Democracy also requires an educated population that shares core disciplinary knowledge such as literacy, numeracy, and science. It requires critical thinking capabilities and a habit of exercising them.
Democracy is majority rule, and minorities must be protected from tyranny by the majority. These protections include common law, Magna Carta rights, compensation for regulatory takings, and inclusive voting systems, for example proportional representation.
New Zealand’s modern history began with early trade contact between Māori and Europeans and was further developed through missionaries and early settlers.
Many European immigrants, mainly British, resented their home countries’ class systems and wanted a more egalitarian society in New Zealand.
The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi was the first step towards a nation state. As an international Treaty it had no legal force domestically until a government administration had been set up in New Zealand.
The Constitution Act 1852 was the foundation for government in New Zealand. It established Parliament and the basis for democracy, albeit with the vote limited to private property-owning males, including Māori. However, in practice most Māori males were excluded since they owned land communally. This was remedied when in 1867 four parliamentary seats were set up specifically for Māori. As a result, all Māori men were able to vote 12 years before all European men in 1879. The Electoral Act gave women, including Māori women the vote in 1893.
New Zealand was a pioneer in social welfare and in the provision of public goods ranging from universal literacy to national parks, some of which were gifted by Māori. These developments involved colonial institutions drawing heavily on the perceived best practice of Europe’s wealthier countries, augmented by institutions we created ourselves.
By 1900 New Zealand’s per capita income was among the highest in the world, largely driven by British demand for our agricultural products, foreign direct investment, and such colonial institutions as schools, banks and insurance companies. However, there were inequities affecting lower socio-economic groups, with disproportionate impacts on Māori.
By around 1950 New Zealand was still near the top in per capita income and lacked extremes of wealth and poverty. However, while much wealthier in absolute terms compared to a century before Māori still lagged other population groups in relative terms. Reasons for this included Māori being concentrated in poorer parts of the country, the effects of the New Zealand wars on some though not all iwi, poor educational aspirations and achievement, and prejudicial Pakeha attitudes.
“Colonial institutions” are widely blamed for relatively poorer socio-economic outcomes for Māori. This may be true for the Native Land Courts from 1865, however key institutions such as schools, hospitals, public research agencies, Parliament, the Reserve Bank, the Commerce Commission and our trade services have worked quite well for New Zealanders. Some Māori institutions, for example Kōhanga Reo may have performed quite well, while others such as Wānanga have been patchy with many students receiving poor post-study outcomes.
From about the 1950s Māori migration into the cities eroded some whanau and hapu structures, though it also led to economic gains. Sociological problems co-existed with near full employment. Māori-dominated gangs had significant presence by the 1970s. Some gangs formed around group identities other than race. The Mongrel Mob began in the early 1960s with largely young Pakeha males in Wellington and Hastings.
With interventions such as the 1973 domestic purposes benefit, the social welfare system helped create benefit dependency and led to single parent (mainly fatherless) households. Neglect and abuse are problems for too many Māori children. Most early European visitors to New Zealand commented on how caring and solicitous Māori parents were with their children, and so traditional Māori culture cannot be blamed for today’s problems.
New Zealand is a successful small democracy. Māori socio-economic wellbeing has improved dramatically since 1840 and Lindsay Mitchell (2021) demonstrates the progress made under and because of colonisation. No Māori living today would swap places with one living in pre-European times.
Despite the gains New Zealand has made in its short history there is now a concerted effort to replace much of its democratic system and public assets with control by unelected tribal interests. Yet there is not a single tribal society in the modern world that has succeeded in delivering high living standards and equity.
Power-driven tribal leaders, politicians acting for one racial group rather than all New Zealanders, academics without scholarship, government-funded journalists, judges behaving like conviction politicians and pusillanimous public servants are undermining New Zealand’s democracy and key institutions. Much of their strategy is set out in the racialist He Puapua document. This involves making Te Tiriti o Waitangi and te reo Māori more fundamental to life in New Zealand, weakening New Zealand’s democracy, discrediting science in favour of traditional beliefs, and claiming that all colonisation was harmful to Māori and that colonial institutions should be abolished.
He Puapua proposes widespread ‘co-governance’ which really means that around 16% of the population would have the same or more power than the other 84%. He Puapua is “racialist” in the sense that it categorises people by race. It is not however a “racist” document in the sense of being hostile towards non- Māori people.
Specific initiatives have included unelected regional council seats, iwi effectively taking control of New Zealand’s freshwater resources, transfer of public lands to iwi control, and making Te Tiriti o Waitangi the foundation for resource management, much of the education system and for local government. So far, the only major defeat for the racialists and tribalists has been when they sought to end funding for a schools-focused programme based on Shakespeare’s plays, using the argument that Shakespeare was a colonial imperialist. This led to such uproar that the funding was reinstated. It seems that Shakespeare is Kryptonite for tribalists, racialists and ethno-nationalists, probably because his works instantiate all human psychology and therefore are a force for human universality.
Few of the key racialist and tribalist initiatives have been notified in election manifestos. There is little media scrutiny, partly because Government funding for the media from the Public Interest Journalism Fund is conditional on “Commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and to Māori as a Te Tiriti partner and a commitment to te reo Maori.”
The Te Tiriti framework for the news media states falsehoods such as: “tangata whenua o Aotearoa Maori have never ceded sovereignty to Britain or any other state.” The guidelines then assert that: “As a result of colonisation we live in a society that perpetuates racism and inequities”. In the glossary “tino rangatiratanga” is falsely defined as “sovereignty” or “ultimate authority.”
Māori socio-economic outcomes need to improve. However, rather than taking a needs focus and delivering socio-economic interventions informed by economic science the focus is on Te Tiriti o Waitangi commitments and Waitangi Tribunal deliberations, developing cultural solutions to Māori problems, and constitutional change which includes though is not limited to “co-governance”.
Te Tiriti o Waitangi commitments and Waitangi Tribunal deliberations
The preamble to the Treaty makes clear that its purpose is to create a settled form of government and to secure peace and good order.
Article One confers on the Crown governance powers (kāwanatanga or sovereignty).
Māori ceded all sovereignty in the sense of the right to create and enforce statute law. They recognised that a strong central government was needed to end the Musket War violence and other conflict within Māoridom. It was needed to deal with lawless Pakeha, and to protect property rights as set out in Article Two.
Māori may also have been wary of possible French retaliatory attack in response to the killing of Marion du Fresne and 24 of his crew in 1772 in the Bay of Islands. Treaty Article Three effectively conferred the Crown’s protection against external military threats. A century after the Treaty was signed New Zealand was fighting for its survival against Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire.
Article Two protects property rights and is based on Magna Carta principles.
While the Crown’s mandate to govern the country was indisputable, Māori did not specifically cede tikanga, that is their customs and norms. Tino rangatiratanga implied some independence and self-determination at the hapu and whanau levels. The Crown for centuries had recognised limitations to its powers imposed by Magna Carta and common law.
Magna Carta was issued in 1215 and aimed to protect the English nobilities’ property rights by limiting the Crown’s powers. It catalysed a dynamic relationship between property rights and political power that led to the emergence of the modern British democracy. It created a basis for human rights protection by linking it to property rights. Magna Carta established the principle that no one is above the law – it established the rule of law.
As Kipling wrote in relation to Magna Carta’s signing at Runnymede:
No freeman shall be fined or bound,
Or dispossessed of freehold ground,
Except by lawful judgment found
And passed upon him by his peers.
Forget not, after all these years,
The Charter Signed at Runnymede.”
Article Three made Māori subjects of the Crown. Te Tiriti makes clear that it protects the rights of all New Zealanders, not just Māori and not just chiefs.
Activist judges have re-interpreted the Treaty/Te Tiriti of Waitangi as a ‘partnership’. Yet there is nothing in the documents that remotely supports partnership between Māori and the Crown. Māori cannot be both subjects of the Crown and partners with it.
New Zealand ceased to be a colony and became a Dominion in 1907. It adopted the statute of Westminster in 1947, and in that year the UK parliament gave the New Zealand General Assembly full power to alter or repeal the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852.
New Zealand’s constitutional evolution culminated in the New Zealand Constitution Act 1986. This affirmed Parliamentary sovereignty, and the Crown’s role was reduced to the symbolic and procedural.
However, since then the 1987 Court of Appeal “Lands case”, the Waitangi Tribunal’s “findings”, and academic activism have pushed for constitutional change that confers new rights and powers on Māori, especially those organised within tribal structures.
The Waitangi Tribunal was created in 1975 initially to hear and make recommendations on claims after 1975. Then in 1985 it was extended to hear claims dating back to 1840.
The Treaty of Waitangi Act aimed “to provide for the observance of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi”, and the Tribunal was given the power to decide what this meant, with “exclusive authority to determine the meaning and effect of the Treaty as embodied in the two texts”. A democratically-elected Parliament has delegated much power to a non-elected tribunal.
The Waitangi Tribunal’s membership is appointed on the recommendations of the Minister for Māori Affairs, with consultation with the Minister of Justice. It has around half Māori and half Pakeha members, as if these are the only ethnicities in New Zealand. It has in the past had top historians such as Michael Bassett and Richard Hill, and Ron Crosby remains a member. However, it lacks expertise in economics.
Comparative institutionalism and counterfactual analysis are undiscovered country for the Tribunal. It does not appear to undertake cost benefit analysis. Litigants seem to bear little cost or risk, encouraging unrealistic claims that incur costs to investigate and which can sometimes impose indirect economic costs. An example is the delays in modernising New Zealand’s intellectual property laws caused by Wai 262. This claim took so long to resolve that it has been termed the “Jarndyce versus Jarndyce” case, named after the Bleak House court case that went on for so long the litigants were long dead while generations of lawyers kept living off the fees.
The Tribunal does not appear to have strict boundaries over what it can investigate. Rather than the textualism school of legal interpretation which focuses on the plain meaning of the text that the 1840 signatories actually signed up to, the Tribunal takes a “presentist” approach that imposes 21st century politics, ideology and “language elasticity” on words and actions 183 years ago.
A good example is “taonga” which in 1840 meant a valuable physical object. Now in 2023 it means anything of value, from objects, language, cultural knowledge, water to broadcasting spectrum, and no doubt sometime in the future to fresh air.
The Tribunal now functions as a cross between a statutory body which can make determinations and a partisan lobby group for a racial constituency.
Tribunal reports now make assertions which are manifestly false and yet which become accepted “truths”. An example is the contention that the Treaty/Te Tiriti did not involve Māori ceding sovereignty to the Queen, despite the evidence from scholarship, from speeches made by the chiefs who signed the Treaty, again affirmed at the Kohimarama conference in 1860.
Tribunal reports on Wai 1040 opined that Ngapuhi did not cede sovereignty. John Robinson gives the evidence that Ngapuhi fully understood that they were ceding sovereignty.
The Tribunal in a Wai 1040 report also asserted that the Crown breached Treaty principles, despite the fact that no principles are stated in the Treaty.
Cultural solutions to Māori problems
One thesis is that Māori socio-economic problems result from loss of Māori culture, language and identity. However, most of the challenges that low socio-economic Māori face are employment, incomes, housing and net worth, not identity problems. Vast investment has gone into te reo Māori language training and to some extent tikanga . There is no evidence this has paid off socio-economically. On the other hand this may not have been the purpose of the provision offered to students.
Lourie & Rata (2014) assessed the practice and consequences of a culture-based curriculum that is promoted as the solution to educational underachievement by a section of the Māori population. They argue that the ‘cultural solution’ is itself a contributor to educational under-achievement.
We do have some hard evidence about what works from the nineteenth century. Te Aute college was established in 1854 and especially between 1878 and 1912 when led by John Thornton it implemented a curriculum along the lines of top rate English grammar schools. Te Aute’s mathematics and science achievement was assessed as ‘equal to those of any secondary school in the country’.
Te Aute’s graduates included Āpirana Ngata, Te Rangi Hīroa and Māui Pōmare who became great Māori leaders of their times. It is worth noting that Ngata placed great emphasis on nurturing Māori culture and language as well as education that aimed at lifting Māori incomes, wealth and living standards. Pōmare was more focused on modernisation and abandoning cultural practices that he considered held Māori back.
Constitutional change and co-governance
The constitutional conflict in New Zealand is not between Māori and non-Māori. It is between liberal democracy and equal citizenship versus birth-ascribed racial identities and tribalism.
Co-governance so far is achieving patchy results. As one example, Ngāi Tūhoe’s operational entity Te Uru Taumatua has carried out mass destruction of huts in Te Urewera, asserting its authority over what was once a National Park. This is against the opposition of many other Māori, including Tūhoe, as well as non-Māori.
If the Three Waters initiative is operationalised as set out in the legislation it will be overly influenced by people appointed on the basis of race and kinship rather than merit. At best this is a recipe for mediocrity, at worse it will lead to nepotism on an unprecedented scale.
If we fail to defend New Zealand’s democracy, we will no longer be an outwards-looking and progressive nation. We will regress to a hybrid regime made up of a weakened system of parliamentary democracy and racialistic tribalism.
A way forward is to meld together the best from Māori identity and cultural affirmation and outwards-looking democracy. Some tikanga can fit within our common law system.
Tino rangatiratanga in Te Tiriti is best defined as self-determination that starts with individuals and subsidiarity and from this base leads to collective action. Te Tiriti was signed largely by Rangatira that headed whanau or hapu rather than Ariki that were paramount iwi chiefs.
Tino rangatiratanga can evoke self-betterment, creating choices in one’s life and innovative collective action rather than being perceived as a political slogan. It depends on individual self-motivation and purposeful work and endeavour. It is degraded by welfare dependency, grievance mentalities, and blaming colonisation or events over a century ago for today’s challenges.
In these troubled times many wish for a Volodymr Zelensky to lead us and for the courage of the Ukrainian people. However, we can all be leaders in our own little ways, and New Zealanders do not lack courage when they understand the issues.
Lourie, M. Rata, E. 2014: A critique of the role of culture in Māori education. British Journal of Sociology of Education. 35 (1) pp. 19-36.