Democracy requires free, fair and regular elections based on one person, one vote, and all votes are of equal value. It requires freedom of speech, open Government, a critical media, and the rule of law. It assumes human universality and therefore equal citizenship rights. It requires a secular Parliament and other Government institutions.
That is the way democracy is supposed to work in New Zealand. However, the reality is that radical change is now occurring with little scrutiny, and much electioneering is just a side show.
In fact, Te Tiriti states no principles. It makes Māori subjects of, not partners with, the Crown. It is constitutionally impossible for the Crown to enter into partnership with its subjects. In 1840 ‘taonga’ meant real property such as a waka or a patu, not for example, language, water, or a broadcasting spectrum.
The Waitangi Tribunal was initially set up to deal with specific grievances which, when resolved, would enable New Zealand to move forward. In fact, the Tribunal can only stay in business if it can find new grievances or amplify and complicate existing ones. Surely its “finding” that Northland Māori did not cede sovereignty reaches a nadir in legalistic tail-chasing, or is it a zenith that the Tribunal will aspire to go beyond in future? The Tribunal and Te Tiriti are now so unbounded they have “slipped the surly bonds of earth.” For example, Te Tiriti and “Treaty principles” are seen as integral to New Zealand’s space policy!
The ideology that has emerged in New Zealand is shaped by pre-colonial atavism and post-modernism, racial singularity, an enduring sense of grievance, benefit dependency, and the growth of an entitlement mentality at the expense of personal responsibility and agency. The ideology leads to absurd assertions that gain credence only because they are endlessly repeated and any criticism of them is branded as racist. Examples of such assertions include that colonization was an unmitigated disaster, that pre-European Māori lived in harmony with nature and with each other, and that traditional beliefs and “ways of knowing” such as mātauranga Māori should have equal standing with science.
Currently, all significant new legislation, government initiatives and institutions refer to Treaty or Te Tiriti “obligations” and/or “principles,” with frequent references to Crown-Māori partnerships.
New Zealand’s constitution and culture reflects both its British and Māori heritage, and the rigorous discourse, reason, evidence, and science arising from the European Enlightenment from around the late 17th to the early 19th century and from science and culture that preceded the Enlightenment. New Zealand developed an egalitarian culture early in its modern history, and liberal and inclusive Christianity also fostered and gave direction to our social progressiveness. Fruits from this mix included trade unionism, universal suffrage, and institutional innovations such as the Plunket Society.
The recent fixation with Te Tiriti and mātauranga Māori has interacted with the rise in New Zealand of post-modernism and social constructivism, in line with other countries such as the US and Canada. These philosophies argue that there is no absolute truth, and objectivity is dismissed as “naïve relativism”. This paradigm conflicts with Enlightenment-based rationalism and scientific rigour.
Government’s belief in centralisation, rather than devolution, is reflected in its Water Services Entities (“Three Waters”) legislation, and its proposed replacement for the Resource Management Act: the Natural and Built Environment and the Spatial Planning Acts. This legislation will negate local decision-making and democratic accountability and replace it with unelected, co-governed central planning committees. The draft legislation uses nebulous language and undefined Treaty obligations which will probably need to be clarified in court.
The secretly-prepared He Puapua document (2019) aims by 2040 to have effectively created two separate though overlapping governance systems. One would be based on rangatiratanga, interpreted as self-determination for Māori. The other would see more active Māori participation in government (kāwanatanga). There would be clearly defined iwi (tribal) boundaries. More Crown land would be transferred to tribes, which would be able to impose levies on water, petroleum and minerals.
He Puapua seeks biculturalism rather than multi-culturalism, though non-Māori/non-Europeans make up 25% of the total population, some 10% more than Māori. It envisages Te Reo Māori thriving, and the state sector being heavily influenced by tikanga and mātauranga Māori.
Despite assurances that He Puapua has been deferred, government agencies are actively implementing it. This has included Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand, Māori and Te Tiriti-centric education policy and curricula, the Water Entities (“Three Waters”) legislation, Māori electoral wards, and radical change in resource management legislation. The Review into the Future of Local Government (June 2023) recommends local government acting as a Tiriti partner. It seeks amendment to the Local Government Act to require councils to prioritize their capability in Te Tiriti issues and in relation to Māori values, mātauranga Māori and tikanga.
The He Puapua and wider Te Tiriti-centric ideology falls apart on close examination. The ideology assumes that race can be the core variable around which a prosperous and inclusive society can develop. There is no modern example of such a successful race-based society. Nor has any tribalistic society in the modern world delivered prosperity, good government and human rights.
What therefore should be done? The top priority is that people respect and listen to each other. A current example is the debate over criteria governing access to surgical operations. Decisions on specific operations should be made on clinical rather than ethnic grounds. However, the relationships between low socio-economic circumstances and poor health are strong and cultural differences matter.
Disparities in health outcomes across ethnicities are not a result of systemic bias within New Zealand’s health sector but instead emerge from unequal socio-economics, poor and overcrowded housing, genetic factors or lifestyle choices. Some underserved groups can be better connected to health services if more Māori and Pacific doctors are visible and available. I believe the special pathways into medical training for Māori and Pacific are a big success, others disagree.
Social wellbeing interventions must be targeted to those most in need, and their effectiveness may depend on cultural understanding. Bill English should be celebrated for the social investment model he championed. Sadly, some of the Tiriti activists (including Pakeha) are concerned more with power, mana and money than with those with the greatest need, though others are motivated by genuine desire to repair disparities.
All New Zealanders should read the Treaty/Te Tiriti as written in 1840, with the meaning that the words had at that time. Politicized twisting of the 1840 texts to support today’s agendas should be ignored.
Our school-level educational achievement is now well behind that of the leading developed countries. We need a national curriculum delivering rich knowledge and high-quality disciplinary content to all New Zealand students. This should allow young people to fully participate in an internationalized economy and society. It would help them reject divisive forces such as racialism, and to reap the benefits and avoid the pitfalls of social media, artificial intelligence, GM and other technologies.
The history curriculum is politicised and promotes a narrative that excludes vast swathes of New Zealand history and its multi-culturalism. The science curriculum should focus on international science. While some mātauranga Māori is science, much is best suited to social studies or civics classes. We must celebrate our great Māori scientists and technologists such as Garth Cooper, Ross Ihaka and Sir Ian Taylor who can set the tone and be the role models.
Co-governance can be branded as a new apartheid. However, it can also see local and central government work effectively with iwi on service delivery rather than political or constitutional subversion.
Finally, it would benefit all parties if constitutional issues could be resolved openly and formally rather than through assertion. For example, if New Zealand is to be renamed ‘Aotearoa’ it should be put to a referendum.
Dr Peter Winsley has worked in policy and economics-related fields in New Zealand for many years. With qualifications and publications in economics, management and literature. This article was first published HERE