Key wrong on separatism, Treaty, courts

By David Round

David-Round-2_1468379301_480X532_c_c_0_0.jpgPrime Minister John Key is indeed correct that most New Zealanders do want to live in a harmonious New Zealand but he was wrong about just about everything else he said in response to the launch of Hobson’s Pledge.

The Prime Minister told Fairfax Media on September 29, 2016, that he did not believe there was separatism in New Zealand. He also said that the Crown had "legal obligations" to Maori which it had to follow. He said:

"It's sort of pretty much a broken record from Don, but I think New Zealanders have seen in the last decade what's taken place, they've seen that ultimately as Treaty partners, Maori and the Crown have to work together and actually we're a stronger country for doing that."

"They have certain rights which are bestowed upon them and we have to honour the court rulings for doing that...if we don't do that, the courts rule against us."

It is a pity that we have to be a “broken record”, but obviously further repetition is necessary to correct the Prime Minister’s misunderstandings. 

1. There is no partnership under the Treaty of Waitangi, which recognises the sovereignty of the Crown. A sovereign cannot be any sort of partner with a subject. In speaking of a partnership between “Maori and the Crown” the Prime Minister ignores the existence of the 85 percent of this country’s population who have no trace of Maori ancestry. The Prime Minister should try to be the Prime Minister of all New Zealanders, not just care for 15 percent of the population.

2. If the Prime Minister believes that there is no separatism in New Zealand, how does he explain the existence of the Maori and Mana parties, which specifically exist to promote the interests of one racially defined section of the population? How can the Prime Minister’s proposals to have special race-based representation on councils promote anything but separatism?

3.  The “rights” which the Treaty bestowed on Maori were the “rights and privileges of British subjects”; that is to say, the right to be equal to everyone else. That is a great deal. No more was intended or expected.

4.  Anything beyond this basic bargain ~ the Crown sovereign, Maori her subjects with the rights and privileges of subjects, including the possession and enjoyment of their property ~ is not in the Treaty, but is a later political gloss. The “principles” are not the terms of the Treaty.

5. The courts have held repeatedly that the Treaty of Waitangi has of itself NO legal standing or authority in New Zealand law or international law. It is worrying that the Prime Minister appears to be ignorant of so basic a fact. The courts have never struck down any action of the Government merely because it is “against” the Treaty. The courts only refer to the “principles” of the Treaty when Parliament has authorised the courts to do so. Parliament is supreme in our system, not the courts. This is not America. 

A harmonious New Zealand can only be achieved if we live up to our national ideal, the basis of our identity, which is equality, our founding principle.

David Round, who lectures law at Canterbury University, is a member of Hobson’s Pledge.