21 Apr 2010

Govt under pressure to explain effect of declaration

6:22 pm on 21 April 2010

Whether New Zealand's affirmation of the UN declaration on indigenous rights will have any effect on law was the subject of debate in Parliament on Wednesday.

New Zealand signed up to United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on Tuesday, with the Government saying it is aspirational, non-binding and will not alter the dealings the Crown has with Maori.

The ACT Party says while the declaration may not be legally binding, it will be looked to in future debate about public policy issues and by the Waitangi Tribunal.

It says it will play into every argument about autonomy or for ownership of resources.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English says the declaration will sit within New Zealand's existing legal framework and will not change any of the legal rights of Maori.

Support parties challenge Govt view

The Government's claim that the UN declaration will have no real impact on New Zealand has been challenged by its two major support parties.

Maori Party MP Hone Harawira says the declaration is an important step towards Maori self-determination.

He told Morning Report he is positive tangata whenua will use the declaration to bolster claims for land, language and other taonga that have been lost to them. He expects it to be cited in courts of law, the Waitangi Tribunal and other forums.

ACT leader Rodney Hide opposes the declaration but agrees with Mr Harawira's reading of it. He says it asserts that indigenous people have the right of autonomy, and a right to all the land they occupied.

Mr Hide says people will look to the declaration for direction, and Mr Key is naive to believe otherwise.

But Prime Minister John Key says the declaration of indigenous rights will make no difference at all to claims for self determination. He says Treaty claims will still go through the existing process.

Meanwhile, Mr Hide says although he wasn't consulted over the matter, it is not a deal-breaker for the ACT Party's confidence and supply agreement with National.

The UN declaration

The General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on 13 September 2007.

The non-binding text outlines the rights of the world's estimated 370 million indigenous people and outlaws discrimination against them, a UN statement said at the time.

It sets out the rights of indigenous peoples to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.

The declaration emphasizes their rights to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations.

In 2007, New Zealand, along with Australia, Canada, and the United States, voted against the declaration.

In April 2009, Australia officially adopted the declaration, reversing the decision of the previous Government.

UN declaration will have impact - lawyer

Constitutional lawyer Mai Chen, who helped draft the UN declaration on indigenous rights, says signing up to it will provide a boost to Maori making land claims.

Mai Chen told Morning Report that New Zealand has always been a law taker, not a law maker, because the country is too small.

She says such declarations are often a precursor to conventions, and this document does shape the expectations of Maori.

Maori lawyer Moana Jackson, also involved in drafting the declaration, told Waatea News it can now be used as a tool by Maori to fight for their rights.