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Constitutional Review – Nothing to Fear

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(By Hon Tariana Turia, MP for Te Tai Hauauru)

As we gather around the country to celebrate the 173rd year since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi the Constitutional Advisory Panel will be getting ready to seek the views of all New Zealanders on the future of what a constitution for New Zealand could look like – and whether the Treaty of Waitangi should be incorporated into a written constitution.

Currently there is no single document to our constitution – these rules that govern our country are written down in a number of different pieces of legislation and other documents.

The government appointed advisory panel is tasked with seeking the public views on several important issues including our electoral system – such as the size of Parliament and the number and size of electorates –Maori representation including the Maori Electoral Option, Maori electoral participation and the Maori seats in Parliament but also on constitutional matters including the Bill of Rights, a written constitution and how the Treaty might be incorporated into such a constitution. Meanwhile New Zealand First leader and MP Winston Peters as well as the so called Independent Constitutional Review Group headed by former Act MP, Dr Muriel Newman have set out to undermine the work of the panel – and most concerning – they are determined to ensure the Treaty of Waitangi will have no place in any future constitution of this country.

The statements made by Dr Newman, who has launched a campaign against the review claiming that a Treaty-based constitution would ‘enshrine Maori privilege’ and turn ‘non-Maori New Zealanders into second-class citizens’ are outrageous.

Rather than attempt to scare the public into thinking they will become second class citizens in their own country, Dr Newman and others should consider what really are facts and may be surprised at just how many New Zealanders already think that the Treaty is the founding document of this country.

The Human Rights Commission report ‘Human Rights and the Treaty of Waitangi 2012’ states that 60 % of all New Zealanders surveyed believe that the Treaty is the founding document of our nation. Further the report stated that 51 % of all New Zealander believe the Treaty belongs to us all. And a third of all those surveyed also stated they have reasonable knowledge of the Treaty.

It’s also alarming to read accusations by opponents that the panel is stacked despite the makeup of the group consisting of seven non Maori and five Maori. They are of a high calibre from a range of backgrounds and experience.
They include co-chair John Burrows QC, a law commissioner; Emeritus Professor Ranginui Walker; former Act MP and journalist Deborah Coddington and Hinurewa Poutu, a PhD student and Kura Kaupapa Maori graduate and teacher.

Rather than accuse this process of having pre-determined outcomes – perhaps the so called ‘Independent’ group should ask themselves why they appear to be the ones that actually have a pre-determined outcome which is to ensure that the treaty is not enshrined in our constitution.

The Treaty is primarily the foundation of our nationhood – it represents inclusiveness, working together for the good of all peoples –and about ensuring a place here in Aotearoa for us all – tangata whenua and tangata tiriti (those who are here by virtue of Te Tiriti o Waitangi)

The Treaty was designed to bring us together– to recognise different worlds – different cultural backgrounds – and different histories.

There is nothing to fear from the Treaty of Waitangi. It appears in our legislation already including the State Owned Enterprises Act and Te Ture Whenua Maori Act.

Rather than position the Treaty as the enemy, opponents of the review should embrace the review which is intended to seek a broad range of views. Soon the panel will meet face to face with communities around the country as well as call for written submissions.

I hope the opponents can see that a wider discussion on the constitution and the Treaty is a good thing.

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