If that was his intention, I regret to advise him that merely shifting some of the names is not going to solve the Government’s problem around what might loosely be called Treaty issues.
But the problem facing the Government – indeed, the problem facing the country as a whole – is much more fundamental than that and simply retaining our country’s name, very desirable though that is, doesn’t begin to deal with it.
The real problem is that over the last three or four decades a radically new interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi has been promoted, initially by Maori radicals and increasingly by many politicians (mainly but not exclusively on the Left), the education system, the public service, the judiciary and, helped by taxpayer-funded bribes, the mainstream media.
This radical interpretation has it that the Treaty of Waitangi created a partnership between the British colonisers and the Maori people, and that the Treaty was designed to give the British Crown authority only over the British settlers. In this view, the Maori chiefs who signed the Treaty did not cede sovereignty to the Crown. How could it have been otherwise, given the huge numerical superiority which Maori enjoyed over the British settlers at the time?
But, this view has it, the British nevertheless started throwing their weight around as if they were entitled to run the place, and violently suppressed the Maori who opposed British authority. Colonisation followed, to the huge disadvantage of the Maori people. Yes, compensation has been paid in the form of Treaty settlements, but the amounts involved have been utterly trivial in relation to the property which was stolen. For decades, the descendants of the Maori people have been disadvantaged by systemic racism in, for example, the taxpayer-funded health system – obviously, how else to explain the fact that Maori life expectancy is several years short of the life expectancy of other New Zealanders?
From this perspective, John Key finally woke up to the situation and had New Zealand sign up to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), a document which clearly envisages the restoration of real authority over much of the land of New Zealand, and meaningful self-government for those descended from the original Maori inhabitants. The current Government has had a plan prepared, called He Puapua, designed to achieve such Maori self-government, and though they have got cold feet about implementing it before the election this year, at least they recognize what should be done.
The other interpretation of our history is totally different. In that interpretation, what might be called the conventional interpretation, the Treaty of Waitangi involved Maori chiefs ceding sovereignty to the British Crown (Article I); being guaranteed their property rights in return (Article II); and being given the “rights and responsibilities” of British subjects (Article III). That this was the understanding of the chiefs who signed on 6 February 1840 and in the weeks and months that followed is amply shown by the speeches made by the chiefs at the time (both by those who supported signing the Treaty and by those who were opposed to signing); by the speeches made by chiefs at the Kohimarama conference in 1860 where chief after chief spoke of the benefits of having the Queen in ultimate authority over them; and in speeches made much later by such great Maori leaders as Sir Apirana Ngata.
And why would they have done that, given the vast numerical superiority of the Maori in 1840? Because in the preceding decades the Musket Wars had resulted in appalling loss of life as tribe fought tribe – nobody knows the exact number of those killed in or after battle, but it is agreed by all historians that the number greatly exceeded the loss of New Zealand life in the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s, the First World War and the Second World War.
The conventional view of our history notes that as British colonists settled in New Zealand they brought with them written language, new forms of animal protein, new fruits and vegetables, the wheel, metal tools, new forms of clothing, new building materials and, perhaps most important of all, the rule of law. Cannibalism and slavery were abolished and life expectancy for Maori increased hugely.
Yes, in some cases Maori property was confiscated, or purchased at below an appropriate price, but most of the confiscation was a result of rebellion by particular tribes (particularly by Tainui) and where injustice can be shown to have occurred, taxpayers have been willing to pay compensation.
John Key should not have signed the UNDRIP – Helen Clark’s Government had refused to sign it on the grounds that it was inconsistent with our own constitutional arrangements – but may well have believed that Article 46 of the Declaration effectively meant that it didn’t apply to New Zealand, because we already had in place systems guaranteeing Maori equal rights.
In the conventional view, UNDRIP requires us to make no changes to current constitutional arrangements because our constitution already protects Maori rights; there is absolutely no justification for treating those with a Maori ancestor (now with ancestors of other ethnicities as well) differently to those of other ethnicities; no earthly reason for a separate health system for Maori New Zealanders; no reason why Maori New Zealanders have a superior say in how water infrastructure is operated; certainly no justification for Maori customary law (tikanga) over-turning statute law; no logic in giving Maori more right to be consulted on planning issues than those enjoyed by other New Zealanders; and no justification for separate Maori electorates or Maori wards.
On the political representation front, it is interesting that a couple of years ago the Leader and Deputy Leader of the National Party in Parliament; the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party; the Leader and Deputy Leader of New Zealand First; the Co-Leader of the Greens; and the Leader of the ACT Party were all Maori. Absolutely nobody felt there was anything odd or inappropriate about that. Indeed, most people didn’t even notice that because in almost every respect Maori New Zealanders are seen as first and foremost New Zealanders. (And only one of those political leaders was elected in a Maori electorate.)
The radical view which has been promoted by the current Government – that Maori New Zealanders have inherently different political rights to those enjoyed by other New Zealanders – is fundamentally inconsistent with the conventional view. Indeed, it is fundamentally inconsistent with democracy. Yes, I would be delighted if the new Prime Minister started using the correct name of our country, but that doesn’t start to deal with the fundamental issue.
The leader of the ACT Party has gone further, arguing that New Zealand stands at a critical cross-roads, with one road leading to what he calls an ethno-state, where rights depend on who one’s ancestors were, and the other road to a democracy where all citizens have equal rights, irrespective of ancestry. He also believes that the issue is of such fundamental importance that the matter needs to be resolved, once and for all, through a referendum. I agree with him.
Dr Don Brash, Former Governor of the Reserve Bank and Leader of the New Zealand National Party from 2003 to 2006 and ACT in 2011.