Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

< Columns

Maori Push for Parallel Government Structures


If you think there is a move afoot by the radical Maori fringe of New Zealand society to create a parallel system of government to the one that we elect at our triennial elections, you aren't wrong. Over the last few days we have seen calls from one or two Iwi for prior consultation with Maori before ministers submit suggestions to the fast-track consenting panel of experts who are to make recommendations back to government on how to proceed with projects caught up in the toils of our out-of-date Resource Management Act. Various loud assertions about "partnership" and Treaty rights have been made to justify Maori having separate entitlements to everyone else.

In another breath, the same radicals who are grossly over-represented on the Waitangi Tribunal, are acting like a court and trying to summon Children's Minister, Karen Chhour, to answer for government policy and legislative proposals regarding Oranga Tamariki. The Waitangi Tribunal is NOT a court. It is what is known as a "quasi-judicial body" with only limited powers to summon people. Unlike our court system it has almost no power to bind governments with its findings. In the hands of the current chairperson, Caren Fox, and a cohort of Tribunal members, almost all of them radical Maori, there is a move to get rid of the word "quasi-judicial" and give a body which conspicuously lacks legal skills, the full powers of a court.

On Saturday, with the help of the Herald's usually reliable political reporter, Thomas Coughlan, the Prime Minister played into the Tribunal's hands when he suggested that criticism of the Tribunal from two Maori ministers, David Seymour and Shane Jones, breached the Cabinet Manual. It stipulates that ministers should refrain from "criticising the judiciary". The fact that the Tribunal is not a court was unknown, it seems, both to Coughlan and to Christopher Luxon. Caren Fox will be over the moon. She's looking for work. Recently she was brooding about future projects likely to be undertaken by the Waitangi Tribunal, including drafting a new constitution. Can you imagine anything scarier than a constitution drawn up by that unrepresentative woke assemblage?

Behind the thrust for a parallel system of government is a completely fallacious interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi. If you go to "Waitangi Tribunal" on your computer and scroll down, you will soon come to a claim that Maori did not cede sovereignty to the Queen in 1840, despite what reputable translations of the Maori version of the Treaty actually say. Professor Sir Hugh Kawharu who was from Ngati Whatua, and head of Maori Studies at the University of Auckland, translated the Maori version of the Treaty with the words "The Chiefs of the Confederation give absolutely to the Queen of England for ever the complete government over their land." That translation was accepted by the government in which I served, and was endorsed in the late 1980s by the Maori Queen and by Sir Paul Reeves, the two Maori patrons of the 1990 Commission which celebrated 150 years of living with the Treaty. It was accepted by the Waitangi Tribunal during my ten years as a member.

But a tiny collection of Maori radicals in our modern universities and on today's Waitangi Tribunal, despite Sir Hugh Kawharu's erudite translation, refuse to concede that Maori ceded sovereignty to the Crown. And, having contrived confusion around what Article One of the Treaty really says, and claiming that sovereignty still rests with Maori, they are now pushing for a parallel system of government. Their translation of the Treaty is nonsense that no respectable academic or government has ever accepted. But the media are always willing to report loud claims and are correspondingly too lazy to read anything substantial about the Treaty. I doubt there is a journalist around who remembers Sir Hugh Kawharu or who would know where to find his translation, let alone be bothered disputing any of the absurd arguments about a parallel constitutional system that the tiny number of radicals are trying to build on their foundation of sand.

It is probably impossible ever to eradicate phoney debate about the Treaty and what it says. But until all governments make it crystal clear that they accept that sovereignty was ceded to Queen Victoria; that the governments that have followed since 1840 were legitimate; and that the best interests of Maori are also served by Articles Two and Three which safeguard Maori land and treasures, and guarantee Maori equality with everyone else in New Zealand, then division and constitutional nonsense will continue to stalk our land.

One good way of lowering the temperature would be to abolish the Waitangi Tribunal. Set up in 1975, when there were very few Maori in Parliament, it was largely intended as a safeguard for their interests, and a guarantee of their voice. Today, Parliament contains a huge number of Maori, miles more than their 17% of the population warrants. They are in all parties and have seven seats designated specially for Maori. Together, they can be relied on to defend Maori interests.

Our traditional system of democracy has proven itself capable of looking after all New Zealand's ethnicities. A decade ago after historical claims had ended, the then National Minister of Treaty Negotiations seriously considered abolishing the Waitangi Tribunal. Today, at a time when we are being asked to rid ourselves of unnecessary expenditure, waving good bye to Caren Fox and her colleagues who are wasting scarce taxpayer funds would make a significant contribution to progress.