25 Jan 2023

Māori seats don't 'make a lot of sense' - Christopher Luxon

2:35 pm on 25 January 2023
Christopher Luxon

Christopher Luxon. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Fresh off using his platform at this week's Rātana celebrations to criticise the government's approach to co-governance with Māori, National Party leader Christopher Luxon is taking aim at Parliament's Māori seats.

But despite saying their existence "doesn't make a lot of sense", National will still be looking at standing candidates in "at least one or two of them".

At Rātana on Tuesday, Luxon - who began his speech in te reo Māori, making use of lessons he started in 2022 - accused the government of allowing a "divisive and immature" debate to develop around its plans for co-governance in areas like water management and the delivery of health services.

The government's view has been that it is fulfilling obligations to Māori under the Treaty, and hoping to improve outcomes. Incoming Prime Minister Chris Hipkins on Tuesday pointed to various Treaty deals struck by previous National-led governments as containing examples of co-governance, asking which Luxon would "go back on" if elected in October.

Speaking to RNZ's Morning Report on Wednesday, Luxon accused Labour of changing the meaning of the word.

"You can't just take a word 'co-governance' and now all of a sudden, by not being transparent as a government as Labour has been, and start to morph it into meaning something else."

He said National MPs who struck historic Treaty deals "made the case, they took people with them and it led to generosity of spirit on both sides and actually something we should be incredibly proud about in New Zealand".

"Co-governance or co-management arrangements we've had in the past in the context of local iwi working with local government on the management of local natural resources in the context of Treaty settlements have been, by and large, really successful and something we should be really proud about.

"But now we start to talk about, increasingly in Wellington over the last few years - and again, it's confusing - about co-governance and separate systems for the delivery of public services, and that's just something that is very different - and from my point of view there's a principled objection to that around the fact that there's one government, public services are designed to deliver for people in need across all of New Zealand.

"The model I want to use is actually massive deployment and delivery of those services through Māori iwi community organisations, but within the coherence of one system. On the other hand, frankly, is the build-up of massive bureaucracies in Wellington."

WHANGANUI, NEW ZEALAND - JANUARY 24: National Party leader Christopher Luxon and National Party deputy leader Nicola Willis leave Ratana Church, Te Haahi Ratana, during Rātana Celebrations on January 24, 2023 in Whanganui, New Zealand. The 2023 Rātana Celebrations mark the last day as Prime Minister for Jacinda Ardern following her resignation on January 19. Labour MP Chris Hipkins became the sole nominee for her replacement and will be sworn in as the new Prime Minister at a ceremony on January 25.  (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Christopher Luxon and deputy Nicola Willis at Rātana. Photo: Getty Images / Hagen Hopkins

National has promised to scrap the Te Aka Whai Ora / Māori Health Authority if elected.

'Doesn't make a lot of sense'

Morning Report host Guyon Espiner asked Luxon about the Māori seats, which are open to candidates of any ethnicity but since their creation in 1867 have been intended to guarantee some level of Māori representation in parliament.

"Historically, that has been something that we've said - look, one person one vote - that doesn't make a lot of sense in our view," Luxon replied.

"But the reality is, being quite pragmatic… the Māori seats have been present in our system for some time. They're not going away."

Eligible voters actually have two votes in New Zealand general elections - one for a party, the other a candidate - and being on the Māori electoral roll doesn't actually entitle someone to more votes than a voter on the general roll.

Luxon said the National Party's historical opposition to Māori seats in parliament and local government is the "logical conclusion" of believing in "one person, one vote, all equal under the law".

But he said the "pragmatic" move this year was to stand candidates in them anyway, and denied this was inconsistent with opposition to co-governance.

"It is utterly consistent."

Co-governance focus at Rātana was appropriate, Luxon says

Questioned by reporters in Auckland this afternoon, Luxon was challenged over his focus on co-governance at Rātana, where politics typically gives way to ceremony.

He said the matter was of national importance, and had been raised with him - he had been challenged at the paepae to stop being afraid of co-governance.

Christopher Luxon at a media standup in Papakura in Auckland

Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

"I did need to raise that issue bcause it was raised with me on the marae from the other side and it was done respectfully and it was done in an appropriate way and I actually want to model out to New Zealand and to the rest of us how we can have intelligent and proper, grown-up conversations without anyone just jumping to reflexive positions without calling so-and-so names.

"I also felt it would be disingenuous of me to stand there - when I'm trying to build a relationship with Rātana - not to sasy what I felt ... I was trying to lay out the context."

He also took pains to clarify what he understood co-governance to mean.

"We've understood the word co-governance to mean local government working with local iwi on the management of local natural resources in the context of Treaty settlements," he said.

"What we've seen is that word has been taken and put into a completely different context with the creation of what would actually be separate and different delivery of public services. We do not want two systems of health, two education systems, two justice systems.

"Those issues that are of national importance in the delivery of public services are very different from localism and devolution where there is good partnership happening, and actually excellent results being achieved in the co-management or co-governance of local natural assets in the context of Treaty settlements."

Hipkins dismisses concerns

In his speech at Rātana on Tuesday, Hipkins said there were fears in the 1990s his local park would be closed when it was placed under a co-governance arrangement as part of a Treaty settlement - but that never came to pass, and "facilities at the park are [now] better than they ever have been".

"Race relations should not ever be used as an issue to divide New Zealanders with," he told media. "Certainly in the past it has been."

At his first post-Cabinet media briefing as prime minister, Hipkins said, regarding co-governance, that he did think the government needed to take a little more time to articulate exactly what it was doing and why in each situation.

"Let's let that unfold a little bit, but I just think, I'm not sure that the opposition's position on co-governance is particularly clear or understandable either. So, it is a complex issue and I think we owe it to New Zealanders to be a little more thoughtful on our contributions than perhaps some of them have been on recent days.

"I don't intend to go back and revisit co-governance arrangements that have already been put in place ... but where there are decisions still to be made, then yes we will make sure that we do that in a way that New Zealanders understand what we're doing and why we're doing it."

Hipkins said co-governance could mean different things in different situations and New Zealand needed to have a mature discussion about it, "not one that's informed by bumper-sticker slogans".

His first Cabinet meeting as prime minister took place after a swearing-in ceremony around lunchtime Tuesday. He has hinted at rolling back some of the government's agenda to focus on the cost-of-living crisis and inflation.

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