It is your duty as the Prime Minister of New Zealand, to protect and uphold Parliamentary sovereignty at all costs. That’s why we are appealing to you to call off the constitutional review before any real damage is done.

The seeds of this plan to re-write our constitution were sown in 2008, when you signed the confidence and supply agreement with the Maori Party: “Both parties agree to the establishment (including its composition and terms of reference)… of a group to consider constitutional issues including Maori representation. The Maori Party will be consulted on membership and the choice of Chairperson, and will be represented on the group”. You reaffirmed the arrangement in your 2011 confidence and supply agreement: “to progress the review of New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements and the advisory panel established to lead public discussion on relevant issues. The advisory panel is to deliver its recommendations to the Government in September 2013.”

Emeritus Professor Martin Devlin from Massey University, who has a background in research in business, management, entrepreneurship, and governance has been investigating the establishment and operation of the Constitutional Advisory Panel. In his report Constitutional Advisory Panel, he has concluded that the panel is biased, that the review process is flawed, and that the outcome is pre-determined: “In fact, the ‘strategy’ is not a strategy at all, but a carefully-crafted, pre-determined action plan with clear goals, prescribed processes and expected outcomes. This is not high-level stuff, it is an agenda for ensuring an intended outcome is realised, in this case, the enshrinement of the Treaty as supreme law.”

The constitutional review is being driven members of the Constitutional Advisory Panel, who are political appointees, not representatives of the wider population. Professor Devlin has analysed the ethnic makeup of New Zealand’s population from the 2006 census and compared it to that of panel members (shown in brackets). He found that “New Zealand’s population comprised NZ European and ‘New Zealanders’ 78.7 percent (Panel: 41.6 percent), Maori 14.6 percent (Panel: 41.6 percent), Asian 9.2 percent (Panel: 8.3 percent) and Pasifika 6.9 percent (Panel: 8.3%). The figures indicate that European New Zealanders are seriously under-represented on this panel and Maori over-represented. Why? The responsible ministers dodged this question by claiming that ‘the Panel is representative of wider New Zealand society and is able to relate to a wide range of New Zealanders’!”

Prime Minister, the bias of the panel is deliberate. It has undermined the integrity of the whole constitutional review process. With a biased panel of political appointees with their own fixed agenda leading the review, the public can have no confidence that the review is anything more than a political jack up.

The Advisory Panel’s published strategy for engaging with the public is not genuine either. A genuine consultation process would involve well advertised open public meetings held up and down the country, at convenient times to enable people of all walks of life and all races to attend and freely discuss the issues outlined in the review’s terms of reference. A proper review process would ensure that no meetings are held in secret and that all minutes of all meetings are recorded in full by the Panel and published as a matter of public record. With a massive $4 million of taxpayers’ money allocated to this exercise, the least the public should expect is full accountability for the expenditure of this funding.

Instead, the panel has already signalled that it intends holding segregated – yes segregated -meetings that are not open to the public! Professor Devlin describes it in this way:

“Next, the goals of the engagement process. These include ‘hearing the views of a wide range of New Zealanders’ and separately, ‘hearing the views of a wide range of Maori groups and citizens’. Are not Maori also New Zealanders? Does this separate goal suggest the panel is expecting or suggesting separate and different outcomes just for Maori?  It is evident that there are two different processes at work here, confirmed later in the revelation that  two separate budgets are set for engaging with the two separate communities, each of $2 million. It could be concluded that Maori are set to be much better informed than the rest of the population as a consequence. It could also signal that the ground is being prepared for a special place for Maori and the Treaty in any ongoing constitutional arrangements, and that this exercise will produce some sort of evidence to justify the objective.”

A set of questions has been developed by the Panel to ‘guide’ the discussion of constitutional issues. Again, Professor Devlin provides an analysis:

“The Treaty features prominently in these ‘guiding’ questions so once again, the panel cannot claim that the process will be neutral and essentially self-evolving. For example, in several questions, reference is made to ‘what opportunities does the Treaty offer our country’? Any balanced approach to surveying people on this issue needs to include the words ‘or threats’ in this question, surely? No mention at all of what problems the Treaty  is already causing, such as limiting economic development, according special status and privileges to an ethnic minority, and practically negating traditional democratic processes  such as the creation of non-elected Maori wards in local authorities. To ask such a leading question negates any claim the panel might make to neutrality or non-bias. This is fundamental survey methodology, which several panel members are aware of – but obviously choose to ignore.”

In summary, Prime Minister, the constitutional review has been captured by political forces that are seeking to replace New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements with a new written constitution based on the Treaty of Waitangi as supreme law. A biased constitutional advisory panel of political appointees has been appointed that is not representative of the public at large. The process they have developed uses secret meetings and a segregated approach that is designed to produce a pre-determined outcome.

The public can have no confidence in this process nor the panel, and we call on you, as Prime Minister of New Zealand to stand up for all citizens and our democracy by calling off the Maori Party’s constitutional review before more of the $4 million that you have assigned to this project is wasted.

Yours sincerely,
Dr Muriel Newman
New Zealand Centre for Political Research