Foreshore and seabed information   |   Constitutional arrangements

WILPF submission to CAC

15 April 2005

Submission to the Constitutional Arrangements Committee on the Review of New Zealand's Existing Constitutional Arrangements

The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) has been actively working for peace, social justice and human rights since 1916, and has sections in forty-three countries around the world.

1. While we are supportive of genuine informed debate about the need for constitutional change and how that might best be achieved, we have serious concerns about the government's approach to this. Our primary concern is that this Committee has been set up and the terms of reference announced without negotiation with Maori, as one party to the Treaty of Waitangi, having taken place. Our other concerns relate to the superficial nature of your inquiry, the extremely limited time frame in which it is being done, this enquiry being held in an election year, and your apparent reluctance to hear oral submissions.

A process for constitutional change simply cannot be rushed through in haste for reasons of political expediency; it is a matter for slow and careful deliberation. Furthermore, it is a process which should not be imposed by government, ie a 'top down' approach - such an approach will only lead to future conflict. We remind you of the words of Lord John Russell: "every political Constitution in which different bodies share political power is only enabled to exist by the forbearance of those among whom this power is distributed".

2. The starting point for any review of our constitutional arrangements must be the Treaty of Waitangi. The Treaty is the foundation on which the constitutional arrangements of this country are based. There is a strong argument that as the Crown has persistently failed to honour the Treaty since 1840, there is doubt about the legitimacy of the subsequent governing arrangements.

The terms of the Treaty are clear - the Tino Rangatiratanga of Iwi and Hapu at the time of signing was guaranteed. While Pakeha politicians may argue about the meaning of Tino Rangatiratanga, as though it was theirs to define which it is not, there is nothing ambiguous about the wording of "full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands and estates, forest, fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually posses, so long as it is their wish and desire to maintain the same in their possession".

NZ's constitutional arrangements were designed to deny that Tino Rangatiratanga and to take away from Maori their 'properties' (in all the meanings of that word, material and non-material). As but one example of the expression of that historical fact is this quote from Waitangi Tribunal's Taranaki Report, WAI 143:

"Through war, protest, and petition, the single thread that most illuminates the historical fabric of Maori and Pakeha contact has been the Maori determination to maintain Maori autonomy and the Government's desire to destroy it. The irony is that the need for mutual recognition had been seen at the very foundation of the State, when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed."

That the processes of colonisation are ongoing, and cannot be dismissed as a regrettable historical fact, is undeniable - one notable recent example being the government's response to the Court of Appeal ruling on the foreshore and seabed.

There has been no lack of calls from Maori over the past 165 years for discussion with the Crown about the constitutional arrangements, but no substantive response from any government to date.

Our primary submission therefore is that as a first step towards reviewing the constitutional arrangements, a process for genuine consultation and negotiation with Iwi and Hapu be established; and that there be no time limit set on that process. We recommend that at the same time informed debate and discussion be encouraged within and among the other communities living here in Aotearoa.

3. Other concerns we have about the existing constitutional arrangements are as follows:

  • the lack of proper checks and balances on the Executive;

  • the erosion of the separation of powers;

  • the ability of parliament to legislate at will to over ride common law, the Bill of Rights Act, the Human Rights Act, and the international human rights convention to which NZ is a state party;

  • the lack of protection of the rights of minorities within a system run by majority rule;

  • the way decisions are made about deploying combat troops overseas;

  • the way decisions are made about signing up to international economic agreements;

  • the lack of genuine freedom of information legislation and the secrecy around how government decisions are made.

    4. We would like the opportunity to discuss our submission with the Committee in more depth.

    Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Aotearoa Section

    'Race', 'Privilege', and 'The Treaty'   |   Peace Movement Aotearoa