10 Oct 2022

ACT launches anti-co-governance proposals

1:35 pm on 10 October 2022
David Seymour

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

ACT has released a policy document setting out its opposition to co-governance, and proposals for how to counter it.

The party has consistently voiced opposition to policies which propose measures for shared decision-making with Māori, saying it undermines the concepts of universal human rights and democracy.

The document however sets out an interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi which has been disputed by academic and legal scholars for decades.

ACT proposes to set this disputed interpretation into legislation, then hold a public referendum on whether it would become law - which would have the effect of setting a higher bar for repeal.

They also claim left-aligned parties have been pushing through "profound constitutional change" by stealth, and proposes to reverse a series of laws brought in by Labour they say divides New Zealanders by race, including:

  • The Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) Act, which replaced DHBs with a national health service and the Māori Health Authority
  • The government's Three Waters legislation
  • The Natural and Built Environments Act, which is Labour's primary replacement for the Resource Management Act
  • The Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Act
  • Oranga Tamariki Act section 7AA

Thirdly, the party proposes reorienting the public sector to targeting services and support based on need rather than ethnicity, using the Ministry of Education's Equity Index as an example of how data could be used more effectively to gauge disadvantage.


ACT's document sets out an interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi. It is worth noting not all Māori chiefs signed the Treaty - some because they disagreed, others because the text never reached them.

Some of the major differences between the original English-language and reo Māori versions are centred on the translation of two key terms: kāwanatanga and tino rangatiratanga.

ACT's document translates kāwanatanga as "complete government" to be granted to the British monarchy, which closely aligns with the English-language version of the Treaty which translates kāwanatanga as "absolute sovereignty".

However, Kāwanatanga was a word invented by the British drafters of the Treaty and the declaration of independence of the united tribes of New Zealand signed five years prior. It comes from the Māori word 'kāwana', meaning 'governor' and scholars have argued it could more accurately translate to 'government'.

ACT translates tino rangatiratanga as "authority" to be guaranteed to rangatira (chiefs) and their hapū over their people, lands, and treasures.

This closely aligns with the English-language version of the Treaty which translates tino rangatiratanga as "full, exclusive and undisturbed possession", but tino rangatiratanga comes from the combination of 'tino' meaning 'of most importance' or 'absolute' and 'rangatiratanga' or chieftainship.

Modern interpretations translate 'tino rangatiratanga' to mean self-determination, sovereignty, autonomy or control.

Seymour today again confirmed a referendum on co-governance would be a bottom-line in any coalition negotiation.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon in March said he did not see the need for a referendum on co-governance, and rejected such a move.

However, he did express "serious reservations" about co-governance in public service delivery and he refused to get into specifics about coalition arrangements

Leader David Seymour took aim at the judiciary, arguing the way the Treaty had been interpreted by the courts over the last 30 to 40 years had moved away from "what most New Zealanders would want and what's good for New Zealand in the long term".

Speaking about the recent Peter Ellis case, he said Supreme Court justices had gone out of their way to create a precedent regarding the role of tikanga in common law, and said the way they behaved was "quite extraordinary".

"And that's why we think the right response obviously is not to interfere with judges or the judiciary, it is for Parliament to legislate what we believe the correct answer is."

Seymour also said ACT believed rangatiratanga was very important and people should be able to live their lives "with maximum self-determination regardless of what the government thinks is right for them - that's what the chiefs signed up to".

"We're doing this because we think the abandonment of liberal democracy is a mistake for New Zealand, that we're going down the wrong path, and that we're not going to solve the very problems the people behind co-government would like to solve by abandoning liberal democracy in favour of co-government."

The document also targets the He Puapua document, saying "while Labour denies it is official policy, many of its recommendations are nonetheless being implemented".

He Puapua was commissioned by the government to explore the options for how the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples - which Helen Clark's Labour government refused to sign up to but John Key's National government did - could be acted upon by 2040.

It was a 123-page report compiled by a working group of four government officials and five non-government representatives in about two and a half months - which the chair described as a short time to develop such a strategy - and drew heavily on the Matike Mai report launched in 2016.

* This article originally stated ACT's proposals relied primarily on an interpretation which aligns with the English-language version of the Treaty. ACT says it relies on the 1987 translation of the reo Māori version of the Treaty to English.


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