by Christopher Ruthe

Where does the National Party stand on ‘co-governance’? The party leader since December 2021, Christopher Luxon MP has said the 2023 election campaign is about law and order (bring back ‘boot camps’), the economy (or as President Clinton wittily put it in 1992 ‘it’s the economy, stupid’), health and immigration. Famed rugby captain Dame Farah Palmer says “Co-governance has placed itself squarely at the forefront of political discourse in the leadup to the 2023 election”. Is Dame Farah Palmer right and if she is, where is the National Party on the issue?

The notorious UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights (UNDRIP) 

This is at the heart of ‘co-governance’. So called ‘co-governance’ is about the distribution of political power between Maori on one hand and non-Maori on the other. It was the National Government that committed New Zealand to UNDRIP on 20 April 2010. (The other Declaration that NZ is party to is the UN Declaration of Human Rights). Hansard (the Parliamentary written record) sets out what the then National Government said about what the Declaration meant for NZ:

  1. Māori hold a distinct and special status as the indigenous people, or tangata whenua, of New Zealand. Indigenous rights and indigenous culture are of profound importance to New Zealand and fundamental to our identity as a nation”. 
  2. “The Declaration contains principles that are consistent with the duties and principles inherent in the Treaty, such as operating in the spirit of partnership and mutual respect”.
  3. “Further, where the Declaration sets out principles for indigenous involvement in decision-making, New Zealand will continue to … afford opportunities to Māori for such involvement. These range from broad guarantees of participation and consultation to …[where] a requirement of consent is appropriate.
  4. We further recognise that Māori have an interest in all policy and legislative matters and acknowledge the determination of Māori that custom, worldviews and cultural heritage should be reflected in the laws and policies of New Zealand.” *

UNDRIP’s constitutional importance

The Clark Labour Government considered this Declaration was of fundamental significance in New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements and in 2007 voted against it. refusing to go down this road.** For this that government was criticised by Labour in Parliament. Nanaia Mahuta MP asked why were the people not being consulted: “why have New Zealanders been prevented from participating in a debate on an issue that has a profound impact on the future that we see for this country?” And “why has it been signed under a veil of secrecy?” The Prime Minister, John Key said the Declaration was of no significance so did not require public consultation — it was merely a set of aspirations. Events since point to Helen Clark and Nanaia Mahuta being correct.

So, is the National Party committed to ‘co-overnance’?

“They’re our Treaty partner, right?” This statement was made by National’s shadow Minister of Immigration during a recent Q+A interview on TV1.  Jack Tame asked how National saw the Treaty of Waitangi vis-à-vis a future National Government’s policy on Immigration. Erica Stanford MP replied: A huge role. They’re our Treaty partner, right?” She emphasised partnership saying that because a large number of tribal chiefs signed the Treaty it meant Maori have a say in policies: “And so they have a say in that.”

On the basis of the current evidence National appears to be supportive of a government regime where Maori  rights are enshrined in UNDRIP.  Some may consider this as an indication that a National Government would in effect support co-governance, although at a slower rate. The present National Party leader’s silence on the matter is perplexing. 

Dame Farah Palmer’s view that co-governance should be at the forefront of political discourse in the leadup to the 2023 election is one that voters should take seriously. Labour, the Maori Party, ACT and NZ First are taking the issue seriously. ACT and NZ First are strong opponents. National gives the appearance of having its policy veiled in secrecy just as the Key National Government pushed through New Zealand’s signing up to the Declaration in a veil of secrecy. Surely the voters deserve better.


*See here

** Hansard records:In September 2007, at the United Nations, 143 countries voted in favour of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. New Zealand was one of four countries that voted against the Declaration”.