Over the past decade, no party has shown more courage in standing up for the freedoms of New Zealanders than Act.
There’s been the freedom of parents to choose a school that suits their children, charter schools. Our party has stood for the legal rights of licensed firearm owners, freedom of speech, the freedom of vulnerable people suffering at the end of their life to choose assisted dying, and the freedom of people to go about their business in the face of heavy-handed Covid measures.
Now in Government, we continue to stand up for New Zealanders’ rights. We are reintroducing choice in education, beating back the thickets of red tape and regulation so deadly to innovation and development, and ensuring Oranga Tamariki has the rights of each vulnerable child as its unconditional focus, among other initiatives.
In these and other examples, Act stands for the mana of the individual, the right to live life as you choose so long as you are not harming others. Put another way, Act has championed tino rangatiratanga, or self-determination.
It’s state monopolies on education and health, excess regulation of our property, and the failure to build essential infrastructure efficiently for the taxes taken that have held New Zealanders back. You might see the overreaching and failing state as the worst of colonisation. It reached a crescendo under the previous Government’s waste and failure.
These excesses are why it’s too hard for many people to get ahead, to get a home, to get an education. It’s why New Zealand is poorer than it should be. The answer is to rein in those government excesses.
You might think leaders in Māoridom would welcome a party willing to beat back the overreaching state and promote tino rangatiratanga. Those who recognise that it is Māori who’ve had the worst of most social statistics would be the most enthusiastic supporters of change.
Many Māori do support Act. Three of us even got elected into the current Act caucus in Parliament. So why do we hear so much criticism of Act from Māori leaders? Act’s cardinal sin is that we see the Treaty as affording the rights of tino rangatiratanga to all New Zealanders, not only those who are Māori.
We don’t believe the Treaty is a partnership between races, or a partnership between Māori and the Crown, because we believe our universal humanity comes first, and race second. If the Treaty affords rights, it should afford the same rights and duties to all. In fact, that is exactly what the Treaty’s third article says.
Those who (wrongly) accuse Act of “rewriting the Treaty” or “messing with the Treaty” need to remember the partnership principle is a relatively new invention. It is only in the past 40 years that “partnership” has emerged. In that time, a combination of the Waitangi Tribunal, the courts and the public service have been reinterpreting the Treaty as that partnership. The logical conclusion is that some New Zealanders are in partnership with the Crown and others are not. Different rights based on ancestry.
The policy conclusion has included co-governance, a separate Māori Health Authority, and a public service with positions reserved for Māori on the basis that they are a Treaty partner.
No successful society has divided itself by race. That’s why Act campaigned to end division by race last year. Our vision is a society that honours the Treaty as our founding document. Its principles should be defined to reflect what it says: That we all have the same rights and duties, we all have tino rangatiratanga.
Act’s Treaty Principles Bill is designed to deliver that vision, so that by 2040, the Treaty will be a uniting document celebrated by all.
It will give tino rangatiratanga to all New Zealanders so we can all solve the practical problems we face.
David Seymour is the leader of the Act Party and part of the coalition Government with National and NZ First.