Gareth Morgan: We can honour 1840 promises without dividing nation

The final in a four-part series of articles by Gareth Morgan about the future of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Cultural changes are important to embed our bicultural identity. Photo / Stephen Parker
Cultural changes are important to embed our bicultural identity. Photo / Stephen Parker

In previous articles we concluded that pushing the Treaty process beyond its natural limitations is spawning unintended consequences for our constitution. It is encroaching on equal citizenship. However, we also acknowledge that much remains to be done to halt the rolling inter-generational harm wrought by misguided policies and treachery post-1840.

The Treaty is a sharing relationship that requires all New Zealanders to acknowledge Maori as a unique and distinctive social group within our society. Some would go so far as to say Maori are even a distinct "nation". The challenge is to listen to and respect the Maori voice, while protecting the equal rights of citizenship for all New Zealanders as per Article 3 in both versions of the Treaty.

In this article we suggest some ways to meet this challenge. The ideas below are less divisive than separate Maori seats, but ultimately any change requires the backing of all New Zealanders. When you're fiddling with constitutional matters, the involvement of all citizens, not just appointed coteries of technocrats, is fundamental.

Lay-people know when their rights are being removed, so it's lay-people who need to agree to it.

Firstly, we need new institutions to resolve constitutional matters. We recommend trialling citizens' assemblies - small gatherings of members of the public. These allow the public to express their views directly, rather than having their views filtered through the so-called experts inside the Treaty industry. Canada has led the way here and the result is they are able to evolve their constitution to meet the needs of their indigenous people, while retaining public support.

Read more:
Achievements of the Treaty process
Limits of the Treaty process
One country, two peoples - practical polices

Another reform to strengthen the partnership and confirm the bicultural society would be instigating a Second House as exists in Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States. The Upper House would refer back to Parliament legislative changes it considers require more work. It could be small - say 20 members - and it could have 10 Maori and 10 non-Maori representatives with Maoridom appointing their members and Parliament appointing the others. To ensure neither group dominates, a 60 per cent majority might be necessary to refer legislative changes back to Parliament.

Further cultural changes are also important to embed our bicultural identity; we've already extended the anthem, adopted joint names for geographic features and a redesign of the flag is on the agenda. The partnership would be further strengthened through having te reo compulsory in primary school and moving beyond our Dutch name to Aotearoa New Zealand.

As discussed in yesterday's article, devolution could give better effect to the Maori aspiration for more meaningful choice (self-determination). Devolution could be extended into new areas such as welfare - as already signalled with the Tuhoe settlement.

This is not a substitute for good policy but it could well be a more effective way of delivering public sector services to specific groups. The areas where we have practiced devolution like health and education have not been subjected to rigorous evaluation.

Finally, more needs to be done to ensure newly recognised unique Maori rights over natural resources and cultural treasures, in reality do get exercised. That means effective, on-the-ground meaningful involvement of Maori in resource management decision-making, for example. The symbolism from political appointments of Maori to boards is no substitute for delivering on the undertakings the people of New Zealand have made to honour the Treaty around natural resources and taonga.

So now what?

We'd like to see New Zealanders come to an arrangement that is fair to everyone, removes the risk of division and demonstrates a commitment to partnership. We can't see that happening until first we have everyone up to speed on what's trying to be achieved - not just the lawyers and the politicians involved in the Treaty industry. We must all have the same essential information.

Our hope is that the information and ideas in our book and the forthcoming publication of our discussions with Maori and non-Maori will stimulate debate and greater public awareness in New Zealand. We are concerned that current Treaty processes are paving the way to a divided society. Ultimately we all want a way to deliver on the vision of those long-ago signatories to the Treaty.

- NZ Herald

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