What a year 2021 has been! For many people, especially those of us who endured the near-four-month lockdown in Auckland and for the many more throughout the country hugely impacted by that lockdown, it has been a truly awful year.
2021 has also brought the realization that we are fighting for the very soul of New Zealand.
Are we to be a country where every person, regardless of when they or their ancestors came to New Zealand, has equal political rights, as Article III of the Treaty of Waitangi unambiguously promised?
Or are we to become a nation permanently divided by race, with those who chance to have one or more Maori ancestors (always with ancestors of other ethnicities too of course) having forever a preferred constitutional status?
What brought this issue to the attention of all New Zealanders was the release in April of the He Puapua document, prepared during 2019 at the request of the Labour-New Zealand First Government but not released to the public – or even apparently to the New Zealand First part of the Government – until after the 2020 election.
What that document makes crystal clear is that its authors envisage a “co-governed” New Zealand. Those with some Maori ancestry would have a perpetually privileged status, with their own chamber in a three chamber Parliament – one for those who chance to have some Maori ancestry, one for the rest of us, and a third joint chamber, with a Maori veto, for negotiation between the two divided “partners”.
The Prime Minister denies that this document reflects her Government’s policy, but she has to be telling us less than the whole truth because almost every aspect of her Government’s policy platform this year has reflected the thinking behind He Puapua:
- The plan to confiscate the Three Waters assets of all the local bodies in the country and place them into four enormous entities, drawn along tribal boundaries, and controlled by an equal number of tribal appointees as local body representatives.
- The plan to create two separate health systems, one for those with a Maori ancestor and one for all the rest of us – though with both systems funded by the general taxpayer.
- The removal of the right of ratepayers to have a say about whether they want race-based wards – with legislation passed under urgency to minimize the time ratepayers had to express their views on the matter.
- With moves afoot to give those with a Maori ancestor permanent representation on Environment Canterbury, and plans to create separate Maori wards in Auckland, where there is already an Independent Maori Statutory Board with strong representation on most Auckland Council committees.
- The constant reference to the name of our country in all government documents as Aotearoa, or Aotearoa New Zealand, despite most New Zealanders not wanting any name for our country but New Zealand (as established by a scientific opinion poll), and the ever more frequent use of Maori words in government communications and on taxpayer-funded media, often without any translation – and this despite the fact that only a tiny minority of New Zealanders speak the Maori language.
- The bribery of the media to promote a particular re-interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi.
And it is that interpretation of the Treaty which lies at the heart of the issue.
Did the Treaty involve Maori chiefs surrendering sovereignty in return for being guaranteed their property rights and political equality with all “British subjects”, or did it involve no surrender of sovereignty but instead the promise of some kind of partnership with the head of the mightiest empire the world had seen to that date?
Speeches made by chiefs at the time, and again at Kohimarama in 1860, make it quite clear which of those two interpretations was understood at the time. And indeed, that is the interpretation which prevailed for nearly the next century and a half.
More importantly, it is the only interpretation which is consistent with a peaceful future, where all citizens have equal political rights without any preference based on race, as politicians as different as David Lange, Winston Peters and David Seymour have made clear.