Go Gareth – there’s much to be said for letting all the people have their say on constitutional reform

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Gareth Morgan can be a know-it-all pain in the arse.

But sometimes his willingness to stick his neck out and say what needs to be said is refreshing and to be applauded.

Perhaps these occasions most often arise when his opinions coincide with Alf’s on certain matters.

This is certainly the case today, when Morgan writes in the NZ Herald about constitutional issues raised by the two language versions of the Treaty of Waitangi, the aspirations of indigenous persons, and the role of the Waitangi Tribunal.

For example:

We have a lot to learn from other countries about how to fulfil the aspirations of indigenous peoples. It’s a no-brainer that the discussion on each of these aspirations must be held in a very open way, and must be understood by everyone if the solutions are to endure.

The Waitangi Tribunal process, with its cloister of academics, lawyers, and long and impenetrable reports, is certainly not the place.

The Treaty is a partnership, not a 50/50, a 60/40 or any fraction. It is a relationship and the tribunal is more and more playing the role of marriage counsellor. Trouble is, the counsellor only talks to one of the partners. Because of this, the creative interpretations of rangatiratanga emanating of late from the tribunal have raised resentment among non-Maori. How can those in the Treaty industry guide enduring solutions if they don’t take non-Maori with them?

Morgan proceeds to express a particular concern about recommendations granting Maori unique political rights.

Granting any group unique political power is only legitimate if there is general agreement for those powers to be granted. It is not up to a bunch of lawyers immersed in the Treaty process. Constitutional change requires the consent of all New Zealanders. However, it’s being conducted by stealth, far from the minds of the general public and most certainly without its consent.

The rights of citizenship are protected for all in Aotearoa New Zealand, and that includes equal political rights. Not only is this clear in Article 3 of both versions of the Treaty, it’s also covered in Article 46 of the UN Declaration, and is implicit in the natural justice of a democracy. It’s incongruous, then, that some within the Treaty industry think that it is fine to usurp people’s rights to equal citizenship in order to “honour” the Treaty. It is not fine, it is an assault on civil rights and is sowing the seeds of discontent.

Alf trusts the Mayor of New Plymouth has a hard think about what Morgan is saying. The same goes for all those who share the mayor’s readiness to undermine his city’s democracy (and democratic arrangements in other parts of the country) with his willingness to grant special political entitlements to indigenous persons.

Morgan draws attention to the Local Body Act that enables councils to create Maori Wards and Maori Statutory Bodies with power over matters far broader than those covered in Article 2 of the Treaty – matters that affect all citizens. He asks: How can that be compatible with equal citizenship?

While Article 2 states Maori have special rights with respect to natural resources and cultural treasures, local councils deal with a lot more than this (eg setting bus fares, library fees). Why should Maori have more power than others over these matters? If there’s an issue of the Maori voice never being heard and being thrown to the mercy of the majority, there needs to be evidence. The tribunal certainly hasn’t produced it.

So what about the co-governance model, which does confer unique rights upon Maori?

Morgan regards this as entirely appropriate for resources when granted as part of Treaty settlements.

But extending this model beyond those areas carved out by Article 2 (such as local government or Parliament’s Maori seats), is an important constitutional change and, frankly, illegitimate without widespread citizens’ consent.

Further, granting unique political powers creates an incentive for Maori leaders to exaggerate differences between Maori and non-Maori. If they can’t demonstrate what sets Maori apart, those political advantages might be taken away again. Such a situation weakens the connections Maori and non-Maori have with one another.

These connections matter. International evidence shows overwhelmingly that while ethnicity is important for individual wellbeing, it is no more important than the cross-societal connections a person has. Over-emphasising either at the expense of the other thwarts social and economic progress, for both the individual and society as a whole.

Most importantly, Morgan argues that the process of constitutional reform demands the engagement of all New Zealanders, not just those inside the Treaty processes.

This should be obvious.

Alas, it is not.

 

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