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Dr Pita Sharples - Speech

Local Electoral (Repeal of Race-Based Representation) Amendment Bill

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader, Maori Party

Wednesday 22 November 2006

The Maori Party comes to this Bill – as indeed with every Bill – mindful that Te Tiriti o Waitangi is the founding document of Aotearoa.

Interwoven throughout Te Tiriti is the significance of tino rangatiratanga – the political authority to be self-determining which Maori share alongside indigenous peoples around the globe.

Its presence affirms our on-going ability to be self-determining, which is essential for our survival, dignity and well-being.

That is the promise articulated in the Treaty – that sovereign nations signed an agreement from which it was guaranteed that as the parties to the Treaty, are entitled to representation in the organs of kawanatanga, Governance.

And this House should be well aware of the critical timing of the issue of representation, as we watch from afar, the progress of the most significant international human rights instrumentbeing negotiated across the globe, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people.

A declaration which to our everlasting shame, the New Zealand Government is refusing to support, and in so doing, they both mis-represent tangata whenua and cast further doubt on our already tarnished human rights record.

Against this context we come here, tonight, to debate another attack against treaty justice and the representation of tangata whenua – except this time from the opposite side of this House.

Mr Ryall has applied the hostility of Labour and NZ First’s retreat from international support for indigenous people to our own domestic situation, namely local authorities. But the fatal flaw in Mr Ryall’s logic is that he has mistaken representation of tangata whenua as representation based on race, rather than as a Treaty right and the representation on the basis of sovereign nations. No doubt the people of Tuhoe, Ngati Awa and Te Whanau a Apanui would see themselves as such.

It’s an ongoing mistake. A mistake which falls into the context recently described by District Court and Waitangi Tribunal Judge Richard Kearney, and I quote:

“New Zealanders generally had a staggering, almost criminal lack of understanding of Treaty issues”.

Section 19 in the Local Electoral Act 2001, relating to the ability of the councils to establish Maori wards or constituencies, is an important model of the Treaty in action in our contemporary times.

But an equally important section in that Act, is Section 4 which describes the principle of public confidence in, and understanding of local electoral processes.

And perhaps this is where the Member might have been better served in putting his energy – in developing strategies to address the ‘almost criminal’ lack of knowledge about the implications of Te Tiriti o Waitangi rather than getting misled into talking about matters of race.

The confusion and blurring over racial matters was something which Professor Rodolfo Stavenhagen observed last November when he investigated the state of Aotearoa.

He described ethnic and cultural diversity as a fact of life that should not be ignored when it came to policy. However, he warned against a narrow-minded focus on race; and I quote:

"When politicians play the race card it's not always for the best of objectives. It's a vote-getting ploy or it may hide special interests and so forth” .

I have to wonder why it is that the constitutional significance of tangata whenua which was recognised in the provision for Maori wards or constituencies has been relegated to the race card.

Whose special interests are being protected when the Member – or indeed the National Party, stand in this Parliament to exert power and policy decisions which diminish the value of Te Tiriti o Waitangi?

The Maori Party believes that population based Maori seats in local body councils are the absolute minimum to meet Treaty obligations; and I want to commend the Bay of Plenty Regional Council for being the first Council to make such seats a reality.

We believe that the Treaty Partners, Maori and the Crown, should be pursuing opportunities to debate new forms of governance and means by which we may share political power.

Democracy is more than one person, one vote. Democracy is to be actively involved in the matters of one's nation and community.


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