Protecting our precious democracy: professors tutor PM on governance (and how “Treaty partnership” has been misinterpreted)

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?


How can NZ get the most from immigrants? Teach them te reo and bring the Treaty into policy considerations, report says

If  the government believed   it   would  gain  some profound insights   into immigration  policy  when  it  sought  a  report from  the  Productivity  Commission,  it  may  have  to look  elsewhere.

ACT leader David  Seymour  was one  of  the  first  out of the  blocks  to  give the  report  (and  the  government)  a  whack, saying   the Productivity Commission’s latest report confirms Labour isn’t seriously committed to growing productivity.

The commission has proposed that migrants should learn te reo to gain

“… insights into te ao Māori and tangata whenua […] promote better understanding of New Zealand’s bicultural nature [and] acknowledge the status of te reo as an official language and taonga.”

Seymour said this is a nice-sounding idea, but the purpose of the commission is to lift productivity, not to improve race relations. Continue reading “How can NZ get the most from immigrants? Teach them te reo and bring the Treaty into policy considerations, report says”

Paul Hunt brings the govt to heel on mandatory vaccinations – don’t forget the Treaty and our human rights, he urges

Latest from the Beehive

Business responses to the Government’s announcement on vaccination requirements for workers were supportive.  The Human Rights Commission response was more tentative.

It welcomed the announcement but said human rights and Treaty of Waitangi considerations must be examined.

Back in 1840 the examination of those treaty considerations would not have taken long.  The treaty’s three articles can be read in a matter of minutes and none of those articles mentions vaccines.

Nowadays the examination can be expected to take much longer, keeping a small army of academics, lawyers,  social scientists and what-have-you engaged in earnest deliberations on the need to recognise concepts such as “partnership” and “treaty principles” that politicians and the courts have introduced in recent years.

The government’s announcement essentially was that: Continue reading “Paul Hunt brings the govt to heel on mandatory vaccinations – don’t forget the Treaty and our human rights, he urges”

Check out what is missing from climate reporting law – but Govt has ensured the Treaty plays a part in trade deal with UK

Latest from the Beehive

Press statements and ministerial speeches were flowing into Point of Order’s email in-tray faster than the government’s publicists could post them on the Beehive website this morning. 

The outpouring included news that the parts of Waikato in Alert Level 3 will remain at that alert level till Wednesday.  

More significantly, the PM addressed the nation in Churchillian terms:

 Today I’m speaking directly to all New Zealanders to share a plan that will help us stay safe from COVID-19 into the future.

 A future where we want to continue to protect people’s lives, but also to live our lives – as safely as possible.

This speech was accompanied by other ministerial speeches and announcements dealing with something the PM described as 

 “… the new framework we will use to help us minimise the impact of COVID, and protect ourselves”.

It included an economic support package (especially for supporting Auckland businesses) and a plan (with more money) to accelerate Māori vaccination rates.

Inevitably this did not satisfy the government’s political opponents. Continue reading “Check out what is missing from climate reporting law – but Govt has ensured the Treaty plays a part in trade deal with UK”

Maori Health Authority must engage with “relevant” groups under new Bill – but guess who gets to define “relevant”?

As we expected when we last reported news from the Beehive, Health Minister Andrew Little has introduced his health reform bill to Parliament to abolish the country’s district health boards and centralise the provision of health services.  Most notably, the Bill segregates the country’s health services by establishing a Māori Health Authority and formalising the role of iwi-Māori partnerships.

Compared with the existing legislation, moreover, it significantly expands on the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in health legislation.

There is plenty to digest in the Bill – the Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) Bill –  and your Point of Order team has not thoroughly examined it. But we were fascinated by some of the accountability provisions for the new Māori Health Authority.

This authority must

… have systems in place for the purpose of engaging with Māori in relation to their aspirations and needs for the health system; enabling the responses from that engagement to inform the performance of its functions; and

 “engage with relevant Māori organisations” when—

    • jointly developing the New Zealand Health Plan with Health New Zealand; and
    • advising on the GPS and any health strategy; and 
    • preparing its statement of intent and statement of performance expectations.

A GPS is a Government Policy Statement.

But what is a “relevant” Māori organisation? Continue reading “Maori Health Authority must engage with “relevant” groups under new Bill – but guess who gets to define “relevant”?”

Health researchers measure the benefits of taking precautions – but they stumble when they bring the Treaty into considerations

The headline on a recent press statement from Massey University showed what great things emerge from state-funded research, although it seemed to state the obvious:  New research highlights the benefit of injury prevention measures in Māori households.

Was research really required to find it’s a good thing to take steps to prevent injuries in Maori households – or any household, come to think of it?

Introducing a few common-sense safeguards – you might think – would be good for the wellbeing of householders, regardless of race, in much the same way as we all would benefit from putting on warm clothing when the temperature drops or from looking for oncoming traffic before crossing the road.

Ah – but the research gives us a number:  relatively low-cost modifications in homes can prevent 31 per cent of fall injuries in Maori households.

The cost of the study (if our researchers have tracked down the relevant information) was $786,851.52, a sum which was provided by the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC), the government’s principal funder of health research. Continue reading “Health researchers measure the benefits of taking precautions – but they stumble when they bring the Treaty into considerations”

Brace yourself for the peddling of propaganda and try to relish the experience (because you have paid for it with your taxes)

We weren’t surprised, at Point of Order, to see the scant media attention paid to a statement issued yesterday by ACT leader David Seymour.  

Headed  Government’s questionable media funding, the statement notes how the Government

“… is extending its tentacles into nearly every area of media with an offer too good to refuse for each outlet, and it has rapidly reached absurdity with taxpayer money spent on journalism to check on Government expenditure of taxpayer money”.

The statement was triggered by the announcement of the first tranche of the government’s $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund.

As RNZ’s Mediawatch reported,  Māori journalism projects and a new training initiative are the major beneficiaries of the first $10m, but some of the money goes to things already funded from the public purse.

Mediawatch further noted

“… this is the biggest single public investment in journalism for decades and takes the total annual spend on media to over $300m. (There’s another $20m up his sleeve if Cabinet thinks the media need that too.)  

“Media companies big and small, local and national, public and private alike can all apply to the fund – including those which have never had public money before.”

Oh – but let’s not forget the need for recipients of this lolly to push a highly political ideological barrow:

Guidelines issued in April also said the fund ‘must actively promote the principles of Partnership, Participation and Active Protection under Te Tiriti o Waitangi’.”  Continue reading “Brace yourself for the peddling of propaganda and try to relish the experience (because you have paid for it with your taxes)”

A question about the $55m media fund made Ardern laugh… but not for long


This article was written for The Democracy Project by Graham Adams, a journalist, columnist and reviewer who has written for many of the country’s media outlets including Metro, North & South, Noted, The Spinoff and Newsroom.


Surprisingly for a Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson is an ebullient, jolly sort of fellow and it is not unusual for him to barrack from his seat next to the Prime Minister in Parliament to support her.

This week, Judith Collins had barely finished putting a question to Jacinda Ardern about media funding when he guffawed derisively.

Collins asked:

What does she say to people who are concerned that her $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund — which includes numerous criteria for media to adhere to — is influencing the editorial decisions of media outlets in New Zealand?”

The Prime Minister — perhaps encouraged by her deputy’s derision — rose from her seat to reply.

“Mr Speaker,” she declaimed emphatically, “I would abso-loot-ely reject that!”

With Robertson continuing to chortle at the ridiculousness of Collins’ question, Ardern was emboldened.

“But, better yet, Mr Speaker,” she said, grinning broadly and stifling a laugh: “I would put the question to the media and ask whether they agree with that sentiment.”

Despite the Prime Minister’s obvious glee and that of her colleagues, this was an exceedingly stupid retort. Presumably she is not acquainted with Mandy Rice-Davies’ contribution to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations as a result of the Profumo scandal in 1960s Britain. When legal counsel pointed out that a peer had denied having had an affair with her or even having met her, Rice-Davies uttered the immortal line:

“Well he would [say that], wouldn’t he?” Continue reading “A question about the $55m media fund made Ardern laugh… but not for long”

Waititi is championing a Treaty-based system of government – and we shouldn’t be surprised that democracy is not the objective

Democracy means government by the people, or a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.

It is a state of society characterised by formal equality of rights and privileges.

And (in this definition, at least) it features 

 … the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges

Right there we can see why democracy might be problematic for Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi, who would have surprised nobody when he outlined his vision for a ‘tiriti-centric Aotearoa’ where the majority doesn’t rule over Māori

In other words, he wants Maori to be politically privileged.   

When he said this, he drew attention to a reality which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her ministers won’t publicly acknowledge – that our democracy is being gradually debilitated by measures her government (and its predecessors) have introduced or may introduce, depending on the outcome of consultations with some “key” Maori tribes on the controversial governance proposals promoted in the He Puapua document.

This is a so-called “independent” report into how New Zealand could fulfil its obligations to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which the country signed up to in 2010. Continue reading “Waititi is championing a Treaty-based system of government – and we shouldn’t be surprised that democracy is not the objective”

The dangers of putting media on the government’s payroll

Accusations by Stuff journalist Andrea Vance that the Prime Minister leads an unusually secretive government don’t tell the whole story about its desire to control information, says Graham Adams.

He has taken a closer look at the guidelines for the new $55 million journalism fund in an article for the Democracy Project

He writes:

Despite widespread cynicism about the Government’s ability to fulfil its promises — whether it is KiwiBuild, light rail along Dominion Rd, or planting a billion trees —  journalist Andrea Vance still found enough fresh outrage last week to launch a blistering attack over a pledge Jacinda Ardern made in 2017 to lead “a more open and democratic society” that would “strengthen transparency around official information”.

In fact, Ardern’s lack of transparency was on show very early in her prime ministership. Shortly after the 2017 election, she refused to release notes from the coalition negotiations between Labour and NZ First — leading one journalist to opine:

“A month seems early for a new government to dash hopes of a fresh start yet Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s team seems determined to break the speed record when it comes to disregard for public transparency.”

From Vance’s standpoint as a journalist, little seems to have improved since then.

The damning conclusion she arrived at after citing delays in responses to Official Information Act requests and ministers’ refusals to be interviewed was:

“At every level, the government manipulates the flow of information.”

It’s not difficult to find other instances of the Government denying access to important information in addition to those Vance mentioned — not least its record of obfuscation over significant details of its Covid-19 management and vaccination programme.

Examples of the kind Vance offered of the government hiding or distorting important information are the most obvious form of political censorship. There is, however, another form of political censorship which can be even more insidious — that is, attempting to impose narratives which suit the government’s purposes and thereby crowd out competing views. Continue reading “The dangers of putting media on the government’s payroll”