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Waitangi Tribunal Members

Waitangi Tribunal Members

After astonishing debate in the Committee stages today, a law change went through that allows the Chairman of the Waitangi Tribunal to pull off and replace any Tribunal member hearing a case, ACT Treaty Spokesman Stephen Franks said today.

"It became plain in debate that the Maori Affairs Select Committee had been misled into thinking that the power to replace a member was intended only for members who had become over committed or were sick," Mr Franks.

"Instead, Dr Michael Cullen told Parliament that it is meant to allow the Tribunal's Chairman to bump a member, when it seems to the chairman that the unwanted member has a conflict of interests. There is nothing to stop the power being used covertly against a member with unwanted opinions, or unfashionable views - such as a view that evidence should be tested, or that historians should start objectively, and without a bias in favour of claimants.

"The true agenda became plain when I put an amendment to ensure a member could not be dumped without their consent, except under the existing powers allowing the Governor General to terminate an incompetent or bad member.

"United Future and the Greens spokes strongly in favour of the amendment. National voted with the Government. But, when the final vote was held, only ACT stood up for the principle.

"The result is that a Waitangi Tribunal decision must be seen now as substandard justice. We will never be sure that it represents members' uncoerced views of members. Traditionally, judicial type appointments have been for fixed terms, or they are permanent, so there is no temptation to curry favour with the Government to ensure reappointment.

"Waitangi Tribunal members have never had that comfort. Now, however, things are worse. Not only do they have no tenure, but they must be careful to avoid triggering a Chairman's decision to take them off a panel. How can parties have confidence that a feared loss of the daily sitting fees for the hearings has not influenced a member into going along with the Chairman, even when the Chairman is not sitting on a case? They can be dumped even if they have been sitting on the matter for years.

"The Waitangi Tribunal was already suspected of being too PC, and injudicious hyperbole has lowered its reputation. Now it is a suspect tribunal because the members have been made the chairman's creatures.

"National, the Greens and United Future voted for the Bill today shamefacedly. Shame is not an excuse for what happened. They connived in trashing a key rule of law convention. Maori and Pakeha alike are entitled to expect independent judging under the assurance of Article Three, that all New Zealanders would have the same British justice," Mr Franks said.

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