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He Puapua: a fair go for Māori

Bishop Richard Randerson says 'He Puapua' – the report on a new constitution, offers a fairer go for Māori. 
The way he sees it, a new constitution could derail politicians that sideline Māori New Zealanders just to win Pākeha votes.

Richard Randerson  |  01 Apr 2022  |

Circulating late last year was a video link suggesting that the recently published He Puapua Report is an exercise in separatism that will take Aotearoa New Zealand down a path to apartheid.

Against an apocalyptic background of darkened skies, lightning and thunder,  presenter Elliot Ikelei, a recent leader of the New Conservative Party, warns viewers of a looming political disaster that will engulf the nation. 

He Puapua is a document with an 18-year window for public discussion to formulate proposals to mark (in 2040) the 200th anniversary of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. He Puapua means a break, as in the breaking of waves, in this case the breaking of inequitable political and constitutional structures.

The He Puapua working group was set up to consider how to give effect to the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, signed in 2010 by the John Key government. A letter of protest is in preparation urging a new government in 2023 to withdraw from the Declaration.

The Dominion Post (15 July 2021) wrote of He Puapua:  “the crux of it is this: outcomes for indigenous people improve when they are in charge of their own destiny”.

The principle of one person, one vote lies at the heart of democracy, but parliamentary democracies in the western world inevitably lead to majority white rule which preferences the majority. Like runners in a race, all have an equal right to enter. But in this one some are starting way behind the rest.

There can be no doubt of the need for greater equity in Aotearoa. Socio-economic indicators show that Maori and Pacific Islanders are at the bottom of the heap in housing, incomes, employment, health, education, imprisonment, longevity and inequality. The trends have worsened since 1985.  Inequality is the result of institutional racism whereby majorities are blind to the impact of institutions and the dominant culture on minorities.

He Puapua aims to “refocus on rangatiratanga (Maori self-determination)”…which could range “from “full independence at one end of the spectrum to participation in state government at the other”.  Central to the repot are “government’s priorities of well-being, inclusivity and pride in Aotearoa”.

The slow roll-out of Covid vaccinations for Maori and Pacific communities was greatly improved with the planning of the roll-outs being handed to indigenous leaders. The recent restructuring of District Health Boards, and the creation of a Maori Health Board with equal standing, is likewise recognition of the principle that “by Maori for Maori” is likely to improve health outcomes.

Since the 1970s the work of the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal has been another example of partnership between Maori and the Crown. Investigation of the wrongful alienation of Māori land and taonga in the 19th century has led to acknowledgment and apology by the Crown, a framework for compensation and the recognition of iwi as kaitiaki of sacred sites and indigenous species. The recognition of wrong has been a key feature in enabling a spirit of reason and goodwill in the settlement process.

 He Puapua asks how we can make democracy work to provide a better outcome for all New Zealanders. There may be different strategies but no special privileges for one race over another. Rangatiratanga enables Māori to achieve better outcomes across the whole range of social and economic deficits. Restorative justice, under judicial oversight and with its emphasis on rehabilitation rather than retribution, likewise offers a better future to both victims and offenders, not just for Māori but for all citizens.

He Puapua lays down a challenge: as a nation do we want to be swayed by the apocalyptic visions of the fearful, or will we choose to build on our experiences of partnership and frame a better future for 2040 and beyond?

Richard Randerson CNZM is a retired Anglican bishop and former social justice officer


Note: This story was first published in the NZ Listener, p3, Feb 26-Mar 4, 2022