Dame Anne Salmond, a Distinguished Professor in anthropology at the University of Auckland and 2013 New Zealander of the Year, had good advice for the Ardern government in an article on the Three Waters plan and The Treaty.
She was writing about the comprehensive Three Waters reform and the manner in which it is being imposed on local authorities, making nonsense of any notion they and the citizenry are being consulted.
This must be an opportunity for listening, not for a government imposing its view of water as ‘assets’, she urged in an article which concluded:
“In dealing with the Three Waters debate, the Sixth Labour Government should learn from the mistakes of the Fourth, and not try to operate by executive fiat.
“Democracy is too precious to be set aside, even by those with the best of intentions; and waterways are not ‘assets,’ but the lifeblood of the land.”
A fellow academic, Elizabeth Rata, has expressed concerns, too, about governance and the country’s constitution in an article for The Democracy Project.
Professor Rata, a sociologist of education in the School of Critical Studies, Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland and Director of the Knowledge in Education Research Unit, wrote that the debate triggered by the He Puapua report showed New Zealanders are at a constitutionally critical crossroads.
“We will have to decide whether we want our future to be that of an ethno-nationalist state or a democratic-nationalist one.”
Ethno-nationalism (Rata explained) is based on racial classification and the belief that our fundamental identity – personal, social and political – is rooted in our ancestry.
Under that system the past determines the future. Identity, too, is fixed in that past.
Democratic-nationalism has one political category – that of citizenship – justified by the shared belief in a universal human identity.
Then we found Graham Adams, a journalist, columnist and reviewer who writes for The Democracy Project and for this blog, was advising the PM and her government against edging the country towards ethno-nationalism.
As voters become more aware of the stealthy implementation of a Māori separatist agenda, he contends, the political risks for the government will rise sharply.
He is supposing – of course – that she can’t move fast enough to replace our democracy with Treaty-based constitutional and governance arrangements before the next general election.
But a year ago she mentioned her aim for “foundational change” which Adams argues is being effected through the steady remaking of the nation’s constitutional arrangements via a radical interpretation of the Treaty as a 50:50 partnership.
The two professors have pertinent points to make about this partnership.
Salmond says the logic underpinning ‘Three Waters’ seems to hark back to the 1980s, when both central government and the courts ran roughshod over democratic conventions.
“From 1984 onward, inspired by neo-liberal ideology, the Fourth Labour Government radically restructured key institutions – government departments, schools, universities, crown research institutes, hospitals and the like – as businesses run along corporate lines, rather than as public services.
“In the 1987 ‘Lands’ case, provoked by the creation of ‘State Owned Enterprises’ and a debate over the ownership of ‘assets,’ the Court of Appeal effectively rewrote Te Tiriti. Setting aside the original text, the judges ruled that Te Tiriti established a ‘partnership between two races’ based on ‘fiduciary’ principles, not unlike a business partnership.
“The logic of Three Waters governance seems to arise from this neo-liberal rewriting of Te Tiriti, rather than the original agreement itself. In Te Tiriti, there is no mention of ‘races,’ or ‘partnership,’ or ‘fiduciary principles.’ It speaks of taonga, not ‘assets.’
“The text of Te Tiriti describes a network of relationships among Queen Victoria, the Governor, the rangatira, the hapū and ordinary people based on chiefly gift exchange, and a promise of absolute equality between settlers and maori (which meant ‘ordinary,’ at that time) and their tikanga.”
Salmond insists the 1980s rewriting of Te Tiriti is overdue for critical examination
“… and this time it should involve all parties to the original agreement, including ordinary citizens, both Māori and non-Māori.
“Open debate is the key to good governance, on the marae as in a healthy democracy.”
Rata draws attention to the pace of the politicisation of ethnicity and to the He Puapua report’s championing of ethno-nationalism. She asks:
“Why has this racial ideology become so accepted in a nation which prides itself on identifying and rejecting racism?”
In answering that question, she brings the role played by a politically potent judiciary into the picture:
“Apart from the success of culturalist intellectuals in muddying the waters between inclusive and exclusive biculturalism, activist judges have played a significant role. New Zealand’s democratic system is based on political decisions made by elected representatives who are accountable to the people.
“The judiciary is required to interpret laws made by politicians. However, the Court of Appeal’s 1987 reference to the Treaty of Waitangi as ‘akin to a partnership’ set in motion the development of principles for such a partnership and for their inclusion in legislation.
“From this time, judicial activism in Treaty matters has influenced political decisions.”
Rata notes that the He Puapua report unquestioningly accepts and promotes an activist role for the judiciary.
“Its writers suggest that the co-governance structure would require a Tiriti body or court to regulate jurisdictional boundaries between the respective governance entities’.”
Adams’ focus is on the co-governance arrangements that increasingly flow from the Ardern government’s pernicious promotion of the dogma of “partnership”.
He seems confident there are limits to how far the government can go with its programme of foundational change.
“Unfortunately for those pushing determinedly but quietly for Māori co-governance to be established in many spheres of New Zealand’s national life — including in the conservation estate, local government, the health and education sectors, water infrastructure, and the Resource Management Act — the headwinds are getting stronger and heavier.”
Adams cites opposition to the iwi roadblocks in Northland fronted by former MP Hone Harawira (made legal by a late change to Covid legislation) and to Three Waters (so vociferous that Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has delayed introducing the enabling legislation from December to the end of March to give her time to soothe the anger of voters and councils).
He then brings the science controversy into considerations – the debate triggered by proposals to give matauranga Māori equal status with physics, biology and chemistry in the NCEA science syllabus – and explains:
“What voters have not been told clearly is that these three seemingly unrelated events — road blocks (as an expression of rangatiratanga over traditional territories); iwi co-governance in Three Waters; and giving matauranga Māori parity with science in the education system — are all part of an overarching programme to implement a radical view of the Treaty.
“Call it a strange coincidence if you like but all three were foreshadowed clearly in the revolutionary document He Puapua that was presented to Nanaia Mahuta in November 2019 but kept from the public (and Winston Peters as Deputy Prime Minister) until after the 2020 election.”
Adams recognises that most voters are unaware the co-governance model outlined in that revolutionary document is being steadily implemented in a wide array of domains.
But he senses voters are starting to have their suspicions – alerted, for example, by the revelation in November that Cabinet had agreed in July that Three Waters would be compulsory.
“Now it is clear that opting out of a programme that would transfer ratepayers’ assets to four regional entities — and share governance equally with iwi — had never been a real possibility since at least July.”
Moreover, Health Minister Andrew Little is pushing ahead with the overhaul of our health system at a cost of $486 million, in the middle of a pandemic, when our hospitals are short of ICU beds and the nurses to staff them.
An integral part of the reforms will be setting up a Māori Health Authority as an independent statutory entity (an idea recommended in He Puapua). This will enable the Maori representatives of 16 per cent of the population to wrangle on an equal footing with Health New Zealand, which will represent the other 84 per cent of citizens, and with the right to refuse to agree to any proposal.
Adams concludes with observations that echo Rata’s concerns about the country’s being edged towards ethno-nationalism:
“As opposition to Three Waters continues to flare, the question of whether the public wants to venture further down the path towards an ethno-nationalist state or fight to retain a democratic-nationalist one is set to inflame political passions and debate this year.
“Ardern may decide she can ride out the storm by jettisoning some of the separatist agenda. However, whether such a tactical retreat would now steady the ship of state is an open question.
“There is a real and growing risk that this year even bigger waves of opposition to Ardern’s co-governance agenda will swamp her administration and she will be swept overboard at 2023’s election.”
Democrats will hope he is right.
But when will the National Party declare its position on the choice between Treaty partnerships and Democracy?