3 May 2021

He Puapua report Collins called 'divisive' meant to create unity, author says

5:17 pm on 3 May 2021

The author of a report described by National leader Judith Collins as "divisive" says she wishes it was not used as a "political tool".

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Photo: Dom Thomas

A working group was tasked by the government in 2019 to report on how New Zealand could realise its commitment under the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.

The group later sent Nanaia Mahuta, who was Māori Development Minister at the time, a 130-page report named He Puapua outlining their recommendations.

The government never released the full report publicly but an unredacted version was leaked to the National Party which published it at the weekend.

The report suggested a separate Māori Parliament or upper house, separate court and justice systems and Māori ownership of foreshore and seabed, as well as recommendations on cultural rights and equity.

In a speech at National's Northern regional conference at the weekend, party leader Judith Collins called the document "divisive" and accused Labour of trying to sneak through a plan to separate systems for Māori at all levels.

A government spokesperson said the report had not been signed off by Cabinet and did not represent government policy.

Auckland Law School academic Claire Charters, who is director of the Aotearoa Centre for Indigenous Peoples in the law, was part of the working group and wrote He Puapua.

She said it was unfortunate the National Party had described the report as divisive when it was intended to create unity.

"It's about Māori being able to realise the compact that is so constitutionally important to Aotearoa, Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Claire Charters

Claire Charters Photo: University of Auckland

"In a post-colonisation world we can do that without fear and that's about all living within a Aotearoa state but in a way that recognises that Māori were here and that the Treaty is a compact between Māori, as sovereign entities, and the British Crown and realising that shared authority under a singular state, so coming together in that way," she said.

Charters said she wished the report wasn't used as a "political tool" but instead used as an "instrument to have a genuine discussion about what realising our international obligations and what Te Tiriti o Waitangi requires".

National's framing of the report started the debate on the wrong footing, she said.

"If it's just trying to appeal to fear of what this might look like, that's really disappointing. We live in a better Aotearoa than that," Charters added.

Members of the working group were disappointed the government never released the report publicly, Charters said.

"We also understood, and were in dialogue with Minister [Nanaia] Mahuta at that time about the need for Cabinet to have a good look at it, there's some big questions in there.

"Then obviously Covid-19 intervened and I think the government focused on that and talked to us throughout about how ... once it had dealt with the first initial sort of response to that, the government would be acting and indeed we've been in conversation since the end of last year and throughout this year about how to move it forward," Charters said.

Officials had recently been working with the working group quite closely, Charters said.

The plan to realise the declaration needs to be subject to significant consultation, Charters said, and she hoped the He Puapua report would be the start of that conversation.

People should not be fearful of Māori authority over Māori things, she said.

"We've got a lot to learn and a lot to potentially gain in that while Māori are regulated by a system that is not our own, which creates its own inequality. Until we do that real structural change I think we might still be living in a colonial system."

Speaking to media after a Cabinet meeting this afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Collins' criticisms were purely political.

"I consider it hugely disappointing that we have debates of this nature whenever it seems the National Party are in opposition and at a particular point in the polls," Ardern said.

"I see it as nothing more than pure politics."

The Māori Health Authority would work with the health system, Ardern said, and it was a fact that "Māori die younger in this country" and the new authority would help outcomes for Māori and non-Māori.

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