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Mike Butler

Treaty beliefs, in their own words

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One unchanging political reality is that review panels are set up to get the outcomes of the interested party. I suggest that the current constitutional advisory panel has been carefully set up with focussed terms of reference, and carefully vetted panel members, to achieve the Maori Party goal of ensuring that the review gives effect to the treaty, and entrenching separate Maori seats. Therefore, I did a search for quotes from each panellist.

The panel, launched on December 8, 2010, was a part of an agreement between National and the special-interest Maori Party in which the National Party agreed not to seek to remove Maori seats without Maori voter consent, while the Maori Party and the National Party agreed not to pursue entrenching the Maori seats during the current term.1 Part of the Maori Party’s 2011 election policy was to ensure the constitutional review gives effect to the treaty.

The panel is set up to consider: The size and length of terms of parliament; whether terms should be fixed; the size and number of electorates, including the method for calculating size; electoral integrity legislation; Crown-Maori relationship matters; the Maori electoral option, Maori electoral participation, and Maori seats in parliament and local government; the role of the Treaty of Waitangi within New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements; whether New Zealand should have a written constitution; and Bill of Rights issues.

But since one co-chair and five panelists are or were Maori studies academics with vehement anti-colonialist views and only two have legal backgrounds, it would appear that the focus will be on Maori issues, especially the treaty. Here are their views

Co-chair Sir Tipene O’Regan:

The Treaty is the foundation of our polity and of the political unit that is us.

The economy has been built on taking and dispossessing of Maori assets, and after dispossession you are telling what the problem of the dispossessed is. I have devoted myself to regaining the dispossessed core capital.

Letters to the editor often talk about Maori having special rights under Article 2, and the same rights as everyone else under Article 3. Yes, Maori get a double lick, and they are entitled to it because that was the promise of the Treaty: to Pakeha, the right to be here and the power of the state, basically conveying cultural control. 2

Deborah Coddington:

In terms of financial wealth, Australia is financially better off, but they could learn something from us in terms of respecting tangata whenua. Yes, the English ripped off the Maori, too, when it came to getting them to sign the Treaty of Waitangi. Henry Williams deliberately mistranslated from Maori to English to protect his land holdings, and numerous other travesties were perpetrated.

Last week, Philip Ruddock, a former minister in John Howard’s government, gave one of the most contorted and convoluted reasons I’ve seen for abolishing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. In essence, he should have just come out and admitted he’s a bigot and doesn’t believe that Australia’s first people have a place in Australia’s constitution. Incredible as it may seem, Aborigines and Torres Straits Islanders are still not included in Australia’s constitution. There’s no reference to these people in the country’s founding document, more than 111 years after Queen Victoria gave her assent to Australia’s constitution in 1900, despite the fact Australia supports the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. 3

Hon Dr Michael Cullen:

So if I am asked to say what is the place of the treaty in New Zealand today, in one sense my answer is a simple one. It is that it is a living document which provides an orderly framework for the settlement of historical grievances and the resolution of ongoing debates about the rights of the original inhabitants and owners of the land.

On the issue of sovereignty I believe that it is pushing things too far to argue that the chiefs willingly transferred what the British at the time, and we today, would understand by the term sovereignty. In a society based on tribal or sub-tribal groups, with no national political, administrative, or legal structures, it is hard to believe that could have been the case.

… in the 19th century in particular, the treaty was breached with monotonous regularity by New Zealand governments. 4

Dr Leonie Pihama:

The treaty is a crucial document which defines the relationship between Maori and the Crown in New Zealand and which provides a basis through which Maori may critically analyse relationships, challenge the status-quo, and affirm the Maori rights. 5

There has been an ongoing challenge to the States denial of Te Tiriti o Waitangi since its signing in 1840. There has been active challenge to existing constitutional arrangements and legal practices for generations. All of which have been denied and marginalised by successive governments.6

Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith:

Maori believe that the principles of the treaty have been co-opted by the government to suit the government’s agenda. The defining of the terminology is central to our understanding of kaupapa Maori. Who controls the definition of kaupapa Maori principles? Let us rephrase the question – what are the principles, practices and procedures of kaupapa pakeha? By doing this we see the ethnocentricity of the question. This question rarely presents itself because pakeha do not analyse or question their own culture; it is considered the ‘norm’. Historically Maori have been positioned as the other to pakeha. The questions are about naming, claiming and controlling. This is the story of colonisation. 7

Emeritus Professor Ranginui Walker:

Walker is a treasure trove of quotes since he is a prolific writer. A clue to his beliefs may be seen in the titles of his books, which include Perceptions and Attitudes of the New Generation of Maoris to Pakeha Domination, Liberating Maori from Educational Subjection, and Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou / Struggle Without End, the last line of which reads (Maori) know the sun has set on the empire that colonised them. They know too it will set on the coloniser even if it takes a thousand years. They will triumph in the end because they are tangata whenua.

Co-chair Prof John Burrows:

Most people think the Treaty of Waitangi must have constitutional status. 8

Peter Tennent:

It is not going to be about 12 people sitting around a table, it is trying to reflect the views and the aspirations of New Zealanders. 9

No quotes could be found from doctoral student and Maori language teacher Hinurewa Poutu, former Dunedin mayor and legal consultant Peter Chin, former National Party Cabinet Minister John Luxton, or broadcaster, former teacher and netball rep Bernice Mene.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters refused to take part in the review, saying: The Treaty of Waitangi will be the cornerstone of any constitution designed by these people and it means that every New Zealander will be subject to the irrational psycho-legal-babble that surrounds the treaty’s mythical principles. 10

I can confirm that I read much of this babble while searching for quotes. Of concern is the fact that these Maori Studies constitutional advisors claim to be speaking for Maori where only O’Regan appears to be elected to represent a branch of Ngai Tahu. Have they asked themselves whether the direction they have chosen is going to benefit or actually disadvantage the people they claim to represent, who appear mostly to not care or have moved to the Gold Coast for a better life?

A review into constitutional arrangements conducted in 2005 recommended that parliament should designate a select committee to deal with changes with constitutional implications as they arise, provide accurate, neutral, and accessible public information, and allow a generous amount of time to consider any particular issue. That review concluded that there was no constitutional crisis and the only people pushing for change were Maori interests.

So, just seven years later, without any urgent constitutional matters arising demanding attention, there is a whole new constitutional advisory panel that was set up on the bidding of a special-interest political party — the Maori Party.

I suggest that enshrining the treaty, as currently interpreted by the Waitangi Tribunal, in law, will entrench a two-tier society with a privileged treaty class funded by every taxpayer. This would be a recipe for resentment of the sort that has led to armed conflict in other nations. A more immediate problem is one the Key government will face when this advisory panel comes up with recommendations, which could be racially tilted, with a tough general election looming.

  1. Relationship Accord and Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Maori Party,
  2. Modern day developments within Maori society and the role of the social policy agency as a provider of quality policy advice, Income Maintenance Policy Division of the Social Policy Agency seminar, April 22, 1993.
  3. Race relations drag lucky rival backwards,
  4. Michael Cullen: Anzac Day harmony points way to Waitangi’s future
  5. Principles of Kaupapa Māori
  6. Prison Privatisation in Aotearoa,
  7. Kaupapa Maori Principles and Practices, Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith with Dr Papaarangi Reid,
  8. Te Papa constitutional review debate, February 2, 2012.
  9. Tennent to help shape NZ’s future,
  10. Peters Rejects National/ Maori Party Constitutional Sham, March 2012.