Seven reasons why the Waitangi Tribunal must go
Mike Butler
3 June 2013

A conspicuous absence in the Constitutional Advisory Panel’s “conversation” is debate about the role of the Waitangi Tribunal, a body that exerts disproportionate influence over public life. The Waitangi Tribunal is the “elephant in the room” – and its absence in the terms of reference that define the constitutional review implies that the Maori Party thinks it is doing a good job advocating for tribalist interests. This article gives seven reasons why the Waitangi Tribunal should be abolished.

1. A permanent, for-Maori-only complaint body creates a race fault line

Labour government Maori Affairs Minister Matiu Rata apparently did not grasp the constitutional implications of a permanent for-Maori-only complaint body when he introduced the Treaty of Waitangi Bill to parliament in 1974. Such a body that divides citizens along a Maori/non-Maori fault line conflicts with the assumed underlying simple principle that in a democracy like New Zealand all citizens must be treated the same under the law.  

Rata said that the purpose of the Waitangi Tribunal Act was to provide for the observation and confirmation of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and to determine claims about certain matters that were inconsistent with those principles. He said that: “To the Maori people it (the treaty) is a charter that should protect their rights.

The Leader of the Opposition, Robert Muldoon, spotted the problem after spending a couple of minutes reading the bill. “It must be emphasized that we are in fact one people”, he said, adding, “and the question can be asked whether special legislation of this type makes us one people or two peoples”.

An example of the tribunal’s exclusive focus on Maori rights appeared in February 1985, when D. McMaster of Auckland asked the tribunal to end special privilege accorded to Maori people by virtue of their race, arguing that these privileges were at variance with the Treaty of Waitangi. Mr McMaster was asked whether he was a Maori. He replied that he was not a Maori, so was required to withdraw his claim because Section 6 of the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 says only Maori people can bring a claim.

New Zealand’s race relations have deteriorated, especially since 1985, which was when the tribunal was empowered to investigate Maori claims back to 1840. (Using the tribal boundaries of 1840, decades of tribal warfare, as the basis for future claims is as absurd as taking the division of Europe as it was in 1940 as a basis for future just settlements.) That decision alone was responsible for the outpouring of claims, from three in 1987 to a total of 2034 by 2009, after the deadline for historical claims, and the payment of around $2-billion in financial redress.

Michael Bassett, who was a Minister in the Lange Labour government which empowered the Waitangi Tribunal to investigate Maori claims back to 1840, and later belonged to that tribunal, wrote that: “There are few futuristic ideas that have lost their sheen as quickly as the notion that settlements of Maori grievances would improve New Zealand’s race relations.”

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5 thoughts on “Why the Waitangi Tribunal has to go

  1. tuhoe got their (170M),so that means Tainui and Ngai tahu get another 17% of the same, thanks Doug Graham, mind you, he is not looking that sharp at the moment, karma eh.

  2. I am sick to the back teeth of the so called Maori that have gone to university to be educated about “The treaty” probably at the expense of the average kiwi tax payer only to pick “The treaty” to pieces and interpret it to their advantage and to then carry on about how unfair it all is and how hard done by they were and are.Come on it is 2013 and all of these payouts need to be stopped.How many times do we need to keep paying out.Over the years certain tribes and iwi have been paid out millions of dollars and yet these same tribes are and have been let to by previous governments over the years in a position to seem to be able to lodge more claims.And why is it we all have the same opportunities in life and yet i keep hearing from the likes of “The Maori party”,Hone Harawira,Tama-iti that their people are disadvantaged.How is that?It is like that because these educated few have learnt the system all it is all about How back in the 1800’s they were ripped off.We need to not wipe “The treaty”,but lay it to rest.
    If i sold my house 20 years ago for $100,000 and it is now worth $350,000 i cant go back to the person i sold it to 20 years ago and ask for the balance.In my view i for the life of me cannot see the difference.

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