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The Treaty &Trickery of Waitangi & Constitution

Media Release

An address by Rt Hon Winston Peters to Diplomatic Club of Wellington
Duxton Hotel, 1215 pm, Thursday 25 March 2004

The Treaty and Trickery of Waitangi and our Constitution

One of the most important electoral and constitutional changes in recent years in New Zealand was the introduction of Mixed Member Proportional representation.

One of the more interesting changes was the end of a two party system, in which the two old parties imposed their wills on the people, once the election was safely out of the way.

It is interesting now that whenever politicians, revert back to the mindset of First Past the Post, the electorate invariably delivers a sharp reminder that we now have MMP and that politicians have to make it work.

Labour is in such a position today.

Until recently, their attitude reminded me of the words in an old song:

“Oh Lord it's hard to be humble
when you're perfect in every way.”

In recent weeks, it’s been a lot easier for Labour to become humble – after all they are finding out in more ways that they are far from perfect!

This has brought about a change in attitude and a willingness to review policy, particularly in relation to the Treaty of Waitangi.

New Zealand First has agreed, with certain safeguards, to support an inquiry into the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in our constitutional framework,

We see this as an important step for New Zealand and are prepared to put political differences aside in the national interest.

Recent events have convinced us that there are forces dividing our country and these forces are found on both sides of the political spectrum.

Those forces wear a number of disguises.

They speak the language of reasonableness.

They are playing on many factors - fear – ignorance – and baser impulses.

From both sides political parties are using division as a ploy and as a tactic to secure advantage.

They are throwing stones at the glass house in which they live - and instinctively we all know how dangerous this is. You can hear the sound of breaking glass everywhere!

Events of the past few weeks have entirely vindicated New Zealand First’s position on the Treaty.

We have been criticising Labour for years for its reverse racism and appeasement of the Treaty industry.

We have also shown that National is also as guilty as sin over this issue.

Both parties are in a state of denial now although National is attempting to scapegoat and stigmatise one group of New Zealanders.

New Zealand First’s position is that we must stand as one people – agreeing on the fundamental things that we share.

We can acknowledge differences and distinctions - but on some things there can be no compromise.

Our constitution must guard what is at the heart of our nation such as equality before the law and the secret ballot.

To conceive of New Zealand on any other basis is to contemplate a nightmare.

Unity and Agreement

The place of the Treaty of Waitangi in our constitutional framework must be resolved once and for all.

And it must be resolved by agreement.

Because ultimately it is not by a document – a set of words - a piece of parchment – a scrap of paper or even tablets of stone that a nation holds together but by the shared understanding of who we are and how we live together.

This is not about a Maori problem, this is not about a European problem but is about a New Zealand problem and it is our problem.

The basis of any good society is understanding and agreement no matter who we are and where we come from.

That shared understanding has suffered grievously at the hands of both National and Labour governments.

The leadership of both those parties stands culpable of gross misunderstanding and mishandling of the leadership on Treaty issues New Zealanders demand.

Both parties have been devoid of the sanity and common sense that guides Kiwis in their day to day lives - living as we do in a modern multicultural society.

New Zealand is a diverse nation.

That is the fact of the matter.

And in recent years, through massive and uncontrolled immigration, that diversity has created an unmistakably multicultural society.

But when you look at the policies of the two old parties, one is left wondering if that development has escaped them.

Both in their particular ways are working from an out of date map.

National now wants to do a Pontius Pilate and pretend there never was a Treaty while Labour seems to imagine the year is 1840 and the ink is still wet on the document.

As a nation we must forge a strong bond of agreement if we are to successfully face the challenges that will inevitably confront our country.

As we start considering the rightful place of the Treaty we must start thinking about the outcome of any inquiry.

A Constitution - The Foundation

A constitution – whether it is written or unwritten - sets out the relationship between individuals and the Government and defines the powers of the state and its agencies.

The constitution creates the context – the foundation - on which we frame our laws.

As with any house the foundations are all important.

If there is a problems with the piles, fixing the guttering is nothing but a cosmetic change.

An inquiry gives us a chance to look at the foundations – to see how they are standing up to the needs of our society.

In New Zealand we have inherited a magnificent legacy of constitutional foundations that go back to the Magna Carta.

On that foundation common law judgments and accepted political conventions have been built.

We have particular structures such as the Constitution Act 1986, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, the Electoral Act 1993, and the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives.

Constitutional Change without Consensus

In its approach to the constitution Labour has been cavalier with its treatment of New Zealand’s heritage as it has been in other areas such as immigration.

Some of the old landmarks have been demolished.

Labour has seen fit to change and amend our constitution in an ad hoc way.

For example, the recent abolition of the Privy Council and its replacement with a Supreme Court – a major constitutional change - was achieved by the Labour led government with minimal consultation and no mandate.

We opposed that change and we believe a commission on the Treaty will stop this sort of constitutional change by stealth.

Judicial structures are not immutable – and they often have a symbolic element – but they are points of reference and if we discard them lightly we lose another safeguard.

Clarifying Treaty Principles

For years New Zealand First has been sounding the alarm on the inclusion of ill-defined Treaty of Waitangi principles into legislation.

We have consistently sounded the alarm at the danger these ‘viruses’ create in our judicial system, especially as some courts interpret the Treaty as a virtual statute.

This perversion of the Treaty to suit special and usually hidden agendas must end.

If the Treaty is accepted as meaning everything in our democracy, it will quickly be rendered meaningless.

It is time to put relevant meaning into the Treaty.
Because something without boundaries – without parameters –without limits is meaningless.

A medieval builder in England did not go around invoking Magna Carta every time he got involved in a dispute.

Similarly, the attempts of some people to use the Treaty to extract special advantage over their fellow citizens must be stopped.

If the proliferation of Treaty clauses and Treaty invocation is not stopped one conclusion is inevitable – the Treaty will continue its descent into complete and absolute disrepute.


Whether or not we like it, now is the time to clarify what is meant by the Treaty and what its influence should be on our future.

The status of the Treaty has never been more contentious. A fault line – a great chasm has opened up in our society on how people view the Treaty.

We now have this Grand Canyon of disagreement dividing New Zealand into two camps.

People are taking sides.

Disquiet with the Treaty has mushroomed in recent years - it was there just under the surface waiting to emerge into the daylight – just as we have been warning for the past sixteen years.

Safeguards Over Inquiry

New Zealand First’s support for an inquiry is not a blank cheque.

We will have no part of some politically correct talk fest – where the usual suspects mouth well rehearsed scripts.

There has been too much of that enveloping the Treaty already.

We will scrutinise the proposed terms of reference and the membership very carefully.

We want the voices of ordinary Kiwis, from all backgrounds, to be heard and we want the Commission to do something Kiwis don’t always do too well…..

Tell it like it is!

This inquiry must go beyond political correctness – beyond politeness – beyond platitudes.

If it is to have impact it cannot be coy – some pretence will have to go.

If it is to have value the commission is going to have to spell out some home truths –it has to take risks.

This commission has to confront things about ourselves we would prefer to gloss over.


New Zealand First supports a commission because it provides a platform to build a better future for New Zealand.

It offers the opportunity to go beyond perpetuating the grievance industry that is causing so much dissension and division.

It offers a chance to restore a consensus – a shared foundation on which all New Zealanders can stand.

In constitutional terms, one party – New Zealand First - occupies the centre ground.

We do not want to see a divided country. We see the effects of divided nations on our television screens every night.

For all our faults, New Zealanders are a people of practical commonsense. They believe in a fair go.

The path through the constitutional jungle ahead will be found by ordinary New Zealanders.

And that is why we have told the Prime Minister that when the debate is ended, the people must make the decisions on our constitutional framework.

The greatest danger lies with accepting the words of politicians who say “Trust us, vote for me and I will lead you to the promised land”.

We have a great paradox emerging in New Zealand politics - or rather two paradoxes.

The first is Maori who blame all others for their perceived demise and in the next breath demand that those responsible fix things up.

The second is politicians who have created the mess, expecting people to believe that they can fix things up.

They, of course, will not for they have failed before and will do so again.

That is why, in the end, the people must decide by referendum.


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