top of page

Subscribe Form

Thanks for submitting!


RICHARD PREBBLE: Race, the treaty, co-governance and representative democracy

“Is he a racist like you” asked my seven year old moko.

We were watching a CNN news item about President Biden.

Shocked, I asked “Why do you say that?”

“Is the President of America white?” he said. “White people are racist”.

I explained President Biden is white but he is not a racist. Our discussion revealed my grandson has no idea what is a racist. Perhaps he heard Mr. Tuku Morgan of the Iwi Leaders Forum on TV saying “the attack dogs of the National party and Act as they fan the flames of racism and anti-Māori sentiments”.

The Prime Minister had the opportunity to distance himself from Mr. Morgan’s statement. Instead Chris Hipkins said:

"People can form their own judgments about that but I certainly think the opposition, National and Act have, as they've done in the past, they've used uncertainty to try and stoke fear."

The selection of Mr. Tama Potaka for Hamilton West is evidence of Mr. Luxon’s desire for National to represent all New Zealanders.

David Seymour is proud of his whakapapa. He leads a caucus with three Maori MPs.

Chris Hipkins knows that neither Christopher Luxon nor David Seymour is a racist.

Where Chris Hipkins is right is when he says there is considerable confusion over co-governance. Government delegates powers all the time, not just to Maori. Government should do more de-centralizing of decision making. In this form of “co-governance” the government retains the ultimate power.

What is concerning is co-government, the idea that government itself is a partnership.

Co-government arises from Labour’s decision to put a radical revisionist version of the treaty at the heart of all its decisions. The revisionists claim the treaty is an agreement between Queen Victoria and 500 or so native chiefs to govern in partnership forever.

To meet this revisionist treaty Labour is establishing co-government with unelected, unaccountable, self- selected, hereditary tribal elites. It is the opposite of everything Labour use to stand for.

Kate MacNamara had an excellent article in the NZ Herald on Three Waters. She writes, “All iwi and hapū in the area covered by each of the WSEs [Water Services Entities] will have the right to formulate directives…There are hundreds of iwi and hapū in each of the water services areas…there may be hundreds of such directives, possibly conflicting one with another or with Wellington’s Government Policy.”

Co-government is unworkable. It is the ratepayers who will be liable for a “toxic combination of debt and dictates and directives”.

Mr. Tuku Morgan has been appointed chair of the entity set to oversee Auckland and Northland's water. Who appointed Mr. Morgan? Who is he accountable to? The Auditor-General has expressed his concern there is little accountability.

Here is the heart of the issue. New Zealand has been since 1853 a Westminster parliamentary democracy. Those who rule us are under the rule of law and accountable to us, the electorate.

Parliamentary democracy is fundamentally at odds with being governed in partnership by hereditary tribal leaders. It does not matter whether the Prime Minister calls it a partnership, co-governance or mahi tahi,(working together); it is incompatible with democracy.

New Zealand is not a democracy when one partner is accountable to the electorate and the other partner is not.

Even if the revisionists are right and some chiefs misunderstood the treaty they were signing, it is not a reason to abandon 170 years of parliamentary democracy.

The treaty granted rights not just to the chiefs but to all Maori. Article three of the treaty grants Maori full citizenship rights. Maori have had voting rights from the first election in 1853. To reinterpret the treaty as a partnership is to reduce everyone’s citizenship rights, including the citizenship rights granted to Maori.

No doubt it was galling to some chiefs to discover that the treaty means every Maori has an equal vote. The treaty is why no New Zealand court has ever upheld slavery. While it did not happen immediately, the treaty freed Maori who were slaves and gave them full citizenship including the right to vote.

Many Maori value their Article three citizenship rights. They do not want to be co-governed by Mr. Tuku Morgan and his fellow Iwi leaders.

Good on Chris Hipkins for holding a review of Labour’s policies. A top priority must be to decide whether Labour stands for democracy.

Here is my thought. No wonder my seven year old moko thinks white people are racist when our government judges him on his race.

Why not a New Zealand where what is most important about my moko and I is not our different tribes, which is no business of the government, but us as individuals?

It is a powerful message to send to all seven year olds. One person, one vote, values us all equally.

The Honourable Richard Prebble CBE is a former member of the New Zealand Parliament. Initially a member of the Labour Party, he joined the newly formed ACT New Zealand party under Roger Douglas in 1996, becoming its leader from 1996 to 2004.

4,787 views115 comments
bottom of page