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Dump the Treaty or respect it?

Dump the Treaty or respect it?

Stephen Franks Sunday, 28 August 2005 Speeches - Treaty of Waitangi & Maori Affairs

Address to ACT's Treaty and Maori Affairs launch; Telecom Theatre, Hamilton; Sunday, 28 August 2005.

ACT pioneers. That is what we have done since we entered Parliament in 1996. Fresh ideas are not always popular at the time. They may only be welcome in hindsight. And by then we can forget about gratitude. Nevertheless, daring to challenge political correctness is what ACT party members support, and ACT Members of Parliament are proud to do it.

You can see the result of our hard yards in National's new policies. It is in their voucher proposals, and choice for secondary schools. Look at their welfare policy before they got cold feet. Consider their recently acquired enthusiasm for tax reform.

And of course the biggie. It took National five years to gain the courage to adopt our 1999 'one law for all' policy. That is what Dr Brash announced in his famous Orewa speech.

Now ACT has to step forward again. Our policy sets out, with practical detail, where New Zealand must go, and why it is worthwhile. The other parties have been carefully negative. They say we must reverse course to avoid strife, but they do not say where to head.

ACT leads towards the high ground of a colour-blind state, because that is where any sane society wants to be, whether or not it has hit the quick sand of "diversity" politics. Diversity is the politically correct codeword for race.

Proud equality before the law under a tolerant colour-blind state is the vision for the future that ordinary new Zealanders share and trust in. They have never been excited by the ghastly forced celebrations of bi- culturalism, then multi-culturalism and now various versions of state suckled "diversity". They have always been suspicious of artificially resuscitated tribalism.

But the politically anointed thought they just needed more education. In 1998 Parliament was raucous with the howls of "racist" against Derek Quigley's bill to put time limits on Treaty claims. Now only United Future, the Greens and the Maori Party oppose time limits.

Labour's U-turn on race-based programmes uncovered the Treaty high watermark. And the spurious "principles of the Treaty" now have no defenders in Parliament. Every MP knows that the Treaty Emperor has no clothes. But it is not enough just to join the crowd to jeer at the Emperor.

A naked treaty can still be scary if it is indeed living, as Labour insists. Someone has to find him some decent clothes.

Labour can't do it. They are shell shocked - hoping their stunned members stay quiet till after the election, because they have no principled explanation for the U-turn, and no doctrine to explain what status the Treaty now should have.

Helen Clark, Michael Cullen and Margaret Wilson have never withdrawn their claims that the Treaty gives Maori special rights other New Zealanders can never share. They do not spell them out, because that would cause uproar. But they need that excuse to pass law after law cementing in race distinctions, and to spend million after discriminatory million to keep their useless Maori MPs on board.

Academia, the bureaucracy, and the media establishment are still thickly infested with Treaty worshippers. Most of them have yet to realise that, politically at least, their god is dead.

Two other political parties have found the courage to criticise the Treaty industry, but not enough to suggest solutions. So they have confined themselves to arguing about who can settle claims the fastest. They dare not lead any debate about what the Treaty should mean, because the logic of their criticism says "nothing".

So I've unpicked their official policies. With our policy release there is a comparison with National and New Zealand First.

We need not bother comparing the others. They are all, including United Future, stuck in confusion, trying to avoid the conclusion that there is no special status for tangata whenua that is not inherently racist, and ultimately unworkable, even if we thought that inherited political privilege was a good idea. They can't even face the question: Who is Maori for legal purposes?

What will the Treaty mean when the historical grievances are settled?

Only ACT dares to say that in legal terms it will mean nothing.

Others, like the Greens, want the Treaty entrenched in a written constitution.

I don't think it would hurt, as long as it was the actual words of the Treaty. But that is because the real Treaty is now, but for one thing, of historical interest only.

Article 1 is spent. There's no doubt we are one democratic people with power residing in majority democracy.

The first half of Article 2 is admirable. It extended to all Maori in 1840 (not just chiefs) the world's strongest assurance of property rights - namely English property right's promise of chieftainship over their lands. English law promised the humblest ploughman in his freehold hovel the same right as the lord in his castle to exclude everyone else, including the agents of the king.

New Zealanders have no other promise of secure property rights. It covered tangible things that missionaries and senior English civil servants and naval officers in 1840 knew were capable of being owned. It clearly did not cover language, or the radio spectrum or native plants and animals.

The second half of Article 2 is also spent. I hear no Maori now asking the Crown to reassert its exclusive pre-emptive right to be the only buyer and price setter for Maori land.

Article 3, with its promise of the equality before the law for all citizens, would do no harm though it means little until it is applied in practice, in the detail.

The Treaty as a constitutional document could have told every New Zealander they are equal before the law. Irrespective of skin colour or ethnicity they could each be confident that their government would treat them objectively on their personal merits without racial distinction. No ifs, no buts, no maybes.

Sadly there has been too much recent fabrication around the Treaty. Activist judges have invented the living document theory, to let them say that it means anything they want it to mean.

So ACT dares to say that New Zealand will never risk giving it constitutional status. Instead its promises must be translated into a few important clear and modern law changes.

When all the race privileges are stripped out of our law, and it once again protects property rights, the Treaty will have been satisfied. It will be a matter of pride in our history, and an inspiration. Stirring speeches will continue to invoke its memory. But it will have no legal force. That could be achieved in one term of government. As soon as the historical claims are settled.

Our best brains can stop wasting their best years on turning over our historical entrails. They can turn to the more pressing and important work of making New Zealand rich enough and powerful enough and independent enough to ensure that in 50 years time there are still people here who think our history is worth knowing.

ACT will make sure that the major parties cannot weasel out of that task. ACT will be there to insist that any law in this area means what it says, and says what it means. There will be no more spurious principles and fake partnerships.

*A copy of ACT's Treaty and Maori Affairs policy can be found at


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