Māori Party co-leaders Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/ Getty Images; additional design by Tina Tiller)
Māori Party co-leaders Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/ Getty Images; additional design by Tina Tiller)

ĀteaJanuary 19, 2024

Leaked Treaty bill will ‘radically change’ tone of tomorrow’s hui, says Ngarewa-Packer

Māori Party co-leaders Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/ Getty Images; additional design by Tina Tiller)
Māori Party co-leaders Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/ Getty Images; additional design by Tina Tiller)

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer is ‘disturbed’ by Act’s proposal to rewrite Te Tiriti o Waitangi will galvanise Māori and their allies to take action.

A leaked Ministry of Justice document that unveils plans to rewrite the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi will “radically change” the tone of tomorrow’s hui at Tūrangawaewae, says Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. 

The leaked document, which the government has confirmed is a draft memo from the Ministry of Justice, warns that the “Treaty Principles Bill” – a crucial cog in Act’s election campaign and subsequent coalition negotiation/agreement – will be “highly contentious”. The bill seeks to redefine three Treaty principles. As the leaked document reveals, the current wording for the three proposed principles closely resembles what Act campaigned on last year. They are:

  1. Kawanatanga katoa o o ratou whenua: the New Zealand Government has the right to govern all New Zealanders 
  2. Ki nga tangata katoa o Nu Tireni te tino rangatiratanga o o ratou whenua o rataou kainga me o ratou taonga katoa: the New Zealand government will honour all New Zealanders in the chieftainship of their land and property
  3. A ratou nga tikanga katoa rite tahi: all New Zealanders are equal under the law with the same rights and duties

Article two is the one significant change between these leaked principles and what Act campaigned on. Originally, in the 2023 Act policy documents, it was “the New Zealand government will protect all New Zealanders’ authority over their land and property”, while the new version explicitly extends te tino rangatiratanga/chieftainship to not just tāngata whenua but all citizens. 

The leaked document outlining the latest version of the rewritten Treaty principles.
Part of the leaked document.

This leak comes one day before te hui aa motu, a special national unity hui convened by Kiingi Tuheitia to discuss ways in which te iwi Māori can hold the government to account. In the face of the leak, “I think the theme and the tone of tomorrow [te hui aa motu] will radically change, and this will be up in people’s minds,” said Ngarewa-Packer – who added that she expects this kōrero to flow on to Ratana and Waitangi. Regarding Act’s Treaty rewriting, she said, “It’s disturbing just how utterly racist the proposal is. To not only rewrite Te Tiriti but to completely erase us.” Over the phone, Ngarewa-Packer told The Spinoff that when “you say to everybody we’re all one”, it comes at the expense of Māori. 

Commenting on the leaked principles, the Te Pāti Māori co-leader said, “I’m not surprised so much as disturbed.” She said the “horrific” wording of the rewritten principles had rung alarm bells for Māori across the motu. “It doesn’t matter how mild-mannered, how extreme, how apolitical you are; we will all see this as an attack on our mokopuna. Because if you’re looking to erase Māori, our rangatiratanga, our self-determination, our ability to be ourselves in our own country, you’ve effectively launched an attack on our mokopuna.” Following this leak, tāngata whenua and their allies now have no choice but to defend themselves, Ngarewa-Packer said. 

Ngarewa-Packer on 2023 the campaign trail, pictured here at a local gym. (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

While the leaked Ministry of Justice document outlines these rewritten Treaty principles, it is not without its criticisms of Act’s “Treaty Principles Bill”. The Ministry of Justice report said that because Act’s policy dramatically reframes the Crown-Māori partnership, it is “not supported by either the spirit of the Treaty or the text of the Treaty.” The unknown justice ministry author wrote, “I expect the Bill may be highly contentious. This is due to both the fundamental constitutional nature of the subject matter and the lack of consultation with the public on the policy development prior to Select Committee.” They also acknowledged that if the Treaty Principles Bill passed into law, it would breach international agreements New Zealand has signed up for. 

Despite justice minister Paul Goldsmith implying there was potential to reframe these principles, saying, “This is a draft Ministry of Justice document that has not been seen or considered by Cabinet,”  Act leader David Seymour used today’s national debate to criticise justice ministry staff for upholding an incorrect interpretation of our founding document. “The public service has been knee deep in this interpretation so it’s not surprising its advice mirrors this,” he said. Seymour told Stuff that awarding tāngata whenua special ethnic rights twisted the meaning of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, saying that New Zealanders weren’t consulted on that interpretation. 

Commenting on Seymour’s criticism of justice ministry officials, Ngarewa-Packer said that after scaremongering during the election campaign to stir racial divisions, the Act leader was now creating mistrust about his own government’s officials. “To see him justify what he’s doing by knocking officials of the Ministry of Justice – my goodness! These are people who spent years becoming qualified in law.” She said those within the Act party who authored this policy lacked the legal expertise of justice ministry staffers. Academics and activists whom The Spinoff spoke to last year for a story about Act’s Treaty rewriting agreed. “Anyone who knows anything about this topic wouldn’t come up with this policy,” said Michael Belgrave – a Massey University history professor – who added that this policy showed “they (Act) don’t have any understanding of the 50 years of Treaty principles debate”.

David Seymour reading some top notch Spinoff content on the campaign trail. (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

The co-leader of Te Pāti Māori also took issue with the lack of consultation and transparency. “It was leaked. There was no transparency. The prime minister didn’t say while he was meeting with the Kingitanga, by the way, this is coming up.” 

Since this morning’s leak, it’s been a busy day for Ngarewa-Packer. “I’ve had more global media contact me today than I probably ever have in the last three and a half years.” She told them Te Pāti Māori was “extremely concerned with the intent of David Seymour, Act and the rewriting. 

“It isn’t David Seymour’s role to speak on behalf of Māori. He may have whakapapa, but it isn’t his role to wipe out other people’s whakapapa because he doesn’t respect or rate his own.” 

Speaking to 1News today, justice minister Goldsmith re-confirmed prime minister Christopher Luxon’s position on making this policy law. “The coalition agreement is clear that the government will support a bill on Treaty principles to first reading. However, Christopher Luxon has been clear that National has no intention to support it beyond that.”

This is Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ On Air.

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