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Politics

Act launches campaign to twist National’s arm on Treaty principles referendum

Act leader David Seymour is not taking “no” for an answer when it comes to support for his Treaty principles referendum, which, if successful, would redefine the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Seymour and the Act Party have launched a public information campaign to build public support for the bill, in a bid to twist National and New Zealand First’s arms. The proposal, to redefine the Treaty principles, is already quite popular; an October Taxpayers’ Union-Curia Poll found 60 per cent of people supported the idea, compared to 18 per cent who did not.

Support for actually having a referendum is far lower; just 45 per cent want to hold a referendum, compared to 25 per cent who oppose the idea.

The bill was promised to Act as part of its coalition agreement with National, but unlike other promises, this promise was only to support the bill as far as a select committee.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and senior NZ First Minister Shane Jones have essentially said the bill will not make it any further than that, and will not proceed to a referendum. Other parties in the coalition have tended to be equivocal with their language out of respect to the good-faith provisions in the agreement.

Seymour said the party was “launching a campaign to give Kiwis the facts on the Treaty Principles Bill”.

He said disinformation had been spread about the proposal and it was clear Act could not “rely on the media to correct the disinformation”.

The party has set up an “info hub”, registering the domain name “treaty.nz” which it said presented the “facts” about what Act was putting up.

“This belief is a core principle - or kaupapa - for Act. It’s a belief shared by most New Zealanders, including Māori. And it’s a principle that has the backing of our nation’s founding document, with Article Three of Te Tiriti promising the same rights and duties for all New Zealanders.

“Our belief in unity and equal rights underpins the Treaty Principles Bill. This law will unwind the divisive modern ‘partnership’ interpretation of the Treaty and restore its meaning to what was actually written and signed in 1840,” Seymour said.

The principles of the Treaty of Waitangi are used to apply the Treaty in a range of contemporary contexts. They are often written into legislation, and are used and developed by the judiciary to interpret what the Treaty means today.

Act says it has noticed a growing frustration at the mission creep of the principles since they entered legislation in the 1980s. Act says this has resulted in the Treaty being interpreted in ways it argues are inconsistent with what was set out in 1840 - although many disagree with Act on this point.

Act’s policy document on the principles said the judiciary “will interpret the scope of the amorphous ‘principles of the Treaty’ very widely, though not the actual articles of the Treaty itself”.

Senior Labour MP Willie Jackson described the idea as a “sham and is designed to erase Māori interests enshrined in the Treaty”.

“The division that Seymour is stirring up is a disgrace. He is creating conflict through race-baiting,” Jackson said.

“He claims to champion democracy, but no one was asking for this extremism as a policy position. Māori don’t have ‘race rights’ as David puts them, we have ‘legal rights’ under the Treaty and the Crown has a responsibility to engage with Māori in good faith means to ensure that.”