National | Indigenous

Actions by new government will make NZ fall behind as ‘world leader in indigenous rights’ - scholar

Indigenous rights scholar and activist Claire Charters says actions made the new coalition government is losing New Zealand’s place as what she asserts is the world’s foremost leader on realising indigenous people’s rights.

Speaking from London, Charters says the world is watching the policy rollbacks affecting Māori.

“Having spoken to a number of indigenous leaders globally, and talked about these various different policies around te reo Māori, around to the re-write of Te Tiriti and so on, there’s just such a sadness that New Zealand losing its high ground in leading the way in many of these areas,” Charters says.

“It doesn’t bode well for other states if New Zealand, a nation with a great reputation in this area, to then give other states ammunition to also be more regressive on indigenous people’s rights.”

He Puapua

One of Prime Minister Christopher Luxon’s 49 actions in the first 100 days of leading is to stop all work on He Puapua, a discussion report to the previous government considering what action New Zealand should take to embed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which is signed under a previous National coalition government.

Charter says she’s not surprised by the move, since the previous government had already stopped drafting the national plan of action.

“It’s really unfortunate because New Zealand was, with some other states like Canada, at the fore of trying to come up with practical ways in which to realise the UN declaration and now we are no longer doing that obviously so we’re falling behind our counterparts in realising indigenous people’s rights.”

Earlier this year New Zealand First announced it would withdraw New Zealand from UNDRIP if elected, citing concerns over race-based preferences. Charters warns against such a move and that it would go against Māori people’s rights to culture, self-determination, lands, territories, resources and equality.

“There’s evidence from 50 years in Harvard, for example, that indigenous people do better on all socio-economic indicia when they have self-determination, which is reflected in the declaration. To pull back on the declaration is to pull back on the best mechanisms that we might have on addressing inequality in this country.”

‘Treaty Principles Bill would subject minority rights to the tyranny of the majority’

ACT called for a referendum on the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and, although the referendum did not make it into the coalition agreement, National and New Zealand First have agreed to a Treaty Principles Bill going to a select committee for further consideration.

But Charters says having “legislation that overrides any judicial information of Te Tiriti o Waitangi is very dangerous”.

“Basically, you are interpreting the Treaty of Waitangi by what the majority wants it to say, which is another way of the majority exercising authority or effectively tyranny of the majority,” she says.

“From what I have read, from what this override would look like, it doesn’t reflect te Tiriti o Waitangi in the slightest, so it’s rewriting our constitutional document and it’s subjecting minority rights to the tyranny of the majority in effect.”

Charters says she hopes the government will listen to Māori “as the indigenous people of this nation as the founding constitutional partners in the establishment of Aotearoa New Zealand and will heed our concerns and our fears and our advice with the policies that have been coming out since the election of this new government.”