The surrender is almost complete. When Governor Hobson invited Maori chiefs to sign the Treaty of Waitangi, he clearly thought that he was inviting those chiefs to accept the sovereignty of the Queen and to live in New Zealand, with the gradually increasing number of British settlers, as one people. And it is clear from the speeches given by many of the Maori chiefs at Waitangi prior to their signing that they too understood that that was what was involved in the Treaty.
The proposed amendments to the Resource Management Act announced just a few days ago make it abundantly clear that we are well down the track of accepting that we are not really one people at all, but two distinct groups with different political rights – one group claiming at least one Maori ancestor (even if with a majority of non-Maori ancestors) and the other larger group with no Maori ancestor.
In one sense, we shouldn’t be surprised. The original Resource Management Act passed into law in 1991 already required local governments to consult with their community and with Maori – not with the community including Maori, but with the community and Maori, as if Maori were in some sense not really part of the community.
Over the years, we have seen more and more concessions to the view that those with a Maori ancestor are really a separate and distinctive group with separate and distinctive political rights. More than a decade ago, the Clark Government refused to take action to clear a channel so that the crater-lake on Mount Ruapehu could drain safely, despite failure to do so risking the kind of disaster which destroyed scores of lives at Tangiwai in 1953. Why? Because some Maori felt that to do so would offend the spirit of the mountain.
At about the same time, GNS Science, a Crown research institute, went to considerable expense to bring a mini-submarine all the way from Germany to the shores of Lake Taupo to explore the floor of the lake for geothermal, and potentially volcanic, activity. At the last minute, the local iwi forbade GNS to explore the floor of the lake – this despite the fact that knowing more about volcanic activity under Lake Taupo is of fundamental importance to all those who live in New Zealand.
When the Environmental Protection Authority was set up by the Key Government in 2011, it was required to “proactively take into account Maori interests and the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi”. The Authority has a Maori Advisory Committee and a Maori Policy and Operations Group. The Authority’s website makes it clear that the Authority is guided by “four key Treaty of Waitangi principles” of partnership, protection, participation and potential. Not one of these words can be found in the Treaty.
In recent years, we have seen Maori wards set up in the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, while the mayor of New Plymouth recently argued that the New Plymouth City Council should have an equal number of Maori and non-Maori councillors on it. And when this proposition was rejected by the good citizens of New Plymouth, the mayor said he would take the matter to the United Nations, arguing that the legal requirement to have a referendum on the issue was somehow a breach of some international obligation!
In Auckland, we have the Independent Maori Statutory Board, providing unelected Maori voting rights on most Auckland Council committees. Then we had some 3,600 sites around Auckland designated by the Council as having some kind of cultural significance for Maori, without the slightest consultation with those whose property was impacted by that designation.
The recent report of the Land and Water Forum, as the earlier reports of that group, took it as axiomatic that iwi have some kind of “rights and interests in fresh water” which are different from those enjoyed by the rest of the community, despite the 1967 Water and Soils Conservation Act, which nationalised water.
Last month, we saw the Gisborne Council sign a formal agreement with Ngati Porou giving the iwi power to jointly control water in the Waiapu catchment. Clause 8 of that agreement envisages the iwi moving to full consenting authority over five years, with eventual control over the whole region.
Now we have the proposed amendments to the RMA. Under the Bill, every council must, within one month of being elected, invite the relevant iwi to “discuss, agree and record ways in which tangata whenua” through iwi authorities can take part in the preparation of policy statements or plans, including water management policies. A spokesman for the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group, Rahui Papa, described the Bill as “a positive first step in advancing our objectives of better environmental outcomes and improving Maori participation in resource management processes.” Note the reference to “first step”!
Of course, those with a Maori ancestor have an interest in fresh water and in the way in which local governments operate – every New Zealander does. But the interest of those with a Maori ancestor is absolutely no different from that of any other New Zealander.
I don’t always agree with Winston Peters – indeed, I often disagree with Winston Peters. But he was surely right when he said, in reaction to the proposed Bill, that the Government was “taking a giant step towards separatist government by caving in to the Maori Party”. He went on to say “It is clear that behind closed doors they are negotiating away fundamental rights that should be the same for all New Zealanders. National’s separatist approach will do nothing for Maori, and even less for the country.” On this, Winston is absolutely right.
If, instead of caving in to this Maori Party blackmail, the Government were to dissolve Parliament and go to the country on whether the public want to continue down this separatist track, there can be no doubt that New Zealanders would vote overwhelmingly for our being one people not two, as Hobson clearly intended.