Frontpage of the He Puapua report
Frontpage of the He Puapua report

Peter Williams: Plans for a co-governed New Zealand you should be concerned about

Peter Williams 14/04/2021

OPINION: Today I want to talk about a very important issue. It’s called democracy. 

As Winston Churchill once said, apparently, “no-one pretends democracy is perfect. In fact, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” 

But the question I think we should be asking in this country is this: is democracy under threat? Now, on the surface, that sounds like an absolutely preposterous proposition. After all, we are a long-standing democracy based on the Westminster or British system of letting the people decide who should govern them. We had our first elections in this country in 1853. They were not perfect though because only property owners could vote. 

Over the next 40 years that changed and evolved and by 1893, when women were granted the vote, every New Zealand person aged 21 or older could vote for one nationwide parliament and for local councils. And so, for 128 years, that is the way New Zealand has been governed. We get to vote, and every vote has been of equal value. And theoretically, the majority decides the direction of travel. But are we seeing that system under threat?

I ask that in the light - not just of the city where I live and broadcast from, Tauranga, now being governed by appointed commissioners and them making decisions which the majority are likely to disagree with (like the creation of a Maori ward, and a rates rise for residential property owners that could be as high as 20 percent) - but in the very slow and almost secretive release of a paper called He Puapua during the election campaign last year, and the fact that the full paper has still not been released officially. 

But if you read what is available on the Te Puni Kokiri website you should be very worried about the future of democracy as we know it in this country. In short, this paper called He Puapua is a report of a working group on a plan to realise the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or if you want for short, UNDRIP - or the DRIP.

He Puapua has what it calls a Vision 2040, just 19 years from now, the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The Vision says that by 2040, the government will have implemented the relevant instruments to share power more fairly with Maori in our constitutional arrangements. Now let that sink in. To share power more fairly with Maori in our constitutional arrangements. 

The problem can be sheeted back to the first John Key-led National government which started in 2008. Prior to that, the United Nations had produced its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, which said that indigenous peoples had a right to self-determination. 

The Prime Minister at the time Helen Clark said we’re not signing that, and New Zealand abstained. But three years later, John Key - as part of his deal with the Maori Party - sent Pita Sharples off to New York to sign it. The UN itself said the declaration was non-binding and aspirational. But, for whatever reason best known to them, the Labour Party has now decided that the DRIP will be enacted in this country over the next 20 years and He Puapua sets out a way that will, in the words of conservative political commentator Muriel Newman, lead to tribal control of New Zealand by 2040 and the end of democracy as we know it. 

The move for Maori wards on local councils all around the country is the start of it, and the suggestion that appointed and unelected iwi representatives get full voting rights and full stipends on the Wellington City Council is another example. 

Muriel Newman writes about the slow boiling frog effect. If this happens, and there is every indication it will, it will happen slowly, incrementally and by the time we realise what has happened, it will be too late. So how do you feel about this? Are you happy that a fraction of the population, that is those who claim some Maori ancestry, which is around 15 percent of the population, may be able to share 50 percent of the government’s decision making and control vast amounts of the country’s economic resources, including the most valuable of all - water?

On the surface this seems preposterous does it not? In Vision 2040 it says the following: “If Maori are to exercise governance power, there needs to be support for this. The Crown’s main contribution will be resourcing. There are multiple streams from which financial contributions might be sourced, including, for example, levies on resource use where Maori have a strong claim to ownership, such as water.” 

Can you believe the arrogance of that statement? Can you ever disagree with what John Key once said: “nobody owns the water.” And he was absolutely right. It is swept up from the oceans and falls from the sky. It is one of the wonders of nature. It belongs to all of us and the resource must never be put in “ownership.” 

To have a paper presented to the Associate Minister of Maori Development, and Minister for Local Government, Nania Mahuta with such a suggestion in it, and not have it dismissed, is frankly a very worrying thought. 

There is a gradual realisation among some people of what is happening. Not only Muriel Newman but also the left-wing writer Chris Trotter, has written about this paper and suggests that Jacinda Ardern move very swiftly now to shut down any talk of a change to New Zealand’s governance arrangements over the next 20 years. 

But is there any sign of that? Of course not. 

What is also worrying is the silence of the National Party on this. But then, maybe they’re embarrassed. It was them who started it with John Key sending Pita Sharples off to sign up to something that Helen Clark would not have a bar of because she realised the long-term implications of it. And now it has come to pass. 

I don’t want any racist tirades about this issue, I want some reasoned discussion. And for me, it comes back to this. I believe in the concept that all people are equal, that in this country everybody’s vote is as important as everybody else’s. We are all New Zealanders. 

Yes, we may have descended from Maori or Chinese or Scottish or English, but we all live together in this country as New Zealanders. My antecedents came here 173 years ago. Am I any less of a person, any less of a New Zealander because my forefathers and foremothers arrived here 500 years after other settlers? Is somebody born in England or India or China who came here in the last 10 years and now has a New Zealand passport any less of a New Zealander than me? I would hope not.

But if we have some sort of devolved co-governance arrangement whereby 50 percent of the power is in the hands of the small proportion of the electorate, is that acceptable in a nation which has known the concept of parliamentary democracy in some form or another since 1853? 

Isn’t this one of the most important questions facing New Zealand’s future? Yet no one in the government wants to talk about it in the open.

Join Peter Williams every weekday from 9am on Magic Talk.