Thursday, September 30, 2004

"A pale shadow of what I said at Orewa"

Don Brash's words (quoted in the Herald) pretty much sum up NZFirst's new Treaty of Waitangi policy. With his promises to disband the Waitangi Tribunal and remove "Treaty clauses" from legislation, it's clear that Winston is trying hard to recapture the redneck vote. At the same time, closer examination of the actual policies shows that there's more than a trace of rhetoric involved - his "disbanding" of the Tribunal amounts to little more than a name change, and much of the rest is minor administrative tweaking. And there's even some good in it - increasing funding to both the Tribunal and the Office of Treaty Settlements to allow claims to be processed faster (something that was strangely left out of the policy announcement). However, the whole policy is tarred by Winston's desire to remove any legislative reference to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi (or indeed to the Treaty itself) and impose a deadline for filing historical claims. I've argued here that "Treaty clauses" are essentially the sole way of giving the Treaty any legal force, and an important mechanism for preventing future breaches. While they may need to be reworded and refined, removing them would send us back to the days when the Treaty was "a simple nullity", and Maori rights were dependent on "the conscience of the Crown". As for a deadline, as I've said before, having a goal is good, but having an arbitrary date for the express purpose of refusing claims is fundamentally incompatible with justice. And that's what the settlement of historical claims is supposed to be all about. We should do what we can to speed up the process (though the biggest bottleneck seems to be the government's Orewa-induced reluctance to spend too much money on it), but we absolutely should not impose a cutoff.

But what's most disturbing is the sheer amount of historical revisionism which pervades and underpins Winston's policies in this area. "The treaty was not about property rights ... it was about citizenship"? Only if you ignore Article Two. The principles of the Treaty are not and cannot be defined? They've been defined by the courts (notably in NZ Maori Council v Attorney-General (1987)), by the government (in its 1989 Principles for Crown Action on the Treaty of Waitangi), and by the Waitangi Tribunal (who are legally the definitive source, having "exclusive authority to determine the meaning and effect of the Treaty"). The latter body has a useful summary here. They were not inserted at the request of Maori? The original Treaty clause in the State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986 was inserted at the last minute precisely because Maori feared the effects of corporatisation and privatisation on Treaty claims. Treaty clauses have not tangibly benefitted Maori? I think Ngai Tahu and those iwi whose former lands were under threat from privatisation would beg to differ.

When a political party deliberately sets out to lie about history in this manner, you have to seriously question their fitness to govern or influence policy.