Stop the misinformation about the Treaty Principles Bill

Waitangi Day is fast approaching and tensions are expected at official events. Kiwis can hardly be blamed for the widespread confusion behind the tensions related to the Treaty Principles Bill, which incidentally hasn't even been written! 

Sign our open letter to the Coalition Government calling on them to stand their ground!

At this point, it can be credibly argued that there is a deliberate effort to spread false information about what the Government, the ACT Party, and David Seymour are proposing with the Bill.

No one is suggesting a referendum on the EXISTENCE of the Treaty of Waitangi, for example. Recent media stories have often seemed to suggest otherwise.

What the ACT Party is arguing for is of foundational importance to New Zealand’s future. It is important New Zealanders understand it.

In recent years, more and more people have been led to believe that the Treaty of Waitangi created a partnership between two distinct groups of New Zealanders, with those who chance to have one or more Maori ancestors having an inherently superior constitutional status. 

According to this view, those with some Maori ancestry have a superior right to be consulted about a whole range of policy issues, including those regarding land use, natural resources, and political representation.

David Seymour totally rejects this interpretation of the Treaty and argues that having a society where some citizens have rights which are inherently superior to those of other citizens is inconsistent with any reasonable definition of democracy. He argues that we have no future as a democracy if rights are dependent on who our ancestors were.

Moreover, he argues that the words of the Treaty actually support what he proposes that the Treaty Principles Bill will provide – that the government has the right to rule, that we all have rights to our own property, and that all citizens have equal rights.

I have no idea of course what will happen to ACT’s Treaty Principles Bill when it comes before Parliament.  But whatever happens to that particular piece of legislation, it is imperative that as a community we resolve whether we wish to be a democracy where all citizens have equal political rights or whether we want to descend further into the awful morass where rights depend on who our ancestors were.

Central to the opposition to this political equality is the relatively new assertion that Maori did not cede sovereignty to the Crown. This is not a credible position given the obvious practical sovereignty of the Crown in New Zealand since 1840. 

For most of the years since, great Maori leaders accepted that the Crown is sovereign, with the greatest of these being Sir Apirana Ngata.

And all New Zealanders have engaged with the sovereignty of the Crown – they have been employed by the state as teachers, nurses, doctors, soldiers and sailors, they have paid taxes to the state, and received benefits from the state.

Those of us who believe in the superiority of democracy and that equal rights are a cornerstone of such a system must hold the line. 

There will be uncomfortable conversations and tensions as we work through these matters, but if we give up on equality and democracy now, I fear we will never get them back.

No doubt this Waitangi Day we will hear all sorts of other false claims about what the Bill seeks to do. Please remember the Treaty Principles Bill simply seeks to create clarity and consensus on what the Treaty means. It seeks to halt the creative and expanding principles the judiciary have attributed to the Treaty.

We have more than 22,000 signatures on our open letter to the coalition asking them to hold line. Will you add your name if you haven't already done so?