Who runs New Zealand? That's one of the big questions to arise out of the Waitangi Tribunal's landmark ruling that Maori never gave away sovereignty. The Tribunal's report potentially changes everything.

It certainly changes the status and historical consensus about the Treaty of Waitangi. But the Tribunal's ruling also has a lot of likely ramifications for New Zealand's 'race relations' and how the country is governed. The bicultural political model is now likely to be further extended, and in particular, we can expect to see further state-iwi discussions about issues of sovereignty, co-governance, co-management and partnership. And there will be questions about who really gains from these developments. A potential 'one law for all' debate could reignite.

Whatever happens, expect a lot more heated debate as the nation continues on its fraught political journey involving the interaction of ethnicity, politics and the division of national resources. And as the Prime Minister showed this week, there appears to be plenty of room for different interpretations of the country's race relations history - as reported in International Business Times: John Key Says Britain Settled New Zealand 'Peacefully' Despite Tribunal Report Findings.

The 'historical bombshell' of the Waitangi Tribunal announcement has also been reported internationally, providing some indication of its significance and interest. For example, see Paul Chapman's news report in the British Telegraph: New Zealand's Maori 'did not cede sovereignty to Britain'

However, it was the local newspaper, the Northern Advocate that possibly provided the best account of what this might mean for New Zealand, with Peter de Graaf and Mike Dinsdale reporting that 'what happens next is up in the air, with claimants saying there could be a radical shake up of the way New Zealand is governed' - see: Ruling rewrites our history.

Ngapuhi co-chairman Pita Tipene is reported as believing that 'the ruling meant that the way the country had been governed may need to be looked at and changed to give more autonomy to hapu'. Also, 'Ngati Hine academic Erima Henare said the report's implications were "tremendously huge". In the worst case scenario the Crown would choose to do nothing, in which case the sovereignty issue would probably end up in court'. The Northern Advocate report mentions that 'Some leaders at Waitangi said the finding would strengthen Maori claims to natural resources, because their ancestors never consented to giving up sovereignty, others said it could open up avenues for Maori via international law'.

More biculturalism in politics and society

For the most sophisticated analysis of the what the Waitangi Tribunal report means, it's worth reading the lengthy blog post of Andrew Geddis entitled, Kereru, meet Felis catus. But it's his conclusion that really pinponts the political ramifications of the report, and is worth quoting at length: 'if we want the story we've come to tell ourselves about the Treaty and what it means for who we are to be true, then we can't just keep on keeping on as we've done. Nor can we resolve the breaches of the Treaty simply through payments of money, transfer of resources, and apologies. Rather, it calls for a more radical reworking of the sharing of power over at least some aspects of New Zealand between the Crown and M?ori in order to make good the Treaty's original vision. And that, it seems to me, is the real importance of the Waitangi Tribunal's Report and its conclusions. It provides us with a choice - you can either have your comfortable and ennobling history of the Treaty as the founding document of New Zealand, or you can have the current New Zealand State in which the Crown has the right to exercise ultimate sovereignty over all aspects of life within it. But you can't have both'.

Geddis hints here at the bicultural governance changes that might come about as a result of the report. Certainly, it seems likely that iwi and the state will look to answer the Tribunal report with ways to increase partnership governance at many different levels. This is something that Graham Cameron (who teaches biculturalism) believes could occur, especially at the local government level - see his interesting blog post, So yeah, that thing you say about us signing over sovereignty....

Morgan Godfery has an interesting short review of the report's consequences - see: History isn't always written by the winners. Here's the key part: 'The Crown is confident in its de facto sovereignty, but it now must have the burden to prove its de jure sovereignty. This is the strength of the Treaty: constant interpretation and negotiation. The Crown should - whether out of constitutional, political or emotional necessity - prove its de jure sovereignty. Meanwhile, hapu and iwi can agitate for a new Treaty relationship - one more like a nation to nation relationship than citizenry to state relationship'.

The notion that the Waitangi Tribunal is moving more into the fraught area of political bicultural solutions is put by Gareth Morgan in his blog post, Too much to ask of the Waitangi Tribunal. He says: 'The Tribunal was set up to help negotiations between Maori and non-Maori over resources and political power... To date it has largely done a reasonable job of it and that is because the negotiations have been primarily about resources, not political power. Resource-related grievances have nearly all been settled but there is no sign the Tribunal is shutting up shop. Instead the negotiations are now focusing on political power'. Morgan warns that constitutional reform could have a 'huge impact' and need to be properly considered.

Similarly, Muriel Newman writes this week that 'Treaty demands through the Office of Treaty Settlements are no longer focussed only on property and monetary payouts - they include many new constitutional concessions that are consistent with the establishment of a privileged class in New Zealand such as seats at council tables, control of beaches, changes to place-names, co-governance rights, and so on' - see: Re-writing History.

Who benefits from the bicultural political model?

A Maori elite are the beneficiaries of bicultural political power according to Hone Heke descendant David Rankin, of Ngapuhi. He has said this week that 'a growing number of Maori are fed up with the Waitangi Tribunal, and the entire Treaty gravy train'. In a contribution to Cameron Slater's Whaleoil blog, Rankin makes a scathing attack on the Maori iwi elite: 'Treaty settlements make tribal corporations rich, with the help of favourable tax status and often little or no rates to pay. So with these advantages its pretty easy to become super profitable. But do you think the average Maori sees any benefit from this? None at all. I have been asked several times to be on trust boards and have been offered large sums of money to do so. I refuse. History will judge the kupapa (traitors) who have abandoned our people for money' - see: David Rankin on the Waitangi Tribunal decision.

Rankin concludes: 'Drive through Huntly or anywhere in Tuhoe and you wont find any evidence of these multi hundred million dollar settlements. Lets be clear. The Tribunal exists to make lawyers, and a few elite Maori very rich. It has deprived our people from their birthright and divided and destroyed many of our communities. The sooner it is shut down the better'.

Similarly, leftwing blogger John Moore contextualizes the Waitangi Tribunal's report by detailing the rise of the 'Maori establishment' who he argues have benefitted from the shifts to biculturalism and Treaty settlements. Moore argues that increasing 'iwi power' goes hand-in-hand with an increasing inequality between rich and poor Maori - see: How the Waitangi Tribunal just further empowered an elite.

Moore argues that due to the latest report, 'Biculturalism will be pushed even harder, and the idea that Maori and pakeha are two separate nations will be given more prominence'. Whether it makes any sense to talk of any type of 'Maori nation' is, of course very questionable.

The Tribunal report certainly creates more possibilities for Maori economic development, says Haami Piripi of Te Runanga o Te Rarawa, according to Radio New Zealand's report, Ruling offers Maori 'new opportunities'. Piripi is reported as saying that the 'ruling lets Maori express themselves as an independent nation and that meant they could access new networks and expand into areas including trade and the banking sector'.

So, who has sovereignty in New Zealand?

The headlines created from the Tribunal report might suggest that the soveignty of the New Zealand state is now in doubt. To a small degree that might be right. But the Government has been quick to point out that the legitimacy of the contemporary state won't be affected.

And as rightwing republican blogger Lewis Holden suggests, the main affect of the Tribunal report could just be to change the history books and just acknowledge that 'Maori rangatira signing the Treaty did not see it as ceding sovereignty' - see: Waitangi Tribunal: hysteria versus nation building. He downplays the report and its ramifications, and warns against the 'hysteria now generated by the media'.

The Tribunal report doesn't actually comment on the current nature of sovereignty, as explained well by blogger No Right Turn: 'The Tribunal is at pains to say that they draw no conclusions about how the government acquired the sovereignty it de facto exercises today - only how it didn't acquire it. But by ruling out the central element of our founding myth, they've suddenly put our constitution on an uncertain basis' - see: There was no cession in New Zealand. He also comments that the report 'does potentially raise the prospect of new claims, as those breaches may not have been included in past settlements - and that will put pressure on the government's claims deadline'.

Political scientist Grant Duncan says that of course Maori don't have sovereignty, and that regardless of what happened in 1840 they have since given away sovereignty by recognising the authority of the New Zealand state to negotiate Treaty settlements with: 'If you uphold the Tribunal's authority and findings, you need to recall that the Tribunal was created and empowered by Acts of the New Zealand Parliament (in 1975 and 1985), under the sovereignty of the Queen. You can't have your cake and eat it too. If you recognize the authority of the Waitangi Tribunal, you recognize the sovereignty of the Crown' - see: So, Maori didn't cede sovereignty in 1840.

In the end there's a chance that this latest development just downgrades the status of the Treaty of Waitangi, diminishing the notion that it was in any way the foundation document of the nation. The Treaty could yet come to be seen by many as a mere 'historical curiousity'.

Challenging the Waitangi Tribunal, and ramifications for 'race relations'

Historian Paul Moon has been at the forefront of challenging the Tribunal's report - see the Herald's Expert: Treaty ruling 'distorts NZ history' and Waatea News' Moon defends Hobson from sovereignty slur. For a counterview, see Vincent O'Malley's blog post, On the Waitangi Tribunal's Northland Report.

The latest report will serve to raise further questions about the Waitangi Tribunal and the Treaty settlement process. For example, Mike Hosking argues this week that Waitangi Tribunal needs a stopping point.

Others on the right see the report as 'further evidence that the tribunal should be abolished' - see Mike Butler's Ngapuhi report reason to can tribunal. See also, Ewen McQueen's Waitangi Tribunal on sovereignty - fashionable but flawed.

For blogger No Right Turn, this is probably all evidence that 'the biggest effect [of the report] will be psychological' - see: There was no cession in New Zealand. He says that 'Pakeha are going to have to confront the fact that our history is a bit more complex and far less comfortable than we like to pretend. Or not. Given past practice, this is likely to result in a surge of racist anger at Maori for upsetting our myths, then a return to comfortable ignorance'.

And on a more positive note, the Dominion Post editorial suggests that Hope for goodwill to see us through strife. See also, the Taranaki Daily News editorial, Commonly held Treaty beliefs jolted.

Finally, to make up your own mind about the Tribunal report, you can read the full version of He Whakaputanga me te Tiriti The Declaration and the Treaty: The Report on Stage 1 of the Te Paparahi o Te Raki Inquiry, or the Summary and Q&A. Or, to see how some on social media have responded to the politics of this ongoing debate, see my blog post, Top tweets about the Waitangi Tribunal report, and John Key's version of history.

Debate on this article is now closed.