Equal treatment for Kiwis? But that mightn’t square with the Treaty and let’s not forget Don Brash is calling for it, too

New Zealanders want a more cohesive society where everyone is treated equally and where freedom of speech is maintained.

So said National leader Judith Collins in a speech to her party’s northern division conference.  

“These are the things people care about. These are the things that support strong communities and will support New Zealand to recover from Covid-19.”

Hmm.

Meanwhile in Featherston, a Harry Potter quiz had been cancelled at a book festival which – would you believe it? – was set to examine modern “cancel culture”.

The reason is that organisers disagreed with something said by Harry Potter’s creator.

Featherston Booktown Karukatea organisers have chosen not to feature a popular Harry Potter quiz on this year’s programme because of alleged transphobic comments made by the beloved fictional series’ author, JK Rowling.

As for everyone being treated equally, Maori wards were being promoted in local government because a system whereby everyone could stand for office and vote for the candidates of their choice was deemed to be flawed.  And in health administration, two administrative bodies were being established, one of them on a race basis to ensure Maori health was the responsibility of Maori administrators. 

Collins proceeded to address two questions:  what are New Zealand’s democratic principles and what does equal citizenship mean in a Treaty of Waitangi context?

She described the Treaty of Waitangi as New Zealand’s founding document and said the Nats should consider how they can reflect this in their Party values.  

She claimed it covered three basic but fundamental values that already are reflected in National Party values.

“Article 1, Kāwanatanga, establishes the Queen as our sovereign and head of state.

“This speaks directly to our first National Party value of loyalty to our country and sovereign.

“Article 2, Tino Rangatiratanga, confirms the property rights of all people. It establishes that all iwi, families and individuals have rights over their own land and property. Property rights are again a key democratic principle and core to National party values.   

“Article 3, Ōritetanga, most importantly, states all people have the same rights. Those three simple concepts – nationhood, property rights and equal rights – are a powerful foundation for a country, and a powerful foundation to consider our National Party values.”

Collins then referred to the preamble to the Treaty.

She said it provides the context in which the treaty was signed and should be read.

“The preamble states that the intention of the Treaty was to promote peace and avoid lawlessness. Again, directly in line with National Party values of national security and strong communities.”

Next, she acknowledged what few would challenge:  

“ The Treaty was breached and those breaches – the New Zealand Land wars – have left Māori in a different position today, to where they would be had those breaches not occurred. The inequities we see today trace back to the actions of the past.”

She agreed it was right to address those wrongs and to undertake settlements with Maori tribes impacted by Treaty breaches.  

But then she drew attention to a fresh debate: what is the role of the Treaty in our democracy?

“Did the Treaty bring us together as one people, or split us apart as two?”

She referred to the Ardern Government, in developing its proposed health restructure, claiming it has a Treaty obligation to have separate systems.

“They are demanding a model where we have separate health authorities – one for Māori and one for everyone else.” 

National’s position [Collins explained] is that there is room within a health system, based on need, for delivery programmes that target the needs of Maori and other groups.

But Labour’s changes are about meeting Treaty obligations and Labour has interpreted Article 2 and Tino Rangatiratanga as requiring Māori decision making at all levels of the system. 

She asked if New Zealanders want to move forward as a society with separation of governance on ethnic lines, suggesting that improving Māori health was best addressed by targeted programmes such as Whānau Ora.

“My view is that separate systems of governance is not what the chiefs and Hobson had in mind, and separate systems will lead to worse outcomes for everyone.   

“It will mean decisions are slow, fraught and inefficient. It changes the fabric of who we are as a society and it divides our communities.”

“New Zealand, like all countries, works best when we are one people.”

If two separate systems are needed in health, Collins argued, does it mean two systems are required in education, justice and resource management?

This was a prompt to bring the government-commissioned He Puapua  report into considerations. 

Collins described the report as a “divisive” government document which spells out a clear vision for New Zealand in 2040 under a “two systems” Treaty view.

It includes two systems for health, two for justice, Maori governance in resource management, Maori ownership of the foreshore and seabed.   

It proposes separate Māori wards in councils (already under way now that Labour has legislation to deprive citizens of the constitutional means to call for referendums on introducing them)  and it proposes constitutional reform to consider matters such as a Māori Parliament or upper house.

This would be able to veto any decision of the New Zealand Parliament. 

Collins insisted that New Zealand could not and would not accept the implementation of two systems by stealth.

Perhaps.

She is right to point out that plans for two systems for everything amounts to a fundamental change for our society and its democratic structures.

But when Wellington City Council last month voted for Māori wards AND for the appointed representatives of local Maori tribes to be given voting rights, the Dominion-Post published not one letter of support or protest. 

Cycle tracks gets Wellingtonians excited.  Not the insidious undermining of their democracy.   

Moreover, the national conversation sought by Collins – “one that has honest, respectful and open debate” and “a debate where every voice is heard” – can be fraught in a country where the advocates of one law for all bizarrely are vilified as racists.

Newshub opened its report on her speech:  

Judith Collins has hit the big red race button, warning party members that Labour’s trying to sneak in separate systems of governance for Māori.

At Stuff, Tracey Watkins harked back more than 15 years to former National Party leader Don Brash’s “infamous after-dinner speech to the Orewa Rotary Club declaring ‘one law for all’ as National Party doctrine”.

We are supposed to regard one for all as shameful?

Watkins said Collins’ speech to the National Party

“ … plays on some of those same fears, notably the fear that the Government’s health reforms, including the establishment of a separate Māori health authority, will lead to a two-tier system of governance not just in health, but in education, justice and elsewhere – or ‘one for Māori and one for everyone else’, as Collins put it.

“And like Brash, whose speech tapped into fears about iwi veto powers, Collins has picked out the new Māori health authority’s veto powers as racially divisive.”

But whoa.  Collins’s concerns had been raised by the He Puapua report which looks at how New Zealand can deliver on the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people.

Watkins downplays the report and its influence – or potential influence – on government policy.

She says it includes a potentially contentious debate about self-determination, which Collins is labelling as racially divisive.

“Perhaps that’s why the Government seems to have parked it since it was written in 2019.”

Parked?

But while Labour was in coalition with New Zealand First, it could not go too far with changes of the sort favoured by the authors of the report.

The brakes have been off since the 2020 general election and quickly we have seen ideas set out in  He Puapua – Maori wards and a Maori health agency – turned into action.

Whether citizens feel their democracy is under threat is another matter.

When Wellington’s mayor called for a bit more time for citizens to consider giving voting rights to Maori appointees (an idea never put to citizens for consultation) , his opponents around the council table disparaged him.

His championing the rights of citizens to have some say in a critical change to their system of governance and accountability apparently was contemptible and he subsequently voted in favour.   

Whether the citizens care much is the issue.     

 

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