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Pita Sharples Speech: The Tyranny of the Majority

Maori Purposes Bill; Third Reading:

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader Maori Party

Thursday 7 December 2006

As a new MP, I have used this first year to familiarise myself with the separation of powers between the Judiciary, the Executive and the legislature. I have immersed myself in the Parliamentary business; I have taken every opportunity to develop my craft.

And so it was, that in the process of updating my knowledge of protocols and conventions, I came across a masterpiece.

- The Author: Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville.

- The book : Democracy in America.

- The point: the moral power of the majority.

Tocqueville, over a century ago in 1835, released a classic publication which described democracy as tending to devolve towards a tyranny of the majority.

In simple terms, this describes a situation in which a majority might use its strength in government to ride roughshod over the rights of minorities.

The tyranny of the majority implies that the number of legislators is more important than their quality. The next stage of the sequence is the tyranny of the legislature, which suffers from exposure to the whims of the majority.

Last night, this Parliament saw the force of Tocqueville’s teachings enacted through means of the Maori Purposes Bill.

Clause by clause the Green Party and the Maori Party rose to recommend that specific, problematic clauses of this Bill be deleted or amended. And clause by clause the moral majority ruled the amendments out of order; or voted down, one by one.

Mr Speaker, the Maori Purposes Bill contains a raft of provisions which are of fundamental importance for tangata whenua; and indeed for the future of our nation as we consider the impact of this legislation upon our obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The central sticking point of this whole theatre, is Part Two – which inflicts changes to the Treaty of Waitangi Act - imposing an arbitrary definition of a “historical claim” and forcing a final lodging date of historical claims - interventions which would impact widely, but without any consultation with the Maori partners to the Treaty.

The arbitrary and politically contrived imposition of a final submission date for historical claims, without prior discussion and agreement with the Maori parties to the Treaty is yet another, if not the most severe, example of a Government prepared to run roughshod over Maori for any price.

Indeed the price of Government.

This election promise of plucking a date out of the air, and saying, that’s it, will have significant impact on the Crown’s obligations to Mäori under the Treaty.

It is one partner, the Crown, imposing the rule of law of their Parliamentary majority over the other. This is a classic example of might is right.

There is the obvious risk, that to effect change in any part of the current responsibilities under the Treaty without awareness of the consequences to the whole would entail further erosion of the status of Mäori and the protection of Maori interests.

The Maori Party believes that any and every action of the Crown which affects our capacity to enact the Treaty, must be discussed and shared with both partners to the Treaty.

The Courts have found that an aspect of the Treaty obligation to act in good faith is a duty to make informed decisions through consultation.

The Waitangi Tribunal has also emphasized the value and utility of consultation in upholding and strengthening the Treaty partnership.

So it would seem that we are all singing off the same song-sheet.

It is critical that informed debate and proper process should occur, to accord due respect to the very constitutional framework within which Aotearoa sits.

We believe consultation should have taken place to ensure tangata whenua were able to come to the table as equals, empowered to discuss the implications – without having to face a hasty and pre-determined position dreamt up by officials.

So exactly what does this Government believes constitutes consultation on the Maori Purposes Bill? Twenty submissions. That’s the scale of it.

So we wrote to the Minister of Maori Affairs.

We met with the Minister of Maori Affairs.

The Minister of no-change.

When we turned to these twenty submissions, the overwhelming and consistent message from the public was to demand consultation with tangata whenua about the proposed changes.

During the process of select committee hearings I therefore sought leave for Part two to be put to the side until consultation had occurred. Leave denied.

Well we’re a resolute bunch, and so undeterred by another rejection, we came to this House, armed with amendments to omit part 2, to omit clause 16, clause 18; or even to put up a compromise position, to omit the final closing date of 1 September 2008; and substitute with after 1 September 2020.

My colleague Te Ururoa Flavell, speaking in Te Reo Maori, urged that Parliament consider, in the interests of due justice, in the pursuit of nationhood, that talking with the Treaty partner was a very good starting point for progress.

The Member for Tai Tokerau stood and asked all of the Maori present in the House to raise their hands if they thought their tupuna had believed there would be a date imposed for lodging claims to Treaty settlements - no hands were raised.

And so the vote was put; and ruled out of order.

The vote was put; ….and voted down.

107 votes opposed; 10 in support.

Over and over again the tyranny of the majority overpowered Treaty justice.

And it was not just in the sections pertaining to the Treaty of Waitangi Act that the axe fell.

We turned our attention towards the procedures and discretion of the Maori Land Court, as provided for in the revisions of Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993.

And I want to correct a myth here that the Maori Land Court is somehow a vehicle for privileging Maori; ‘our own Court’.

Indeed, so far removed is it from ‘our own Court’, that the late Professor Hugh Kawharu once referred to the Maori Land Court, as and I quote:

“a veritable engine of destruction for any tribe’s tenure of land, anywhere”.

Like this very Parliament, the Maori Land Court will always be haunted by the shame of its role in facilitating the Crown purchase and confiscation of Maori land, back in the 1860s.

Despite this history, the Maori Land Court today, now has exceptional talent and expertise serving on the bench.

We proposed an amendment, therefore, which would enable Judges appointed to the Maori Land Court to also preside in a District Court, if agreed to by the Chief Judge of the Maori Land Court.

The result – overturned - ruled out of Court so to speak.

Mr Speaker, the government’s extraordinarily weak “consultation” on the Maori Purposes Bill is deplorable. What’s wrong with talking with the people? Why will Government not consult fairly? This is colonial behaviour over and over again. Everything is totally manipulated to suit the majority in this House without regard for the authentic view of Maori.

The fact is the Treaty settlement process is a complete farce and this legislation will make it even more so. Plonking a rigid deadline into this context, assumes that people are resourced and able to identify themselves with a Wai claim by 2008; with little or no evidence to justify this.

Every solution, every compromise we and the Green Party have submitted to this House was squashed under the tyranny of the majority.

The tyranny of legislation will not proceed unhampered. We will continue to put forward our view, whether or not the Government wants to hear it.

We mourn this day, as yet another when justice has been denied.

And come the next elections we will inform Maori people of how the Maori members of government voted. We will not have to indulge in spin as they and theirs no doubt will. We will just give the people a copy of the Hansard record.


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