CO-GOVERNANCE, and what it means for New Zealand, is predicted to feature prominently in next year’s general election. Passions are already running high on both sides of this issue. All the more reason, one would think, for this country’s public broadcasters to facilitate a reasoned debate between those holding opposing views. Alas, in 2022, the publicly-owned radio network, RNZ, appears to have either forgotten how to conduct reasoned debate, or repudiated the whole idea.
On the morning of Wednesday, 11 May 2022, RNZ Contract Producer Sharon Brettkelly began promoting her latest contribution to “The Detail” series of podcasts. Entitled “Co-Governance: Time To Get On With It?”, Brettkelly’s piece featured just two participants.
These were Chris Finlayson, former National Party Minister for Treaty Settlements, and Traci Houpapa, Chair of the Federation of Māori Authorities, both of whom were, indisputably, well-qualified to speak on the podcast’s subject. Unfortunately, they were also very strong supporters of co-governance. Brettkelly had not thought it necessary to balance her journalism by including the opinions of equally strong and well-qualified opponents of co-governance.
Now, there will be those who object immediately that “balanced reporting” does not require the arguments for and against any given proposition to be included in the same broadcast. For balance to be maintained, it is sufficient that the views of antagonists and protagonists are presented to the audience fairly, and with equal potential impact, within roughly the same timeframe. So long as Brettkelly, or some other RNZ Contract Producer, created a podcast featuring two well-qualified and forceful opponents of co-governance, all would be well.
Sadly, given the current ideological climate in which RNZ’s journalists are required to operate, the chances of such a podcast being made are extremely slim. To broadcast such a production would be considered a breach of RNZ’s obligations under te Tiriti o Waitangi. It would also very likely be denounced by at least some of RNZ employees as a threat to their own and other New Zealanders’ well-being.
After all, we have it on the authority of no less of an expert than Chris Finlayson himself, that only the “Sour Right” and other “losers” oppose co-governance. What possible benefit could there be in providing a publicly-owned platform from which the views of people who “don’t like tangata whenua” and who “dream of a world that never was and never could be”, are spewed forth?
As the title of Brettkelly’s podcast suggests, the question is not whether co-governance represents a fundamental and unmandated break with New Zealand’s constitutional norms; or even if it is a politically feasible objective; but whether or not it is time to just get on with the job. Or, to quote Finlayson, addressing those who might still be entertaining doubts: “Go with the flow”. Clearly, among the people Brettkelly and her ilk deem worthy of a RNZ platform, there is no debate about co-governance. Or, at least, no debate in which representatives of iwi, or the Crown, should allow themselves to become involved.
Listening to Brettkelly’s podcast, it becomes increasingly clear that “The Crown” is a player in the co-governance drama meriting much closer scrutiny.
Most of us, when we hear someone refer to The Crown, rather naively (it turns out) assume the term is being used to describe the Government – the body which we, as citizens of New Zealand, elect to manage the country on our behalf.
Wrong, wrong, wrong!
When iwi representatives and Cabinet ministers talk about The Crown they have something else in mind altogether. For these folk, The Crown represents the permanent and supreme executive power. It encompasses all the decisive institutions of the New Zealand state: the Executive Council (a.k.a the Cabinet); the senior echelons of the public service; the armed forces and the Police; the national security apparatus; and – most important of all – the Judiciary.
Why does this matter? Because the Treaty of Waitangi was presented to the representatives of the indigenous people of these islands by a representative of the British Crown. It was a take-it-or-leave-it deal, that was offered to Māori: not by the British people, who, in 1840, had bugger-all say in the treaties negotiated by their betters (and still don’t) but by agents of the British state. Māori took the deal precisely because, at that time, the British state was the most powerful executive authority on Earth.
What undermined the Treaty was the steady devolution of authority (kawanatanga) from the executive power back in London (and from its local representative, the Governor) to the representative institutions of the Pakeha settlers – whose numbers had grown from a couple of thousand to something equal to or greater than the indigenous population.
In the eyes of these settler governments, the Treaty was not an agreement in which they had played any part, and most certainly was not a document they had the slightest intention of honouring. In the early 1860s, they demanded from London – and got – the overwhelming military force they needed to bury the Treaty and, along with it, the very idea of co-governance.
The re-birth of the co-governance concept cannot be attributed to the institutions of Pakeha rule, at least, not in the sense that the massive constitutional revisions it entails have been presented to and endorsed by the House of Representatives, and then ratified by the citizens of New Zealand in a democratic referendum. It is, rather, the work of Cabinet Ministers and Judges; of New Zealand’s permanent executive; of the body that slowly emerged to replace the tutelary power and influence of the British state. The force that now calls itself “The Crown”.
This is what lies behind the tangata whenua’s fear of representative democracy or, as they prefer to call it, “the tyranny of the majority”, and their preference for working with The Crown alone. They understand perfectly what most Pakeha have yet to grasp: that representative democracy was the means of their dispossession. They know that New Zealand can have democracy, or it can have co-governance, but it can’t have both.
Fair enough. But how are the citizens of New Zealand to explain the scorn and disdain in which The Crown so clearly holds them? Is it simply because The Crown knows that the measures required to keep the peace between Māori and Pakeha will never receive the imprimatur of a freely and fairly elected New Zealand Parliament? That only under a constitutional arrangement in which iwi and The Crown between them wield sufficient power to over-rule the will of “The [Pakeha] People” can the instruments of peace be created?
Because iwi and The Crown both know that co-governance will never be forged by free and fair debate, or free and fair elections, but only by “getting on with it”.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 12 May 2022.