About the Author

Avatar photo

Dr Muriel Newman

Unity or Division – the way forward

Print Friendly and PDF
Posted on

Parliamentx300Like it or not, the Maori Party’s constitutional review is providing the public with an opportunity to have a say on the future of New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements and our democracy. This $4 million review of our constitution was part of their 2008 coalition deal with the National Party. An Advisory Panel was appointed in 2011. The public consultation process – and the call for submissions – started at the end of February 2013. It closes in June.

General public meetings have not been part of the Advisory Panel’s consultation plan. Hui have, and Constitutional Advisory Panel member Linda Tuhiwai Smith says the level of engagement with Maori is pleasing. 1

The Advisory Panel’s website contains no balance of information on contentious matters. Instead, it contains only the briefest of descriptions of complex constitutional issues, along with a series of innocent-sounding questions that could only be described as ‘leading’ – considering the profound implications to our democracy of the changes being advocated: Do you think our constitution should be written in a single document? Do you think our constitution should have a higher legal status than other laws (supreme law)? Who should have the power to decide whether legislation is consistent with the constitution: Parliament or the Courts?  Questions such as this do not signal the significant implications such changes would have on the way our country is governed.

The constitutional back story is that New Zealand is regarded as having one of the strongest parliamentary democracies in the world because the country’s supreme law-making power is held by elected Members of Parliament who can be sacked if they lose the confidence of voters. By re-writing our constitutional arrangements into a single document, that ultimate law-making power would be transferred to unelected judges who are not accountable to the public. These profound changes, which would place law-making into the hands of lawyers and judges, are not being clearly explained by the Advisory Panel running the constitutional review.

Similarly, the very serious implications arising from the questions about the role of the Treaty of Waitangi and whether it should be made a formal part of the constitution, are not even signalled.

The Constitutional Advisory Panel asks: What role do you think the Treaty of Waitangi could have in our constitution? Do you think that the Treaty should be made a formal part of the constitution?

The fact is that a Treaty-based constitution would fundamentally mean that the claims process would never end. There are already calls for Treaty claims to include private property and even more public resources. Those who claim to be of Maori descent would be given priority to public funding, and the iwi elite would gain the rights to the co-governance of New Zealand along with the Crown.

Last year, a professional facilitator attempted to explain the possible outcome of a Treaty-based constitution to two focus groups that had been convened to consider the constitutional review. The following statement was read: “The possible outcome for this review could be a proposal to place the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in a written constitution based on biculturalism. This would mean that all Acts of Parliament would be tested against these principles and the rights outlined in the Treaty would be able to be enforced in a way that’s not possible at present. In effect such power would legally enforce Waitangi Tribunal decisions as well. The governance of New Zealand could be radically changed”.

The response from focus group members was deep concern. Some were horrified at the thought that state-induced separatism could split the country into “Maori” and “the rest”. They asked why Maori should be considered as having more value than everyone else. They said that New Zealand is an immigrant nation made up of many different groups and that we should all be treated the same – as equals. They wanted to know what the agenda was of the people running the review and what the implications would be for New Zealand in the long term.

Those issues have not been addressed in the government’s review. The implications of replacing our current constitutional arrangements with a new Treaty-based constitution as supreme law have not been explained. By failing to point out the important implications of constitutional change at this level, the review process is failing to fully inform the public of its consequences.

A question that is now being asked more frequently is how could we even get to a stage where our elected politicians are considering defining and dividing our country permanently on the basis of race? This is especially so when around the world, the dangers of festering ethnic division are so plain to see. The multicultural experiment, where different ethnic groups have been given almost equal recognition to the prevailing culture of a county, has proven to be a failure – as the most recent riots in Sweden can testify.

The call for tribal enclaves or ‘indigenous reservations’ to be established here in New Zealand, by Emily Bailey, one of the four people convicted after the Urewera raids, is a case in point. Parihaka’s Emily Bailey, her partner Urs Signer, Tame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara were found guilty of firearms charges in March last year following Operation Eight, the Urewera raids in 2007. Ms Bailey says, “If countries like Canada and the United States can cope with separate indigenous reservations and entire states with separate laws inside one country, then why can’t we? Why do we have to hear ironic calls of apartheid and separatism? One rule for all doesn’t mean equality, it means authoritarianism and separatism between the rich and powerful and the poor”.2

The problem with such radical ranting is that the media and our political leaders are listening. Instead of proactively promoting our national identity – encouraging citizens to think of themselves as New Zealanders first and foremost, and any other identity as secondary – they are allowing ethnic separatism to dominate the debate. In the Treaty settlement with Tuhoe, the Minister of Treaty Negotiations Chris Finlayson even went as far as to agree to ‘mana motuhake’ or self rule. While he hasn’t spelt out exactly what that means, thanks to Minister Finlayson, it could be that Ms Singer’s vision of utopia is closer than she thinks.

Unfortunately many of our politicians do not subscribe to the rational and sensible view that equality and national unity are the way of the future. Instead they promote policies that will inevitably lead to the Balkanisation of New Zealand.

Being a New Zealander must surely be based on one standard of citizenship. Citizenship is the basis of our national identity – we are all New Zealanders first and foremost. While everyone is free to attach their personal identify to any other group they wish (whether it is a racial or ethnic group, a religious group, a group defined by gender, political interests, sport, or hobbies) all New Zealand citizens should be treated equally as far as our country’s democratic governance is concerned. In fact, it is a truly bizarre notion that one group of citizens could be given preferential treatment by the government because of the order in which their ancestors arrived in this country.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator is Associate Professor Elizabeth Rata, the Director of the Knowledge and Education Research Unit of Auckland University and a member of the Independent Constitutional Review Panel. Dr Rata has long been investigating the consequences to our society of the long-running experiment in biculturalism. In a speech delivered to the Fabian Society last week, she explains the foundations of biculturalism and how, by being elevated into a belief system, it has become a race-based political movement that evades scrutiny:

“Biculturalism is a religious retreat for the secularised ex-socialist and the newly conservative ‘liberal’ alike. By understanding biculturalism as a belief system one can explain why it doesn’t need to be logical and why it has become so pervasive despite meaning different things to different people.

“If biculturalism were logical, the evidence that it has not led to social justice and racial inclusion would have seen it criticised and abandoned. (The emergence if the neotribal elite, the growth of Maori in poverty, the failure of Maori language policy are all indicators that the progressive ideals of the early biculturalists have failed.)

“If illogical, the answer must lie outside of logic – in an act of faith that does not require justifying – it simply is. And this is where biculturalism is now – something that pervades our public institutions but because it is immune to criticism and rejection, is fundamentally anti-democratic. Like religion, biculturalism can remain a belief system for those who want to believe in it but again like religion it should not be part of our secular political system.”

In her speech Democracy and Diversity, Dr Rata explains that the original promoters of biculturalism were the new professionals raised in the 50s and 60s. They turned their backs on traditional class politics to embrace the emerging politics of culture with its focus on identity – ethnicity, gender, sexuality, conservation:  “The problem with biculturalism is not that it has not delivered the promised social justice – that was never going to happen. The problem is that it became a belief system for a new political class that lost its intellectual nerve and its political way.”

What all of this means is that many Members of Parliament have embraced biculturalism as a fundamental belief system. As such, they share the agenda of radical tribal separatists, who are using the constitutional review to divide New Zealand by entrenching iwi in a position of racial, legal, cultural and economic superiority over all other citizens. While this may seem like an unlikely union, the key point Dr Rata makes is that biculturalism is a belief system and is therefore above criticism. As such, it is now being used as a weapon to subvert democracy: “belief systems are not available for criticism – you either believe or you don’t. Democratic institutions, on the other hand are based not on belief but on the modern commitment to rationality and all that that involves – criticism, accountable authority, change. Bringing biculturalism, a belief system, into those institutions has subverted that rationality and with it, the democratic political system based upon rational concepts: the public, the secular, the universal…”

The Constitutional Advisory Panel is required to report back to the government by the end of the year on the views raised during the review process. They are to highlight any specific areas where further investigation should be carried out. With the supporters of biculturalism no doubt submitting to the review in force, it is important that everyone who is concerned about the direction of the review and the Treaty-based constitution goal of the Maori Party have their say before the end of June closing date – full details of the submission process can be found HERE.

Last year, the Minister of Maori Affairs, Pita Sharples said, “Maori seek the right to take ownership of our own destiny, to determine our own economic and social wellbeing. We seek the right to uphold our own mana motuhake, to exercise our own rangatiratanga”.3 He clearly believes their constitutional review is an important part of that process.