The PM pops up in a summit for “democracy” – but we wonder if she grasps her dilemma when she also favours “partnership”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – we were heartened to learn – has participated in the Summit for Democracy, hosted by United States President Joe Biden.

This was a “virtual” summit and (it so happens) “virtual” means “almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition”.

This fairly well describes this country’s democracy under a government which is tempted to make “democracy” subordinate to Treaty” considerations.  

In  a guest post earlier this year, political commentator Barrie Saunders cautioned: 

At present New Zealand has a quality democracy.   We have fairly-drawn electorates, an easy voting system, and a reasonable level of political literacy.  Money struggles to buy Government policy, which is all as it should be. 

However, we have no reason to be smug, because this democracy is under threat. Governments since 1987 and the Courts have been entrenching a modern view that the Treaty of Waitangi means there is an ongoing “partnership between the Government and Iwi”.

The post was headlined:  Democracy or partnership – which do we want, because we can’t have both?

The PM – for now – is wanting a bob each way.

Her press statement says she delivered New Zealand’s national statement to the Summit for Democracy, which focused on the challenges and opportunities facing democracies.

“As one of the oldest democracies in the world New Zealand will always protect and defend the principles of democracy, pluralism, and partnership, underpinned by human rights and the rule of law, because they form our identity as a nation.”

The Maori Party’s Rawiri Waititi could tell her something has to give  (and he would sacrifice the “democracy” bit of the arrangement):      

“We need to start looking at how Maori can participate more equally and equitably in that particular space in a tiriti-centric Aotearoa. Not in a democracy, because… democracy is majority rules, and indigenous peoples – especially Maori at 16 percent of the population in this country – will lose out, and we’ll sit in second-place again.”

But on the occasion of the Biden forum, the PM’s focus was on the democracy side of the constitutional dilemma she must resolve.  She said: 

“We need to continue facing the challenges of our time, such as COVID-19 and climate change, in a way that reflects our democratic strengths – the inclusivity of societies, preserving the value of a diversity of voices and building enduring institutions and cooperative approaches which help solve challenges and address needs.”

Having discovered the PM’s statement on democracy during our daily monitoring of the Beehive website, Point of Order checked out some newspapers and blogs and – what splendid timing! – we came across a troubling commentary (for democrats) on the future of local government and local democracy in NZ.

One idea of this future can be found in Arewa ake te Kaupapa. This translates as “raising the platform”, a title which thoroughly obscures the critical governance issues discussed in the  interim report of the team undertaking the Future for Local Government Review for Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

This  ministerial review was established in April this year

“… to consider how New Zealand’s system of local democracy and governance will need to evolve over the next 30 years, in order to improve the wellbeing of New Zealanders, and actively embody the Treaty partnership”.

For what it’s worth, we found 24 mentions of “democracy” and 34 mentions of “partnership” in the text, which is a useful guide to the ideological thrust.

 One interesting bit of the report tells us:

Under current laws, local government is not regarded as a partner in the Treaty relationship.

The report’s authors are intent on changing things:

Yet local authorities are creatures of statute, and, in many respects, they act on behalf of central government. During our early engagement, some iwi representatives told us that they see central and local government as “one and the same”, especially when they are carrying out delegated functions.

The Waitangi Tribunal has found that any statute that devolves powers or functions to local authorities must impose clear Treaty obligations and ensure that those obligations are met. 

Michael Bassett, a historian, a Minister in the Fourth Labour Government and former member of the Waitangi Tribunal (who blogs HERE) has posted an article headed Another Maori Power Grab.   

He says the report on local government leads the reader eventually to the real purpose of the report: more power for Maori through a restructuring of local government to “create conditions for shared prosperity and wellbeing” for Maori.  

Why the need for local government change right now?

You might well ask, Bassett retorts.  

He recalls that in 1989 the Fourth Labour Government reduced 817 small units of local and special purpose government to a more realistic set numbering 78 today.

In 2002 the Fifth Labour Government fine-tuned some of the legislative details and requirements.

And now:   

One struggles through this interim report to discover why the Sixth Labour Government needs more changes. In thirty pages of platitudes, interspersed with the occasional untranslated Maori word, the authors argue that current local authorities aren’t contributing enough towards the “wellbeing of their communities” and that prosperity isn’t being “shared equitably among New Zealand communities”, that is, Maori. We are told that major – but as yet largely unspecified – changes are needed to our local authorities’ structures and powers.

Bassett notes references in the report to the Treaty of Waitangi being a “partnership” without acknowledging Article 1 of the Treaty, where the chiefs gave “absolutely to the Queen for ever the complete government over their land”.

These days the Treaty is said to contain obligations that were never in the document.  

Bassett further notes that the report says  Maori in recent years have been doing well under existing legislation, settling historical claims and increasing their representation in local government.

Which immediately raises the question: why fix it if it ain’t broke?

Because, we are told, “current statutory and institutional arrangements do not provide for adequate Maori representation or input into decision-making, or for sufficient protection of Maori rights, interests, and wellbeing”. The same could be said of course about Pacific Islanders’ interests, and those of Asians who now number as many amongst the Kiwi population as Maori. But Mahuta and her carefully chosen review panel of Jim Palmer, Penny Hulse, Gael Surgenor, Antoine Coffin and Brendan Boyle seem not to care a fig about any of them.

The underlying problem with this report for Bassett is how it deals with democracy (the very thing Ardern was promoting during her virtual forum).

A key element of democracy is one person, one vote.

Maori with only 17% of the population can’t conjure up a majority to run every aspect of New Zealand life.

And even if they could, they can never produce equal outcomes in life for everyone. People behave differently; some are careful with their bodies, others are careless. Some smoke and drink too much, or engage with drugs or other risky behaviour. Luck doesn’t favour everyone; besides, DNA in our make-up can vary enormously. No change to the health or local government systems can guarantee equal outcomes for Maori, or for anyone else.

 Bassett concludes with a rundown on the politics    

With both the Labour caucus and the cabinet over-represented with Maori, plus Labour’s unprecedented MMP parliamentary majority (at least for now), Nanaia Nanaia has convinced her colleagues to bring forward all their racist legislation while there is time.

They can be confident a National Party in government is unlikely to wind anything back.

If 17% of Kiwis can be given the powers of 51% because of their ancestry, they will run the country for ever,Bassett warns. 

While Point of Order was preparing this article, another Beehive statement arrived.  

Conservation Minister Kiri Allan announced a review of the Wildlife Act 1953 and conservation law.

She mentioned a recent Environmental Defence Society report on conservation law issues, which

“… points out that the conservation planning and management system is not effective, our legislation does not adequately protect species, and that it does not support a true Tiriti partnership”.

The Māori-Crown partnership in conservation needs to be reset, she said.

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4 thoughts on “The PM pops up in a summit for “democracy” – but we wonder if she grasps her dilemma when she also favours “partnership”

  1. New Zealand’s democracy is under threat. In 2020 COVID-panicked voters cleared the way for a dictatorship and Labour’s substantial Maori caucus are making the most of it. When 15 or so percent of the population have a veto over the needs and aspirations of the remaining 85 percent as in the Pae Ora (Maori Health) bill now before Parliament, democracy, and all the things that go with it including accountability, is dead.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. I see this not as a Maori power grab but a tribal power grab. Handing over political power to tribes, run’s every risk of sending the country back to where tribes belong, in the dim and distant past.
    Three waters, northland checkpoints etc are this tribal power grab in action. Water problems and covid are the excuse, but not the reasons.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. This PM would be the most two faced ever. Rabbiting on about democracy while introducing separatism with vaccination mandates, introducing legislation legalising apartheid with the health reforms and usurping the monarchy by planning to hand back sovereignty to maori via He Puapua.
    She obviously does not know what democracy means.


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