< July 2024 newsletter

Human Rights Commission advances political agenda of Iwi Chairs Forum

The Human Rights Commission and the National Iwi Chairs Forum* are working together on a campaign to transition from New Zealand's existing democratic government system to a radical race-based constitution.

In 2010, the Iwi Chairs Forum initiated the Matike Mai Aotearoa, the Independent Working Group Constitutional Transformation project to explore the creation of a new constitution.

The Terms of Reference did not ask the Working Group to consider such questions as How might the Treaty fit within the current Westminster constitutional system” but rather required it to seek advice on a different type of constitution, one based on Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

By 2016, the Working Group was ready to share its findings and its suggestions for moving forward with a radical transformation - one which would bring profound changes to the countrys system of government.

Plans for a separate and racially defined governance structure

The Matike Mai Aotearoa Report recommends the introduction of two race-based and differently organised houses of Parliament. It identifies six indicative constitutional models that aim to recognise the different spheres of authority held by Māori and the Crown. The report envisages what it calls a Rangatiratanga Sphere(of government) where Māori make decisions for Māori in accordance with tikanga (customary practices or behaviour); and a Kāwanatanga Sphere’, where the Crown makes decisions for its people (according to the rule of law). Under this model, the Crown would have no decision-making powers on anything relating to Māori. This would include the shaping of new legislation, policies and practices in those areas that affect whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori organisations.

And thirdly, a ‘Relational Sphere’ where Māori and the Crown would meet as equal partners to determine issues of mutual concern.

In addition, the expectation is that the partnership would apply at all levels of government, with Māori sharing power, revenue, and responsibility for resources and social policy.

Since 2016, there has been an ongoing campaign to urge the government to embrace the recommendations for constitutional transformation proposed in the Matike Mai Report. The objective is to establish this new political order by 2040. As part of the initiative to promote the partnership principle between the Crown and Māori, the Iwi Chairs Forum created a 'Treaty Partnership Framework' with the aim of having it adopted not only by central government, including all government departments and agencies, but also by local government.

For several years now the Human Rights Commission has been assisting the Iwi Chairs Forum to organise and support events to promote the envisaged constitutional change. This includes events such as the ‘Constitutional Convention’ in 2021, the ‘Constitutional Kōrero: Transforming New Zealand’s Constitution’ in 2022, and the Designing our Constitution 2024’ conference held early April. (The Commission hosted this event in partnership with the Iwi Chairs Forum and the University of Auckland). These conferences are intended to continue the constitutional conversations sparked through Matike Mai Aotearoa‘, drawing on the values identified in the resultant report.

The transformation of the Human Rights Commission to a dual governed entity

In December last year, Julia Whaipooti was named the Māori co-leader at the Commission. Whaipooti will work alongside chief executive Meg de Ronde to honour the partnership intent of Te Tiriti between tino rangatiratanga (self-determination of Māori) and kāwanatanga (government).

The Whaipooti appointment follows that of former Deputy CEO of the Human Rights Commission, Tricia Keelan, whose key focus was on charting the course for transformation and strengthening the tangata whenua rights team’ within the Commission, along with developing relationships with the National Iwi Chairs Forum and others. Keelan stated that we aim to provide a living demonstration of Matike Mai Aotearoa within the next five years, if not earlier.” 

Additionally, the Commission partnered with the Iwi Chairs Forum to bolster its indigenous leadership in another position, with appointment of Law Professor Claire Charters in March 2023 for a one-year term as an Indigenous rights governance partner. On the announcement of this appointment, the then Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Paul Hunt, said: We are grateful to the National Iwi Chairs Forum, and Claire Charters, for this joint initiative”.

Professor Charters is the Director of the Centre for Indigenous Peoples and the Law, University of Auckland. Besides being chair of the committee that produced the highly controversial report He Puapua, Charters was lead organiser of the ‘Constitutional Kōrero: Transforming New Zealands Constitution, held at the University of Auckland, November 2022. This conference was held to present arguments and options for constitutional transformation to realise Māori rights in te Tiriti o Waitangi, He Whakaputanga and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”.

Government seeking new Chief Human Rights Commissioner

With the departure of Paul Hunt from the position, the Ministry of Justice is currently selecting the next Chief Human Rights Commissioner, with Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith appointing a panel of four members to assist in this process. Remarkably, one of the panel members is a representative of the Iwi Chairs Forum. This is despite the Forum openly challenging the concept of New Zealand as a democratic nation where all people are equal before the law – the very cornerstone of human rights.  To quote former Labour Prime Minister David Lange:

Democratic government can accommodate Maori political aspiration in many ways. It can allocate resources in ways which reflect the particular interests of Maori people. It can delegate authority, and allow the exercise of degrees of Maori autonomy. What it cannot do is acknowledge the existence of a separate sovereignty. As soon as it does that, it isnt a democracy. We can have a democratic form of government or we can have indigenous sovereignty. They cant coexist and we cant have them both”.

* The National Iwi Chairs Forum was established in 2005. It is made up of leaders or chairs of 71 hapū and iwi from across New Zealand.


The Human Rights Commission News

The Report of Matike Mai Aotearoa - The Independent Working Group on Constitutional Transformation

The Constitutional Kōrero 2022: Transforming New Zealands Constitution

Designing our Constitution 2024

Institute of Public Administration New Zealand:

This article was first published in elocal June 2024

Go back to the July 2024 newsletter


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