Friday, February 4, 2022

Barrie Saunders: Democracy or partnership revisited

Last year I posted “democracy or partnership” and asked what do we want. Since then, the partnership and co-governance concepts, have gained legs with the Three Waters proposals and the twin health authorities. In addition, at local government level in the same vein, we have seen non-elected appointees given voting rights on council committees.

PM Ardern uses the partnership term frequently, and in a TVNZ interview with Jack Tame, National Leader Christopher also equated the Treaty with partnership.

When starting a journey, it is useful to know where it will end, otherwise one can end up in an uncomfortable zone, where retreat is difficult. Somehow, I suspect few political leaders, other than the Maori Party and ACT, have really thought through the partnership concept, and we are heading for a rough time, unless there is a course correction.

Since writing last year’s post I have read the famous 1987 Lands case where the Court of Appeal, then headed by Sir Robin Cooke, opined the Treaty created an enduring relationship between the Crown and iwi that was “akin to a partnership”. This followed legislative changes prior to 1987, to move from the Treaty texts, to the “principles” of the Treaty. The principles were not defined in statute, but given to the Waitangi Tribunal to define.

What does the Treaty partnership mean?
When writing last year, I assumed the term meant the two parties – Crown and iwi – were equals and should be governing the country together. In other words, that the Crown itself was a partnership. However, after reading the Court decision and further reflection, I believe what the Court had in mind was something much less expansive, that did not radically undermine democracy, and would be less divisive than what we have today.

I don’t believe it decreed, or even had the view that the Crown-iwi itself, was a partnership, as two lawyers might form. I think what the Court meant was the Crown had an on-going obligation to iwi, to honour the Treaty as best it could, having regard for current realities. One such reality is that Maori do not live under tribal leaders, and all are tribally and ethnically mixed, including with “ngati-pakeha”.

I am comfortable with this interpretation, which is liberal but not radical. I recognise some Maori leaders and others prefer the expanded version, which is clearly not consistent with a credible democracy.

Legal definition of Maori – some practical issues
As most know the legal definition of a “Maori”, is any descendant of a Maori, which means over time the proportion of Maori in the community with a whakapapa connection will increase, without necessarily a concomitant connection to Maori community or culture. I accept the legal definition, even though for some, it fails the common-sense test. To me those with predominantly non-Maori ancestors are New Zealanders or kiwis, just as I am not English or European, even though my ancestors back several generations, came from the Northern Hemisphere. Another way of putting it is that over time Maori and Pakeha have become different ends of the same biological and cultural spectrum.

Treaty principles
The texts of the Treaty are precise, but because of translation issues, are not entirely consistent with each other, and so we now have the “Treaty principles” courtesy of the Waitangi Tribunal. However, the problem is they are infinitely elastic . In the eyes of many they provide the scope to relate all sorts of public policies to the “principles”. This road is a guaranteed formula for endless inward looking, often unpleasant and very unproductive debates. A country pre-occupied with looking at itself, is not heading to a good place. There are many world-wide experiences we can draw from, showing the dangers of separatist policies.

The good news is that within our democratic system there is ample scope to tailor services for Maori, other ethnicities and social groups. The vaccine roll-out showed the limitations of one system working for all. The same goes for education and social services etc. Pacific Islanders are outside the Treaty coverage but they too sometimes require tailored services. Curiously the large Asian grouping, with several ethnicities, seems to adapt well to mainstream policies.

Of course, in 1840 when the Treaty was signed, few if any could have thought about state provision of education, health and social welfare services, to say nothing of the allocation of spectrum frequencies, which is why these matters should be treated on a social equity basis and not some tenuous link back to the Treaty.

We have monumental challenges with school attendance levels and slipping education standards, housing affordability, obesity, productivity, and now inflation. This Government is over reaching itself on several fronts. It needs to take a breather and deal in a practical manner with the real problems it can solve, instead of creating new ones around an expanded version of the Treaty. It would be a real tragedy if Labours’ major legacy was a diminution of our quality democracy.

All political leaders should set out clearly how they see the partnership concepts fits with democracy. The same goes for the media, which has been astonishingly silent on the single most important issue facing the country. ACT and the Maori Party are clear, but for the rest their collective silence is deafening.

Barrie Saunders has a background in Government Relations and blogs at


Anna Mouse said...

We seem to forget that Queen Victoria made no deals of partnership with any colony anywhere in the globe.

If in fact, the folk that believe that the TOW is thus they are deluded by their presentism, selectivism and of course personal bias.

It suits a narrative that is a lie and it should for ever be treated as a lie.

Historical fact cannot be changed to suit a made up story and therefore there can be no need to review or discuss any form of co-governance or partnership.

We as a collective are New Zealanders, some are poor, some are rich. Some are catered to better and some are not.

This is why we should attack social issues with a clear mind and focus on individual need not ethnicity. To focus upon ethnicity as the precursor for assistance over indiviual need is apartheid nothing more nothing less.

There would be few New Zealanders that would accept that apartheid is acceptable in this country.

Anonymous said...

The main concern (but far from the only one) I have with the Co-Governance of New Zealand is which Iwi is the Main Iwi. Recently Maori have had one common adversary - the non Maori population of NZ. All Iwi's have perceived themselves as victims of Colonialism, so can all unite and be one.
What happens in the future when the Maori have the upper Governing House, and power over Water, Health, Education etc. At present the Iwi's can nominate their chosen people to represent them. What happens when the different Iwi representatives can not agree on an issue - do we revert to tribal wars? I would really appreciate it if someone could clarify how the tribes are proposing to work as one - when history proves time and again this has never been achieved long term. Even now when they are all united there is differing opinions e.g. Aotearoa being the name for the whole of NZ.

DeeM said...

"It would be a real tragedy if Labours’ major legacy was a diminution of our quality democracy." opposed to what? Borrowing an obscene amount of money and then worse still, spending it very badly?
Or, making the housing crisis, child poverty and mental health much worse than it was?
Or perhaps, creating a two-tiered health system where the vast majority pay for everything but are always second place.
Or, what about this - seizing all the water assets then effectively gifting a half share and a veto to 17% of the population.

I could go on. But what I can't think of is a single thing that we would actually want to keep that this government has presided over.
That will be Labour's legacy - a truly awful, divisive, separatist, incompetent and deceitful government which has failed miserably to "govern for ALL New Zealanders".

Terry Morrissey said...

Easily fixed.
Change the government to one that listens to the people.
Repeal The Waitangi Act.
Sack the Waitangi Tribunal.
Repeal ALL racist legislation.
Introduce Binding Citizens Initiated Referenda.
Job done.

Bob51 said...

All credit to DeeM. Without exception, one of the best summaries of this current Govt that I have seen. Absolutely spot on.

Anonymous said...

COVID has been a convenient smokescreen for this racist government to hide behind while introducing its destructive policies.
The average New Zealander is dazed by the constant prattle and battle regarding COVID,
Let's hope that the smoke will clear in time for the majority of New Zealanders to take a very firm stance in the battle to defend democracy.

MC said...

Thank you DeeM. A nice tight synopsis of the past 4.5 years. Niu Zeebabwe looms ever closer.

Don said...

The problem stems from the inability of our leaders to understand the voraciousness of a few iwi elite who have manipulated the Treaty to become a blank cheque for them to line their pockets at the expense of everyone else including most Maori. Taking an interest in a culture and language is one thing but enforcing it on a whole country using the power of government is something else. Those who question the direction we are being led are labelled racist or worse. Toleration is good but submission in the face of outrageous lies and fake beliefs cannot be allowed. Democracy is rule by the majority with the rights of the minority being recognised and accorded where possible but forcing minority rights and interests on the majority is undemocratic and unacceptable.

Hiko said...

I do not believe for one second that politicians and journalists do not know what many of us see as a great concern. Most of them would prefer to take the safer[for them] route of not rocking the boat and leave the mess for someone else in the future to clean up. They should be put on the spot with direct questions at every opportunity.
Visit your local MP and confront and ask in places where they cannot duck for cover as they often do at public meetings etc Very hard for them to give glib answers in one on one situations.

Unknown said...

Hiko - I have contacted my local MP (Labour) regarding the government's giving Maori naming rights on government departments, etc. My comment to him was that naming rights should be given to those cultures that have made a contribution to the development and progress of New Zealand. His response? "I disagree." I noticed that he didn't try to tell me that Maori have made such a contribution, and by disagreeing, he's suggesting that any culture, contributors or not, can be given naming rights just because the Labour government wants them to.