Previewing Waitangi Day

February 4th, 2009 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

AUT History Professor Paul Moon previews Waitangi Day:

Few people will miss the bad old days, when our national day was punctured by protests, revealing one of the less edifying sides of our country’s character.

Much of the new calmness that has descended on Waitangi Day can be attributed to John Key who, as Prime Minister-in-waiting, allayed fears about how a National Government would deal with Maori issues in general and who, on being elected, followed through with his commitment to inclusion by inviting the Maori Party to have a role in his administration.

It is due to this expected calm, that Taiuni’s Maori King is attending for the first time.

So now that the new age of co-operation has dawned, what is the future for the Treaty? The Government has made it clear that it is dedicated to a deadline for resolving historical claims, and so it is time to start looking to a post-Waitangi Tribunal era for the Treaty.

There will be some losers in this. A coterie of lawyers – fleshy-lipped from years of sucking healthy fees from the claims process – will be left looking elsewhere for sources of income. But it is unlikely that many people will evince much sympathy at their plight.

Personally I think 2014 to settle all outstanding claims may be overly ambitious, and won’t be surprised if it stretches out a bit beyond that. But I do expect that finally all claims will be settled between say 1990 and 2020.

The next challenge will be in considering whether the Treaty belongs in some formal constitution that will no doubt be devised in the next few decades (can I hear the sound of lawyers again rubbing their hands?).

This is a much more complex issue than it sounds, though. The Treaty of Waitangi was an agreement between two sovereign nations, and was not initially intended to serve as an internal constitutional document.

This is a critical point. It was, well a Treaty, not a constitution designed to be supreme law.  A constitution has to be voted on (well maybe not in Fiji but here) and accepted by either a super-majority of Parliament or by the people at large.

Someone once suggested that if you look at the United States, our Treaty of Waitangi is more akin to the Declaration of Independence (which has no legal standing) than the Constutition and Bill of Rights. The Declaration of Independence is an important founding document, but there is no constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness :-)

Not that I am against any Constitution for NZ possibly having some recognition of the Treaty, but that is very different from just declaring the Treaty as part of the supreme law.

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