WILLIE JACKSON is caught in a trap of his own making. Three groups, tasked in April with developing a detailed plan for implementing the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) have steadfastly refused to play the bureaucratic game the Minister for Māori Development has forced upon them. In essence, they have delivered Jackson an offer neither he, nor the Cabinet, can accept. Their “Declaration Plan”, clearly politically unacceptable, has been kept under wraps for months.
Non-plussed, Jackson asked the plan’s authors: unidentified representatives of Te Puni Kokiri, Pou Tikanga (Iwi Leaders Group) and the Human Rights Commission; to present a revised document for Cabinet’s consideration by July. With November fast approaching, the document’s authors have yet to respond. It is difficult to interpret this tardiness as anything other than a deliberate effort to run down the clock on Jackson. The Declaration Plan’s authors appear confident that their failure to adhere to the Minister’s consultative timetable will make it virtually impossible to organise an effective public response prior to the 2023 General Election.
Clearly, a high-stakes hand of political poker is being played out here. It is hard to interpret the Declaration plan’s authors’ failure to meet Jackson’s deadline as anything other than an act of deliberate defiance. What has prompted their non-compliance?
The most obvious answer is to be found in the unusual ordering of the “Declaration Plan’s” preparation. Rather than gather a broadly representative group of cultural, political and legal experts to develop a blueprint for UNDRIP’s implementation – something in the nature of a Royal Commission of Inquiry – Jackson initiated a round of consultations with Māori groups across the country, and then tasked TPK, the Iwi Leaders Group and the HRC with producing a “first draft” of the results. Once endorsed by Cabinet, this draft Declaration Plan was to be presented to the whole population of New Zealand for consideration, comment, and revision.
Now, any Māori ethno-nationalist worthy of the name will immediately recognise Jackson’s action-plan as a crude mechanism for forcing tangata whenua to water-down their proposals to the point where a Pakeha-dominated Cabinet will find them acceptable. This signed-off Declaration Plan must then be subjected to all the slings and arrows of Pakeha racism – the mouthpieces of which will undoubtedly demand even more watering-down. By the time the process is complete, New Zealand’s plan for implementing UNDRIP will be so anodyne that even Jair Bolsonaro could give it the thumbs-up!
It is worth recalling at this point that a comprehensive “Declaration Plan” already exists. Commissioned by the then Minister of Māori Development, Nanaia Mahuta, in 2019, the He Puapua report, sets forth a step-by-step process for bringing Aotearoa into full compliance with UNDRIP by 2040 – the 200th anniversary of the signing of te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Kept under wraps by Jacinda Ardern’s government, He Puapua was clearly regarded as far too radical to be placed before the New Zealand electorate in 2020. When, inevitably, the document found its way into the public domain, the newly-elected Labour Government was quick to deny that its proposals were – or would ever be – in any way driving Government policy. The Prime Minister curtly ruled-out He Puapua’s plan for a Māori upper-house of Parliament.
The institutions brought together by Jackson can hardly have missed the unspoken terms-of-reference underpinning their endeavour. Under no circumstances were they to present a Declaration Plan as radical as He Puapua. Not only that, but Matike Mai Aotearoa: Independent Working Group on Constitutional Transformation, an impressive consultative exercise in its own right, commissioned by the Iwi Leaders Group, and conducted under the guidance of the late Moana Jackson, which, itself, provided powerful inspiration for the authors of the He Puapua report, was also to be consigned to the “too-radical” basket. So constrained, the authorial group might as well have subtitled their Declaration Plan “Uncle Tom’s Report”.
Nevertheless, the institutions tasked with drawing up the Declaration Plan had no option but to serve. That being the case they seem to have agreed that the whole exercise should either produce a document worthy of UNDRIP, or, if that proved impossible, come to nothing.
This is what they appear to have done. Jackson was presented with a Declaration Plan which, almost certainly, incorporated the core ideas of both Matike Mai and He Puapua. Given the extent of consultation within Maoridom which preceded and informed the Matike Mai working-group’s report; and in light of the courageous creativity of He Puapua, the draft Declaration Plan’s authors could hardly have done otherwise. By any reasonable measure, Matike Mai and He Puapua are the truest reflection of the Māori ethno-nationalist position. If Jackson’s group didn’t back-up the work already done, then they risked being written-off as latter-day kupapa.
Jackson, meanwhile, is left holding a draft Declaration Plan he can’t present to Cabinet, and which its authors refuse to re-write. And, the clock is ticking. When he meets with the authors on Friday (21/10/22) what are Jackson’s options?
He could threaten to release their draft plan to the public, reasoning that the reaction of most Pakeha would be so negative that the whole process of fulfilling New Zealand’s obligations under UNDRIP would come to a shuddering halt. If he was feeling particularly embittered and Machiavellian, he could further argue that the racist backlash would be so powerful that the Government would have to abandon, at least temporarily, its whole co-governance agenda – Three Waters in particular. Could they not produce a document that would reassure Pakeha that UNDRIP was no threat: a document that would actually make the introduction of co-governance easier? Isn’t Māori control of water worth a little bit of watering-down?
Shrewd arguments, certainly, but they don’t get Jackson out of his trap. He simply can’t escape the fact that to meet the requirements of UNDRIP – let alone te Tiriti – the Crown will have to cede an unacceptably large amount of its sovereign power to Māori. As a Minister of that Crown, it is more than Jackson’s warrant is worth to place such a proposition upon the Cabinet Table. In the Realm of New Zealand there can be only one Crown.
Moana Jackson, the authors of He Puapua, and the authors of the draft Declaration Plan: all reached the same conclusion. Neither UNDRIP nor te Tiriti o Waitangi will ever be fully realised in the Realm of New Zealand. To fulfil the promises of these documents a wholly new kind of state will be required – one so radically different to the state New Zealanders presently inhabit, that their acceptance of it could only be secured in the conditions of a full-scale revolution.
And not even Willie Jackson can sell a full-scale revolution to this Labour Government.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 21 October 2022.