ON HIS POLITIK WEBSITE, Richard Harman reveals how Environment Minister David Parker upset the co-governance project. Labour’s Māori Caucus saw co-governance becoming a central feature of Parker’s Natural & Built Environments Bill – the legislation poised to replace the Resource Management Act. On the all-important regional bodies established by the legislation, it was assumed that 50 percent of the seats would be reserved for Māori, leaving the rest for the rest.
According to Harman, Parker refused: successfully facing-down the opposition of Nanaia Mahuta and the Māori Caucus “in what may be seen as a defining move by the Government, which has been under fire over the Three Waters co-governance proposals.”
While Harman is undoubtedly correct to interpret Parker’s successful resistance as an important straw in the wind, it would be wrong to count it as a total victory. As Harman, himself, went on to report, the proposed clause in the Natural & Built Environments Bill which states: “that in achieving the purpose of this Act, those exercising functions and powers under it must give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi”, remains intact.
It is important to remember that the co-governance project is justified as a way of giving effect to the principles of the Treaty. Fifty-fifty representation is promoted as the political expression of the supposed Treaty “partnership”. The Natural & Built Environments Bill isn’t out of the woods yet.
Even so, the fact that a Labour cabinet minister has taken a stand against co-governance – with the support of both a Cabinet and a caucus majority – is an extremely important political development. Without Labour, the co-governance project could never have progressed so far. If Parker’s stand is emulated by other Labour MPs, then co-governance will be stopped in its tracks. Neither the Greens nor the Māori Party have the numbers to push it forward against Labour resistance.
What Harman’s reporting makes clear is the alarm which even rumours of Parker’s resistance generated. The Māori Council and their corporate iwi allies – represented by the former National Party Attorney-General, Chris Finlayson – took their concerns to the Waitangi Tribunal. While legal niceties prevented the Tribunal from releasing a definitive judgement on co-governance and the Natural & Built Environments Bill, it did suggest that its absence from the legislation would be undesirable.
Clearly, the Tribunal has become an integral part of the co-governance political machinery: a body of sufficient mana to offer cover for both the project and its political sponsors. The same applies to much of the media, academia, and – more worryingly – the courts. And yet, even this impressive line-up of allies could not hope to save co-governance if it was openly repudiated by a Government.
How far would the co-governance project have proceeded had John Key not agreed to ratify the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? How could the Treaty’s “principles”, and its expectations of “partnership”, have been embedded in so many Acts of Parliament had not successive governments declined to take issue with them? The co-governance project may not be the historical offspring of senior National and Labour politicians (like Geoff Palmer and Chris Finlayson) but they certainly provided the room in which it was conceived.
Only now, and only to thoughtfully stubborn individuals like David Parker, is the extraordinary naivete and arrogance required to facilitate the co-governance project becoming clear. It simply did not occur to those Pakeha politicians who set about creating a Māori middle-class to keep the increasingly restive Māori underclass from setting the country on fire, that their creation might one day turn on its creator. Locating cultural and ideological enemies at the very heart of the colonial state was never likely to produce a happy ending.
Extracting these racial revolutionaries from the strategic locations they have occupied in the course of their “long march through the institutions” is not going to be easy. Judges, in particular, cannot be removed without a great deal of fuss. Ideologically-driven public servants, academics, teachers and journalists are similarly well-placed to defend the “gains” of the racial revolution. And then there’s the younger generations of New Zealanders. These youngsters may not be intellectually or emotionally equipped to challenge the radical orthodoxy of their revolutionary mentors, but they are more than equal to the task of inflicting a lot of harm on their behalf.
All of which adds up to a difficult and potentially dangerous mission should Mr Parker and his Labour comrades agree to accept it. They will have to re-learn both the liberal-democratic catechism of universal human-rights and freedoms (the freedom of expression in particular) as well as the good old democratic-socialist creed that bound the Labour Party and the Ratana Church together so tightly all those years ago. Fortunately, they have at least two very important things going for them. 1) Most New Zealanders – Māori and Pakeha – do not want co-governance. 2) The electorate will reward any government that has the guts to say: “This far, but no further!”
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 3 November 2022.