Govt may support rights plan

The Government will endorse a United Nations declaration on indigenous people's rights only if it does not trump New Zealand's constitutional framework and law, Justice Minister Simon Power says.

The Government was still looking to endorse the declaration, but it did raise complex issues, Mr Power told Parliament's Maori affairs select committee yesterday.

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples recently jumped the gun, saying New Zealand would support the declaration on indigenous rights, but Mr Power confirmed no decision had been made.

There were a number of areas the Government had to ensure were not interpreted in a way to suggest the UN document overrode New Zealand law.

One part could be taken to mean Maori would have to give full informed consent to laws in Parliament.

Mr Power said this would override New Zealand's democratic institutions.

Another part could be interpreted as saying Maori had the right to occupy all land they had before colonisation or receive full compensation for it.

Mr Power said the Government had never offered full compensation, but only fair settlements through the Treaty of Waitangi grievance process.

New Zealand law and constitutional instruments such as the treaty had to remain paramount.

The declaration was an aspirational non-binding document and rather than signing it, Governments issued a statement supporting it, he said.

Mr Power said the Government was taking care with its statement because it intended international commitments to be taken seriously.

Supporting the declaration would reverse the position of the former Labour Government.

New Zealand was among just four countries which last year voted against the non-binding declaration of the UN General Assembly setting out the rights of the world's estimated 370 million indigenous people.

The vote was 143 in favour, four against and 11 abstentions.

The other negative votes were cast by Australia, Canada and the United States.


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