22 April 2010

Constitutional Matters

The last couple of days have seen two significant events: the voting down of the private member's Bill on referenda about changing our Head of State, and the ratification of the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights.

On the former issue, I gather that Keith Locke and Phil Twyford spoke in the House about giving NZers a choice about this issue, especially as our Sovereign is neither elected by us, nor appointed by our representatives, and is not a NZer herself. I thought it was odd that ACT, the party that supposedly stands for 'freedom of choice' for all NZers, refused to consider giving us a choice in this important matter.

Anyway, the vote against the Bill indicates that MPs are mostly afraid of the political consequences of this debate. MPs may agree privately, but political parties with a majority in the House just do not want to get embroiled in this, as there is nothing to be gained from it politically, and the public probably are in no mood for change anyway, at present.

If (in the unlikely event) such a referendum were to go ahead and we voted for change, the probability is that NZers would vote for a Head of State to be elected at large (who would trust politicians to appoint him/her?) and that would then politicize the role. We would no longer have a constitutional Monarch, represented by a Governor General, who is kept apart from political debates and negotiations, and thus has a more impartial constitutional role. There's a danger in that. So, although I did endorse Keith's Bill to go forward for debate, I'm not sure if the matter would have led to anything but mischief, once it got into the hands of the chattering classes and the bloggers.

Then there's the UN Declaration. NZ had to sign up sooner or later, but it is interesting to see how the PM was trying to play it down (merely 'aspirational', and 'non-binding') while others have been saying, for instance, that it's the greatest thing since the Treaty itself and will lead to iwi self-government, etc. The truth, I guess, is somewhere in the middle. Sir Edward Durie's comments are the best I've read so far:

'Sir Edward said he did not overlook the fact that the declaration had only moral force. The same was said of the Treaty of Waitangi.

'But he added: "Important statements of principle established through international negotiation and acclamation filter into law in time, through both governments and the courts, which look constantly for universal statement of principle in developing policy or deciding cases."

'Sir Edward said that were nothing else done during the Maori Party's lifetime, "this one thing would be enough to secure for it a treasured place in Maori history."'

(These passages above were copied from the Herald.)

The Declaration's wording is really very wide-ranging, and it does give great support to Maori aspirations - and to real-world negotiations or litigation - around pretty much everything. It will, without doubt, have a bearing on matters to do with the foreshore and seabed, the issue of mana whenua representatives in local government (especially Auckland), whanau ora services etc.

Ironically, all this plays into National's pro-privatization agenda, as they can use it to off-load costs and responsibilities onto iwi organizations for all sorts of troubles, such as family violence, adoptions, offender rehab. etc. Whanau Ora is just the beginning!

In fact, they could go further, by using Article 4: "Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions." That is, the Nats could say to iwi organizations that they can levy their own members to raise their own finances in order to run their own by-Maori-for-Maori social services, and the rest of the country's tax-payers can be relieved of the costs. Isn't that what the Maori Party was asking for?


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