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Newman Online Weekly commentary by Muriel Newman


Newman Online Weekly commentary by Dr Muriel Newman MP

It is ironic to witness the pompous jockeying of political parties as they busily promote their own version of time limits for the Treaty of Waitangi claims settlement process, knowing that all of them opposed ACT’s private member’s bill to introduce time limits and remove treaty clauses from our legislation. If they had supported us, instead of calling us racists and red necks, New Zealand could have been nearing the end of the Treaty grievance industry.

But as we look ahead and consider whether Treaty issues will continue to plague the nation into the foreseeable future, I remain stuck on simple but fundamental question: why are today’s generation of New Zealand taxpayers being forced to compensate Maori, not only for land that they willingly sold over 150 years ago, but also for land that they could not possibly have ever “owned” but now claim? Why aren’t the deals they did back then recognised as being legitimate, with present-day attempts to revisit them for the purpose of extracting more money viewed as naked opportunism?

Is it any different from someone who sold a house 30 years ago for $20,000, who knows it is now worth $200,000, knocking on the door of the new owner to try and demand another $180,000? While these would-be opportunists would be respectfully be told to go and get lost, I cannot understand why we tolerate and appease Maori claimants, who are demanding today’s prices for land they sold 150 years ago.

The reality is that the whole treaty settlement process is a myth foisted on the nation by clever activists who have been aided and abetted by politically correct liberal do-gooders. As a result, New Zealanders have been duped by successive Labour and National governments who have elevated the treaty into something that it is not, bestowing on Maori special rights and privileges that are not available to other New Zealanders.

As Guy Chapman, an Auckland law practitioner wrote in an article published in the New Zealand Law Journal in 1991: “A modern democracy cannot function happily and equably if there is legally- sanctioned preferment of groups, or if there is the conferment of privilege and advantage by law, according to who may have come first, who may be from this or that ethnic group, or again, howsoever. That approach has been unhappily tried and its product is now being hastily dismantled in South Africa. Something similar is now being attempted, shamefully, in Fiji with again ultimately predictable results”.

He goes on to say: “The very concept of that modest little document, more than 150 years after its date, according “rights”, that is special rights to some on the footing that the “some” are in a never-ending, exclusive and cosy relationship with “the Crown”, to which all others are not admitted, must be unacceptable quite apart from being utterly unworkable”.

“Special treatment for special needs is one thing, but ‘special treatment for some because forebears of some signed a document 150 years ago’, is entirely another. History should be left to bury its dead. The Treaty is an historical artefact, to be revered as such. Attempts at reincarnation, so as to gain latter-day advantage, are not only politically unviable, but will make the Treaty as a vehicle of special pleading, a focus of deep resentment and division”.

That has certainly come to pass. An entire alternative mythology has been constructed around the Treaty that is based on wishful thinking, judicial activism, political manipulation, a re-writing of history, and the fleecing of taxpayers.

The reality is that the Treaty was introduced to protect citizens from rampant violence and lawlessness. That is why it has been described as a surrender document: those Maori chiefs that could be found to sign it agreed that the Queen of England would become our queen, that all New Zealand citizens would be protected by British law, and that property rights would also be protected.

In contrast to what we were taught in schools, historian Ruth Ross describes the treaty-making process in “Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Texts and Translations” as an ad hoc and chaotic process: “However good intentions may have been, a close study of events shows that the Treaty of Waitangi was hastily and inexpertly drawn up, ambiguous and contradictory in content, chaotic in its execution. To persist in postulating that this was a “sacred compact” is sheer hypocrisy”.

Similarly talk of Maori Chiefs ceding sovereignty to the Crown is overstated. As Chief Justice Prendergast stated in 1877: “No body politic existed capable of making cession of sovereignty, nor could the thing itself exist”. In other words, the Treaty was a pact of affirmation and allegiance between the two countries.

The Treaty of Waitangi never was nor never will be a Bill of Rights or a constitutional document of any kind. Its significance is historical, a symbol of the beginning of our journey into nationhood. To present it as a modern day mechanism to advance preferential treatment to Maori over all other New Zealanders is deceitful.

Surely it is now time to admit that the emperor has no clothes and to stop the charade.

To quote Chris Trotter, Editor of the New Zealand Political Review, from his St Aiden’s lecture in August of last year: “The only way to build a progressive, 21st Century nation is to make sure the Treaty is decently reburied where it should have been allowed to rest in honourable peace – the past”.

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