Co-governance empowers elites

National leader Christopher Luxon has been quite clear about the party’s policy on co-governance :

. . . Luxon observed that, “I think it has been quite a divisive and immature conversation over recent years, and I personally think it’s because the government hasn’t been upfront or transparent with the New Zealand people about where it’s going and what it’s doing.”

“We believe in a single coherent system – not one system for Māori and another system for non-Māori – for the delivery of public services. Things like health, education, and justice, and critical infrastructure like three waters.”

“It doesn’t mean that we don’t want Māori involved in decision-making and partnering with Māori, we have a principal objection because New Zealand has one government: it’s elected by all of us, it’s accountable to all of us, and its public services are available to anyone who needs them.”

This is an entirely sensible point of view, and is one which is consistent with the terms of the Treaty. . . 

It is also consistent with democracy and egalitarian principles which treat everyone as equal.

Opposition to co-governance is criticised as racist. That’s just the retort of people who won’t, or can’t debate the issues.

Besides co-governance doesn’t advantage all Maori. Thomas Cranmer points out it empowers tribal elites and disadvantages iwi.

Co-governance has largely been confined to the management of natural resources and has usually been part of a Treaty settlement process. More recently, however, it has begun to expand into local government and public services.

But even within natural resources, co-governance has had mixed success at best.

The obvious example is Te Urewera which has been in the news recently due to friction between Tūhoe and Te Uru Taumatua (TUT), the Tūhoe governance body for Te Urewera, over the destruction of hunting huts. The disagreement has also revealed that the relationship between TUT and the Crown has entirely broken down, with almost no communication between the parties over the last two years.

The people of Tūhoe feel utterly let down by the current state of affairs. As part of these co-governance arrangements, iwi usually form a Post-Settlement Governance Entity (PSGE) which enters into the governance arrangements with the Crown on behalf of the iwi. In the case of Te Urerewa, the PSGE was TUT.

But as one Tūhoe elder recounted during last year’s protests, what has happened is that a small number of tribal elite that make up the majority of the board of TUT have ignored the wishes of the iwi on a number of issues and have decided to act as they please. Any concerns raised by the iwi to the Crown have been rebuffed as it only wants to deal with the PSGE. As a result, iwi members feel just as disenfranchised as they did before the co-governance arrangements were put in place.

Worse, this does absolutely nothing to reverse all the negative statistics where Maori are over-represented nor to improve the positive statistics where they are under-represented.

In this sense, co-governance can be seen to only benefit the tribal elite and not iwi members. If that is the case, then the question needs to be asked whether co-governance is the most effective means to manage natural assets and whether the Crown’s Treaty obligations to Māoridom can be better satisfied with different arrangements.

Without doubt, the Treaty does not, by its terms, require co-governance to be utilized in any scenario. Some will disagree with that assessment but if that’s the case, then honest and respectful debate should be encouraged about the meaning of the Treaty. . . 

Having an English and a Maori version of the Treaty is problematic when they aren’t exactly the same.

Further problems arise with attempts to interpret the intentions and understanding of everybody involved in 1840 in a 21st century context.

But one point should not be debatable – in a liberal democracy all people have equal rights, all are equal under the law and the power lies with the people, not with a few elites.

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