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Announcement of constitutional review

Hon Dr Pita Sharples

Minister of Maori Affairs

8 December 2010

Media Release

Announcement of constitutional review

The Maori Party sought this review because of the interest in constitutional matters among Maori people generally, including how tikanga Maori might be recognised, and the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in the constitution.

I think many people see the Treaty as putting Maori in a privileged position, whereas we believe the Treaty guarantees rights to all New Zealanders, and provides a basis for unity in diversity.

From a Maori point of view, our tikanga were the original common law of Aotearoa, underpinned by values like manaakitanga, kaitiakitanga, whanaungatanga, kotahitanga.

But tikanga around land ownership, for example, were undermined by political and legal systems which broke down rangatiratanga and establish a new tikanga of private individual rights.

So now our current laws cannot protect the intellectual property rights and cultural heritage of traditional Maori groups, because the law is designed for individuals, and it does not recognise whanau and hapu as collectives without a legally incorporated structure.

Tikanga Maori are not just for Maori – they could offer alternative approaches to legal and social issues, and enrich the lives of all New Zealanders.

For example – adoption and whangai.
Current adoption laws generally transfer the rights of natural parents to the adoptive parents, leaving natural parents with no status.
In tikanga Maori, whangai is the gift of the chance to raise a child, and the gift sets up an ongoing relationship between the two extended families.
At present, New Zealand law does not recognise whangai as a social institution, though a recent court decision recognised a Moslem family adoption according to Sharia law, which is clearly very similar to whangai.
So legal recognition of tikanga Maori, including the collective rights of whanau and hapu groups, could help us to strengthen our society. And that is the aim of this review – to strengthen our society.

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We believe it is essential for all New Zealanders to engage fully and have their say in this review. Maori obviously have their goals and aspirations for this review, and we accept that other people and other parties will have their own priorities. This review is not intended in any way to close off debate, but to open it up.

We expect the review process to be open and consultative, and as far as we are concerned, no agenda or outcome is pre-determined.

I encourage the media to support a spirit of open discussion throughout the process, and not to promote adversarial or political partisan conflicts. The constitution is bigger than party politics.

Also, in case there is any confusion, you may already know that the Iwi Chairs Forum has asked Moana Jackson to convene a group of iwi leaders to promote discussion and debate on constitutional issues. This is an independent initiative, quite distinct from the government’s review.

The Maori Party supports this iwi-led process to help Maori to clarify their thinking in relation to the constitution. It will be up to the iwi leaders to decide how they engage with the government’s review.

Finally, I think the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi are a good guide for our conduct of this review – mutual recognition and respect, co-operation, and the utmost good faith.

Let’s hold fast to these principles of partnership as we undertake this task.

ENDS

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