Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – answering questions in Parliament on Tuesday – ominously reinforced impressions she believes the Treaty of Waitangi entitles some New Zealanders to more political rights than others.
The entitlement of tribal leaders to appoint their own representatives to local authorities rather than stand for election, for example.
She was asked if she stood by her statement at Waitangi in 2019 that “Equality is our foundation”, and, if so, did she believe that our constitutional foundation should be equal political rights for all New Zealanders?
As Hansard records, she opted to address only part of the question:
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: In answer to the first part of the question, yes.
The questions were asked by ACT leader David Seymour, who has called for a public referendum on co-governance decision-making arrangements between Māori and the Crown.
In a speech to the Milford Rotary Club last week, he cited He Puapua, Three Waters and the Māori Health Authority as examples of co-governance principles being wrongly applied.
Presumably he hoped his questions in Parliament would flush out Ardern’s thinking on democracy, co-governance, the Treaty of Waitangi and so on.
Does she stand by her Government’s policy of co-governance for three waters infrastructure, and, if so, can she explain how being appointed based on ancestry makes people better at managing infrastructure than if they are elected by the users of the service?
“Yes” or “no” would have done the trick.
An elaboration would have been a bonus.
The PM deftly evaded the key points at issue:
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: There are a number of areas where, of course, we work alongside Māori on the basis of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. If the member wishes to distil down his views in Te Tiriti into the way that he just described, that’s a matter for him.
I am happy, though, to respond to the general question around how we’ve come to the governance arrangements we have for three waters. This is an issue that we are tackling as a Government, not because it was top on anyone’s agenda in this House but because we have to face the brutal fact that, in New Zealand, thousands of New Zealanders get sick from their drinking water every single year—the fact that just last week, when I visited Tokomaru Bay, there are people there who had no access to water because of a severe weather event.
They’re now on a boil notice. That happens for some New Zealanders every day of the week. It is not acceptable, so we need change.
In making that change and developing entities across the country that will have the role of maintaining public ownership of our critical water assets but ensuring that we have regional representation, we’ve put forward a proposal that that regional representation consist of mana whenua, as happens in local government every day, alongside local authority representatives.
I would point out to the member that recently, when we went to a group of local government representatives to ask them for their views on those arrangements, they came back in support of the regional representative group structure we had proposed.
This tells us the government is determined to ensure New Zealanders are provided with clean water.
We remain unenlightened about how Crown:iwi structures will make water cleaner or about the aptitude for governance bestowed by ancestry .
The Speaker nevertheless did not require the PM to provide the answers sought.
David Seymour: Point of order. It was actually a very simple question about how the composition of governance bodies for three waters would improve the performance and outcomes of infrastructure management. Now, the Minister described a whole lot of features of the policy, but she never came close to addressing that actual question.
SPEAKER: I think she did address the question.
Seymour took another tack, to winkle out the PM’s thinking about legislation that will enable Ngai Tahu to appoint representatives to the Canterbury Regional Council.
Ngai Tahu and – curiously – the elected council want to short-circuit the need for Ngai Tahu tribal bosses or their representatives to stand for election and pitch for support as every other council aspirant must do.
David Seymour: Does the Prime Minister stand by her Government’s policy of having Ngāi Tahu appoint two councillors to Environment Canterbury alongside democratically elected councillors, and, if so, can she explain how that policy will deliver better air and water quality for the people of Canterbury?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: If the member wishes to speak to the arrangements that actually exist across the board in many areas of local government, including currently on some of the water issues down south or even maunga management up north, the member takes issue with that.
He may wish to reflect on his role in the time that National was in Government, where many of those arrangements were established.
What I would be interested in is actually: if the member could articulate what it is that has been generated by those groups and those arrangements that the member finds particularly problematic; what is it about local government actually acknowledging that, to date, we haven’t had fair representation of Māori in local government; and what it is about the changes that have come into place that the member finds particularly problematic?
Let’s discuss the issue, rather than what I’m worried about is just blatant politicisation.
Then came a question about whether we can have democracy if we adopt a system of government and governance shaped by Labour’s ideological view of what the Treaty of Waitangi requires it to do.
David Seymour: Does she agree with this statement, “All political authority comes from the people by democratic means including universal suffrage, regular and free elections with a secret ballot.”, and, if so, how is that consistent with more and more governance roles being appointed along ethnic lines instead of elected?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, I support the longstanding principles of democracy in this nation, but the idea that that cannot sit alongside Te Tiriti o Waitangi, I take issue with that. We are more sophisticated than that, surely, than to take such a simplistic view.
She should have a chat with Maori Party leaders about this belief.
But for now, let’s move on.
David Seymour: Does she see any distinction between co-governance arrangements for specific taonga returned through Treaty settlements, such as the arrangements for Auckland’s maunga, on the one hand, and co-governance of entities that did not exist in 1840, such as public healthcare systems and three waters infrastructure, on the other, or is co-governance now a wholesale policy, regardless of that distinction?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Perhaps we should come at it from a different angle from the member. We have not, since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, had the Māori Health Authority. Yet what we have had is a national health system that has generated an outcome where Māori die younger than other New Zealanders and where Māori have worse health outcomes, for instance, in cancer care and treatment for every cancer there is other than melanoma. It is not right in this country that because you’re Māori, you are often sicker and you have poorer treatment in our health system. So we are responding to that, yes, with an entity that didn’t exist before, because this is a problem that has existed because we have not confronted it as we should.
It could be argued, of course, that (a) we established a liberal democracy a decade or so after the signing of the treaty and (b) Maori have had worse outcomes than others in many sets of social statistics.
Does this mean the government should respond with constitutional arrangements that didn’t exist before…?