Saturday, February 26, 2005

Public servants and the Treaty

Having failed to score on welfare, Don Brash has gone back to his old whipping boy, the Treaty, announcing that he will remove any requirement for public servants to be informed of its content or place in our constitutional structure:

Of course those public servants working to resolve Treaty settlements need to have some understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi, but there is surely no need whatsoever for other public servants, or for school teachers, or for nurses, or for Auditors-General, to subscribe to a particular view of what the Treaty implies.

The next National Government will make it clear that a knowledge of the Treaty and its supposed principles will not be a condition of employment for people working in the public sector. Instead, we will adopt a less exotic approach in relation to the recruitment of public servants; one where we seek auditors who can actually audit, managers who can manage and accountants who can count.

But what this "less exotic approach" entails is a public service which is ignorant of our constitutional structure.

Contrary to Dr Brash's insinuations, public servants are not expected to know about the Treaty as part of some giant conspiracy of political correctness - they are expected to know about it because they are expected to have at least a passing familiarity with the constitutional framework within which they operate, and the Treaty is a fundamental part of this framework. I very much doubt that Dr Brash would advocate that public servants be ignorant of the seperate roles of Cabinet, Parliament, the judiciary, and the public service, or of the Constitution or State Sector Acts (or any of the other pieces of legislation our constitution is scattered across). So why is he demanding that they be ignorant of the Treaty?

The answer is that Dr Brash does not believe that the Treaty has any constitutional significance. In other words, he subscribes to what JustLeft called "version 2" of our constitutional history - the version propagated by men such as Justice Prendergast and which held sway up until the 70's. But since then, opinion has shifted, and the Treaty is now seen as the moral foundation upon which our government rests. Brash's entire "Treaty policy" has been a desperate attempt to stuff that genie back into its bottle, so that Brash can return New Zealand to the idyllic paradise of the 50's, when the country was run by and for Dead White Males, we had "the best race relations in the world", and Maori were a little brown ministral show we trotted out for royal visits. But in this, Brash is fighting both generational and demographic change. The young have grown up with the Treaty, and are far more likely to see it as a vital part of our national identity and constitutional structure than the dead white males who support Brash. And Maori are far more numerous than they were in the 50's - and have the political power to match. Neither bodes well for Brash's Treaty-denying project...


Why not include something to the effect of "the successful candidate will have knowledge of New Zealand's constitutional arrangements, including the Treaty, and their applicability to the post" to public sector job advertisements? Why single out just the Treaty, even for bean-counting positions?

Posted by dc_red : 2/26/2005 12:24:00 PM

Actually, I'd be quite happy with that - it at least makes it clear what its all about (though Dr Brash would no doubt complain that the Treaty is included at all).

As for the current emphasis, it's because all too often the Treaty is the bit people don't know, or don't think is relevant. Though again, I think it is being gradually corrected by generational change, as the DWMs who grew up when the Treaty was "a simple nulity" die or retire.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/27/2005 12:03:00 AM