Open letter to Kelvin Davis, Minister of Crown-Maori relations

24 May 2018

Hon. Kelvin Davis Minister of Crown-Maori Relations
Parliament Buildings

Dear Minister,
We believe that the Government’s move to establish a ministerial responsibility for reviewing the relationship between the Crown and Maori is fraught with danger because it entrenches the notion that the Crown and Maori somehow exist as separate groups in partnership with each other.  Indeed, your own website affirms that “the Crown and Maori will act reasonably, honourably, and in good faith towards each other as Treaty partners”, reinforcing that notion. But the Crown’s duty to act in this way surely extends to all New Zealanders, of whatever origin; it cannot be the prerogative of only a racially selected few.

The consultation meetings you have been holding around the country appear to have further reinforced an expectation that discussions should proceed on the basis of that alleged partnership between the Crown and Maori. There have reportedly been repeated demands that the Crown should be dealing with Maori as equals; concerns that too often the Crown makes decisions without the “approval” of Maori.

Allowing these views to be expressed without challenge or rebuttal is exceedingly dangerous. Nothing in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, or in the English draft from which it was translated, or in the speeches made at the time of the signing, refers to a “partnership” of equals between the Crown and Maori. On the contrary, Article I of the Treaty unambiguously involved Maori chiefs ceding sovereignty to the Crown, and the strong objection voiced to this by a number of the chiefs present – even by those who ultimately signed the Treaty – makes it abundantly clear that that was fully understood at the time. A similar recognition that that was what the Treaty involved was shown at the time of the conference at Kohimaramara in 1860.

In 2000, former Labour Prime Minister David Lange gave a speech in memory of Bruce Jesson in which he highlighted the extreme dangers of proceeding down a path involving some kind of dual sovereignty in New Zealand. In it, he noted that “the Court of Appeal once, absurdly, described [the Treaty] as a partnership between races, but it obviously is not.” In the same speech he noted that “democratic government can accommodate Maori political aspiration in many ways…. What it cannot do is acknowledge the existence of a separate sovereignty. As soon as it does that, it isn’t a democracy. We can have a democratic form of government or we can have indigenous sovereignty. They can’t coexist and we can’t have them both”.

More recently, retired District Court Judge and Canterbury University law lecturer Anthony Willy carefully considered the question of whether Maori have partnership status with the Crown and concluded that the claim has no legal authority: “Maori and the Crown are not partners in any sense of the word. It is constitutionally impossible for the Crown to enter into a partnership with any of its subjects. The true position is that the Crown is sovereign but owes duties of justice and good faith to the Maori descendants of those who signed the Treaty.” And last year, the Rt. Hon. Winston Peters, now Deputy Prime Minister, gave a speech in Paihia in which he ridiculed the notion that Queen Victoria would have been willing to enter into any kind of partnership in 1840 with several hundred mostly illiterate chiefs whom she had never met. Already, and tragically for New Zealand, far too many New Zealanders have been indoctrinated in the false notion of “partnership”, involving those who arrived earlier having some kind of constitutional preference in our country. This notion of a constitutional preference for those who arrived earlier is all the more absurd given that all of those who claim some Maori ancestry also have ancestors of other ethnicities, indeed in most cases with more non-Maori ancestors than Maori ancestors.

We and many other New Zealanders are deeply concerned that in consulting with the public on this issue you are almost exclusively listening to the views of a minority of Maori New Zealanders, with the great majority of your consultations being hui on marae. While all New Zealanders may be welcome at these hui, marae are private property and visitors go there as guests. For most New Zealanders the marae is an unfamiliar environment, and not one conducive to expressing views which are at variance with those of the hosts.

Minister, we urge you to use your vitally important role in the new Government to insist that there is only one peaceful way forward for New Zealand, and that is one where every citizen, whatever their ethnicity, has equal political rights under the Crown.

Yours sincerely,

Signed by all the members of the Hobson’s Pledge council, namely:

John Bell, Waimate;  Mike McVicker, Rotorua;Don Brash, Auckland; Kevin Moratti, New Plymouth; Mike Butler, Hastings; Andy Oakley, Paraparaumu; Wendy Clark, Patumahoe; David Round, Christchurch; Casey Costello, Pokeno; Peter Shirtcliffe, Wellington; Tom Johnson, Napier; Sarah Taylor, Napier; Fiona Mackenzie, Whangaparoa; Larry Wood, Nelson

cc Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party, the Rt. Hon. Jacinda Ardern Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of NZ First, the Rt. Hon. Winston Peters Leader of the National Party, the Hon. Simon Bridges Co-Leaders of the Green Party, the Hon. James Shaw and Ms Marama Davidson Leader of the ACT Party, Mr David Seymour