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Submissions: NZ's existing constitutional arrangements

April 2005

Kia ora,

This page is about the Constitutional Arrangements Committee (CAC) call for submissions on NZ's existing constitutional arrangements, the first stage of the government's constitutional arrangements review. The closing date for submissions is Thursday 14 April. We have been advised that the Committee will accept late submissions but that "because of the tight timeframe the committee is working under it may not be possible to adequately analyze submissions received after the closing date." Submissions to the CAC may be sent electronically.

There are four sections below: 1) Some general comments on the review; 2) Information about the CAC; 3) How to make a submission to the CAC; and 4) Where you can get more information.

  • Some general comments on the review
  • There are considerable doubts as to the value of this constitutional arrangements review, especially coming so soon after the arrogant and dismissive Select Committee process around the foreshore and seabed legislation. That process again highlighted the improbability of any Select Committee operating within a political system constructed on a dishonest foundation, namely the denial of the basic premises of the Treaty of Waitangi and the assumption of sovereignty by the Crown, coming up with any solution which might in any way be a move towards honouring the Treaty.

    That the review is being held in an election year where Treaty and Maori bashing looks likely to reach new lows is a cause for considerable concern. The "tight timeframe the committee is working under" only increases that concern, there is no explanation other than political expediency for undue haste in considering constitutional matters.

    Nevertheless it may be useful for non-Maori to raise some of these issues with the CAC - at the very least it will be a further record that Maori do not stand alone in their opposition to the ongoing failure of governments to give effect to the Treaty. You do not need to be a lawyer to write a submission to the CAC, nor do you need to include technical detail or write a lengthy document - a short submission stating your concerns about the current constitutional arrangements will be fine.

    In a media release calling for submissions, Peter Dunne said: "The constitution is the property of all New Zealanders and it reflects the country's national identity. It is about public power and the way that New Zealanders want that power regulated. This inquiry is an important step in encouraging New Zealanders to engage in debate about the current arrangements and it opens up the possibility of New Zealanders actively directing their future." [Peter Dunne, Media release, 4 March 2005]

    The 'positively involving everyone in a forward moving process' tone of that media release, and of other comment by government politicians on this review, seems designed to obscure the fact that one party to the Treaty is effectively excluded from their proper place in the review by apparently being subsumed within "all New Zealanders".

    The Cabinet Office briefing paper, 'New Zealand's constitution - past, present and future', which was prepared for this review similarly has an obscuring tone. It blithely puts forward an overview of 'Constitutional evolution in New Zealand' with no reference to the possibility that the whole process may be illegitimate - based as it is from the outset on fundamental breaches of the Treaty. It states that the Treaty "contains two key concepts: balancing the respective interests of Maori and the Crown, and expressing an ongoing relationship between Maori and the Crown". That is certainly an interesting perspective - but surely even a cursory reading of the Treaty suggests that the two key concepts are Maori sovereignty and Crown governorship.

    The paper then goes on to say ... "The focus in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, understandably has been on addressing past grievances. Now that the treaty claims settlement process is well established, the focus is shifting to the constitutional and practical significance of the Treaty now and in the future." The underlying question, that is, what were the causes of the justified grievances and have those causes gone away, is a question the government apparently has no interest in considering. Yet surely the improbability of a "settlement process" ultimately settling anything while colonising patterns of behaviour, systems and structures continue is the key issue.

    The next sentence reads: "The kinds of questions that arise are: who are the parties to the Treaty now? what are the fundamental principles of the Treaty? how should those principles be implemented in practice?" Surely the answers to those questions are for the two parties to the Treaty to negotiate. There has been no lack of calls from Maori over the past 165 years for such discussion to take place, but no substantive response from any government to date.

    The Cabinet Office briefing paper has a diagram titled 'Relationship between government institutions and Maori/Treaty interests' - this has "Queen (successor to Treaty signatory)" at the top, and "Maori/Iwi" at the bottom ... like the saying goes, every picture tells a story.

    The 'Processes for discussing aspects of New Zealand's Constitution' paper published by the Office of the Prime Minister too has a section on the Treaty which at best can be described as a cavalier dismissal of its importance and content.

    In one section it has the following: "Treaty-related institutions, relationships, legal instruments and arrangements affect all New Zealanders and communities in various ways, but there has been little coherent public information or discussion in the past about the way they have developed or what their contemporary significance is." While there may indeed have been a "lack of coherent public information and discussion", the reason for that would of course be the lack of coherent information and discussion from successive NZ governments, intent on preserving their privilege and power at the expense of Maori rather than honestly examining their role in the ongoing processes of colonisation.

    In addition to the failure to honour the Treaty, there are of course other questions about the existing constitutional arrangements that the review could usefully look at. The government's reaction to the Court of Appeal's foreshore and seabed ruling and their willingness to over-ride not only the Treaty, but also the Court, common law rights, domestic human rights legislation, and international human rights obligations for their populist vote-catching purposes, highlighted for many Maori and non-Maori how vulnerable we all are when the notion of parliamentary supremacy has the upper hand.

    Interestingly, the Cabinet Office briefing paper has a timeline of New Zealand's constitutional evolution to 2004 which includes such milestones as '1977: God defend New Zealand becomes 2nd national anthem' and '1996: New Zealand Royal honours system instituted' but makes no reference to the Bill of Rights Act, the Human Rights Act, nor to any international conventions.

    If there is one thing which could be said to be positive about the government's behaviour around the foreshore and seabed, it would be the increased public awareness of the lack of commitment of government politicians to give anything but lip service to those agreements and institutions (as outlined in the paragraph above) which people may have previously thought gave them some protection from the power of the state. Informed debate on the issues of constitutional change would have a similarly educating effect - but it is not at all clear that the CAC will make a particularly beneficial contribution to that debate.

  • Information about the Constitutional Arrangements Committee
  • The CAC was established in December 2004 to undertake a review of New Zealand's existing constitutional arrangements. It will run for the duration of the current parliament, and is due to report back before the election. Its terms of reference are "To undertake a review of New Zealand's existing constitutional arrangements by identifying and describing:

    a) New Zealand's constitutional development since 1840;

    b) the key elements in New Zealand's constitutional structure, and the relationships between those elements;

    c) the sources of New Zealand's constitution;

    d) the processes other countries have followed in undertaking a range of constitutional reforms; and

    e) the processes which it would be appropriate for New Zealand to follow if significant constitutional reforms were considered in the future."

    The Constitutional Arrangements Committee is: Peter Dunne (Chairperson), David Parker (Deputy Chairperson), Lianne Dalziel, Mita Ririnui, Nandor Tanczos, Russell Fairbrother, and Stephen Franks.

  • How to make a submission to the Committee
  • The call for submissions states:

    "The committee has begun work on terms of reference (a) and (d). To assist the committee to understand the issues that the current arrangements present, the committee invites submissions which address the terms of reference (b) and (c) in particular. The committee is especially interested to hear about those practices or conventions that are helpful or useful, or those that are obscure, or give rise to ambiguity, contradiction or frustration. Members of the public may also like to comment on aspects of our constitutional arrangements that they consider would benefit from clarification.

    Given the fact-finding nature of the terms of reference and the time constraints of this inquiry, at this time the committee asks for written submissions only (please include a 4-500 word summary of your key points). This does not preclude the committee from inviting written submitters to later present oral evidence."

    The closing date for submissions is Thursday 14 April - if you are planning on sending yours after the closing date, it would be advisable for you to contact the CAC Secretariat (see details below) now and let them know when your submission will be sent.

    Electronic submissions are encouraged, and can be sent to email Alternatively you can provide 2 hard copies of your submission to the CAC Secretariat.

    Contact details: John Thomson, Constitutional Arrangements Committee Secretariat, Bowen House, Parliament Buildings, Wellington; fax (04) 499 0486. If you require more information about the Committee and its work, contact the Secretariat tel (04) 471 9189, email or

    For general guidelines on making a submission see 'Making a Submission to a Parliamentary Select Committee' which is available online at

    We would be interested in receiving a copy of your submission for our files on this topic, by post to Peace Movement Aotearoa, PO Box 9314, Wellington or by email. If you are happy for your submission to be made available on the Constitutional arrangements - resources and comment web page, please include a note saying that when you send it to us.

  • Where you can get more information
  • Some information is available on the 'Constitutional arrangements - resources and comment' web page at That page is very much under construction however, and if you have any documents, papers, articles, or statements with a constitutional change focus (or links to such material), it would be great if you could email them to Peace Movement Aotearoa.

    Government papers: The Cabinet Office briefing paper 'New Zealand's constitution - past, present and future' is at and 'Processes for discussing aspects of New Zealand's Constitution', Office of the Prime Minister, is at

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