Kelvin Davis, whose ministerial domain has been expanded by the establishment of the Office for Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti, has yet to reply to questions sent to him more than a week ago on the constitutional implications of a recent Cabinet decision.
Point of Order hoped to establish if he supports the establishment of more co-governance arrangements around the country and – if so – in which areas of public administration and governance?
We also asked:
- Will the promotion of co-governance arrangements be among the objectives of the newly established Maori-Crown relationship agency?
- What does the Minister believe is meant by the Treaty “partnership” (it is not actually mentioned in the Treaty of Waitangi) and when was a Treaty “partnership” first officially invoked for governmental policy-making purposes?
We put similar questions to Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, whom we had lauded for bridling against Labour’s attempt to interpret the Treaty of Waitangi in ways which have huge constitutional implications.
We further asked Peters if he and his party have the muscle and/or the inclination to use their position within the coalition government to impede the growth of co-governance arrangements in the public sector.
He hasn’t replied, either, but is understood to have recognised the political risks in elevating the new agency as a “partnership”.
Our questions were prompted by the growth of co-governance arrangements, both at local authority level and in central government.
“Treaty” and “partnership” are increasingly invoked to explain significant changes to the way the country is governed, although “Treaty partnership” is a contentious concept because it is the product of comparatively recent interpretations of what the treaty says and intended.
Some Maori leaders are pressing for 50:50 governance arrangements.
Former New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd has endorsed this view, saying local government “should reflect the Treaty of Waitangi”, there should be more Māori representation, and tāngata whenua should have an equal voice.
“We haven’t gone any further ahead at a local government level with our commitment and our relationship with iwi. Ideally for me it would be 50-50 at the table.”
The Cabinet last week decided to establish the Office for Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti, to “help facilitate the next step in the Treaty relationship – moving beyond the settlement of Treaty grievances into what it means to work together in partnerships”.
Announcing the decision, Davis said:
“Several other Government units and offices will be consolidated into the agency, including the Crown/Māori Relations Unit, the Office of Treaty Settlements, the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Team and the Settlement Commitments Unit. The consolidation will bring a sharper focus and efficiency to the Government’s work with Māori,”
Among the new agency’s aims, it will
- co-design partnerships, principles and frameworks to ensure that agencies “generate the best solutions to issues affecting Māori”;
- provide a cross-Government view on the health of the Māori Crown partnerships; and
- deal with other matters including the constitutional and institutional arrangements supporting partnerships between the Crown and Māori.
This raised the questions we sent to Davis’ press secretary.
Besides those recorded earlier in this post, we asked:
- Does the Minister have any concerns that New Zealand’s democratic institutions and systems are gradually being altered by co-governance arrangements to devalue concepts such as one citizen, one vote, and to put some council decision-makers (appointed, not elected) beyond the reach of voters?
- Can the Minister foresee any other constitutional implications in the work of the new agency?
- And – if so – who will consider constitutional changes and how will they be implemented?
Davis is obliged to be more forthcoming in response to Parliamentary questions and, according to Hansard, last week he said:
“Māori wanted the portfolio to have its own agency with its own mana. This week, the Government agreed to establish an agency to oversee the Government’s work with Māori in a post-settlement era. The agency will be called the Office for Māori/Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti and will help facilitate the next step in the Treaty relationship, moving beyond the settlement of Treaty grievances into what it means to work together in partnerships.”
An important role will be “to ensure that the Treaty of Waitangi is a successful partnership between Crown and Māori”
But Davis was dismayingly vague about the agency’s powers.
Hon Christopher Finlayson: Can he confirm that he’s fully explained to his Cabinet colleagues all the constitutional implications of some of the new roles of Te Arawhiti?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: In terms of constitutional arrangements, that’s under the portfolio of the Minister of Justice, but we have future-proofed the partnership. The constitutional change is not on our radar, but we have future-proofed the relationship in that if there are any discussions by Governments in the future, we want Māori to be part of those discussions.
Hon Christopher Finlayson: Will Te Arawhiti have any new or additional powers over the public sector; if so, what will they be?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Te Arawhiti will be working alongside the public sector to become a better Treaty partner.
Further Parliamentary questions were answered yesterday:
Hon Christopher Finlayson: How does he reconcile his statement last Thursday agreeing that an important role of Te Arawhiti is to ensure that the Treaty is a successful partnership between the Crown and Māori with the statement of Winston Peters last week denying the existence of any such partnership?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: It’s because it’s true that the Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti agency is there to strengthen the relationship to make sure the public sector is the best partner it can be with Māori.
This does not resolve the critical difference of opinion about whether there is a Treaty “partnership”.
Davis’ answer to the next question didn’t resolve it, either.
Hon Christopher Finlayson: Well, who’s right: him, who agrees that it’s an important role of Te Arawhiti to ensure that the Treaty is a successful partnership, or Winston Peters, who said last week that he never believed the Treaty is a partnership between Crown and Māori?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: We both are, because we know that Te Tiriti o Waitangi is a partnership between Māori and the Crown at the time, but also it’s about the relationship between the Crown agencies—departments of the Government—to make sure that we can ensure that Māori tribes, Māori groups, organisations, are successful in whatever they try to do so that we can work together to fulfil their aspirations.
Despite a fundamental difference of opinion about whether there is a Treaty partnership, the Government is pressing on…
Hon Christopher Finlayson: What did he mean when he said in the House last Thursday that one role of Te Arawhiti will be to “co-design partnership principles”?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Well, exactly what it says. We will work together with Māori to design the principles around the partnership. I think it’s self-explanatory.
Hon Christopher Finlayson: Do his answers to my questions today show that the Government really doesn’t have to justify the way it operates to anyone, be it on this issue or, as he said in the House yesterday, on the Meka Whaitiri scandal?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I was full of admiration for the work that the former Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations did and the Māori / Crown relations portfolio is a natural extension of that work. It’s a pity that he’s now working and talking to undermine the very work that he did when he was the Minister.
The way we see things at Point of Order, the final question called for a firm assurance that the Government DOES have to justify the way it operates. Moreover, this and the other questions raised call for guarantees that insidious shifts of power and authority in our governance arrangements without informed public debate and approval will be halted, if not reversed.