Calling out Waka Kotahi in the Herald on Sunday

In a race to the October election, our current Government is determined to avoid any scrutiny of their failure to deliver a single positive outcome for New Zealanders. Instead, they are doubling down on every ideological and divisive bit of social engineering they can get their hands on. That leaves us to repeatedly fight for and defend essential foundations such as free speech, democracy, and equality before the law.

In the words of TS Elliot, we are “distracted from distraction by distraction”.

This is worth remembering when the media circus buzzes around the stupid behaviour of certain ministers. Sure, we need to hold ministers like Michael Wood accountable, but we can't allow it to obscure the pernicious policies and laws continuing down the conveyor belt at the Beehive.

However, a lot of the 'distractions' we are being hit with lately are actually connected to our fight for democracy and equality before the law. We can't afford not to address them. 

For example, as we wait for the select committee to report back on the contentious and fundamentally flawed RMA reform legislation, we have been “distracted” by calls for submissions on:

  1. Bilingual signage proposals from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency – submissions close at the end of June.
  2. Safer online services and media platforms proposal released by the Department of Internal Affairs – submissions close 31 July 2023.
  3. And just this week, the Electoral Reform Report produced by He Arotake Poititanga Motuhake or, for the 96% of New Zealanders who do not speak Te Reo Maori, the “Independent Electoral Review” – submissions close 17 July 2023.

The first is another blatant example of government departments going ahead with vanity projects that have nothing to do with their legislated purpose and which favour virtue signalling over things like safety, accessibility, and democracy.

You'll see our ad in this week's Herald on Sunday encouraging New Zealanders to have their say on the matter. 


The second is more concerning as it introduces race-based policy to the issue of censorship and speech laws. It puts forward the idea that Māori should be held to different, more lax, standards of online behaviour and that is very worrying. It also continues the theme of co-governance structures by proposing key decision-making roles should be iwi-appointed.

This is a fundamental right at stake, and one that is key to the protection of democracy, and the Department of Internal Affairs wants to allocate different rights based on who your ancestors are. 

The third report was foisted upon us this week and covers a wide range of electoral issues while carefully avoiding constitutional issues like the MMP system itself. Unsurprisingly, repeated references Te Tiriti o Waitangi are made throughout to add a further layer of complexity. Those "Treaty Principles" seem to be an obligatory, albeit vaguely defined, part of anything bureaucrats produce. 

Funnily enough, the report does not touch on the opportunity to remove Maori electorates. This is despite the observations by the 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System recommending that MMP could provide better electoral representation for Maori than the Maori electorates, given the very large geographic area of these electorates, thus improving representation.

Instead of any consideration or opportunity to discuss this option that would allow Maori greater iwi/hapu-centric representation models and much more unified engagement in local communities, the report proposes greater complexity.

As I wade through another Government document (all 338 pages of it - I read it so you don't have to!) it is evident that, yet again, Maori are to be treated differently before the law with the option of being able to register to vote based upon their ancestral or iwi connections rather than their physical address. They also would have the option of being on different rolls for local elections than for general elections:

“There may be many reasons why voters of Māori descent may want to be on different rolls for national and local elections. The electoral rolls already record a person’s general electorate and local ward, and so they should be able to capture their roll choice for each. We consider that allowing them to make separate roll choices for national and local elections, rather than having to update their roll choice between elections, will remove an administrative barrier. In this way, the Crown can uphold its Tiriti / Treaty obligations to actively protect Māori citizenship rights and participation by ensuring Māori have the freedom to choose rolls.”

If you want to put yourself through the 338 pages of woke drudgery feel free to find the report here! 

While this Government of broken promises and failure to deliver prepares to campaign for re-election, it would seem they want to give the appearance of being busy by overwhelming us with ineffective, unnecessary, and poorly timed proposals for change. Change very, very few Kiwis are asking for.

In addition, we cannot forget that the Minister of Maori Development, Willie Jackson, has gone very quiet on his He Puapua Mk II report. His update in October last year was designed to calm an increasingly concerned population with an emphatic "nothing to see here, folks!" He said he was re-looking at the language, but now we have deafening silence.

It should not be lost on anyone that one of the authors of both He Puapua and the new mystery version, Professor Jacinta Ruru, was also one of the authors of the proposal to the New Zealand Law Society to introduce new statutory duty for lawyers to adhere to the undefined “principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi”.

Willie Jackson and his colleagues have a history of trying to get the stuff they know will be unpopular hidden below the radar. Remember He Puapua was kept hidden until after Labour was re-elected in 2020 and its recommendations around health and water were quickly adopted. The RMA reforms usher in another lot of He Puapua objectives.

I know that we all have so much better things to do and keeping track of our Government’s tactics is exhausting but we know that our silence is interpreted as support.

We are working on how we can best slow this runaway freight train of division and racism. But, for now, please keep talking about these issues – this is not the country we want to leave to our children and grandchildren.

For now, if you haven’t already, please use our submission tool to have your say on the bilingual signs.