Senior New Zealand First MP Shane Jones made supportive remarks about Act leader David Seymour’s approach to the issue of the Treaty of Waitangi this morning, saying there would be a “reset” in Māori policy under the new Government.
Seymour has been pushing for Act’s policy of a referendum that redefines the Treaty principles in a far narrower way than they have been defined in recent history. Labour’s Willie Jackson has said this would be “dangerous” and could lead to unrest.
Jones, speaking to Radio Waatea, said he can “totally understand why David Seymour wants to tidy this area up”.
Jones’ complaint is that the courts and the Waitangi Tribunal have liberally interpreted the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and have gone beyond what was intended by Parliament when it began including references to Treaty principles in legislation decades ago.
He was also critical of the greater use of things like tikanga Māori by the courts.
“The liberalism being shown by the courts in terms of interpreting the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi - we want the courts to go back to the role they have historically occupied, which is to interpret the law,” Jones said.
He took aim at a Supreme Court decision from 2021 relating to the mining of iron sands off the coast of Taranaki. The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) granted consents to mine, but that decision was quashed by the courts. A majority on the Supreme Court agreed the EPA should have taken tikanga Māori into account when it made its original decision to grant a consent.
“I share those concerns [of Seymour] that it is the role of Parliament to make the laws. Not the role of the courts to follow flights of fancy or indeed to thwart the will of Parliament,” Jones said.
NZ First is known to oppose using a referendum to redefine the principles of the Treaty. In the past, the party has put up legislation to legislate the principles out of existence completely.
It is possible Act and NZ First, which appear to have drawn close to each other as they negotiate to form the new Government with National, may compromise on another way of addressing Treaty issues.
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“There are various ways to remind jurists of what their proper role is,” Jones said.
NZ First leader Winston Peters, speaking to Radio Waatea last week, indicated that he was opposed to a referendum, but was critical of the Waitangi Tribunal and Treaty jurisprudence.
“We had a referendum on the 14th of October - it was called the election,” Peters said.
“On the question of Waitangi Tribunal - they’ve gone way past their mandate,” Peters said.
Jones was also critical of the growing use of the te reo Māori version of the Treaty, Te Tiriti.
“We are not going to have a situation where the Māori language version of the Treaty, Te Tiriti, is the exclusive version or indeed given semi-religious significance,” he said.
Thomas Coughlan is Deputy Political Editor and covers politics from Parliament. He has worked for the Herald since 2021 and has worked in the press gallery since 2018.
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