John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Rougham: Treaty principle cuts both ways

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples' and Prime Minister John Key's political relationship faces a severe test over the sale of state assets. 
Photo / Mark Mitchell
Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples' and Prime Minister John Key's political relationship faces a severe test over the sale of state assets. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Protesters forget that Maori have to act in good faith too.

If you or I imagined we were plugged into the deepest yearnings of the people, raised our flag, stood for election and collected a miserable few votes, we'd probably fold our tent, slip away and revise our view of the world.

But we're not that special breed of human life known as the protester. Votes don't count for much in the protesters' idea of democracy. The Mana Party came to Waitangi last weekend as though the election had never happened, or perhaps to say it didn't matter.

I wasn't going to go this year but, as always, I'm glad I did. Moments that never get on television make it worthwhile - some sublime, some ridiculous.

A sudden downpour drove me into the big tent at Te Tii as Tame Iti was winding up a talk on the Urewera "terrorism" case. I asked a woman nearby if he had explained what they'd been doing in the bush.

"Why do you ask?" she bristled.

"Well, you'd think he'd be able to tell us."

"No," she said, "he hasn't."

Then Hone Harawira and Greens co-leader Metiria Turei were called to the platform. Turei, declaring her background to be anarchism, said her concept of life was that we all lived in a cage with wild monsters trying to tear down the walls that protected us.

These monsters were corporate capitalism, she said, and she saw her job as trying to push out the walls of the cage and increase our living space. Weird.

When Harawira spoke he said he gave Parliament "just enough respect to get my pay". People asked if he felt lonely in Parliament now and he said he would be if he spent much time there.

He didn't agree with those who said it was time to move out of grievance mode. He had told his Te Aupori people after a recent deal with the Crown, "when someone has been thieving from you on Monday they are not going to stop thieving on Tuesday just because you've signed an agreement in between". Sad.

Sad for him and the only electorate that supports him. Not so sad, really, for the country that has to hold its national day on his turf. Our tolerance makes it all the sweeter to sing the national anthem together in the morning sun.

I wasn't going to go to Waitangi because the action has moved indoors. The Prime Minister's meeting with iwi leaders last Sunday was more important than anything happening outside. The Maori Council's decision to seek a Waitangi Tribunal ruling that iwi own water suggests the meeting did not go well.

The assertion of a Treaty obligation on state power and gas companies when they are partially privatised is the greatest test so far of the progress Maori can make with the Government.

John Key appears to believe a Treaty clause would seriously poison the share float. As a possible "mum and pop" buyer, I know it wouldn't discourage me, but Key seems to think it would lower the price and financial commentators agree with him.

This isn't a protest flag on the harbour bridge or a Budget allocation for a Maori Party project. This could hurt.

It is also important. The Treaty obligation in section 9 of the State Owned Enterprises Act 1986 became a constitutional landmark when Sir Robin Cooke's Court of Appeal applied it to SOE land in 1987.

After hearing argument for the Maori Council and the Crown on the circumstances, interests and intentions of each side in 1840, Cooke gave a working definition of the principles of the Treaty.

He said it "rested on the premise that each party would act reasonably and in good faith towards the other within their respective spheres".

Lands, forests, fisheries and treasured things were expressly in the Maori sphere. Government and good order were entrusted to the Crown. Cooke stressed that the obligation to act "reasonably and in good faith" was reciprocal. It applied no less to Maori than the Government.

Is it "reasonable" of them to ask that Meridian, Genesis, Mighty River Power and Solid Energy should continue to be bound by an obligation on the Crown to observe Treaty principles? I think so; the Crown will remain their major shareholder.

Is it reasonable that those companies might be obliged to consider Maori interests if they ever want to change the flow of rivers or drown land? I think so.

On the Maori side, is it acting "reasonably and in good faith" to invoke the Treaty simply to oppose partial asset sales? I don't think so.

Management of the state's assets is in the Government's sphere.

Protesters forget the Treaty cuts both ways. With good faith on both sides, the Government and the Maori Party can take another big step.

- NZ Herald

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John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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