30 Mar 2022

Seymour dismisses Te Paati Māori accusation over co-governance debate

8:59 am on 30 March 2022

The ACT Party and Te Paati Māori are at odds over who is stoking division when it comes to co-governance.

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David Seymour and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. Photo: RNZ / Pool / Stuff / Robert Kitchin

ACT has called for a public referendum on co-governance, broadly considered as shared decision-making arrangements between Māori and the Crown.

Its leader David Seymour laid out his case for what he's calling the dismantling of democracy in a speech to the Milford Rotary Club last week.

He cited He Puapua, Three Waters and the Māori Health Authority as examples of co-governance principles being wrongly applied.

"We've made a large jump from saying that there should be a restoration of past wrongs to the whole society should be premised on two types of person, some of whom have to be democratically elected to governance positions with others appointed by ancestry effectively," he told RNZ.

Te Paati Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said this call for a referendum on co-governance resulted in an immediate spike in abusive correspondence last week.

She said the criticism went beyond politics to target her skin colour, moko kauae, weight and dress and also included comments from known far-right extremists.

Ngarewa-Packer said any race-based issue, including the co-governance debate, stokes division and emboldens fringe elements with extreme views.

"Surely the racebaiting has got to go. Surely there's a better way to address equalities, from what I see our way and what he [David Seymour] sees his way, without inciting these types of attacks from some really sick individuals."

Seymour said he takes no responsibility for these attacks, mentioning he receives regular abuse himself, and said co-governance is a legitimate debate he won't be shying away from.

"If anyone is responsible for this debate or its nature it is the government that makes race-based policies because otherwise as an opposition politician, what do people expect us to do?

"Just ignore that whole part of the government's agenda that is transforming New Zealand's constitutional arrangements because if we do debate it we'll be accused of racism or somehow have the sins of a few odious people visited on everybody that's trying to make progress? That's just illogical."

The National Party has so far said a referendum isn't necessary but leader Christopher Luxon agrees people do need to be able to raise concerns about policies without being shut down.

"I think there is a real need for us to have a genuine, high-quality conversation around co-governance. The point I'm trying to make really clearly is that the government has gone down a pathway.

"It hasn't been transparent, it hasn't been honest, it hasn't gone on and made the case or spent its political capital to tell New Zealanders as to where it's going or where we're going in that space," Luxon said.

Kelvin Davis

Kelvin Davis. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern insists the rationale behind co-governance policies is sound and the case for the likes of a Māori Health Authority has been made.

But senior Māori MP and Cabinet Minister Kelvin Davis has said the government could be doing more to encourage informed conversation about co-governance issues.

"Obviously there'll be sectors of our society who don't know a lot about co-governance. The saying is: 'ignorance breeds fear and hatred' so we've got to make sure people aren't ignorant about what co-governance brings. I think it's an important future direction for Aotearoa."

Ardern has confirmed public consultation on co-governance will begin later this year.

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