Māori self-determination will be "something that brings us together as a country", Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson says as he unveils the next steps for Aotearoa to realise its international obligations to indigenous peoples.
Speaking at his marae in Tāmaki Makaurau, Ngā Whare Waatea, Jackson announced by the end of 2022 the Government would have signed off on a plan to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Undrip) - the first in the world to have done so.
It comes after a heated few months in Parliament after opposition parties leaked Government-commissioned document He Puapua, produced in 2019 to advise how New Zealand could realise its commitments under the Declaration.
It included a roadmap to 2040 by which time it envisages various co-governance and Māori-run arrangements to address the huge inequities currently facing Māori.
These include a separate Māori Parliament or upper house, health and justice systems, further return of Māori assets including foreshore and seabed, and recognition of cultural rights and equity.
It was not Government policy, but National and Act labelled its Māori-focused initiatives as "separatist" and accused the Government of a hidden agenda.
Jackson said this was not the case, rather the report was "a collection of ideas, suggestions aspirations and hopes for Maori – something to add to our discussions".
Speaking to reporters after the announcement Jackson said while the Government had made clear its views on some aspects, such as a separate Māori Parliament, they were not ruling anything out.
"It is about the opportunity to have a kōrero."
New Zealand signed up to the Declaration in 2010 through then-Māori Affairs Minister and Māori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, under a National-led government.
Jackson said today's announcement was continuing that cross-partisan work.
"It's appropriate we're at my marae, a cultural focal point for South Auckland Māori, to discuss a Declaration plan.
"For over 30 years Ngā Whare Waatea Marae has been a place for the local community to come together to plan for the future."
He spoke of the kura, radio station, Whanau Ora, Youth programmes, domestic violence programmes, restorative justice, Marae justice, food bank - all on the marae grounds "where we exercise self-determination", Jackson said.
"However I know for many people who have never been to a marae like this, who may not be Māori – coming here can be scary.
"But I can assure you – once you walk through the gates you will be welcomed, you become part of what we have here and you will see, like many visitors before you, see that we have so much in common and share a belief in making Aotearoa the best country for all our children and our whanau to belong to.
"Like Ngā Whare Waatea, the Declaration can be a bit scary when you first look through its gates.
"But once we talk about it together, wananga, and even argue back and forth about it – it will become a place where talking about self-determination is welcomed, a place where we can share our aspirations and debate our future.
"It will be something that brings us together as a country.
"The Declaration was never meant to divide us. It is not a tool for separatism. It is not something to be afraid of. "
Cabinet had signed off a two-step process, beginning with targeted engagement over the next few months with key iwi and significant Māori organisations on how they wish to be involved.
This will be followed by wide public consultation with New Zealanders on a draft Declaration plan, with consultation next year with the aim to have it signed off at the end of 2022.
"The time is right to develop a plan that measures our progress in advocating for Māori in real and meaningful ways," Jackson said.
"This must reflect New Zealand and it's an important conversation for us to all have together as a nation.
New Zealand is one of 148 countries that support the Declaration. Canada recently backed the Declaration with legislation and will have a plan in place within two years.
Globally there is increased momentum to improve outcomes for indigenous peoples in areas such as health, education, and housing, Jackson said.
"This Government is focused on improving the wellbeing of Māori communities, addressing inequity issues for Māori and fulfilling our obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and this is one part of that mahi," Jackson said.
Act Party leader David Seymour said the consultations should take place with all New Zealanders immediately, rather than just Māori.
"If there's to be a constitutional conversation, everybody deserves to be part of it."
National leader Judith Collins said questions of constitution were not simply to be had between Māori and the Crown.
"New Zealand is not made up of just Pākehā and Māori. We are multi-cultural and all of us have a stake in this country.
"I challenge Minister Jackson to extend his consultation on these matters to all New Zealanders so this can be something all New Zealanders contribute to. By making this a matter for Māori alone, he is fostering more division."
Jackson defended speaking to Māori first, given it was about indigenous rights in the first place.
He said it was "disappointing" National was attacking the process given it had signed New Zealand up originally. He denied the Government had kept the process quiet deliberately.
"Doing nothing might have been an option not to get criticism from the right, but doing nothing for us is not a principled way to go.
"It is not binding, and a lot of the work has already been done. But it is important New Zealand is at the forefront of this, we are often used as an example around the world in terms of race relations and indigenous rights.
"We have work to do, but the indigenous experience and the partnership here is something to be proud of."