Too many politicians at every level of government – central and local – are either ignorant about what the Treaty of Waitangi meant or are intimidated by those for whom promoting the myth of partnership is the fastest way to power and resources.
We saw this ignorance most vividly when former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked what was in the first article of the Treaty on the occasion of her visit to Waitangi shortly after she became Prime Minister. She didn’t have a clue but, after some prompting by those around her, she mumbled something about partnership.
But of course there is nothing about partnership in the Treaty, whether in the Maori language version or in the English language version. The speeches made by chiefs at the time of the signing, both by chiefs who opposed the signing because they recognized that power was being handed to the Governor on behalf of the Queen and by those who nevertheless favoured signing it, make it abundantly clear that the chiefs recognised that they were ceding sovereignty. And this recognition was reaffirmed repeatedly on subsequent occasions, most notably at the Kohimarama meeting of chiefs in 1860 and by the man who adorns our $50 bank note, Sir Apirana Ngata.
Despite that, we have in the present Government a commitment to a radically different understanding of what the Treaty meant, and a radically different view of what New Zealand’s future should look like. Their blueprint for what New Zealand should look like in the years ahead appears accurately summarised in the He Puapua document, prepared at the request of the Labour-New Zealand First Government in 2019 and finally released after the 2020 election. That document, which Labour denies is their real blueprint, envisages a New Zealand permanently divided between those with some Maori ancestry and those without.
And the evidence of Labour’s real intention is all around us. The creation of a health authority specifically for Maori New Zealanders on spurious grounds. The provision that the Three Waters infrastructure must be subject to conditions laid down by a Maori organisation, and that each of the 10 regional water entities must have a 50% Maori/non-Maori governance structure. The law passed to give Maori in Canterbury not only a regular vote for the Canterbury Regional Council, as all other adult citizens have, but also the right for the Ngai Tahu iwi to appoint two additional members of the Council – with this law lauded as a model for the future by Labour Members of Parliament.
Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins have openly conceded, apparently without embarrassment, that co-governance is not consistent with democracy as it is universally understood, where all citizens have a vote of equal value. And they are hell-bent on promoting this racially-based franchise.
Another of the things this Government has done is changed the law passed by a previous Labour Government so that ratepayers have no right to demand a referendum if a local council decides, out of conviction or under pressure, to create separate Maori wards. Before the law change, on all but one occasion when a council decided to create racially-based wards a subsequent referendum on the issue overwhelmingly – by enormous majorities – overturned the decision. Now, ratepayers can’t prevent the creation of such wards, and many councils have created them despite ratepayer opposition.
One council which has just voted to create Maori wards, by nine votes to three, is the Western Bay of Plenty District Council, despite a recent referendum showing that 78% of those who bothered to vote opposed such wards and despite the strong opposition to such a move by the Council’s existing Maori councillor.
The Auckland Council is now consulting ratepayers in Auckland about whether separate Maori wards should be created in that city. When the so-called super-city was created more than a decade ago there was debate about whether to create Maori wards at that stage. It was decided that an Independent Maori Statutory Board would be established instead, and that Board now wields substantial influence through voting representation on most Auckland Council committees. The document on which ratepayers are currently being asked to comment implies strongly that the IMSB would continue in existence even if Maori wards are established. It is entirely unclear how there could be any excuse at all for creating separate Maori wards in Auckland.
Of course it is also entirely unclear why separate Maori electorates continue to exist in Parliament. These electorates were created in 1867 for five years at a time when only men who owned property got a vote. They should have been scrapped when all men, and then of course all women, got the vote. The Royal Commission on the Electoral System concluded in 1986 that they should be scrapped if New Zealand adopted MMP, which of course we did in 1996.
And we have long demonstrated that Maori New Zealanders are as capable of being elected to Parliament as anybody else. The proportion of Maori MPs in Parliament currently exceeds the proportion of Maori in the population, and very substantially exceeds the proportion of New Zealanders who have registered on the Maori roll (about half of all Maori). A couple of years ago, when Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett were still in Parliament, the Leader and Deputy Leader of the National Party were Maori, the Deputy Leader of Labour was Maori, the Leader and Deputy Leader of New Zealand First were Maori, the Co-Leader of the Greens was Maori and the Leader of ACT was Maori – and only one of those people got into Parliament in a Maori electorate.
As we approach this year’s general election, it is important to note where political parties stand on this fundamental issue: is New Zealand going to become a nation where some people, by virtue of their ancestry, are permanently and irrevocably given a different and preferential constitutional status or are we going to be a society where every citizen has equal political rights, no matter when they or their ancestors arrived in this country?
It appears clear that the Labour, Green and Maori parties are committed to a society which is permanently divided by race, where those who chance to have some (often very slight) Maori ancestry have a separate, and superior, constitutional status to all the rest of us.
The National Party’s constitution declares that “equal citizenship” is one of the party’s fundamental values, though in recent years it has been silent on whether they support or oppose separate Maori electorates (opposed quite explicitly by former National leaders Bill English (in 2003), John Key (in 2008) and me (in 2005). Christopher Luxon has said that the National Party is opposed to co-governance in “public services”, has pledged to wind up the separate Maori Health Authority and has promised to scrap Labour’s Three Waters entities. But it is not one of the five policy issues on which National is campaigning and there is unfortunately some doubt about whether ending the whole “partnership” nonsense is one of National’s high priorities.
Of the other parties which seem certain to be in Parliament after the election, ACT is the most explicit about their view on this issue. David Seymour has stated repeatedly that New Zealand is at a cross-road: we either go forward as an ethno-state, where people are permanently divided on the basis of race, or we go forward as a society where every citizen has equal rights. And he wants a debate on that issue in Parliament followed by a referendum on the issue so that we decide, once and for all, whether we are to be a democracy or not.
Of the smaller parties, it seems very unlikely that any except possibly New Zealand First will make it into Parliament at this election. On the issue of race, Winston Peters has also been consistent in supporting equal citizenship.
As some readers of this blog may know, I am one of the trustees of the Hobson’s Pledge Trust, an organisation first established in 2016 to promote the vision which Governor Hobson had when the Treaty was signed in 1840, namely that we should all be one people. The Trust has established a website where people can conveniently send a message to the candidates of all the main parties in their own electorate, telling those candidates that they want a democracy where every citizen has equal political rights. The website is https://bottomline.co.nz/ and I encourage you to use it to send a message to the candidates in your electorate.
26 August 2023