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What a National, ACT, NZ First government could mean for Te Tiriti?

15 November, 2023

Interview by Nicholas Lindstrom, adapted by Athena Li-Watts

Head Lecturer of Ahunga Tikanga (Māori Laws and Philosophy) programme at Te Wananga o Raukawa, Dr Carwyn Jones (Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Aitanga a Māhaki), says Māori voices are a necessity in government after ACT Party has proposed a referendum on the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

During the election campaign, the ACT Party proposed a referendum to redefine the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Party leader David Seymour has called this a “bottom line” in their coalition negotiations with National. 

The principles; partnership, participation, and protection, were created by the Waitangi Tribunal, courts, and government, in 1975 to bridge the gap between the Treaty of Waitangi (the English version of the Treaty) and Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Te Reo Māori text that most hapū signed, and underpin the Government’s obligations to Māori. 

National Party leader Christopher Luxon has said a referendum on Te Tiriti is not their policy, calling it “divisive” and “unhelpful”, but has not explicitly ruled it out. 

NZ First, National’s other expected coalition partner, previously pushed to remove mentioning the Treaty principles in legislation in 2005. Members of National, ACT, and NZ First, voted in favour of this bill.

NZ First and the ACT have also campaigned to remove Aotearoa from the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. 

Pukenga Matua (Head Lecturer) for the Ahunga Tikanga (Māori Laws and Philosophy) programme at Te Wananga o Raukawa, Dr Carwyn Jones (Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Aitanga a Māhaki), told 95bFM’s The Wire that Aotearoa has an obligation to have Māori voices and input in government decisions. 

“According to Te Tiriti, Māori have the right to make decisions about matters which affect Māori.”

“There are legitimate rights and interests that need to be factored into decision-making. That is why models of partnership of shared decision-making can be really important.”

Jones says recognition of Te Tiriti is crucial for Aotearoa’s democracy.

“It establishes that the government recognises the important constitutional role of Te Tiriti, that there are obligations and accountabilities.”

He called ACT’s proposed referendum “race-baiting”, adding that debating these rights is harmful to Māori individuals.

“It does not make sense to have a referendum on the rights that people have.”

“Rights do not exist because they are popular. They often exist as a protection against being undermined by a majority who might not benefit from them.”                

Listen to the full interview

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air