Tribunal must go


Hobson’s Pledge says that there is no longer any need for the Waitangi Tribunal. There are at least seven reasons why the Waitangi Tribunal should be abolished.

  1. A permanent, for-Maori-only complaint body creates a race fault line. This conflicts with an underlying simple principle that in a democracy like New Zealand all citizens must be treated the same under the law.
  2. The tribunal rewrites history. This re-written history that deplores wicked white colonisers for all manner of alleged crimes is posted on the Waitangi Tribunal website and is used as an indoctrination tool to convince us that “Maori” are owed an immense debt that can never be repaid.
  3. The tribunal is biased. By the early 1990s, the tribunal became advocates for claimants rather than independent assessors on the claims put before them. For instance, try to recall any instance in which the tribunal decided in favour of the Crown.
  4. Tribunal recommendations have undermined private property rights. The Treaty of Waitangi Act was amended in 1993. Amendment (4A) says “the tribunal shall not recommend … (a) the return to Maori ownership of any private land; or (b) the acquisition by the Crown of any private land.” Nevertheless, demands for the right to claim against private land persist.
  5. The tribunal was promoted as an avenue for Maori to air grievances rather than resorting to protest action. But protest has increased. Waitangi Day protests became an annual event. The size of protests have increased. The 1975 land march brought 5000 protestors to the steps of parliament, yet the 2004 foreshore and seabed hikoi brought 15,000 protestors.
  6. The tribunal has created a “gravy train”. The government employs more than 120 to operate the Waitangi Tribunal and Office of Treaty Settlements. Hearings are awash with lawyers, most on legal aid, which provided $79 million from 2006 to 2012. The 2008 “Treelords” settlement racked up $60 million in fees and expenses in the deal which transferred ownership of central North Island forests to eight tribes. The top-earning “treaty negotiator” pocketed $1.5 million for work on 20 settlements.
  7. The tribunal is used to extract benefits for tribal interests. Tribal opportunists will take a claim to the tribunal knowing they will get a favourable report. Next step is the High Court, the Appeal Court, and then the Supreme Court. Claimants will repeat their outrageous claim until it is seen as fact. The claim does not have to succeed. At any point the government could grant a concession to make the claim go away.

Dr Michael Bassett, himself a member of the Fourth Labour Government, one of New Zealand’s foremost historians, and a former member of the Waitangi Tribunal, noted in 2004 that: “It is surely time to re-examine the tribunal’s usefulness. The captivity of crusading historians and those who have built careers out of sowing, then farming, grievances, the current body has passed its sell-by date. There is enough evidence to settle all outstanding historical grievances quickly. That process should be completed. What the future relevance of the treaty might then be requires further public debate. That issue involves all of us, not just the Waitangi industry’s vested interests.” (1)

A Consumerlink email survey in 2012 showed that of the 1031 people who responded, 68 percent favoured abolition of the Waitangi Tribunal.

The Waitangi Tribunal could be abolished by repealing Sections 4 – 8 of the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975. Any final historic settlements that are still in the pipeline could be negotiated directly with the Crown, which is often what is happening anyway.


  1. Time to ditch the tribunal, Dominion, September 14, 2004.