OhOne of the ironies of David Seymour, the leader of the Act party, who insists on a referendum on “joint governance” between the crown and the Ivy, is that one of his ancestors signed Te Titiri o Waitangi (Waitangi Treaty). This does not exactly make Seymour a hypocrite and does not necessarily make him a disloyal descendant, instead it reveals one of the underlying contradictions New Zealand policy: that few politicians can agree on what our founding document means. On the one hand, Te Pāti Māori (Maori party) and the Greens adhere to the textual meaning of Te Tiriti, a Maori language version that affirms Maori sovereignty while allocating modest powers to the crown. On the other hand, the Act and the National Party adhere to the textual meaning of the treaty in English, where the leaders who signed apparently transfer their sovereignty to Her Majesty.

What the Law and parts of the National Party ignore, of course, is that several leaders signed the English-language version, which made the Waitangi Treaty a dead document. The courts view this fact in a perfectly centrist manner, ignoring both language texts in favor of “principles” such as “partnership” – which is the approximation of joint governance – and “active defense”. But the consensus of scholars and activists is increasingly critical of this compromise. Few historians and jurists will disagree with what the appropriate language version is Maori Te Tiriti.

Even fewer disagree with what this text means. ‘Rangatiratanga’, or sovereignty for iwi (tribes) and hapū (sub-tribes), and subordinate power, or ‘kāwanatanga’ (governorship), for the crown. In this reading Te Tiriti o Waitangi promises nothing but a constitutional revolution.

This probably alarms David Seymour and about 5 percent of New Zealanders he represents – the exhausted rearguard of New Zealand conservatism. But, in truth, that constitutional revolution is already underway with more than 30 years of change. Joint governance, following Seymour’s example, is an orthodox policy under both Labor and national governments. Under former Prime Ministers John Key and Bill, British co-management arrangements were made with iwi over the Te Urevera National Park, the Waikato and Waipa Rivers and the Wanganui River (which is also a legal entity). Instead of tearing the fabric of New Zealand society, these arrangements were made without much notice, and none of their opponents can point to a single failure of governance in recent years.

Which testifies. And, perhaps, this suggests that the source of opposition to joint governance is not some fidelity to good public policy, but simply the opposition of the Maori. Years after former National Party leader Don Brash spoke in Areva, where the then-opposition leader launched a blatant attack on Maori privileges, gaining 17 points in polls and overtaking the ruling Labor Party, opposition politicians from Phil Goff to Seymour have found refuge. against the Maori. However, Goff, Seymour and former National Party Judith Collins forgot that Brush lost the election a year later. Rereading Areva’s speech, you need to read the table of losers. As one example, in the “Maori submissions” Brash lost a dispute with 27 councils and hoped to have a special Maori representation in local government.

And the same is true for Seymour – as for joint management, he loses. It can be argued that he has already lost. The Labor government is taking preliminary steps to recognize that the Maori text of Te Tiriti is relevant to Te Arawhiti, the Maori Crown Liaison Agency, by releasing a 2019 Cabinet circular that centralizes both principles and text. This is an indicative departure from the last Labor government, where the principles were taken as the appropriate standard. And this is a step further than in the last National Government, where Key and England preferred the outcome of negotiations with iwi, rather than firm adherence to the meaning of principles or text. However, it is worth pausing to note that the “results of negotiations”, often with institutions such as the Iwi Leaders Forum, on issues such as freshwater management, are in any case a moderate form of joint management.

The momentum is thus against Seymour and his 5%. He could find a temporary friend in National Party leader Chris Luxan, who taught an awkward lesson about the Waitangi Treaty on Māori TVbut a safer bet – National eventually gets back in shape and agrees on the results with iwi on each individual issue. Luxan is most likely a pragmatist and does not want to fight the Maori on the left and right flanks. Why? Because, as governments from the administration of British military leader George Gray to John Key know, Maori will not go anywhere. And Tae Tiriti is not either. Seymour can get his referendum. But he will not win.

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