A critique of He Puapua, and an alternative strategy for self-determination at individual and whanau levels

He Puapua proposes constitutional, institutional and public policy changes, notionally to respond to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).  However, careful analysis shows that it is a flawed political advocacy document, and if its recommendations were agreed to it would divide New Zealand.

I will explain the flaws in He Puapua, and then outline an alternative strategy to address Māori socio-economic challenges in a way that benefits all New Zealanders.

He Puapua anchors its response to UNDRIP in the 1840 Tiriti o Waitangi (te Tiriti) and the 1835 Declaration of Independence of New Zealand: He Whakaputanga o Nu Tireni. It envisages progressively bringing New Zealand legislation, policy and initiatives in line with te Tiriti and the 1835 Declaration.  This includes bicultural institutions and bilingual and matauranga Māori-informed state services. 

He Puapua canvasses separate Māori court and justice systems, an Indigenous Rights Commissioner or a Tiriti Commissioner, and making the Waitangi Tribunal’s recommendations binding.

Under He Puapua, Māori would control or co-govern and co-manage natural resources, including freshwater.  It forecasts that: “there will be an enlarged iwi/hapu/whanau estate, supported by significantly increased return of Crown lands and waters, including takutai moana [marine and coastal areas] to Māori ownership (in addition to Treaty of Waitangi settlements).  Māori would “receive royalties for the use of particular natural resources such as water, petroleum and minerals.”

He Puapua proposes that the Public Finance Act 1989 could be amended “to avoid the impact that the return of Crown land has on the Crown’s books.”

Māori would have powers to make bylaws, Māori freehold land would be exempted from the Public Works Act, and options would be explored to put a moratorium on rating of all Māori land.

Under He Puapua, Māori tikanga, matauranga (science, knowledge and belief) and language would play much greater roles in New Zealand.

While He Puapua avoids the term “race”, the asset transfers and new rights it proposes are only for those with Māori blood.  He Puapua is not “racist”, that is it is not hostile to non-Maori “races”.  It is however “racialist” in assuming that race determines human traits, that people can meaningfully be grouped into race categories, and that this can guide constitution, law, human rights, policy and resource allocation.

The UN Declaration aims to extend rights to marginalised or oppressed peoples without damaging other peoples’ rights.  He Paupau aims to create new and expanded rights for members of one racial group while reducing everyone else’s rights, for example by taking amenity land, waterways and coastal space out of the public domain and transferring it to tribal control. 

He Puapua denies that the Treaty of Waitangi/Tiriti o Waitangi transferred sovereignty/kawanatanga to the Crown.  In a footnote (p.28) it states incorrectly that “tino rangatiratanga” means “sovereignty”. In fact, rangatiratanga means self-reliance or self-determination at the individual and whanau levels, not political sovereignty at the nation state level.  He Puapua does not accept that the Treaty/Tiriti is an equal rights document.

He Puapua refers only to “te Tiriti o Waitangi” rather than the English language Treaty of Waitangi.  The two versions are aligned and were agreed to by the Crown and Māori signatories, and differences between the two documents are immaterial.  Were this not the case the Treaty/Tiriti would be meaningless since no one could agree on what they mean and they would therefore be nullities.

He Puapua uses the UNDRIP process to tacitly support a Māori “sovereignty” or “nationalist” movement and its supporting narrative.  This narrative argues that Māori were doing well before colonisation and they never transferred sovereignty to the Crown, and therefore by extension to Parliament.  It contends that Māori social problems today result from colonialism and racism, and the way forward is to recreate Māori tribal structures, language and customs, seek Māori solutions to Māori problems, and achieve constitutional change which weakens democracy and enhances tribal power. 

While the English language Treaty version is clear to all English speakers, the Māori language Tiriti is not, and its meaning can therefore be manipulated for political purposes.  This manipulation has been effective and helps explain why the 1840 starting point for New Zealand’s constitution is referred to in many formal documents, media, some new legislation and in academia as “te Tiriti” rather than the “Treaty of Waitangi”.

The Titiri narrative that is central to He Puapua is becoming unchallengeable in public discourse.  Distinguished New Zealanders such as Don Brash and Michael Bassett who have never been remotely racist in word or deed have been stopped from speaking at public events or publishing in some mainstream media outlets.  The $55M Public Interest Journalism fund is explicitly restricted to journalism that supports the Tiriti narrative.  This extraordinary violation of press freedom and balance is unprecedented since the 1951 waterfront dispute.

He Puapua refers to the 1835 Declaration of Independence of New Zealand: He Whakaputanga o Nu Tireni as if it were a constitutional document. This document arose partly from fear that France would declare sovereignty over New Zealand.  This concern was triggered by an obscure Frenchman who titled himself “Charles, Baron de Thierry, Sovereign Chief of New Zealand and King of Nuku Hiva” (in the Marquesas Islands). 

James Busby helped draft the Declaration despite having no authority to do so. He did so to out-manoeuvre his rival, Thomas McDonnell, as much as to ward off a perceived French threat.  The Declaration was signed by 34 northern chiefs in October 1835.  By July 1839 only 52 chiefs had signed – compared to the 540 chiefs and the Crown’s representative that signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

New Zealand was bicultural and bilingual in 1840, and He Puapua assumes this continues unchanged today.  However, New Zealand has been a multi-cultural country since the late 19th century, and in 2021 is increasingly multi-lingual.  In He Puapua, our Chinese, Indian, Pacific, Filipino, Middle Eastern, central Asian, Eastern European and Latin American communities and their languages are invisible. 

He Puapua uses the term “Crown” throughout the document.  However, since 1840 New Zealand’s government system and constitution has evolved as explained in The Treaty and New Zealand’s constitutional evolution and in te Tiriti. Representative government began with the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852.  New Zealand ceased to be a British colony in 1907, and the New Zealand Constitution Act 1986 marked the point where Parliament became sovereign and the Crown was reduced to a symbolic and procedural role. 

The term “Crown” conveys mystique and masks the fact that all government expenditure is paid for by New Zealand taxpayers, including Māori, and not funded by a remote monarchy.  To accurately reflect reality, the term “Crown” should be replaced in discourse by “Government”, “Parliament”, “the State” or “taxpayers”.

He Puapua assumes that tribal boundaries reflect stable long-term settlement patterns for discrete hapu and iwi groups.  However, many Māori are urbanised, cosmopolitan and internationalised.  They move to where the opportunities are. Given this, He Puapua envisaging that “the nation will know and appreciate iwi tribal boundaries” does not reflect demographic realities.

One thing most New Zealanders are united on is that it is desirable to minimise or close the socio-economic gaps between Māori and other New Zealanders.  This means effectively addressing high Māori unemployment, low incomes and net worth, homelessness, child poverty, poor health and high crime rates. 

He Puapua is mindful of Māori socio-economic challenges such as unemployment and poverty but it has no answers to them because it has no economic reasoning underpinning its analysis. Te Puapua is about power, tribal elitism, racialism and cultural determinism.  It is not about individuals and whanau doing better in the economy and society and having choices in their lives.

The right strategy to close the socio-economic gaps is needs-based interventions to deliver economic self-determination at the individual and whanau levels.  This strategy would be colour-blind, however Māori would benefit disproportionately due to their overrepresentation in negative socio-economic statistics.  The strategy would align symbolically with the individual and whanau self-determination themes in the Treaty/Tiriti. 

Progressivity in intervention design (that is the poorest get the most support) links to social democratic and “class-based” thinking in Labour circles.  Expanding choice and economic opportunity through market processes is heartland National thinking.  ACT’s David Seymour has signalled support for self-determination for everyone, for example to give choice in education.

What would economic self-determination (or tino rangatiratanga) look like?  It could involve more individual and family choice in the services sought from government and how they are delivered.  This could mean charter or partnership schools, choice in health services, and more Whanau Ora-type devolution.

Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) could be given to all New Zealand children, with government start-up contributions proportional to need.  These accounts could support investment in education, business equity (including entrepreneurial capital), and home ownership. They would build human and equity capital and wealth-creating capability rather than support passive welfare dependency.  They could end child poverty. 

Some social welfare funds could be channelled into these accounts, effectively gearing social policy to support economic development.  Treaty/Tiriti references to individuals and whanau could justify a one-off IDA top-up for poorer Māori children, perhaps at the level of the billions of dollars in Treaty settlements that iwi have captured. Such an IDA intervention on its own could close the socio-economic gap between Māori and other New Zealanders within a generation.

In Europe and America there is growing interest in job guarantee policies that would see the state hire unemployed workers as an employer of last resort.  If well designed this could be a great investment when wider benefits are considered, such as skills development, higher incomes, reduced crime, improved mental health and reduced social welfare expenditure.

Māori sustainable farming for economic rangitiratanga can be more actively encouraged.  Inalienable Māori land cannot be sold for capital gains, which drives land use to the longer-term and reinforces a multi-generation sustainable development approach. Māori land managers are increasingly active in sustainable initiatives such as regenerative agriculture, biochar for carbon storage in soil, and sustainable distributed energy production that are key to achieving net zero emissions.  Such positive initiatives can be actively supported and will deliver wider benefits to New Zealand, including future generations.

Ongoing Waitangi Tribunal litigation is costly, divisive and largely benefits a small number of elitists, lawyers and bureaucrats. He Puapua would be even worse. In contrast, the above economic self-determination initiatives would benefit New Zealanders as a whole, and being progressive would disproportionately benefit Māori.

Taken together these initiatives could make up a socio-economic development strategy that New Zealanders could unite around, and then we would learn how powerful we can be.

About Peter Winsley

I’ve worked in policy and economics-related fields in New Zealand for many years. With qualifications and publications in economics, management and literature, I take a multidisciplinary perspective to how people’s lives can be enhanced. I love nature, literature, music, tramping, boating and my family.
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4 Responses to A critique of He Puapua, and an alternative strategy for self-determination at individual and whanau levels

  1. rivoniaboy says:

    You have outdone yourself this time Peter, your world improving prescriptions for New Zealand know no bounds. Why confine your wisdom to these small isles when the world is waiting with bated breath to “learn how powerful it could be.”
    Suggestion: You should consider the heading for your blogsite “Peter Winsley World improver extraordinaire”

  2. David Lillis says:

    Hi Peter.
    An insightful blog and many thanks for taking the time to research the issues, consider them and writing a blog to inform others and possibly advance the cause.

    It stands to reason that any observer of an event, a political issue or simply someone else’s opinion is free to form his or her own view. It is by sharing our considered views that we can influence others for the common good, provided that our views are indeed considered and impartial and intended to promote the well-being of all. My own judgement on political issues has moderated at times according to whose views I hear. For example, my perspectives on the Israel-Palestine question were somewhat pro-Palestinian until I saw cherry-picking in the world’s media and following discussions with Israeli friends. Matters are not so simple!

    I noted Rivionaboy’s remark and I am sure that it constitutes a friendly dig rather than a snide comment. Rivionaboy must have realized long since that Peter’s blogs are from the heart and are promulgated following great thought. Though (as I just said) Rivionaboy’s comment was in my view innocent, it sails close to the wind by looking like a sneer. All us us must be guarded in what we say on-line. Once it’s out there, it cannot be undone and in recent years we have seen a number of well-known people being held accountable for negative commentary delivered publicly – even long after deletion of their initial writings.

    Sarcasm and sneering reflect far more on he or she who engages in these things than they do on the object. In the end it is generally better to err on the side of generosity of spirit rather than undermining others. Assume the best in others and be prepared for a degree of disappointment, rather than assume negative intent that is not there. That’s the spirit!

    I know that Rivionaboy’s comment was friendly but we all have had the experience of our jokes backfire!? I certainly have, and even jokes intended to make kids laugh have had embarrassing outcomes when they took exception to what I thought to be a friendly jibe! Let’s think before we impute wrong intentions to other people.

    Thanks again, Peter. And thanks to you too, Rivionaboy, for taking the time to consider Peter’s analysis and break the ice by cracking a joke.

    David Alexander Lillis

    • Peter Winsley says:

      Thanks David.
      And also to respond to Rivioniaboy, my last sentence about how “we would learn how powerful we could be” refers not to something grandoise but to how well our society functions when we unite and act together, whether in World War Two or the Covid-19 lockdown. On the latter issue, compare how we did through pulling together as a country as compared to the shambles in, for example, the United States under Trump…

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