Tiriti referendum: ACT seizes moment on PM handover

By Will Trafford

David Seymour says a referendum on a 'Treaty Principles Act' would be part of negotiations on forming a National-ACT coalition government after October's general election. Photo / Jason Oxenham / NZME

On the same day Labour announced incoming prime minister Chris Hipkins would lead the party to this year’s general election, Act seized the moment to announce a national campaign opposing Labour’s co-governance legislative agenda, while calling on a referendum on the Tiriti.

“ACT has today launched the next phase of our ‘We hear ya’ campaign,’ Act leader David Seymour (Ngāpuhi) said on Sunday.

“ACT MPs travelled the country in 2022, carrying out 208 public meetings. One of the main concerns we heard was about co-government being forced on New Zealanders,”

“The government is presenting New Zealanders with a false choice. It says that if we want to right the wrongs of the past, cherish Māori language and culture, and give all New Zealanders equal opportunity, then we must throw out universal human rights in favour of co-government.”

Seymour says in negotiations for a National-Act coalition following October's general election, his party would seek a referendum on a Treaty Principles Act, thereby "putting it to the people".

Act would reverse Three Waters reforms, the creation of the Māori Health Authority, and any resource management legislation that required iwi consultation.

'We propose'

Ministers would instruct the public service to operate on a "needs-based" framework, and disregard what he branded "race-based targeting".

“Act doesn’t just oppose, we propose. That’s why we’ve set out what practical steps we would take to deliver the promise of a modern, multi-ethnic liberal democracy in government.” Seymour said.

The Labour government has been rolling out co-governance reforms in line with Te Tiriti principles and the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), which the National government signed in 2010.

As with the Tiriti, article 3 of the UNDRIP says indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination by freely pursuing economic, social and cultural development.

Article 4 ensures the right to self-governance and autonomy, while article 26 ensures ‘Indigenous peoples have the right to their lands, territories and resources’.

ACT says the Māori Health Authority, the introduction of Māori seats on local bodies, and the government’s controversial Three Waters policy are affronts to representational democracy.

Rights based on whakapapa

“We are told that ‘one-person-one-vote’ is old-fashioned, and we should welcome a new, ‘enlightened’ type of political system. This new system is a ‘tiriti-centric Aotearoa,’ where we are divided into tangata whenua, people of the land, and tangata tiriti, people of the treaty. Each person will not have an inherent set of political rights because they are citizens of New Zealand. Instead, they will have rights based on their whakapapa or ancestry,” Seymour said.

“Continuing to embed the extraordinary belief will be highly divisive. The danger is that if the government continually tells people to regard each other as members of a group rather than individuals with inherent dignity, there is a danger people will internalise that lesson. Once that happens, it is very difficult to go back.

Act’s agenda was "truer to the Treaty and our country’s best interests", "based on what works internationally," Seymour claimed.

“The treaty guaranteed all people ngā tikanga katoa rite tahi, the same rights and duties.

Refocusing on bread and butter

"We followed through, in 1893, by becoming the first society in human history to give every citizen the same voting rights. New Zealand, under the first Labour government, insisted that universal human rights be included in the United Nations Charter, and we eagerly signed up to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which begins with “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

“Parties on the left, led by Labour, promote decision-making made by two parties jointly co-governing when it comes to regulatory decisions and government service delivery. Act would overturn and replace the obsession with co-government, replacing it with a more liberal outlook that treats all humans with equal dignity," Seymour said.

In his first interview as incoming prime minister, new Labour leader Chris Hipkins said he planned to reorient the party’s legislative agenda to focus on broad appeal cost-of-living issues in the lead-up to this year’s election on October 14.

"We need to focus on some of those bread-and-butter issues that New Zealanders are certainly focused on at the moment, including issues like the cost of living, the effects of the ongoing global inflation pandemic that we're experiencing at the moment,” Hipkins told RNZ.

Hipkins wouldn’t say which legislative items might be on the chopping block, until after he met the cabinet after taking on the role from Prime Minister Ardern on Wednesday.

Applying the brakes

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson said in December the government would be pumping the brakes on some co-governance issues, while it worked to secure a third term.

"We just have to make sure that we're putting our resources into the things that are going to make the biggest difference and that are the most important," Hipkins said on Monday.

"I absolutely believe in the values the Labour Party was founded on, which is that we are here for people who are working hard to get ahead and create a better life for themselves and their families.

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