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Katene: General Debate - Constitutional Review

Wednesday 8 December 2010
Rahui Katene, MP for Te Tai Tonga
General Debate

Today is a really auspicious day for the Māori Party. It is an auspicious day for Māori and it is an auspicious day for the country.

I am really disappointed that none of the other speakers in this debate so far have even mentioned the fact that this morning our co-leader Pita Sharples stood alongside the Deputy Prime Minister and announced a new phase of public debate to be generated around New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements.

This is the day we have been leading up to since the agreement was signed with the National Party and this is a day we noted that other political parties said they have been looking towards, asking that they be part of this debate. Well, today is it. This is the day when our constitutional review is starting, and it is a fantastic day.

In his book The Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand’s Law and Constitution, Matthew Palmer expresses his view that Te Tiriti o Waitangi contributes greatly to the objective of healthy relationships between the Crown, Māori, and other New Zealanders. Mr Palmer concludes that in order to better achieve that objective, change is desirable. Change is good—change that stabilises the place of the Te Tiriti o Waitangi in New Zealand’s law and constitution. Today the drive to stabilise the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand’s law and constitution enters new terrain.

I wish that other members of the House were as excited as our party is about this, because this is the day that we have been looking forward to for so long and that Māori have been working towards for decades.

As a first-term MP and a lawyer by trade and by inclination, it is almost beyond my wildest dreams that in such a short time we, the Māori Party, have been able to place the constitutional significance of Te Tiriti o Waitangi firmly on the agenda. It is just days away from the second anniversary of my maiden statement in this Parliament. In that speech I referred to the many hours I had spent in the Court of Appeal being educated in the practice and impact of constitutional law. I will remind members of the challenge this Parliament has until now failed to live up to. I am referring of course to the ruling of the Court of Appeal in New Zealand Maori Council v Attorney-General. In his summary the President of the Court of Appeal, Sir Robin Cooke, stated: “We have reached two major conclusions. First, that the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi override everything else in the State-Owned Enterprises Act. Second, that those principles require the Pakeha and Maori partners to act towards each other reasonably and with the utmost good faith.”

Those words are pivotal in our pathway to nationhood. For too long our nation has suffered the injustice of being only one of three countries in the entire world to have no written constitution. One of three in the whole world—no written constitution. Commentators refer to a veritable patchwork quilt of significant legislation, several legal documents, common law derived from court decisions, and established constitutional practices known as conventions. A vital thread running through all these documents has been the status of Te Tiriti o Waitangi as a founding document of government in New Zealand.

Today in this House we appreciate that article 1 of the Treaty is in itself the basis for the current government structures in New Zealand, expressing the right of the Crown to govern. We know that article 2 of the Treaty guarantees to Māori te tino rangatiratanga over our lands, estates, forests, fisheries, and taonga—the full, exclusive, and undisturbed possession of all that we treasure as the ultimate expression of our identity. Article 3 of the Treaty affirms the equal citizenship rights of all New Zealanders, including Māori. Article 3 also promises the Queen’s royal protection to Māori. A measure of this protection would be the well-being of Māori.

Such a rudimentary summary of ideals and aspirations emerging from our foundation document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, is not, regrettably, something that all New Zealanders feel equipped to express. Surveys have been carried out over the years. One survey that was carried out 5 years ago by UMR Research found that levels of awareness varied—71 percent of Māori are aware of the document, but only 51 percent of Pākehā are aware of it. This is something that needs to change. This is something that will change through this constitutional review. Thank you.


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