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Let The People Set The Agenda, Say Greens

Let the people set the agenda, say Greens

The Green Party proposes giving all New Zealanders the opportunity to be involved in a national dialogue on the Treaty and constitutional change. The outcome would be a report to the nation on our common views, our differences and where we go next.

"In the past few weeks the Treaty has gone on trial-by-sound-bite," Green Party Co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said today. "The proposal we are presenting puts the people in charge of an inquiry and ensures they have the resources, time and information to do the job.

"The Prime Minister has said she is open to constructive ideas to progress the issues. We are offering her solid proposals to give every interested New Zealander an opportunity to give voice to their thoughts, listen to others and help develop a way forward as a nation."

Ms Fitzsimons said the key idea is dialogue in community groups, rather than submissions to a group of experts. "A royal commission or commission of inquiry is not the right process to develop a shared vision of New Zealand's constitutional future and the role of the Treaty.

"Royal commissions have their place but in this case it is not the right mechanism to encourage participation and buy-in. It is a centralised top-down process where people come and talk to it, rather than to each other. It is not a dialogue and it does not provide information for public discussion.

"What we need is a national dialogue about constitutional development and an important first step is a well informed and resourced public discussion on our shared history and how the Treaty impacts on life in New Zealand today. Feedback from this nationwide discussion will set the agenda for the next stage.

The Greens are proposing a process that takes place at the grass roots, in groups of people who already relate to each other in the community. "It should be a process that work colleagues, Rotary clubs, schools, church groups, marae, study groups, sports teams and neighbours can choose to engage with," said Ms Fitzsimons.

She noted there were models for this kind of community dialogue both overseas and in New Zealand. "The attached proposal for a process is not a finished blueprint, but a starting point for discussion. A lot of details still need to be worked out. We welcome feedback.

"There can be no unilateral changes to the Treaty, however there is a role for everyone in discussing its place in a constitution for 21st century New Zealand society.

"This issue is too important to be left to politicians thinking of the next election," said Ms Fitzsimons. "As a nation, we need to be thinking of the next century."

How would it work?

An outline of the process for the first stage of a national discussion on the Treaty and constitutional change.

1. Self-organised groups of people would register to take part in the national dialogue, commit to completing the course, and receive materials for each session. They would be encouraged, but not required, to include a diversity of views.

2. Each registered group would receive resource materials for a series of discussion sessions. The kit for each session would include questions to provoke discussion, factual background information and forms to record the group's conclusions at the end of each session. The working group preparing the materials would be carefully selected to have the necessary skills and knowledge and led by a highly respected New Zealander who would ensure its independence from government or any sectoral group.

3. Facilitators skilled in helping groups with this kind of process would be made available where possible to groups who wanted them. Other groups could appoint their own facilitator.

4. Issues covered could include our current unwritten constitution, the context in which the Treaty was signed, what the Treaty says, how it was or was not observed in the past, the process for settling breaches of the Treaty, the history of "race relations", relationships in the local community, references to the Treaty in legislation and their practical effect, targeted social policies and their local effects, aspirations for cultural relationships and for decision-making processes in the future in that community.

5. We expect that media would report on the process and this would spread the word more widely that there was an opportunity to engage.

6. Adequate time would be allowed for the process. At least a six month period to prepare the materials and the process, a six month period to publicise the opportunity and for groups to form and register, and a further six month period for them to complete their tasks at a speed that suited them.

7. The reports from all the groups would be pulled together into one Report to the Nation on what New Zealanders are thinking, where there is agreement and where difference, and key issues to address in a constitutional discussion. The writers doing this would need to be seen to be independent, accurate and skilled in listening to and faithfully reporting a range of views.

8. A partnership process could then be set up to address the outcome of the report and how to move forward. The process, agreed by the Treaty partners, would consider the report and ways of improving the Treaty relationship and incorporating it into constitutional development. They might decide to develop some protocols to the Treaty to guide its implementation in the 21st century. One model that could be used is the "paepae rangatira", which is made up of representatives of iwi and the Crown. Such a model is included in the Nga Rauru Treaty settlement. Other models may emerge as a result of the discussions.

Questions and Answers

on Green proposals for a national discussion on the Treaty and constitutional change.

Q Is this a process to review the Treaty and to decide whether we should keep it?

A No. This is an opportunity for all New Zealanders to learn more about our shared history, to hear each other's concerns and to participate in setting the agenda for further constitutional discussions. The Treaty exists as a covenant between tangata whenua and the Crown. It can be further developed to meet modern circumstances by agreement between them.

Q How does this relate to the select committee inquiry into the constitution that Nandor has been trying to negotiate?

A The two are complementary and could easily run in parallel. The inquiry that Nandor has been involved in negotiating would provide useful information on our broader constitutional arrangements and international experience with constitutional change.

Q What is the role of the Waitangi Tribunal in this process?

A. The Tribunal was set up to hear specific claims and make recommendations for remedy. It has a huge workload in hearing cases and would therefore not be the body to run this process.

Q Is there any precedent for this kind of dialogue?

Yes. Sweden has been using "study circles" for more than a hundred years to discuss and learn more about issues of all kinds that affect local communities. They are a "tool of democracy" and two and a half million people are enrolled in them. In New Zealand right now the Human Rights Commission is organising community dialogues on Treaty issues with existing community groups, providing facilitators and a process for them to use. They are also organising symposia with speakers and public discussion. However their funds are too small to reach far on a national basis. This is a good model we can build on and extend to include all communities who wish to be part of it.

Q Isn't this just a talkfest to get the issue off the political agenda till after the next election?

A: This process gets it out of political soundbite territory and into the community where it belongs. It is too important to leave to politicians and electioneering. People need to have a say in their own communities.

Q: How long would it take and what would it cost?

A: As long as is needed. There's no point in rushing a process like this. As most of the work is being done by the people themselves, timeframe and costs could be comparable to a royal commission.

Q: Is it really possible to get some agreement nationally on these issues? Aren't we too divided?

A: The only possible way to reconcile differences is to provide a safe place and resources for dialogue. This is one way of doing that.

Q: Who selects the "eminent New Zealander(s)" to lead the preparation of resource materials selected?

A: One possibility is cross-party agreement. Another is by consensus from a range of organizations.

Q: What is wrong with a royal commission?

A: They operate under an Act of Parliament which is quite restrictive. Only persons with an interest greater than the public at large can speak. They are run by a judge who is trained in the Westminster parliamentary system where the Treaty is not recognised unless it is enshrined in statute. There is no real dialogue - people make submissions and answer a few questions and go home. Many thousands of New Zealanders who wrote individual submissions to the royal commission on genetic modification and were not heard feel disempowered because they cannot tell whether their words were ever read and they can find no reflection of them in the final report. Except for the oral hearings period they operate behind closed doors and are invisible to the public.

Q: Would republicanism be part of this national dialogue?

A: Republicanism and other issues will inevitably be raised during the discussion but it is very important that priority is given to the constitutional role of the Treaty.

Q Have you discussed these proposals with the Government?

A Yes. A copy of the proposals has been given to the Government and we are seeking a meeting the Prime Minister to discuss them.

(ENDS)

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