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Dr Muriel Newman

Time to challenge claims and claimants

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Last week it was water. This week it is wind. Having successfully taken ownership of the foreshore and seabed from the Crown – and with the embedding of the Treaty of Waitangi into a new New Zealand constitution well under way – Maori leaders are casting around for new public resources to claim as their own.

In his press release, the champion of the new opportunistic claim for wind, Ngapuhi leader David Rankin, says their plan is to establish a pan-tribal body that has the authority to manage shares in commercial wind-generators and make decisions on where wind turbines can be located. He argues that the entitlement Maori have to the wind is justified under article two of the Treaty of Waitangi. He says, “Traditionally, the wind was regarded as a deity in Maori society, and Maori do not consider the Crown have the right to use it without Maori consent.” He acknowledges that this claim has come about because of the Tribunal’s finding in favour of iwi ownership of water, and he believes that “the claim to wind will lead on to other areas of property rights such as aerospace”.1


At the heart of these demands by tribal leaders for public resources and political power is their re-interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi.

To set the record straight, in 1922 the great Maori leader Sir Apirana Ngata explained the meaning of the Maori version of the Treaty of Waitangi in a booklet published by the Department of Maori Affairs that was used extensively to educate people about the true meaning of the Treaty.2 In The Treaty of Waitangi, he explained that at the time when the Treaty was signed, there was widespread lawlessness – “cannibal times” and “illiterate days” when “Maori tribes were fighting fiercely among themselves” – and that the Queen “was desirous to establish a Government with a view to avert the evil consequences to the Maori people and to the Europeans living under no laws”.

He then went on to explain that under Article One of the Treaty, Maori Chiefs “do absolutely cede to the Queen of England forever the Government of their lands”, under Article Two, “the Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the Chiefs and Tribes and to all the people of New Zealand the full possession of their lands, their homes and all their possessions”, and under Article Three, “Maori and Pakeha are equal before the Law, that is, they are to share the rights and privileges of British subjects”.

In other words, it was the common understanding that the Treaty was an agreement that established the Queen as our sovereign so we could all live as British subjects, it established private property rights and guaranteed that they would be protected, and it ensured equality under the law for all citizens. Nothing more, nothing less. There were no special rights and no special partnerships.

However, not content with what the Treaty actually said, tribal leaders over recent years have re-interpreted it. They have claimed it gave them additional rights, elevating their status to that of an elite group in a special partnership arrangement with the Crown. They have further maintained that Article 2 of the Treaty guaranteed them the undisturbed possession of their taonga, which they have re-defined to cover anything that they want to claim as a treasure – whether it is property, language, or public resources such as water and wind.

While the Maori version of Article 2 of the Treaty of Waitangi uses the term taonga, the English version translated it to mean lands and estates, forests, fisheries and other properties. In other words, in 1840 taonga meant no more than property or possessions – as explained by Sir Apirana Ngata in his booklet. It has no other meaning – in spite of the claims by modern-day opportunists who seek to re-interpret it so they can acquire public property for their own personal and private gain.

With the Waitangi Tribunal as their cheerleader, activist judges assisting their path through the courts, and naive politicians, the Maori sovereignty movement has had considerable success in persuading politicians, public officials, academia, and the media that not only do they have a right to rule, but that they also deserve economic rewards for the public’s use of their taonga – compensation, royalties, shares, seats on boards, a say in management decisions, and so on.

Today New Zealand is at another crossroad on the pathway of race relations. The public can either choose to remain silent and acquiesce to these increasingly outrageous demands for racial privileges or they can stand up publicly and say enough is enough.

If you want to take a stand and haven’t yet signed the DECALARATION OF EQUALITY, you can do on the Independent Constitutional Review website HERE.

What is surprising about these new claims for public resources is that they are based on an historic right being claimed under Article 2 of the Treaty, and as such appear to breach the 2006 law change that prohibits any new historic Treaty of Waitangi claim being lodged after the 1st of September 2008. This is in contrast with the dozens of historic claims that are presently being progressed through the Treaty settlement process, all of which were all lodged well before the cut-off date.

Subsection (1) of Section 6AA of the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 states: “after 1 September 2008 no Maori may submit a claim to the Tribunal that is, or includes, a historical Treaty claim”.

And Subsection (4) states: “To avoid doubt, if a claim is submitted to the Tribunal contrary to subsection (1), it must be treated for all purposes as not having been submitted.”3

But it is not only the veracity of these claims to public resources that is being questioned. In this week’s NZCPR Guest Commentary, An Argument against Iwi Claims to Constitutional Recognition and Public Resources, Associate Professor Elizabeth Rata of Auckland University, challenges the underlying arguments being used by iwi to support their lofty economic and political ambitions.

She firstly contends that modern day iwi are not traditional tribal groups that should have access to historic inheritance rights, but instead are private economic corporations that are entitled to no such rights: “This means that contemporary iwi have the same rights and responsibilities as other groups in society; neither more nor less.”

She questions why it is that successive governments have given political power to private business corporations – in breach of the normal separation that usually exists within a society between politics and business: “The development of iwi corporations, like any other business, is to be welcomed for the contribution to New Zealand’s economy. But to give political power to a business is to subvert one of the basic conditions of democracy – the separation of the political and economic spheres where the economic is placed under the control of the political. The rapidly growing practice by successive governments of giving public resources to private corporations is both bizarre and bewildering. That it has happened is testament to the political skill of iwi and to the failure of New Zealanders to say no.”

In her commentary, Dr Rata covers many of the clever strategies have been employed by leaders of the Maori sovereignty movement to influence public opinion – none more so than the use of phraseology and legalese that are not well understood: “A strategy that has proved invaluable for iwi success is the hugely effective use of legal language and procedures. This has served to embed the idea that iwi ambitions are true and just. It makes good use of New Zealanders’ right and proper respect for the law. However that respect has a less healthy side. It can produce an uncritical acceptance of ideas that use the weight of legalese.”

The Maori sovereignty movement is riding high because their political arm – the Maori Party – has secured a strong leverage position within the National Coalition Government. With former iwi claims negotiator Chris Finlayson, the Minister of Treaty Settlements, as a champion for their cause, the sovereignty movement not only has the ear of government but a mouth piece as well.

Just last weekend, Mr Finlayson signed a settlement with 13 tribal groups over the co-governance of 14 volcanic cones in the Auckland region and four islands in the Hauraki Gulf. Not satisfied, the Tamaki Collective has already signalled that they want more – now they want control of the massive Manukau and Waitemata harbours as well.

The Waikato River Authority, set up in 2010 in a co-governance arrangement with Tainui over the Waikato River, was heralded as a model for the future. While the $300 million deal was meant to signal the end of Tainui’s claims, the co-chair of the Waikato River Authority, Tuku Morgan, is now arguing that they should be given the right to allocate water – instead of local councils. Of course the right to allocate the water of the Waikato River would come with the right to collect fees – but next will come a claim for the ownership of the water … just you wait and see.

While Chris Finlayson has championed co-governance arrangements as a triumph of Treaty negotiations, there is a fundamental flaw in such arrangements. By giving private business corporations co-governance rights alongside government representatives – whether it’s over the management of rivers and parks, resource consent applications under the Resource Management Act, or seats on statutory boards – business representatives put the self interest of their corporations first and the public good second. This has lead to a massive conflict of interest and the development of a growing culture of corruption.

It’s time for all of this to end. John Key must understand that it has all gone too far. It is dividing our society and impeding our progress as a nation. It is time he stepped up to put the past behind us so we can all move on together. Does he have the backbone to do so?

I will leave the last word to Dr Elizabeth Rata: “Iwi have been extremely effective in obtaining considerable public resources and political recognition. Like all successful groups, they want more. But their success will come at a huge cost to New Zealand, not least to our democratic system and liberal way of life. It is time for New Zealanders to interrogate the assumptions under which the iwi case is built and then decide whether the iwi case really does stand up to scrutiny. If it does not, as I argue, then there should be an end to claims for public resources and an end to political recognition and institutional inclusion.”

  1. David Rankin, Wind to be subject of next Treaty claim 
  2. Sir Apirana Ngata, The Treaty of Waitangi – published for the Maori Purposes Fund Board, 1922 (Please note that an electronic version of this booklet is given as a free gift to all NZCPR donors)
  3. NZ Legislation, Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975