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Opposition parties have come out strongly against the He Puapua report that makes recommendations for co-governance between the Crown and Māori.
Bridges told TVNZ's Q+A the party was not walking back on the previous National-led government's decision to sign up to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Undrip), on which the controversial report He Puapua was based, but was "concerned" about the Government's signalled implementation.
It comes after Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson this week outlined the next steps for the country to realise its international obligations to indigenous peoples under the Declaration.
Jackson said the Government was not ruling anything out ahead of consultation, first with Māori followed by the general population, sparking further speculation constitutional changes suggested in He Puapua could be on the table.
Act leader David Seymour has called on Parliament to renounce the Declaration completely, meanwhile Te Paati Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi says He Puapua does not go far enough and calls for a completely independent Māori Parliament.
Jackson said a plan to enact the Declaration would be in place by the end of next year, preceded by consultation first with Māori then the general population about what it should include.
It comes after a heated few months in Parliament after opposition parties leaked Government-commissioned document He Puapua, produced in 2019 to advise how New Zealand could realise its commitments under the Declaration.
He Puapua included a roadmap to 2040 by which time it envisages various co-governance and Māori-run arrangements, such as a separate Upper House of Parliament for Māori, to address the huge inequities currently facing Māori.
During the announcement Jackson took pains to state He Puapua was "not the plan".
But while the Government had made clear its dislike of some aspects, such as a separate Upper House of Parliament, they were not ruling anything out.
"It is about the opportunity to have a kōrero," Jackson said.
The Declaration was not binding and any policies that came out of it would need to be consistent with New Zealand's current laws, he said.
Simon Bridges, National's Māori-Crown spokesman, told Q+A broadcaster Jack Tame that Jackson's comments National should be supportive given it had signed New Zealand up to the Declaration was a "fig leaf of an excuse".
"Any government has complete discretion on how to implement it," Bridges said.
The party was concerned the Government was heading towards "50/50" arrangements between Māori and the Crown, something that was "inconsistent with a multicultural, modern liberal democracy," he said.
Rather, Bridges said targeted instead of "top down" approaches were needed to address the inequities facing Māori.
He said he accepted He Puapua was not Government policy, but believed it was still driving some of the ministers in Government.
"There is something a bit religious about this. A sense that 'if we haven't said Aotearoa 18 times by lunchtime, if we haven't referenced the Treaty and tried to do some things in that area, we'll have to go home in the evening and say a few Hail Marys'."
Seymour said Parliament never voted for New Zealand to sign up to the Declaration, beyond a Ministerial Statement that Act spoke against in 2010.
"Act is calling on all parties in Parliament to renounce the Declaration that Government Ministers signed up to without full democratic consent.
"Either New Zealand is to be a liberal democracy where all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, or a kind of ethno-state where some are born more equal than others."
Waititi told Newshub's The Nation the current Parliamentary system was not working for Māori.
"Our people have tried to manipulate and work in the system for a long, long time. But I think it's time for us to start looking at some new systems where it's more equitable and more equal for indigenous people.
"We want to be in total control of our sovereignty … which is tino rangatiratanga."
Waititi said there were already precedents in the Tuhoe settlement of 2013.
"That wasn't co-governance. That was Tuhoe sovereignty. The transfer of assets back to Tuhoe will show how actually this can work. Tuhoe is probably an example of how they have been able to negotiate within the system to come up with their own sovereign solutions to their problems."
A "tiriti-centric" system would not lead to separatism, he said.
"We've been on the road to separatism for 180 years. If we look at a tiriti-centric Aotearoa, we'll probably be the best nation in the world heading down this track."
He Puapua and Undrip
New Zealand signed up to the Declaration in 2010 through then-Māori Affairs Minister and Māori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, under a National-led government.
The Declaration affirms and sets out a broad range of collective and individual rights that constitute minimum standards to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and to contribute to their survival, dignity and well-being.
It covers rights stemming from self-determination and self-government through to protecting culture, language and identity, and respecting rights laid out in treaties and agreements.
The Declaration, as with all UN declarations, is not legally binding, and must be consistent with local laws.
Little progress was made on the Declaration in New Zealand until 2019 when then-Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced work would begin on developing a plan to implement it.
Mahuta commissioned the report He Puapua, produced over a two-month period by a working group and provided to the Government in November 2019.
He Puapua cited a range of policies already in place consistent with the Declaration, such as Whānau Ora and kohanga reo, and provided recommendations about further policies to fully realise obligations by 2040.
The report laid out a timeline to December 2020, urging the Government to be proactive in releasing it publicly and explaining its position and the next steps.
However, this did not occur. A heavily-redacted version was released in October last year, without much fanfare.
The full version was released under the Official Information Act in March to various politicians and organisations, sparking concerns the Government had deliberately concealed it.
With pressure mounting over a lack of clear Government response on the report, Cabinet has since considered it and laid out the next steps for implementing Undrip.
Cabinet has now signed off a two-step process, beginning with targeted engagement over the next few months with key iwi and significant Māori organisations on how they wish to be involved.
This will be followed by wide public consultation with New Zealanders on a draft Declaration plan, with consultation next year with the aim to have it signed off at the end of 2022.
text by Michael Neilson, NZ Herald