Was the controversial He Puapua document kept from Cabinet in the lead-up to the election to prevent NZ First from seeing it and masking an issue of it and probably killing it.

The party’s two former leading Maori MPs, Winston Peters and Shane Jones, are both strong opponents of what is being called Maori separatism.

Had they seen the document they almost certainly would have sunk it. NZ First MPs opposed Maori nationalism.

Speaking on Hokonui Radio’s “The Muster” on Monday, former NZ First MP Mark Patterson said the overall thrust of the Maori health Authority “wouldn’t have washed”  with New Zealand First.

He said he agreed with specific medical services for Maori, and there were other instances where Maori solutions were required, but in Government, it always seemed Labour were trying to weigh the scales in favour of Maori.

Other sources close to NZ First believe the decision to keep He Puapua from Cabinet was deliberate. Once it had gone to Cabinet it would have been seen by NZ First’s four Cabinet Ministers and they would have been able to campaign on it; veto it and thus kill it.

But now, NZ First are out of Parliament and the document is public.

Though the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, tried to play down its significance yesterday under questioning in Parliament, she also failed to set out what might happen in the future with its recommendations.

Its overall thrust draws on current Canadian policies of devolving power to indigenous nations and on work done in New Zealand for the Iwi Leaders Authority by lawyer Moana Jackson proposing a total rewrite of the New Zealand constitution.

He Puapua proposes that rewrite would have two or three spheres; A rangatiratanga sphere which reflected Maori governance over people and places; a kawanatanga sphere representing Crown governance; and a large ‘joint sphere’, in which Maori and the Crown shared governance over issues of mutual concern.

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How that would be structured is not spelt out. But Jackson’s report proposed a number of models with each sphere represented by a separately elected body; in effect, a three-chamber Parliament with the “joint sphere” acting as the final clearinghouse.

He Puapua says the relational sphere reflecting co-governance might entail a joint governance structure, or it might involve mechanisms for the respective governance entities to coordinate to make law and policy.

“There may be a need for a Tiriti body or court to regulate jurisdictional boundaries,” it says.

“Shared authority and jurisdictional arrangements are not novel.

“New Zealand can learn from other jurisdictions, such as Canada, which is currently in the process of implementing shared jurisdiction arrangements created by modern treaties and self-government agreements between First Nations and the Crown.”

Jackson proposed a similar arrangement; a tricameral or three-sphere model consisting of an Iwi/Hapū assembly (the rangatiratanga sphere), the Crown in Parliament (the kāwanatanga sphere) and a joint deliberative body (the relational sphere).

Both reports called for a constitutional debate to take place before the production of a written constitution that would define the new governance arrangements.

And that is where the current Government’s actions seem to be ambiguous.

He Puapua sets out a roadmap to implement its recommendations by 2040, the bicentenary of the treaty of Waitangi.

By the end of 2020, the Government would have publicly outlined He Puapua’s recommendations which would have been considered by Cabinet with decisions about how to further implement a plan to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This would be announced at a significant public event such as this year’s Waitangi celebrations.

Obviously, this has not happened.

The Prime Minister yesterday all but disowned the document.

“He Puapua was a document that was produced by a group of individuals, presented to the Government but has not gone to a Cabinet, has not gone to a Cabinet Committee, is not a Government programme, and nor has it been endorsed by the Government,” she said in Parliament.

She then said the Government was working on implementing the UN Declaration.

Asked by ACT Leader David Seymour whether she was aware that the Minister of Maori Development, Willie Jackson, had met with the chair of the Working Group that produced He Puapua, Dr Claire Charters, in April, she said she was.

“I would expect, given we received a report from that group, that that’s only in keeping with really just courtesy to make sure that we update the group on our intended work programme going forward,” she said.

“I imagine one of the things discussed would be the next step for us, because obviously—we’d be the first to admit—there were some delays since that report was received for anything happening, in part: A. COVID, and B. the Election.”

National’s deputy leader, Dr Shane Reti, is calling for a national debate on its proposals.

“This should be a national conversation, not obscured as a document produced in 2019 for Nanaia Mahuta and the team, quietly kept there while parts are implemented, then suddenly it all appears, and it all seems quite a surprise,” he told Radio Waatea.

“I think it is a conversation now we know what’s in that document and what the proposal is to 2040; let’s have that national conversation, let’s discuss it and see what can be made of it.”

The prime Minister seemed reluctant to commit to that when asked by Seymour during Question Time yesterday.

Seymour: “Does the Prime Minister agree with Professor Jack Vowles of Victoria University, who says, “If the government is serious about He Papua, it will explain its own position more fully, and if it wishes to pursue that agenda or significant parts of it, it should set up the framework for a further constitutional debate to which all New Zealanders can contribute.”?

Ardern: “That was what He Puapua was intended to start, and, I have to say, the groundwork for us being able to have a decent conversation about these issues has not been well established by the debate I have seen from members of this House.”

Ardern’s sudden admission that He Puapua had a substantial purpose was in marked contrast to her claim only minutes earlier that it was simply a document “produced by a group of individuals.”

This debate has a way to go yet.

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