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Dr Muriel Newman

Leave our constitution alone

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A Maori academic who says that immigration by whites should be restricted because they pose a threat to race relations due to their white supremacist attitudes, is leading an Independent Maori Working Group on constitutional reform. According to Iwi Chairs Forum member Margaret Mutu the group will develop a constitution to be given to the Crown as a model for New Zealand. She claims that their working party has the blessing of not only the Maori Party leader Pita Sharples, but also National Party leader and Prime Minister John Key.1

Dr Mutu, a Professor of Maori Studies at Auckland University, is outspoken in her belief that New Zealand belongs to Maori and that all non-Maori are guests in this country. That someone with such extreme ideas is leading a constitutional review on behalf of Maori tribal authorities should serve as a warning to every New Zealander concerned about the future of this country that radical forces are driving the constitutional change process.

In effect, the Constitutional Review, a joint initiative of the Maori Party and National, represents the greatest threat to our democracy in recent times. If the promoters of the review get their way, the Treaty of Waitangi will become the foundation for a new constitutional framework. As a result, New Zealand will end up with a constitution that enshrines superior rights for Maori. That means that our fundamental democratic principle of equality under the law for all citizens will be lost.

And if you think such a notion is far-fetched and could not possibly happen here, think again. The Maori Party’s desire to have the country’s foreshore and seabed taken out of Crown ownership and privatised to the Maori tribal elite was seen by most New Zealanders as a fanciful demand driven by race-based greed. But all it took was a whisper in the ear of the Prime Minister for it to happen.

To make matters worse, when John Key realised the law change would gain little backing from non-iwi, he promised New Zealanders that it would not go ahead unless there was widespread public support. It soon became clear however, that this was a promise he had no intention of honouring. In spite of overwhelming public opposition John Key pushed the law change through anyway.

That our Prime Minister was prepared to put the covetous demands of his coalition partner ahead of his loyalty and commitment to the New Zealand public, does not bode well for our future. With Margaret Mutu and the other iwi leaders now having the ear of the Prime Minister, if the polls are correct and National wins the election, they will be putting the hard word on the Prime Minister that a new constitution enshrining the Treaty of Waitangi and the Maori seats is the price of the Maori Party’s support. Given National’s recent track record, it is highly likely they will agree – unless the public creates such an uproar that they are forced to back off. That means starting now – before the election – otherwise it could be a done deal, with a Treaty-based Constitution a disastrous inevitability.

The reality is that there is absolutely no reason for a change to our constitution. There is no constitutional crisis – New Zealand’s constitution is working perfectly well. The only reason for change is that the Maori Party and the powerful iwi that they represent are lusting for considerably greater power and control.

The constitutional review was part of the confidence and supply agreement between the Maori Party and National. It states, “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.”

The Constitutional Review panel was announced last month. The co-chairs are Law Commissioner Professor John Burrows QC and former Ngai Tahu head Sir Tipene O’Regan. The other members include two former Mayors, Peter Chin from Dunedin and Peter Tennent from New Plymouth, a former Silver Ferns captain Bernice Mene, three former Members of Parliament, Deborah Coddington, John Luxton (a former Maori Affairs Minister), and Michael Cullen (Principal Treaty Claims Negotiator for Twharetoa iwi), a senior researcher in Maori education Leonie Pihama, a Maori teacher Hinurewa Poutu, the Waikato University Pro Vice-Chancellor for Maori Linda Smith, and a member of the Waitangi Tribunal Ranginui Walker. Put simply, the committee is stacked to benefit radical Maori.

The terms of reference for the constitutional review include a number of general issues such as the size of Parliament and the length of a Parliamentary term. But more importantly it focuses on the future of the Maori Electoral Option and the Maori seats – both in Parliament and in local government – as well as the role of the Treaty of Waitangi within New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements.

Central to all of this of course is whether New Zealand actually needs a new constitution.

Over the last few years it has become quite popular to call for a new constitution as a means of rectifying some of the country’s perceived wrongs. There is a somewhat romantic idea that a new constitution enshrining equal rights has to be better than our present system which is increasingly supporting Maori privilege. However, now that the country is formally considering constitutional reform, it is time to dispel the myths.

A new constitution would not be the panacea that many believe it could be. Essentially it would be a mechanism to pass law-making powers that currently rest with our elected Parliamentary representatives to unelected judges. Under a written constitution, judges are essentially given a free reign to not only administer the law, but to create it as well.

This should ring warning bells. New Zealand has already suffered immeasurably over the years from the damaging consequences of activist judges overstepping the mark by going further in a law-making capacity than Parliament ever intended. A recent highly controversial case was of course the Ngati Apa decision in 2003 where, under Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias, the Court of Appeal over-rode the 1963 Ninety Mile Beach Court of Appeal decision confirming Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed. The consequences of this disgraceful example of judicial activism are well known. The decision has paved the way for the privatisation of New Zealand’s coastline to any tribe that can persuade a friendly Minister in a secret discussion, that because someone of Maori ancestry allegedly had descendents who used the same spot for fishing since 1840, then they deserve to be given not only the ownership of that particular fishing spot but also the Territorial Sea out to the 12 nautical mile limit, as well as all of the seabed and the foreshore and the mineral wealth contained within! It remains such a ridiculous and bizarre outcome that I can only hope that each and every one of you reading this will mobilise yourselves to do whatever is necessary to ensure our Citizens Initiated Referendum petition succeeds, so that all New Zealanders can be given the chance to vote for Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed to be restored!

This week’s Guest Commentator is NZCPR Associate David Round, a constitutional law expert from Canterbury University, who is extremely concerned about the future of New Zealand if the constitutional changes demanded by the Maori Party and the iwi elite go ahead. In his article A Slippery Slope to Ruin he states: “If what the Maori Party and its friends desire by way of constitutional change comes to pass, then this once lovely little country of ours will be irrevocably stuffed.”

David believes that unless we protest loud and hard, our future will be one of race-based hatred and division: “Our present situation is such, then, that unless poor old longsuffering New Zealanders kick up the most IMMENSE stink, the almost inevitable direction of any proposed constitutional change will be towards further racial division and Maori privilege. And once such privilege is in place, then our continued racial division, and our poverty and accelerated decline as a nation, is inevitable. Once power is transferred from those who have it at present, the newly powerful will not give it back. If our constitution is altered in the way in which it looks as though it may well be altered ~ that is to say, to give more power to one particular racial minority, and (by a written constitution, which will thereafter have to be interpreted by judges) to give power to unelected and unaccountable supporters of the Maori cause in the higher judiciary ~ then we are on an irrevocable slippery slope to ruin. I mean this seriously.”

When reflecting on the thinking that underpins this whole attempt to takeover our constitution, it is important to understand the driving force. Apart from wanting to enshrine the Maori seats and the Treaty of Waitangi in a new constitution, Radio New Zealand reported last month that Maori are keen to use the new constitution of Bolivia as a model for New Zealand: “The Independent Constitutional Working Group has been set up to consider how a constitution might be based upon Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The group’s convenor, Margaret Mutu, says in Bolivia, the native people are the Government – and that’s become a model for Maori. Dr Mutu says they have brought in a constitution that’s shaped around their cultural values, and she’s very interested in looking at it. The Independent Constitutional Working Group will discuss its review with tangata whenua next year, and report to the Iwi Chairs Forum the year after.”

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples endorsed this view in a speech earlier this year by referring to the fact that Bolivia’s “proudly indigenous President Evo Morales has overseen changes to their constitution that we are very interested in. Our constitutional review specifically includes the place of the Treaty of Waitangi, and Maori political representation. Maori have already made clear they want to see the foundations of our nation resting on indigenous values and tikanga as well”.2

The new Constitution, introduced into Bolivia in January 2009, has been described as the most radical constitution in the world, by placing indigenous rights and beliefs at the heart of the country’s governance arrangements.3 It recognises 36 distinct nations within the country, which are in effect tribal entities, it sets up a distinct indigenous legal system to run parallel to the courts, and it essentially abolishes private property rights by ruling that unless land serves a “social function”, it will be confiscated into State control for the purpose of redistribution. The Constitutional changes usher in an overarching ideology of living “well”, rather than living “better”, thereby enshrining communal values and equality of outcomes as driving forces in the “decolonisation” of Bolivia that the President is now committed to.

If you are opposed to radical changes to our New Zealand constitution, then I would urge you to sound out parties and candidates in the lead up to the election. Don’t forget the email addresses of all MPs can be found on the PARLIAMENT link of this NZCPR.com website. And if you oppose the establishment of a new constitution based on the Treaty, why don’t you take action now by visiting our new NZCPR Constitutional Campaign at www.ConstitutionalReview.org.