Opaque Co-Governance Policy generates public suspicion

Lake Ellesmere is a lagoon, nationally and internationally significant for its cultural, ecological and economic values. (Image from Te Waihora Website)

Kieran Madden
Auckland, April 13, 2022

“Co-governance – I feel like it is becoming an increasingly politicised term,” Prime Minister Ardern said.

Indeed, to expect otherwise is naïve. We seriously need a civil, charitable, and inclusive conversation on co-governance in this nation. It is about shared decision-making between Māori and the Crown and goes to the heart of our constitution. How we do this conversation matters deeply.

“If we are going to have a constitutional conversation, it needs to be out in the open and not hidden in the shadows. Jacinda Ardern seems intent on keeping any sunlight away from this important issue,” ACT Party Leader David Seymour said.

Inauspicious entry

And it has seemed shadowy. Just under a year ago, and two years from the report being commissioned, the heavily redacted He Puapua Report was reluctantly released under the Official Information Act. An inauspicious entry into the public square shrouded in fear and confusion.

He Puapua is the “first step” towards a Declaration Plan that outlines how we might honour our support of the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).

Kieran Madden

Helen Clark’s Labour Government declined to support the Declaration in 2007, saying that it was “fundamentally incompatible with New Zealand’s … established Treaty settlement policy.” John Key’s National-led Government (in coalition with the Māori Party) supported the Declaration in 2010, with a similar condition that “existing frameworks define the bounds of New Zealand’s engagement with the declaration.”

This Government seems to have gone from these first steps to running without letting anyone know where they are going. Co-governance is not new and is worth exploring, but there has been a flurry of changes that are pushing the bounds of our legal and constitutional arrangements. Three Waters, health reforms, and resource management changes, to name a few, are well underway. The boundaries may need to be pushed, but as it stands, this Government has “lost the people,” as one Mayor said.

Nation in the dark

We remain in the dark. But rather than opening the windows, ACT seems intent on throwing a political grenade to bring light to the situation with their “bottom line” proposal for a referendum. They have even outlined their own Treaty principles without any consultation, and cheekily copy-and-pasted one from the Labour Party’s constitution. Undertaken now, an all-or-nothing referendum based on this will create division and fail to do justice to the complexity of the question.

Public Consultation on the Declaration Plan starts in June this year and the draft plan is slated for release in early 2023. It will be a defining issue of the election. And while this government has been exceptional at communications, it has not done conversations well.

It needs to appoint an Independent Advisory Panel with sufficient mana, humility, and expertise to guide this process.

Our social cohesion and unity are at stake here. This government’s false start will make it more difficult than it needed to be, but let’s restart and begin well, ensuring that it is well-led, out in the open, and everyone can contribute this time.

Kieran Madden is Research Manager at Maxim Institute based in Auckland.

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