19 Apr 2024

Luxon: Waitangi Tribunal comments from coalition parties 'ill considered'

3:02 pm on 19 April 2024
David Seymour and Christopher Luxon at Cardinal McKeefry School

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Comments from ACT and NZ First ministers about the Waitangi Tribunal were "ill considered" and "that message will be underscored" to them, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon says.

Resources and Regional Development Minister Shane Jones' comments to Radio Waatea this week attacked the Tribunal after it summonsed Children's Minister Karen Chhour for an urgent hearing over the government's plan to repeal section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act.

He had said the tribunal "has no business running its operation like some sort of star chamber, delivering peremptory summons for ministers to rock up and be either cross-examined or grilled".

Jones said the tribunal was interfering in democracy, and noted a review of the tribunal would begin soon - as promised in the NZ First coalition agreement with National.

ACT leader and Regulations Minister David Seymour also hit back at the tribunal's summons, saying they were "buying a fight with someone of much greater mana" and suggested "perhaps they should be wound up for their own good".

Luxon has been overseas this week on a trade delegation to Southeast Asia. Questioned on the final day of the trip in Manila about those remarks by his coalition partners, he said they were "ill considered" on both counts.

"I think those comments are ill considered, I mean we expect all ministers to actually exercise good judgement I think in their communications on matters like this," Luxon said about Jones' statements.

"What we need to be focused on is many commentators and others and we certainly have it in our coalition agreement is to look at the future role of the Waitangi Tribunal going forward and that's something that should happen in a very proper and considered process. So I think the comments are ill considered."

Asked about Seymour, his response was much the same.

"Well, again, those comments are ill considered. And I expect my ministers to actually exercise good judgement on communications of that nature.

"What I would say to you is there is no doubt about it, we are focused on making sure that going forward in a post-treaty settlements world what is the future role and scope and purpose of the Waitangi Tribunal. That needs some thinking. We will work that through in a very proper and comprehensive way in government."

He suggested both Jones and Seymour would be given that directive in no uncertain terms.

"Well, I haven't had a chance to talk to them, but that message will be underscored to the ministers. Yep."

He said he was unsure if Attorney-General Judith Collins had spoken to them, but "those remarks, as I said, I think are ill considered, I think ministers need to exercise good judgement".

Lawyer and constitutional expert Graeme Edgeler told Morning Report the Tribunal was slightly different from a court so the rules barring MPs from criticism of courts and judges likely did not apply, even if they were "probably unwise".

"I think if you're reading the Cabinet Manual about what ministers are supposed to do, I think you'll get the sense that ministers should possibly be reticent here but whether there's been an exact breach ... maybe not."

He agreed there was a danger such comments could stray close to the line of undermining a part of judicial system.

"It's a particular risk for ministers rather than members of Parliament because the Crown is one of the parties before this tribunal, which is similar to courts particularly when it tends to be the Crown is prosecuting a case, or something like that."

"You should be careful ... it was a little intemperate and on reflection, you know, maybe use slightly different words."

He noted the Tribunal normally does not need to summons people to give evidence because that can normally be provided in writing, so if the chief executive could not answer the questions and the minister was refusing to provide the information, this was the next step.

"This is very much what the tribunal does do."

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