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In recent years, the Ardern Government has gone heavily over-board with the notion that the Treaty of Waitangi created a partnership between Maori New Zealanders and the rest of us. It now appears to be an absolute requirement of those who would make progress under this Government to sign up to this view of our constitution. As an example, all those in the media who seek financial support from the Government’s $55 million media slush fund must formally endorse the idea that the Treaty created a “partnership”.

Given that I myself can see not the slightest justification for the “Treaty as partnership”, I decided to write to the Prime Minister to ask her to explain her view. On 19 June 2021, I sent her the following email (which appeared on this blog on 21 June):

Prime Minister,

Again and again, you and your Ministers refer to the “partnership” created by the Treaty of Waitangi. I wonder if you would be kind enough to explain to me (and to the many other New Zealanders who would be interested in your answer) where you found reference to “partnership”, or any synonym of “partnership”, in any version of the Treaty.

While there have been various attempts in recent decades to argue that the chiefs who signed the Treaty in 1840 really didn’t cede sovereignty to Queen Victoria - despite the speeches made at the time and subsequently at a large conference of chiefs in Kohimarama in 1860 - there can be no doubt what the actual words of the Treaty provided.

I understand from Dr Michael Bassett (a member of the Waitangi Tribunal for a decade, a highly regarded New Zealand historian, and of course a long-time Labour Member of Parliament) that when he was on the Tribunal the translation of the Treaty which was generally accepted was that by Sir Hugh Kawharu. Sir Hugh translated the three clauses of the Treaty thus:

“The first: The chiefs of the Confederation and all the Chiefs who have not joined that Confederation give absolutely to the Queen of England for ever the complete government over their land.

“The second: The Queen of England agrees to protect the Chiefs, the Subtribes and all the people of New Zealand in the unqualified exercise of their chieftainship over their lands, villages and all their treasures. But on the other hand the Chiefs of the Confederation and all the Chiefs will sell land to the Queen at a price agreed by the person owning it and by the person buying it (the latter being) appointed by the Queen as her purchase agent.

“The third: For this agreed arrangement therefore concerning the Government of the Queen, the Queen of England will protect all the ordinary people of New Zealand (i.e. the Maori) and will give them the same rights and duties of citizenship as the people of England.”

As you can see, there is not the slightest reference to a “partnership”, and leading Labour politicians such as David Lange frequently ridiculed the very idea that Queen Victoria would have been willing to enter into a partnership with 500 chiefs, none of whom she had even met.

On the contrary, what the Treaty guaranteed in Article III was a guarantee of “the same rights and duties of citizenship as the people of England”.

Surely no other interpretation of the Treaty is consistent with democracy and it would accordingly be reassuring if you were to make it absolutely clear that your Government will not sanction any policy which gives a preference to any New Zealander on the basis of their having a Maori ancestor.

Yours sincerely,

Don Brash

Having heard nothing from the Prime Minister’s office by 28 June, I phoned her office and spoke to one of her senior staff. He was very cordial, apologised that I had not yet had an answer to my email, and said that I would get a reply shortly. Sure enough, I received an email from one Warren Howe in the Office of the Prime Minister some 10 days later, on 7 July.

Dear Don,

I am writing on behalf of the Prime Minister, Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, to acknowledge your email of 19 June 2021. Please be assured your comments have been noted.

As the issue you have raised falls within the portfolio responsibilities of the Minister for Maori Crown Relations, Hon Kelvin Davis, your email has been forwarded to the Minister’s office for consideration.

Thank you for writing, and take care.

Best wishes

Warren Howe

Office of the Prime Minister

And on 8 July, I sent this reply:

Dear Warren,

With respect, I wrote to the Prime Minister deliberately, not to the Minister for Maori Crown Relations, because she is the Prime Minister, it is she who largely determines the culture and policy of the Government, and it is she who frequently refers to the “partnership” created by the Treaty of Waitangi.

I have to assume that she believes that a “partnership” was created by the Treaty and I was asking her why she believes that, despite there being not the slightest shred of evidence of that in the Treaty (in either language), in the speeches given at the time of the signing, or in the speeches given on many subsequent occasions, such as the gathering of chiefs at Kohimarama in 1860.

The idea of a “partnership” between those with a Maori ancestor and the rest of us has, as I mentioned in my earlier email, been ridiculed not only by prominent Labour Party Leaders such as David Lange but by legal scholars who say that it is constitutionally impossible for the Crown to enter into a partnership with its subjects.

Because the whole concept of the Crown being in partnership with a minority of New Zealanders who chance to have at least one Maori ancestor is fundamentally at odds with the concept of a democracy where all citizens have equal constitutional rights, voters deserve to know whether the Prime Minister really does hold this view or not.

It is hard to see how New Zealand would long remain a democracy if a minority of us were to have preferential political rights by virtue of birth.

Yours sincerely,

Don Brash

As of today’s date, I have had no further reply, either from Warren Howe or, of course, from the Prime Minister.

And I’m not really surprised because none of the parties who signed the Treaty in 1840, or the British Government which had authorised Governor Hobson to negotiate the cession of such sovereignty as the chiefs had, had any thought that they were negotiating a partnership. None was created.

Continuing to promote the myth that a partnership was created, and endures now between the Crown and those who chance to have some Maori ancestry (always now with ancestors of other ethnicities too of course), is an extreme danger to our democracy.

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