Prime Minister Christopher Luxon checking his speech notes before his whaikorero at Ratana Marae on Wednesday

The State of the Nation speech yesterday from ACT leader David Seymour hardened up on his Treaty proposals after a week in which the Prime Minister adopted a much more conciliatory tone.

It is clear that National and ACT are now headed in two different directions over the Treaty, a fact that was underlined by the move on Friday to appoint Seymour as an associate Justice Minister.

It was a political hospital pass.

He now must bear full responsibility for whatever happens from now on with the promise to draft and introduce a Treaty Principles Bill which will eventually then be voted down by at least one, probably both, of his coalition partners.

It also blunts criticism from the Opposition leader Chris Hipkins that Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has his signature on the coalition agreement promising to introduce the Principles Bill and, therefore, must take responsibility for it.

Seymour’s reading of the Treaty would seem to relegate it to simply being a Kiwi version of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

“We can either believe that the Treaty of Waitangi created a partnership between races, as some say, or we can believe that it delivers what it says itself in the Māori version: nga tikanga katoa rite tahi – the same rights and duties,” he said yesterday.

“If you believe that the Treaty is a partnership between races, then you have to believe that tangata whenua have different rights and duties in New Zealand from tangata Tiriti.

Or you can believe that we are all equal and that each of us should have a chance and a choice in life to be the best that we can.

“My belief is that the latter way is the only way forward for any society.”


However, Luxon is caught mid-stream on where his responsibility starts and stops.

He can hardly deny the undertaking to ACT in the coalition agreement, which, as Hipkins says, he signed.

On the other hand, it is clear National opposes the whole idea.

In a little-noticed exchange at last week’s post-Cabinet press conference, Luxon was asked whether National would support legislation that would define the principles of the Treaty without a referendum.

“National Party policy has been no,” he said.

“Media: “So no principles legislation at all”

Luxon: “Correct.”

Luxon had by Monday heard King Tuheitia’s very firm statement at the Kingitanga Hui a Motu that the Treaty was the Treaty, and that was that.

The King’s spokesman, Rahui Papa, was even more emphatic at Ratana on Wednesday.

“We want to leave you with one message,” he said, addressing Luxon, “and the message is that the Treaty of Waitangi is sacrosanct.”

In turn, Luxon’s speech had obviously been carefully prepared.

Unusually, he read it from notes.

It was carefully balanced.

“The Government will honour the Treaty,” he said.

“But unlike the Labour government, we will honour it without moving away from equal voting rights, without creating complex co-governance bodies and bureaucracies in Wellington to decide how central services should be delivered in the regions, and we will honour it while upholding the equality of all New Zealanders before the law.”

Underpinning much of the current debate about the Treaty is a debate about sovereignty. Co-governance was part of Labour’s answer to that.

The debate has been given new impetus by the recent release of the Waitangi Tribunal Report on Ngapuhi claims, which found that Ngapuhi did not cede sovereignty to the Crown.

However the Tribunal’s findings are nuanced.

“Te Raki Māori leaders expected effective recognition from the Crown of their tino rangatiratanga over their own affairs and lands,” the report said.

“They agreed to share power and authority with Britain and expected the Crown to exercise its authority over the growing number of settlers in their rohe.”

The Tribunal’s report described the Crown and Maori as having separate “spheres of authority”. And the report was critical of the Crown for failing to consult with Maori over a wide range of early decisions made after the Treaty was signed to establish the colony.

“These actions, in the absence of informed Te Raki Māori consent to the Crown’s plans for the governance of New Zealand, were also inconsistent with the Crown’s duty of good faith conduct and thus breached the principles of partnership and of mutual recognition and respect,” the report said.

The argument over sovereignty is as old as the Treaty itself.

By the 1850s, the idea that Maori should look after their own affairs had become a motivating force in the establishment of the Kingtanga movement.

An 1860 Parliamentary Select Committee (the Waikato Committee) report reads like it could have been written last week.

It found that within the Waikato, among Maori, including those involved in Kingitanga, there was general agreement to “assert the distinct nationality of the Maori race” and  “to establish, by their own efforts, some organisation on which to base a system of law and order.”

“These objects are not necessarily inconsistent with the recognition of the Queen’s supreme authority, or antagonistic to the European race or the progress of colonisation,” the report said.

“This movement is not, in the opinion of your Committee, a mere transitory agitation.

“It proceeds from sources deeply-seated and is likely to be of a permanent and growing character.”

In a partial response to arguments like this, and in contrast to Seymour’s approach, National is proposing to devolve power on some matters to iwi.

“As Ngāi Tahu reminded me just last week, no one knows their communities better than iwi,” Luxon said at Ratana.

“So why wouldn’t we use the most effective local providers – iwi, or Māori, or community – to reach the people who most need our help so they have a shot at a better future.”

Luxon linked this to his own advocacy of “localism”,; an idea that has been heavily promoted by New Zealand Initiative Executive Director Oliver Hartwich.

As CEO of Air New Zealand, Luxon was part of a high-powered New Zealand Initiative delegation to Switzerland in 2017, which focussed on localism.

He told Ratana that he saw a strong alignment between Maori and National on localism.

“This Government believes in devolution and working locally – not centralisation and control,” he said.

“A big public service based in Wellington does not have all the answers.

“So, under this Government, there will be no more ineffective and expensive departments set up in Wellington to co-govern public services in regional New Zealand.

“I think we can do better than that.

“If a problem is solved by the exercise of rangatiratanga on the ground, great – we will work with whoever we need to achieve that outcome.

“But we will not be creating new authorities, bureaucracies, organisations, departments and ministries to do it.

“That is the opposite of what we should be doing.”

On the face of it, that sounds like an enfranchisement of iwi sovereignty.

That, however, may present its own political challenge as it would inevitably produce the delivery of social and other services divided by race at a local level.

Luxon has made a big point about his private meetings with iwi leaders, which he says he has been doing for the past year or so.

At Ratana, he spent nearly an hour over afternoon tea with the Ratana leadership and King Tuheitia.

On Sunday, Kingitanga will appear on the upper Marae at Waitangi, and then on Monday, Luxon will lead the Government.

His delegation will include Seymour.

How far he elects to go down the “localism” sovereignty path and how much he concedes to Seymour is likely to define not just the political year but very possibly his whole term as Prime Minister.

No pressure.