Open letter: Don Brash to the Prime Minister

Prime Minister,

Again and again, you and your Ministers refer to the “partnership” created by the Treaty of Waitangi. I wonder if you would be kind enough to explain to me (and to the many other New Zealanders who would be interested in your answer) where you found reference to “partnership”, or any synonym of “partnership”, in any version of the Treaty.

While there have been various attempts in recent decades to argue that the chiefs who signed the Treaty in 1840 really didn’t cede sovereignty to Queen Victoria - despite the speeches made at the time and subsequently at a large conference of chiefs in Kohimarama in 1860 - there can be no doubt what the actual words of the Treaty provided.

I understand from Dr Michael Bassett (a member of the Waitangi Tribunal for a decade, a highly regarded New Zealand historian, and of course a long-time Labour Member of Parliament) that when he was on the Tribunal the translation of the Treaty which was generally accepted was that by Sir Hugh Kawharu. Sir Hugh translated the three clauses of the Treaty thus:

“The first: The chiefs of the Confederation and all the Chiefs who have not joined that Confederation give absolutely to the Queen of England for ever the complete government over their land.

“The second: The Queen of England agrees to protect the Chiefs, the Subtribes and all the people of New Zealand in the unqualified exercise of their chieftainship over their lands, villages and all their treasures. But on the other hand the Chiefs of the Confederation and all the Chiefs will sell land to the Queen at a price agreed by the person owning it and by the person buying it (the latter being) appointed by the Queen as her purchase agent.

“The third: For this agreed arrangement therefore concerning the Government of the Queen, the Queen of England will protect all the ordinary people of New Zealand (i.e. the Maori) and will give them the same rights and duties of citizenship as the people of England.”

As you can see, there is not the slightest reference to a “partnership”, and leading Labour politicians such as David Lange frequently ridiculed the very idea that Queen Victoria would have been willing to enter into a partnership with 500 chiefs, none of whom she had even met.

On the contrary, what the Treaty guaranteed in Article III was a guarantee of “the same rights and duties of citizenship as the people of England”.

Surely no other interpretation of the Treaty is consistent with democracy and it would accordingly be reassuring if you were to make it absolutely clear that your Government will not sanction any policy which gives a preference to any New Zealander on the basis of their having a Maori ancestor.

Yours sincerely,

Don Brash

June 19, 2021