Open letter to associate professor sharpens the focus on Treaty of Waitangi and its influence on governance

A champion of the growing practice of appointing iwi representatives to sit with elected representatives on local authority decision-making bodies didn’t have a great deal to say, when questions were emailed to her.

Much of the little she did say – published on Point of Order last month – has been challenged by Bruce Moon in an open letter posted on Breaking Views.

The thrust and parry were triggered by governance changes on the Hastings District Council, which last month voted to appoint Māori representatives with speaking and voting rights to its four standing committees.

The council press statement which announced the decision noted 25 per cent of the local population is Māori and five of the council’s 14 elected members (33 per cent of the total) have identified as being of Maori descent.

The council voted in favour of appointing more Maori to join the elected ones “to be more inclusive and hear the voice of our iwi partners”.  

Associate Professor Maria Bargh, Victoria University of Wellington Te Kawa a Māui Head of School, welcomed this bypassing of the electoral system and the granting of speaking and voting rights to iwi appointees.

Her reasonscan be found in an article on the VUW website headed Academics commend Hastings District Council for inclusive, effective decision-making, .

One of the Point of Order team put these questions to Bargh:

  1. In what ways are Treaty responsibilities not met by an electoral system which entitles Maori to stand and campaign for office and to vote for the candidates of their choice, the same as any other eligible citizen?
  2. Should appointments be made to local authorities to ensure representation for other ethnic groups?
  3. Which clauses in the Treaty of Waitangi oblige local authorities to ensure representation – by appointment, if need be – for tangata whenua?
  4. Who should make the appointments and by what means should the ratepayers and citizens of a district be enabled to hold appointed decision-makers to account?

With regard to the council’s ethnic make-up, Bargh was further asked why she contends Maori are under-represented on the Hastings District Council.

She responded in four sentences:

Te Tiriti o Waitangi reaffirmed Māori tino rangatiratanga and allowed for Crown kawanatanga. This partnership approach has been noted as one of the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi by the Crown, the courts and the Waitangi Tribunal. 

Te Tiriti o Waitangi creates obligations, including for the Crown to actively protect Māori rights and interests and to uphold the Treaty partnership. Ensuring that Māori are a key part of decision-making in local government is one of the ways that the Crown can uphold their obligations.

Point of Order’s post was reproduced on Breaking Views, prompting Bruce Moon’s to write an open letter to Bargh.

Among the issues he addresses is the use of the word “kawanatanga”.  He maintains that

“  … without a shadow of doubt, the translation of ‘kawanatanga” is ‘sovereignty’ and everybody at Waitangi and indeed on other signing occasions knew this.  It was why Te Heu Heu refused to sign, his reason being that it would ‘place the mana of Te Heu Heu beneath the feet of a woman.’ 

“But he was one of very few as more that 500 chiefs did sign, thus giving Hobson more than ample assurance that establishing the Queen’s sovereignty was accepted by the vast majority.”

Moon then refutes the modern-day belief that a “partnership” approach is one of the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi acknowledged by the Crown, the courts and the Waitangi Tribunal.  He invites Bargh to quote the exact words in the Treaty document which establish any “partnership approach”.

He contends it is irrelevant what any of those bodies has said. Furthermore he references David Lange, who is reported to have said in 1990:

“Did Queen Victoria for a moment think of forming a partnership with a number of thumb prints and 500 people. Queen Victoria was not that sort of person”.

Next, Moon considers treaty obligations.

Yes, the treaty obliged all citizens to obey the law of the land and the “Crown” to protect them from foreign invasions and maintain civil peace.

But such obligations of the Crown simply do not include the Crown actively protecting Māori rights and interests and upholding the Treaty partnership except insofar as their “rights and interests” are those of all citizens, Moon insists.


“ … ‘to uphold the Treaty partnership’ is a modern manufactured idiocy which defies rational acceptance.”

Bargh’s thinking about the Crown ensuring Māori are a key part of decision-making in local government, and her argument that appointed iwi representatives are “one of the ways that the Crown can uphold their obligations”, is challenged, too.

Finally, Moon takes issue with Te Ururoa Flavell’s reported belief “that Māori as tangata whenua bring that unique perspective – and you can talk about it as a Treaty right – to the decision-making table.”  

Moon insists that nowhere in the Treaty are Maoris referred to as “tangata whenua”; Flavell’s claim that they have a “unique perspective” is no more than presumptuous politicking; and it is “sheer nonsense to talk about it as a “treaty right”.

So what are his credentials?

Moon is a retired Canterbury University Professorial Board member who has steeped himself in studies of New Zealand History in his retirement.

He has been a rocket scientist in the UK and Australia, a fellow of the UK Institute of Physics, a director of the Canterbury University Computer Centre, a national President of the NZ Computer Society, an Honorary Fellow of the New Zealand Institute Information Technology Professionals, an officer in the Naval Reserve and he was the first person to install a computer in a New Zealand university.

He is the author of  “Real Treaty; False Treaty – The True Waitangi Story”.

Moon planned to give a talk to the Nelson Institute in 2018 on how the Treaty of Waitangi had been twisted but permission for him to deliver his talk at the Nelson City Library was suddenly withdrawn.

The library advised him they were sorry to cancel the talk but there had been complaints which prompted both the Nelson City Council and the library to believe a talk could disturb the peace and become a health and safety issue.

Here’s hoping that reading this does not do a mischief to the health of our readers.

5 thoughts on “Open letter to associate professor sharpens the focus on Treaty of Waitangi and its influence on governance

  1. Bruce Moon makes some important points. But do New Zealanders really care their democracy is being eroded by racial preference and the coming draconian restraints on free speech? I don’t think so.


  2. Could someone please cite a reference for the legal power of local authorities to give voting rights to unelected committee members? This seems to be the prior/fundamental question. If the council is acting ultra vires, the issue would then enter the more appropriate political/legislative forum.


  3. Since my question wasn’t rhetorical, I’ve since researched it.

    It seems that clause 31(3) of Schedule 7 of the Local Government Act 2002 provides that:

    “…The members of a committee or subcommittee may, but need not be, elected members of the local authority, and a local authority or committee may appoint to a committee or subcommittee a person who is not a member of the local authority or committee if, in the opinion of the local authority, that person has the skills, attributes, or knowledge that will assist the work of the committee or subcommittee…”.

    I can’t find anything to say these unelected members can’t vote.

    Note that clause 30(3) of Schedule 7 provides that:

    “…A committee or other subordinate decision-making body is subject in all things to the control of the local authority,…”.

    In my view the Crown, through Parliament, is giving expression to its responsibilities (in this case through local government) under part of the second Article of the Treaty of Waitangi, which translated from Māori, reads:

    “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…”.

    If such a committee had been in place sooner, perhaps Hastings District Council could have avoided all its problems over Te Mata Peak.


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