Is turbulence returning to race relations via a renewed debate about the role and place of the Treaty of Waitangi? For many years now there has been a growing political consensus about the treaty. Certainly politicians and political parties have been more united than ever about the role and place of the treaty and in last year's election, issues of ethnicity and race relations played an even smaller role than usual. Yet there are some signs of growing dissent from this consensus, especially from the wider public.

The landmark Waitangi Tribunal report issued late last year about the Treaty not ceding Sovereignty - as discussed in my column, Get ready for more biculturalism in politics - will have many ramifications for this debate. And a new publication by Gareth Morgan about the politics of the Treaty, may lead to further political differences and rancour.

Challenging the Treaty debates

Gareth Morgan's new book, co-authored with Susan Guthrie, 'Are We There Yet - The Future of the Treaty of Waitangi', is published this month, alongside the book's companion website Talk Treaty. Morgan preceded this with a four-part series of opinion pieces in the Herald last week: 1) Treaty justice triumph of commonsense, 2) One-sided tribunal process recipe for ongoing tension, 3) Co-operation needed to deliver rangatiratanga fairly, and 4) We can honour 1840 promises without dividing nation.

Morgan also published another opinion piece in the Herald last month: We need a fresh look at the Treaty.

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On his website, you can see his 3-minute video introduction, Starting a constructive conversation on the future of the Treaty of Waitangi, and some answers to Frequently asked questions , including interesting ones such as: What is all the fuss about rangatiratanga?, How can Maori achieve their aspirations without unique political rights?, and Who is making money from the Treaty?.

Morgan's challenges and conformity towards Treaty politics

The angry response so far tends to suggest that Morgan's views are fairly controversial.
However a sober reading of his articles suggests that the new book is actually fairly conformist and mild.

Although there are some interesting challenges to the current Treaty consensus, Morgan is mostly in sync with the prevailing establishment ideas about race relations.

Morgan's articles show that he has a strong appreciation of the disadvantaged position of Maori and the effects of colonisation. He professes a strong desire to see Maori aspirations met, in terms of culture, politics and economics.

And in most of his favoured solutions to problems, he won't get much disagreement from Maori nationalists. For example, he favours changing the country's name to Aotearoa New Zealand, he champions further devolution of social service provision, he thinks te reo should be compulsory to learn in primary schools, and most surprisingly, he advocates a bicultural Upper House for Parliament that is half elected by Maori.

On this point, he's in line with Martyn Bradbury - see: How should Waitangi Tribunal ruling on Sovereignty be implemented?.

But Morgan does still deviate from the Treaty consensus. For a start, he doesn't believe that Treaty politics are the answer for dealing with issues faced by Maori - he says that 'the Treaty has limits'.

Instead he argues that problems with inequality need other solutions.

For example, in his third Herald article , he says: 'we need to stop framing disadvantage as a Treaty issue. We should deal with disadvantage regardless of race. Other groups are at risk too (eg Pasifika), so it's just not credible to frame it the way the Treaty industry does.

We need to strengthen our anti-discrimination and Human Rights legislation to address ethnic bias in disadvantage'.

The two most controversial Treaty stances put forward by Morgan are critiques of the Waitangi Tribunal and of 'recommendations granting Maori unique political rights'.

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His example of these rights are in local government: 'One example of this is the Local Body Act that enables councils to create Maori Wards and Maori Statutory Bodies with power over matters far broader than those covered in Article 2 - matters that affect all citizens. How can that be compatible with equal citizenship?'

On the Waitangi Tribunal, Morgan might find some agreement from Hone Heke descendant David Rankin, of Ngapuhi, who has recently blogged to say, Waitangi Tribunal Doing More Harm Than Good.

In terms of Morgan's views amongst the wider public, it's worth noting the TVNZ Vote Compass survey of last year showed that a majority of New Zealanders - and a fair chunk of Maori, too - believe that the Treaty should have a smaller role in New Zealand law - see: Vote Compass: 56% want smaller role for Treaty.

Responses to Gareth Morgan

Morgan is receiving a lot of flak for stepping into the Treaty debate. For example, the response on Twitter has (typically) been one of condemnation, although most of this is purely ad hominem attacks rather than insightful critique - see my blog post, Top tweets about Gareth Morgan and the Treaty.

One of those tweeting his outrage was Deloittes lawyer Joshua Hitchcock (@jcphitchcock), who specialises in Treaty and iwi economic development. He labeled Morgan's column as 'anti Maori', and expressed that 'We don't need a pakeha telling us what Rangatiratanga means'. Hitchcock penned two responses that the Herald has printed this week: Tribunal a part of healing process and Economic growth key to future for Maori.

Hitchcock explains his own role in what Morgan might call the 'Treaty industry': 'my working career has been spent litigating before the Waitangi Tribunal and, more recently, working with Iwi on issues of economic development'.

He puts forward the case in favour of the Waitangi Tribunal, and for further co-governance arrangements.

While Hitchcock comes from the right of the political spectrum - proving that Maori politics and nationalism go beyond left and right - another Maori blogger, Morgan Godfery, is from the left, and gave a similarly important response - see: Gareth Morgan and the Pakeha Pathology.

Godfery points out what he considers are contradictions in Morgan's opinion pieces. His larger point, however, is to accuse Morgan of wanting to limit Maori aspirations because of the need to placate the pakeha majority, thus ensuring harmony.

Some other responses have been published on the Tangata Whenua website by Potaua Biasiny-Tule - see: Will Gareth Morgan be the new Moses to ignite a Maori Exodus? , Gareth Morgan, Treaty Partnerships and the Mercy of the Majority, Gareth Morgan and Pakeha Rangatiratanga , and Gareth Morgan, Wairua and the Challenge of Love.

These critiques by Biasiny-Tule are often strongly made, but interestingly, his conclusion is somewhat more positive: 'What I have appreciated about all 4 articles from Gareth is his genuine search for a new alternative, an open-hearted attempt to create a fresh new charter of consensus'.

On the conservative, anti-Treaty right there's dissatisfaction with Morgan's views, seeing him as becoming part of the Treaty industry - see, for example, Mike Butler's Gareth Morgan wrong on treaty and Reuben Chapple's Maori Land.

Local government Maori wards

Gareth Morgan is particularly opposed to the creation of special Maori wards in local government - as expressed in his December Herald article, We need a fresh look at the Treaty.

Catherine Delahunty responded to Morgan's critique of Maori wards in local government - see: Maori representation no threat to open democracy.

In New Plymouth, where there is currently a by-election campaign for the District Council, Dion Tuuta writes about the related debate about whether to introduce a Maori ward, predicting that it won't happen: 'I don't see it happening - particularly when two Maori candidates themselves are running the idea down' - see: Ward hysteria is an election distraction.

And in an earlier column, Tuuta explains why the provision of Maori wards reflects the intent of the Treaty - see: Treaty guarantees a place for Maori.

Of course, at the national level, the existence of Maori electorate seats continues to be questioned. And recently National blogger David Farrar argued that it is Time for a referendum on the Maori seats.

Other Maori representation issues

Maori representational issues will continue to provoke fraught but important discussions. For example, many of the representation mechanisms are strongly tilted towards iwi structures, leaving urban Maori potentially disenfranchised or underrepresented.

This is a point made last month by Willie Jackson, talking about his own battles in Auckland with the Independent Maori Statutory Board.

The lack of a national body to represent all Maori is also referred to from time to time. And the Waitangi Tribunal is the latest to make a call for such a body, being reported as saying 'a conversation was needed between all of the institutions over setting up one national Maori organisation' - see Radio New Zealand's Call for one body to represent all Maori .

But such the likelihood of such a body being established is very low according to a member of the Iwi Chairs Forum, Haami Piripi, who draws attention to the fact that 'the last attempt at setting up a kotahitanga (unity) institution was through the Maori National Congress in 1990, which lapsed due to a lack of money and commitment from individual iwi' - see: Single national Maori body 'nirvana'.

Piripi is reported as saying that 'until that nirvana was achieved Maori would always struggle with fragmentation, division, differences of opinion, and interpretation'

Other controversies

Towards the end of the year a number of other Treaty-related controversies emerged but possibly failed to get full public consideration in the aftermath of the election and the shift into the summer holidays.

For example, the reintroduction of a charge at the Treaty grounds was condemned by many politicians - see Adam Bennett's Treaty ground fee: 'You're charging people to see your history'.

And more considered thoughts on this were presented in the Herald's editorial, Free entry to Treaty site nation's right , and Brian Rudman's Forget the myth, let's talk about Waitangi charge.

Then with the new co-governance arrangements in the far north, with Te Rarawa, another public access charge entered into consideration - see Helen Castles' Would you pay to go on Ninety Mile Beach? User charges on the cards.

The Government was also reprimanded towards the end of the year for another Treaty breach - see Newswire's Government can't touch Maori act - Waitangi Tribunal.

The future of race relations

Next year is the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The government's official celebrations are being planned, and the official logo for the celebrations has been released - see Michael Field's Back to the future with Waitangi logo.

And as we get closer to Waitangi Day, and as Gareth Morgan's book provokes more conservations and debate, it's worth looking at other resources about Treaty politics.

In Wellington, Dr Matthew Palmer QC will be giving a public lecture on 3 February at the National Library - see: The Treaty in NZ's Law and Constitution.

And for an interesting look at how the debate and politics of the Treaty has transformed over the years, see Ranginui Walker's recent essay, The Conversation (http://bit.ly/1szPsZO).

Finally, for a very different analysis of the Treaty and the way forward for Maori aspirations, see John Moore's blog post, Treaty politics versus class politics - How the Treaty settlement process has delivered bugger-all for most Maori .

Moore argues that the Treaty model has failed the majority of Maori, while really only benefitting an elite. Drawing on the scholarly work of Elizabeth Rata and Evan Poata-Smith, he argues that the Treaty has become a dead-end for real change, and that it's time for a leftwing solution to Maori disadvantage and inequality.