by John Robinson

There is a move afoot to rewrite the basic constitution of New Zealand, unsurprisingly to set in place racism and apartheid.

A meeting has been organised at The University of Auckland’s Business School this month to develop a new constitution.  This is announced as a ‘Constitutional Conference Korero’, a national hui “to provide the technical and legal support for constitutional transformation in Aotearoa New Zealand — a ‘national wananga’ to bring together experts from around the world and within Aotearoa to present arguments and options for constitutional transformation to ‘realise Maori rights’.

This is a minority effort, excluding the majority of New Zealanders.  It will cause considerable harm and deepen existing divisions between the two racial categories enshrined in existing law, overturning the belief in equality and implicit refusal of race-based separation.  The country will be torn apart, as the process of writing a constitution is among the most wrenching any nation can go through, even a nation at peace.  It brings every tension, rivalry, prejudice and latent grievance to the surface.

New Zealand is already divided, and is moving more deeply into a system of apartheid.  This division by race, into Maori and all the others, with separate rights and powers, is already firmly established.  

Government policy is now for ‘co-governance’.  Two separate governments are being developed, which would then govern the country by an unequal ‘partnership’.  That intention was clearly set down in the He Puapua report to government, which I discussed in my 2021 book, He Puapua: Blueprint for breaking up New Zealand, which was followed by a further consideration of the worsening situation in my 2022 book, Regaining a nation: equality and democracy.

The requirement for separate systems of government has been made clear in the “Three Waters” proposal, to take the control of drinking water, sewage and waste water from local bodies and hand this to four imaginative regional structures, ‘entities’, which will be governed through an absurd, complicated structure.  At the base are four regional authorities, where, to quote the proposed Bill, “Iwi/Maori will have a joint role with councils in the oversight and strategic direction of the proposed new water services entities, with mana whenua having equal representation alongside local authorities on a Regional Representative Group for each entity.”

What does this mean?  The government is currently passing a bill demanding plain speech, requiring that words in English must have a clear meaning, understood by all.  It is made clear there that “only documents in English must use plain language”, while “nothing prevents or restricts a reporting agency from including te reo Maori in any relevant document” – with no requirement for plain, clear and understandable language when Maori is used.

Is this grouping, which stands apart from the democratically elected councils, to be all Maori?  Will it be all iwi, every tribe?  Or will it be the selected iwi of mana whenua, the dominant few tribes (iwi) in each local region, which in Kapiti where I live is 40% of Maori?  All three words, with their three very different meanings, are used in the legislation as if they interchangeable, which they are not.  How many New Zealanders understand what is proposed here?  Does the government have any idea of what they are proposing?  It is deliberately ambiguous.

This system would disenfranchise (take away a meaningful vote from) non-Maori, as their representatives can be overruled by Maori, who have this second form of representation, added to their vote on the local council.

This system would disenfranchise many Maori, often a majority, who are not tangata whenua and would play no part.

This system would disenfranchise many of the chosen few, the tangata whenua, who play little or no part in the power structure of traditional Maori tribalism, which gives control to chiefs (rangatira), mostly based on accident of birth (ancestry). with no effective say to commoners.  Maori society was not democratic, and nor is the modern version.

This is the handing over power of power and national governance to a tribal elite.  And they are directed by the current government to form an alternative government structure, in order to provide a governance structure for the choice of the representatives required by that law.

That would be a further step along the path of partnership, of co-governance, the setting up of two very unequal parliaments based on race, as proposed in the He Puapua report to government.  This was a shocking, unbelievable, idea in 2021 but is, in 2022, today’s reality.

The next step is the formalisation of a dual parliament system. as was suggested in He Puapua, and which is being developed in the November, 2022, Constitutional Conference Korero, which they say “will design a constitutional transformation to realise Maori rights in te Tiriti o WaitangiHe Whakaputanga and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”.

Those three documents referred to here are to form the basis of a “constitutional transformation” which would define the future government system for all New Zealanders.  They deserve attention; we must, all, understand the very foundation of the proposed dual government.

The Treaty of Waitangi in Maori, te Tiriti o Waitangi, is the translation into Maori (te reo) of the final draft in English.  It has been reinterpreted to carry meanings that are the very opposite of the original; indeed, there are many versions, with the meaning at any one time being chosen to give rights and rewards to Maori litigants.

  • The final draft of the treaty, prepared in the days preceding the acceptance and signing at Waitangi on 6 February, 1840, is clear.  By Article 1, sovereignty was handed over to the British Crown.  By Article 2, Maori retained all their possessions until they had been legitimately sold.  By Article 3, all New Zealanders gained the rights and privileges of British citizenship.  This was a clear statement of equality.
  • A second draft was prepared by Hobson’s secretary, James Freeman, while Hobson was ill in the days following that signing, and is now referred to by the Government as the “English Treaty”, in a claim that there are two very different treaties.  As was recognised by Maori scholar and parliamentarian Apirana Ngata in 1922, this is quite different from the final draft in English.  Most importantly, one word, “fisheries”, introduced by Freeman and not in the original, has been used to justify the handing over to Maori of considerable rights to territorial waters.
  • There have been various modern translations of the Maori text back into English where the meanings of words differ considerably from the understanding of 1840 and the translations around that time.  One, by Maori chief Hugh Kawharu, replaces the initial meaning of taonga – as defined by Hongi Hika in 1820, property taken at the point of a spear (tao, a spear) – with a vague and all-inclusive “treasures”, which allows Maori to lay claim to anything and everything.
  • Concepts of “partnership” and “Treaty principles” have been invented and entered into law.  Neither is found in the initial Treaty.
  • The Waitangi Tribunal and the courts have further ruled that the words of the Treaty are to be ignored: “the essence of the Treaty transcends the sum total of its written words and puts narrow or literal interpretation out of place. …  It is the principles of the Treaty that are to be applied, not the literal words. … the principles that underlie the Treaty have become much more important than its precise term.”
  • Now a modern, rewritten, version of Maori culture, of matauranga Maori and tikanga, has also been written into law.  This tikanga is nothing like the pre-Treaty way of life, with, thankfully, no brutal tribal warfare, cannibalism, slavery or absolute rule of chiefs.  Current tikanga has a mix of basic Christianity and elements of Maori thinking, chosen to produce a pleasing view of early Maori life and to assist the dominance of tribal elite.  It is a newly-minted construct.

All is confusion, which is acceptable to this government – it has been noted above that Maori is exempt from a recent government call for plain language.  Indeed, a recent legal decision gives a Maori litigant the right to define key words in whatever way suits their cause.  The original Treaty has been shredded, and the variety of modern versions destroy the intended unity and equality, to now become a call for two governments based on race – apartheid.

The second document claimed as a basis of a new constitution, He Whakaputanga, was drafted in English in 1835 by the British Resident, James Busby, who gave it the heading, “Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand”.  It announced the intention of calling up a Congress of tribes from across the country and setting up a national government of “The United Tribes of New Zealand”.  Neither the northern chiefs who met to sign the letter nor Busby organised such a congress; it did not happen.  This document states an intention by one group of chiefs, guided and assisted by the British resident.  This was not done and the proposed united tribes government never existed.

The third document is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The Clark Labour government voted against and refused to sign this declaration, but the National Key government bowed down to their Maori Party allies and secretly signed it – without any debate in Parliament.  This document has been used as a basis of both the proposition for separate governments in the He Puapua report, and the current Labour Ardern government policy of co-governance.

The text identifies “indigenous” people as a special group who must be given considerable separate rights, indeed complete control of a country on the basis of previous settlement by their ancestors.  Here are a couple of the claims.

“Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.”  

Any common ownership and use of beaches and seas is refuted in the Declaration.  “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.”  

“Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and develop their political, economic and social systems or institutions. … Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination.  By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. … Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.”  

These are sweeping claims for descendants of selected past settlers to have complete control over the entire nation and run the country in the old ways.  Others then lose those rights and become second-rate citizens.

This document is illogical and contradictory.  The introduction to the Declaration sets down a powerful rebuttal of inherent differences between peoples, and of the sweeping claims for descendants of past settlers to have complete control over the entire nation.  It demands that the racist divisions proposed in the body of the declaration be set aside.  Here it is, with its emphasis on the first principle of the United Nations, that all people are born equal.

“Affirming further that all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust”.  

That statement is a powerful rebuttal of the concept of division by race which is the basis of the proposal for co-governance and a constitutional transformation to realise separate and unequal Maori rights.

This proposition of a newly-minted constitution, with special Maori rights, is a mass of contradiction and confusion.  The claim that the transformed constitution will benefit all New Zealanders, made in the introduction to the conference, is a downright lie.  It is not to our benefit, the majority of non-Maori, to lose our democracy and equality to an extremist group in a nation divided by race.

The blame for this destructive mess cannot be placed on any one government, or any one political party.  It is not a new plot by the current Ardern government.  The ground was laid down by the previous Key government, which replaced the modest Clark government Foreshore and Seabed Bill 2004 and gave extensive separate rights and power to Maori with the Marine and Coastal Area Act 2011, demanded by their ally, the Maori Party.  Which gave power to a biased Minister, Christopher Finlayson, who had spent years fighting for Ngai Tahua against the government, pursuing its treaty claims through a series of high-profile court battles, to rush through a series of absurd and costly Treaty of Waitangi settlements.  Which signed UNDRIP, that demanded immense special rights on ancestry to undefined “indigenous” people.  The Ardern government has followed that lead and broken with former Labour Party policy, to enthusiastically take up the separatist cause.  Both these governments secretively broke with past party beliefs and introduced significant policy changes that were never placed before the electorate.

New Zealand has lost its very soul, with political parties that seize hold of power by any means, ready to abandon long-held beliefs and previous policy to gain control of parliament.  It will be a long fight before equality again becomes a New Zealand aspiration.