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Politics | Te Tiriti o Waitangi

Do New Zealanders really want a Treaty referendum?

A new poll shows “opinion is polarised” about whether there should be a referendum on the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Research New Zealand survey indicates 36 percent of 1000 respondents want a referendum, while 35 percent are against it. The remainder were undecided.

People aged between 18 and 34 were more likely to want a referendum compared with older groups.

Research NZ managing partner Emanuel Kalafatelis told Sunday Morning the nationally representative survey hoped to uncover people’s key issues of concern.

“Cost of living is what it is, inflation shows no signs of abating. So generally, at ground level, it’s tough for the average New Zealander.”

He said the result of the 18 to 34 years old group that supported the referendum was “counter-intuitive”.

A big difference

But he looked at the data again and confirmed that 46 percent of younger people agreed that there should be a referendum and at the other extreme, those over 55 years old only 35 percent agreed, “so there’s a big difference there of at least 10 percentage points which you can’t ignore”.

Supplementary questions would have helped better understand why those surveyed agreed or disagreed with a referendum, Kalafatelis said.

“I’m theorising that younger people generally, as well as everyone else who was in support of there being a referendum, perhaps many of them feel that there should be a referendum in order to clear the air, so to speak, have a clear path that people can follow moving forward so that we have a reference point that we can all connect to.”

It was interesting that younger people were in favour of New Zealand becoming a republic, changing its flag and even changing its name, he said.

“Maybe it’s an indication that as far as young people are concerned, New Zealand is sort of continuing to mature and that, perhaps there is a need for change. I’m just hypothesizing now. I can’t really point at any results which help us really be definitive on this matter at this particular point in time.”

The survey also found that 48 percent of men agreed with the referendum on the Treaty compared with 25 percent of women.

Regionally, 40 percent of the respondents living north of Taupō agreed, compared with 31 percent of those who were from the South Island.

Māori more in favour

Of the 1000 survey respondents, Kalafatelis said there wasn’t a large sub-sample of Māori.

“But looking at the results for Māori there was, I would like to say a tendency for Māori to be more in favour of there being a referendum than Pākehā.”

“Certainly puzzles and interests me. There’s no doubt that this is a complex issue and potentially it’ll become even more complex as we move through the next few months,” Kalafatelis said.

The survey also looked at what the public wants the government to prioritise.

There were three: high cost of food and other everyday essentials (90 percent); long GP and hospital waiting times (87 percent); and the rate of crime committed by young people (84 percent).

Also ranking high on issues people want addressed were a lack of affordable, healthy housing (78 percent); and old leaking water pipes in the major cities (75 percent).

“There’s an increasing proportion of New Zealanders in favour of te reo Māori becoming a compulsory subject in New Zealand schools [37 percent].”