David Seymour’s Bill to redefine the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi is now on a legislative death row, doomed to survive only until it gets to a Select Committee.
If the Prime MInister said it once, he declared it 20 times on Monday at his post-Cabinet press conference and again yesterday at Ratana; National would support Seymour’s Bill only for its first reading.
That means National would end up having to vote against the legislation when it returns from the Select Committee to the House.
Given that Labour, the Greens and Te Paati Maori are sure to vote against it, that should be the end.
But though Seymour’s Bill may die, there could be another piece of legislation to come which could potentially seek to define the principles of the Treaty.
Like Seymour’s Bill, provision for the second legislative move is contained within the National’s coalition agreements, this time with New Zealand First.
The coalition agreement says National and Act will “amend the Waitangi Tribunal legislation to refocus the scope, purpose, and nature of its inquiries back to the original intent of that legislation.”
NZ First Minister Shane Jones, speaking to the media at Ratana, made it clear that the review would include a look at the principles of the Treaty.
“The principles of the Treaty of Waitangi are enunciated by the Waitangi Tribunal whose writ will be reviewed by New Zealand First and the Government and the principles that do come from the Waitangi Tribunal,” he said.
“How many of them can be operationalised, and how many of them are still relevant?
“And what will be the pertinence over the next 15 years as we go to 2014? Those are genuinely legitimate issues to debate.”
The Prime Minister had a slightly different spin on the review.
“All we’re saying is that as we come to the end of Treaty settlements, there’s actually a legitimate question which others have asked in the past, whether it be Chris Finlayson or others,” he said.
“There’s actually a question about what the future role of what a tribunal should be and how it could be repurposed and what the focus of it should be.”
Jones said the review would look particularly at Kaupapa” claims.
These are claims that affect Maori as a whole rather than just specific iwi and currently include a constitutional inquiry.
The current work programme also includes claims about discrimination against Maori military veterans, the impact of the ETS on Maori, the whole justice system, homelessness and a variety of other contemporary issues.
However, what the current uproar over the Seymour Bill shows is that any attempt to limit what sort of claims could go to the Tribunal would surely provoke a backlash from Maori.
One of the main Ratana speakers at the Powhiri for the Government was Rahui Papa, an advisor to and spokesperson for King Tuheitia (who was present at Ratana).
“The Hui here at Ratana has confirmed that if there is any measure of meddling with the Treaty of Waitangi, Maori will not sit idly by,” he said.
“We will do as much as we can to work with you.
“But we will pull every lever that we possibly can to protect the mana and the sanctity of the treaty over time.”
That was greeted with a rare burst of applause from the hundreds of Morehu (faithful) gathered around the edge of the Marae.
Then Papa underlined his message to the Prime Minister.
“We implore you. No, we insist that you heed the call of Maori, Prime Minister,” he said.
However, Papa also reflected a strong theme running through the celebrations at Ratana, which had its origins at last weekend’s Kingitanga Hui a Motu: that of Mana Motuhake (independence) within Maoridom but holding out the prospect of partnering with the Crown to accomplish things.
“We are going to set a pathway to Mana Motuhake, and we invite you to be part of the solution focus,” he said.
He said the recent Covid pandemic and the cyclones when Maori had opened their Marae to everyone was an example of what could be achieved.
But he was still sceptical.
He said he had been asked by a reporter what his true thoughts on the coalition were, and he said all he could think of was “repeal this, abolish that”.
“All of the negative framing of the language. So we’re asking, what is the plan, Prime Minister? What is your plan to go forward?” he said.
Luxon’s response was to read a pre-prepared speech, which was light on negativity but may have offered some hints on “the plan”.
“When I talk about wanting better outcomes, I’m not talking about hand-outs to close the gaps,” he said.
“I want to improve opportunities so that more people who are prepared to work hard can make the most of their opportunities and get ahead.
“To face up to these complex social challenges, we’re all going to have to work together.
“I believe society is at its strongest when we do just that; businesses, iwi, community groups and the Government, working with you, the hapū, the whānau, the families and individuals, can together achieve so much more than any of us can by ourselves.
“As Ngāi Tahu reminded me just last week, no one knows their communities better than iwi.
“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.”
But when governments start setting up Maori-focussed programmes or entities, they inevitably encounter criticism from the non-Maori population that they are privileging Maori or depriving non-Maori of rights.
The former Labour Prime Minister, now Opposition Leader, Chris Hipkins, acknowledged this in his speech on the Marae yesterday.
“The role of us as political leaders is to light a path forward; it’s not to exploit the fear that comes from uncertainty, and that is what has happened over much of the past year,” he said.
He said Labour remained committed to a “by Maori for Maori” approach.
“We believe that that is the sort of approach that is going to see a whole country flourish in the future,” he said.
“And we will continue to move forward in that direction.
“But I also do want to acknowledge that we didn’t get everything right.
“And one of the things that we didn’t get right was making sure that we were bringing non-Maori New Zealanders along with us on that journey.”
As a consequence, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta had been subjected to a lot of overt and more subtle racism over the Three Waters proposals, which she fronted, he said.
“And I think the Government should have supported her a lot more.”
Luxon also addressed the question of how far pro-Maori moves could go without antagonising the rest of the population.
He said the Government saw Māori language and culture as fundamental.
“It is not only a legal right of all New Zealanders to write, speak and perform in te reo, the Government welcomes and supports it,” he said.
“However, as a government representing all New Zealanders, we are also mindful of those with little or no knowledge of te reo Māori – especially older New Zealanders and new migrants, some who have felt afraid, others embarrassed, and some simply confused and lost when they don’t understand the language and are unable to translate it.
“So, te reo Māori is not just a personal, a whānau or an iwi journey, but it is a New Zealand one which all of us are traversing at different speeds.”
That has led to the Government calling on Crown entities to prefer their English over their Te Reo titles.
This provoked one of the sharper exchanges of the day when a Ratana speaker, Nika Rua, compared the New Zealand First Leader, Winston Peters and Shane Jones to “taurekareka” (slaves) for their support of the Government’s moves on Te Reo.
“Today, one of the orators insulted Winston and myself and described us as slaves for destroying the language,” Jones said later.
“And I told him, before the new moon rises again, he’ll be eating his words.”
At the moment that is where the Waitangi debate sits; so far it has been only words. We have now had two of the three big Maori events scheduled for the new year.
The next will be at Waitangi, where the challenges to the Government may be more direct.