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Sharples: Education Amendment Bill

Education (Tertiary Reforms) Amendment Bill
Tuesday 11 December 2007
Dr Pita Sharples, Tertiary Education

It is timely, indeed to be thinking of tertiary reforms - the day after the University of Auckland has confirmed their decision to eliminate open entry into the University from 2009.

From the communication we have had with tangata whenua associated with the University, consultation has been at a bare minimum if at all.

We learnt from the Auckland University Students Association that the proposal was rammed through in three weeks without either due consideration to consultation or regarding the impact such a decision would have.

And so the decision of that University to restrict entry to core disciplines, leads us to ask in this Bill – how does the Government, through the Tertiary Education Commission - actively recognise its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi to protect Mäori culture?

What mechanisms are in place in this Bill to give honour to a central premise of the Treaty of Waitangi that Mäori may continue to live as Mäori?

In Ka Hikitia, the draft Maori Education Strategy, Wally Penetito gives life to this aspiration, stating, and I quote:

“If there is an emerging educational vision among Maori, it is the desire for an education that enhances what it means to be Maori: so simple and yet so profound”.

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party brings to the Education (Tertiary Reforms) Amendment Bill, a knowledge of the simple and profound; understanding of the aspirations and the legal concepts which establish a very clear foundation for both ensuring Maori student engagement and enabling Maori student success.

The ultimate question, however, is whether there is sufficient provision in this Bill, to ensure that institutions uphold the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi throughout the planning, funding and monitoring functions of the tertiary education system.

Our analysis of the Bill found it seriously lacking on two fronts – one related to consultation, the other towards guidance for the Tertiary Education Commission.

What we learnt through the Select Committee process was absolutely fundamental to our concerns around Treaty justice in this Bill.

The Association of University Staff advised us that the Government had received over four hundred submissions related to the omission of the Treaty from the Tertiary Education Strategy and the Statement of Tertiary Education Priorities.

We learnt from reading over the 23 submissions received on this Bill, that there were numerous concerns raised around consultation, specifically that there is no requirement for the Minister, the Tertiary Education Commission or the Tertiary Education Organisations to consult with Maori in the development of a Tertiary Education Strategy.

One has to wonder then, should there be any surprise about the fact that Auckland University chose the lighter end of the consultation continuum.

As a Party always willing to put forward new ideas and solutions, we in the Maori Party came to the committee stage of the two with two useful recommendations.

We are not, unlike some of the Maori MPs in this House, limited by the constraints of biding the party line, or being subdued into silence, when we identify an issue of Treaty injustice.

We are proud to be a strong and independent Maori voice and to be able to raise our concerns without fear or favour.

And we bring the House back to Section 181 of the Education Act 1989, in which institutional councils are required to acknowledge the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers.

Councils are therefore required to acknowledge the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. How do you do that?

The system needs to support Maori aspirations and achievements, including the revitalisation of te reo, nga tikanga, nga matauranga.

The education system needs to work in partnership with whanau, hapu, iwi and Maori communities.

The education system needs to provide opportunities for educational success which will enable Maori to live as Maori; for Maori to have authority over Maori knowledge, to validate Maori ways of being and seeing the world.

To enhance what it means to be Maori: so simple and yet so profound.

And yet what did we find from the Select committee – that the mandate for the Minister of Education to address the development aspirations of Maori was neither tied to the Treaty relationship nor to a requirement to consult.

So at the committee stage of this Bill, my colleague, Te Ururoa Flavell, introduced two amendments to sort this out for once and for all.

The first amendment specified consultation with “local hapu and iwi, Maori staff and students” by tertiary institutions in the preparation of proposed plans.

Under the Bill’s current provisions, an organisation can choose not to consult with Maori in the preparation of a proposed plan.

We in the Maori Party therefore proposed an amendment to specify that, in the preparation of a proposed plan, tertiary education organisations would be required to consult with Maori.

The other amendment sought to insert the phrase “acknowledge the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi” into section 159G of the Education Act which determines the principles guiding how the Tertiary Education Commission operates.

The Education Act 1989 requires in Section 181b that a council of a tertiary education institution is to acknowledge the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in the performance of its function and the exercise of its powers.

However, there is no corresponding requirement on the Tertiary Education Commission to also acknowledge the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in the performance of its functions. Our amendment required the Commission to do so.

All very straight-forward – indeed so simple and yet so profound.

What the vast number of submissions to the select committee had told us was that for a Treaty relationship to be meaningful, it needs to be at all levels of the tertiary education system. Our two amendments, were exactly that - ways of making the Treaty visible.

But instead, Labour – along with National, NZ First, United Future and the independents - chose to act in ways which clearly reflect the lack of value they place in Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the foundation document for Aotearoa.

Mr Speaker, seventy five years ago, the very first successful Ratana candidate, Eruera Tirikatene, tabled a petition here at Parliament, known simply as the Ratana petition.

It was a very weighty petition – literally so, containing some 45,000 signatures and weighing in at 16 pounds (7.25kg).

The petition requested that the Treaty of Waitangi be entered into the statute books in an effort to “preserve the ties of brotherhood between Māori and Pakeha for all time”.

Twenty years ago in 1987 the Court of Appeal described the Treaty as "part of the fabric of New Zealand society" and as "the country’s founding constitutional instrument".

Mr Speaker, this is our history, Maori and Pakeha, Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti, peoples united in the promise of partnership.

At its very heart, the Treaty is an exchange of promises between sovereign peoples, giving rise to obligations for each party.

As with any partnership, the Treaty partnership is forever evolving.

This Bill, the Education (Tertiary Reforms) Amendment Bill provided us with an excellent opportunity to honour the aspirations of our tupuna, of our ancestors throughout history. It offered up a chance to make right the expectations of Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana, of Eruera Tirakatene, of Matiu Rata, of the New Zealand Maori Council, of the Court of Appeal.

It provided a means by which Maori can continue to exercise rangatiratanga over nga taonga katoa, which in the context of education may include te reo Maori, tikanga Maori, matauranga Maori.

It gave us all a moment in time in which legislation could be consistent with the statutory requirement of institutions to acknowledge the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi; by which the Treaty could truly flourish.

For some unknown reason, the Members of this House – other than the Green and Maori Party – chose not to have the courage to let the Treaty talk.

They chose not to support our amendments and in doing so, chose to leave wide open for interpretation any practical ways of actually letting the Treaty guide this nation forward in a meaningful direction.

We, the Maori Party, are profoundly disappointed that such a golden opportunity for Treaty justice was overlooked, and that the Bill would proceed without allowing our practical, pragmatic proposals to be considered of value.

Our vote against this Bill is therefore a vote which registers our consistent opposition to any Bill which fails to acknowledge and recognise the impact of the Treaty in its deliberations.


ENDS

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