Jacinda Ardern's failure to recite Article One 'inexcusable' - Rodney Hide

Opinion 11/02/2019
Jacinda Ardern at Waitangi. Photo: Newshub.

By Rodney Hide, former ACT Party leader and political commentator

OPINION: The Treaty is short and simple. Its interpretation is complex and controversial. There are three Articles. The first has the chiefs ceding sovereignty to the Queen. The second has the Queen recognising the chiefs’ and the tribes’ property rights. The third has the Queen extending to Maori all the rights and privileges of British Subjects.

That’s it. The document is simple while its interpretation is mired in controversy and fraught politics.

That simple Treaty is a big deal politically, legally, constitutionally, and historically. It has a big impact on the Government’s balance sheet, with every policy and proposal requiring a run through a Treaty process and checklist.

I would not expect a punter on the CityLink bus to rattle off the three Articles but I would expect every MP to do so. It would rank alongside having the wit to find your way to Parliament as a basic expectation of being an MP.

It’s inexcusable for the Prime Minister not to be able to rattle off the three Articles.

And so I was shocked to my gumboots when the Prime Minister at Waitangi was unable to rattle off Article One. "Oh, Article One? On the spot?" Ms Ardern replied when asked. Meaning: “I haven’t a clue -- I haven’t been briefed”.

Her embarrassment was made all the worse by her Minister Willie Jackson whispering her the answer - in Maori!

The Prime Minister wowed them at Waitangi last year. She was there for five days and it was a big deal. Previous Prime Ministers have shunned going.

She wowed again this year with her promise of another $100 million for Maori for something or other and for cooking breakfast for the masses.

But she didn’t know Article One. Don Brash could rattle it off in his sleep. Bill English could do so in Maori.

Why couldn’t Jacinda Ardern? That, for her, is the danger.

She is wonderful wowing the people at Waitangi. She is great on the world stage. She exudes compassion. She makes a great celebrity. She would be tremendous addition to the Royal Family.

But she’s Prime Minister. She’s responsible for the entire apparatus of government.

She also needs to show depth. Her failure to know Article One reinforces a sense of shallowness that goes hand-in-hand with celebrity status. It’s not helped with the practical failure of KiwiBuild and the lack of actual results elsewhere.

There are gotcha questions that I would fail every time. I would never know the price of butter. I still don’t know and yet I do the grocery shopping. I grab the butter on special but pay no mind to the price once it’s in the trolley.

But Article One is different. The Treaty is deeply embedded in our body politic. It’s the reason the Prime Minister goes to Waitangi for five days and sprays out hundreds of millions here and there.

It’s inexcusable for the Prime Minister not to be able to rattle off the three Articles.

Jacinda Ardern has work to do to convince us her Government is anything more than a photo shoot and lofty words.

Rodney Hide is the former ACT Party leader and a regular political commentator on Magic Talk's Weekend Life, Saturdays and Sundays from 11am - 3pm.