19 Jan 2024

Government confirms leaked document was a ministry Treaty Principles bill memo

2:08 pm on 19 January 2024
National MP Paul Goldsmith

Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The government has confirmed a document about the government's proposed Treaty Principles bill is a leaked draft memo from the Ministry of Justice.

Te Pāti Māori's co-leader Rawiri Waititi posted a screenshot of the leaked document on social media on Friday, saying it showed the government's "intentions to erase Te Tiriti o Waitangi".

"Let this be the fuel to our fire! See you all on Saturday! We do not surrender! We do not cede!" he wrote, ahead of the Kiingitanga's planned national unity hui.

The screenshot showed commentary from the report's author saying they expected the Bill would be "highly contentious".

A screenshot showing Rawiri Waititi's social media post of the leaked Treaty Principles bill memo.

A screenshot showing Rawiri Waititi's social media post of the leaked Treaty Principles bill memo. Photo: Rawiri Waititi / Facebook / screenshot

"This is due to both the fundamental constitutional nature of the subject matter and the lack of consultation with the public on the policy development prior to Select Committee."

It said there was a need for the legislation because the principles of the Treaty were not defined in legislation, and "their importance requires there be certainty anc clarity about their meaning. Parliament should be intentional n (sic) the principle's (sic) definition, and how they operate in law and society".

It also listed the proposed three new principles proposed by the government to be based on the articles of the Treaty, similar to what ACT's initial policy stated, and featured a watermark with what appears to be the word 'draft' - with the final three letters partially visible.

1News reported it had a full copy of the leaked report, which it said warned the proposal's key points were "at odds with what the Treaty of Waitangi actually says".

Quoting from the report: "The Bill will also change the nature of the principles from reflecting a relationship akin to a partnership between the Crown and Māori to reflecting the relationship the Crown has with all citizens of New Zealand. This is not supported by either the spirit of the Treaty or the text of the Treaty."

Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith confirmed the report was a draft prepared by the ministry.

"This is a draft Ministry of Justice memo that has not been seen or considered by Cabinet," he said.

"The coalition agreement is clear that the government will support a bill on treaty principles to first reading. However [Prime Minister] Christopher Luxon has been clear that National has no intention to support it beyond that."

He told RNZ the government was not happy about it.

"Nobody wants to see leaks of draft documents, and so we're not happy about that," he said. "They do happen from time to time and we'll certainly be asking the justice officials to look into what happened and how it happened."

He would not speculate on whether the leaks showed any animosity towards ACT or the government, "but obviously we don't want to see too many leaks".

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said the leak showed there was disagreement within the government.

"The fact that the document has been leaked is something that the government needs to talk to themselves about, I mean there's clearly not agreement with the content and there's clearly concerns for the intent, I guess, of those who have requested the work be done."

She said leaks were a sign that people who had been asked to do something were uncomfortable with what they'd been asked to do.

"They are a critical part of democracy, I guess, is that when you don't like what you've been asked to do that you have to be able to feel that you can take it somewhere that it gets further checked out. And there should be pressure put on the government."

The policy is being championed by the ACT Party. Leader David Seymour rejected suggestions the leak - the second relating to ACT policies - showed public sector animosity towards the party.

He was not surprised at the leak.

"Not at all. You've got people in the bureaucracy who have been set in a way of thinking for a long time - but that way of thinking has ignored the input of most New Zealanders," he said.

"People need to be clear this document is simply a bid for time on the order paper that is reserving a slot for a debate to happen in Parliament. It's a bit hard to say there's been no consultation on a bill that hadn't actually been drafted yet. And second of all, we've actually been campaigning for this for two years, we've debated, spoken to, listened to all comers.

He said coming to the conclusion that the public service had it out for ACT given it was the second leak - after Treasury advice about plans to repeal the Fair Pay Agreements legislation was made public - would be "delinquent".

"Why do you take two data points and claim a correlation?" he said. "I don't think that that pattern can be established from the evidence you've got."

He said National's approach which ruled out support beyond the Select Committee stage was not a case of them trying to hose the policy down.

"National's not trying to hose it down, they've said they have no commitment to supporting it past the first reading and that's true, it's always been the case that it's up to ACT to make the case that this bill should continue beyond that."

A statement from the party said the advice in the report itself was not surprising.

"The public service has been knee deep in this interpretation so it's not surprising its advice mirrors this. New Zealanders want a respectful debate on the constitutional future of our country and that's what they've voted for."

Justice Secretary Andrew Kibblewhite confirmed the ministry was leading an investigation on the leak.

"We are incredibly disappointed that this has happened. Ministers need to be able to trust that briefing papers are treated with utmost confidentiality, and we will be investigating the leak as a priority.

"All proposed government Bills are assigned a priority in the Legislation Programme. The draft paper was prepared as part of that standard process, and had a limited distribution within the Ministry of Justice and a small number of other government agencies.

"We will be keeping Minister Goldsmith informed on our investigation and will not be making any further comment at this stage."

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