The Dominion Post
Don’t be so scared of a little self-determination
The clearest indication that New Zealand is in desperate need of constitutional reform can be seen in the feigned fear which runs through Parliament whenever Ma¯ ori rights come to the fore. Politicians who claim to stand for the rights of all let their dog whistles screech when Te Tiriti makes national news. They care more about protecting the power of Pa¯ keha¯ institutions than human rights. The rights of minorities always seem to take a back seat.
The predictable shrieks of ‘‘separatism’’ that have flowed from the Opposition’s offices will frustrate anyone who genuinely cares about the wellbeing of tangata whenua. Judith Collins brushed off the National Party’s white fright machine last week, when the Government announced plans to create a Ma¯ ori Health Authority. She told members of the National Party it was the start of ‘‘two systems by stealth’’.
Since then, National and ACT have focused in on He Puapua – a report from Te Puni Ko¯ kiri about how to implement the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Under the John Key government, Aotearoa signed on to UNDRIP when Pita Sharples jetted off to New York to put his name on it. Labour, at the time, was unhappy that Key allowed this to happen. It’s strange how history repeats.
David Seymour reckons He Puapua could be the end of justice as we know it. ‘‘He Puapua represents a significant and serious departure from the idea that all New Zealanders are equal before the law,’’ his press release says.
Sounds scary! But the report itself isn’t quite that exciting. It presents well-founded suggestions backed by decades of well-debated research. It was sent to the minister of Ma¯ ori development, then Nanaia Mahuta, in 2019 to provide an update on how the country was tracking with UNDRIP.
To its credit, the Opposition’s questioning revealed that Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Andrew Little has not read the report. That’s a shame, because its recommendations have the potential to revolutionise governance and improve freedoms and prosperity for everyone in New Zealand. As minister in charge of Treaty negotiations, he has the opportunity to lead incredible change. But it seems politics could get in the way of long-overdue change.
The report’s authors, respected experts in Te Tiriti, tikanga and te ao Ma¯ ori, presented ideas for how Aotearoa can meet its obligations to tino rangatiratanga and the UNDRIP. Tino rangatiratanga is a pivotal constitutional right of this country, which consecutive governments have ignored or attacked. It is the right of each hapu¯ to self-determination. The second article of Te Tiriti ensures tino rangatiratanga, or ‘‘absolute sovereignty’’ of hapu¯ over their taonga and livelihoods.
This creates major questions about the role of the state today. Nobody believes New Zealand should cease to exist. But there are constant reminders that the Crown often does not act in the best interests of Ma¯ ori.
The most recent example is found in the Waitangi Tribunal’s investigation into Oranga Tamariki. It raised concerns about the state’s apparent eagerness to take Ma¯ ori children, which had almost doubled between 2000 and 2018.
Look to health, education, the police. Each sector will acknowledge that its systems are not working very well for Ma¯ ori. These are major issues which aren’t going anywhere, despite our best intentions. But there are solutions. The solution every department, inquiry and expert keeps recommending is self-determination. The tribunal’s Oranga Tamariki investigation told the Government to step back, and talk with Ma¯ ori about how to solve issues in their communities.
Ma¯ ori in healthcare were excited by the plan for a Ma¯ ori Health Authority. Researchers and workers had long complained of ‘‘systematic issues’’, including racism and a lack of culturally competent staff. Changing the system, and creating an organisation focused on empowering Ma¯ ori to provide fixes for Ma¯ ori, seems as close to a silver bullet as you can get.
Tino rangatiratanga has been talked about for decades. It’s complex, requires some major shifts in how we do governing, but it is also hugely important not just in principle but also in practice.
In practical terms, it acknowledges that the people best equipped to solve a problem must first understand what the issue is. It acknowledges that the Government should not do harm to all of us who live here in Aotearoa. And it restores mana to wha¯ nau and hapu¯ .
Poll-driven politicians from all sides of the House are prone to whipping up fears about ‘‘separatism’’ when discussion turns to giving Ma¯ ori freedom to thrive.
Depressingly, ACT – which used to pride itself on freedom – loves trying to derail freedom for Ma¯ ori to help their wha¯ nau. If Pa¯ keha¯ are allowed such freedoms, why not Ma¯ ori?
Don’t be so scared of a little self-determination.
Nobody believes New Zealand should cease to exist. But there are constant reminders that the Crown often does not act in the best interests of Ma¯ ori.