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Launch of Treaty of Waitangi website - Speech

Hon. Trevor Mallard

Launch of Treaty of Waitangi website
http://www.treatyofwaitangi.govt.nz

Speech to the launch of Treaty of Waitangi website, E-vision, Wellington

I extend my greetings to the tangata whenua, whose ancestors signed the Treaty of Waitangi here in Wellington, in fact 164 years ago in ten days time - on 29 April 1840.

I'd also like to thank Michael Wintringham for hosting this function, and for his work overseeing the overall information programme. Thanks also to the members of his Advisory Board for the Treaty of Waitangi Information Programme who have played a key role in the development of the Programme -Sir Paul Reeves, Professor James Belich, Mrs Lynette Stewart, Mr Peter Biggs, Ms Belinda Clark and Mr Leith Comer.

And welcome to everyone who is here to mark this launch.

When our government decided last May to launch the Treaty of Waitangi Information Programme, we were concerned at the time that the general public was just not getting reliable information on the Treaty in a way that was easy to access and in a form that was easy to understand.

Now a year later we are acutely aware of the need to fill the information gap and lift the public's understanding of the Treaty. The key issue for most New Zealanders is the relevance of the Treaty to New Zealand in the 21st century.

It is well and truly time to switch the lights on around the Treaty so that New Zealanders - non-Maori and Maori - can see what the Treaty is about. The website I am launching today is the first official website that covers the Treaty of Waitangi in all its complexity.

As you will see when we take a look at the website later, it has sections on the Treaty's history, different Treaty texts, key people, a Treaty timeline, journey of the Treaty (where it went to for signature), settlement of Treaty claims, quotations on the Treaty, a resource list including links to relevant sites, and a Frequently Asked Questions section. The material is drawn from expert research and literature.

The timeline covers both the history of the Treaty and general New Zealand history. It's a way to quickly access key milestones that led up to the signing of the Treaty in 1840. It carries through from 1840 to the modern era when there was renewed recognition of the Treaty. I think a lot of people will use the timeline as a quick introduction to the meatier material in other sections of the site.

Under the Journey of the Treaty, you'll find a little known fact, that there are in existence nine copies of the Treaty. They are now at the National Archives in Wellington, but those nine and many more copies that have since been lost, were taken around the country for signature.

After that, they were left languishing for many years, were nearly destroyed in a fire, were partially eaten by rats and then they received well-meaning but misguided treatment to preserve them.

This is not the first initiative from the Treaty of Waitangi Information Programme, and it won't be the last.

There is already an active sponsorship scheme offering assistance to community-based organisations wanting to hold Treaty seminars, workshops or hui. The Human Rights Commission has been assisted to undertake wide-ranging public discussions on human rights and the Treaty of Waitangi through the 13 symposia and 20 community dialogue sessions convened so far.

We also have plans for television and radio programmes, drama presentations, story lines on the Treaty for use throughout the Information Programme that draw on the rich vein of material in the Waitangi Tribunal reports and elsewhere. There will also be information kits and pamphlets available.

Let me say that it has not been easy to piece together the story of the Treaty.

That's because there is no complete consensus on the history, and a lot of what happened 164 years or so ago is not always clear to us today in 2004.

Many different historians have contributed and reviewed the story of the Treaty on this website to ensure that it is as accurate and balanced a picture as possible. The aim was not for it to be a shrine to political correctness. The public has a right to expect that level of attention to detail.

The story on the website is not fully complete at this stage. The historical account in Phase 1 of the website development runs from the early 1800s to 1840 when the Treaty was signed.

Progressively over the coming months a full account of events that occurred from 1840 up to the present day will be added to the site. This covers the period when many of the events took place that led to the grievances we are trying to address today.

We have had access to a wide range of expertise in this area and I would like to thank the many professionals, historians and others, who have helped ensure the delivery of a high quality product.

In the end, the point of this is to make information available to a broad range of the public so that if they want to, they can build on their knowledge of the Treaty and its relevance to our country.

The Information Programme is just that - information. Most New Zealanders are fair-minded enough that when faced with facts they are able to make up their own minds about issues.

The extremists at both ends of the Treaty of Waitangi debate, will, I have no doubt, criticise what they see here.

And sadly, there will be politicians who will continue to take the destructive approach. We will get the typical knee-jerk reaction from them, but I seriously hope that people can be constructive here and put politics aside.

I think most Kiwis don't want to take the negative approach.

With knowledge of course comes understanding. To keep the public of New Zealand in the dark about our history and its relevance to us today does a great disservice not only to us but also to future generations.

A website may not be an obvious starting point for an information programme, but the internet is a key information medium in New Zealand - we have the highest use of the internet in the world.

The website is also a cost effective way of efficiently getting across information to a wide section of the public. It also has a permanence that other information media do not have, and it can be visited repeatedly. New ideas will be added as further scholarship and research reveal new information of relevance to the Treaty.

People can browse and use it in ways that suit them, and can follow links to other related sites if they want to go really deep.

I believe that what we have here is a balanced, thoughtful and authoritative account of events, which is easily understood and accessible. It is an important contribution to understanding our country's history.

Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure then to formally launch this website:

http://www.treatyofwaitangi.govt.nz

ENDS

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