New Zealand has not had an Indigenous Rights Commissioner for four years and there are no plans to appoint one, at a time when the government is grappling with the He Puapua report to strengthen Māori rights.
The He Puapua report outlines policy options to give effect to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which New Zealand committed to under the previous National government.
Earlier this month Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson laid out the government's next steps to meeting the declaration, with no allowance for a new Indigenous Rights Commissioner.
Aotearoa's only Indigenous Rights Commissioner Karen Johansen wants the role reinstated as part of the government's implementation of UNDRIP.
Johansen, of Gisborne, Rongowhakaata, advocated for the human rights of tangata whenua between 2008 and 2017.
But after serving the maximum two terms, she was not replaced.
Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt has also implored the government to appoint an Indigenous Rights Commissioner, doing so since 2019.
"Nobody in government is saying this is a bad idea. What they're saying is they don't have the money," he said.
"It's extremely disappointing."
Hunt said the appointment of an Indigenous Rights Commissioner was "urgent".
"Contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand requires a full-time Race Relations Commissioner and a full-time Indigenous Peoples Rights Commissioner," Hunt said.
One Race Relations Commissioner responsible for all ethnic minority communities and tangata whenua was "out-of-date".
"It reflects our understanding of New Zealand in the 1960s and '70s."
Hunt said it was not a criticism of the Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon, who was Gisborne's former mayor.
"What I'm criticising is the failure to appoint a fifth commissioner, which I am not empowered to do."
A government spokesperson said appointing an Indigenous Rights Commissioner was not on the "work programme", but strongly encouraged all interested parties to take part in the consultation process on UNDRIP.
The plan is to first consult with key iwi and Māori organisations, followed by the public.
The Human Rights Commission is an independent Crown agency.
Commissioner appointments are made by the Governor-General on advice from the government.
The Human Rights Act legislates for a chief commissioner and up to four others.
The act specifies three "priority areas" that must be led by a commissioner - disability rights, equal employment opportunities and race relations.
Foon supported the call for an Indigenous Rights Commissioner position, saying it was a fundamental right under the Treaty of Waitangi.
He currently shared the Indigenous Rights portfolio with Hunt because the government hadn't appointed a Māori commissioner.
There were no Māori commissioners, he said.
Johansen said over the past four years, there had been a gap where a human rights voice representing tangata whenua should have been.
She highlighted the land occupation at Ihumātao, the local government debate on Māori wards, and even the stir when National Party leader Judith Collins wasn't allowed to speak at Waitangi earlier this year.
Johansen is calling for the Indigenous Rights Commissioner role to be written into legislation.
"An Indigenous Rights Commissioner would be a critical independent voice in advocating for the rights of tangata whenua laid out in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the founding human rights document of Aotearoa New Zealand."
The declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, but New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States voted against it.
The Labour government at the time warned it was incompatible with New Zealand's constitutional and legal systems, but in 2010, the then National government agreed to support the declaration.
As the declaration is legally non-binding, it cannot be monitored by the United Nations, however, Johansen said it had "huge moral authority".
"It is being used more and more to support arguments for equity, partnership and true engagement.
"The declaration is enormously useful in helping us to work out how to make the Treaty work and benefit us all in 2021."
A spokesperson for Jackson said it would be "inappropriate" for the minister to comment during consultation about UNDRIP.
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