Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Hone rewrites the Treaty

I must say, it was fascinating to hear Hone Harawira rewriting the Treaty of Waitangi this morning [audio].

Yes, it’s been rewritten before and by better men than him—one of whom, Pita Sharples, was on air immediately afterwards rewriting it again. But this time it was on the spur of the moment, and just to make a political point.

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira says the Maori Party should resign over the sale of state assets, that “Section Nine of the existing SOE Act requires the Crown do nothing that breaches the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi,” in short “it is a sell-out of the Treaty of Waitangi because the treaty should be applied to all shareholders, not just the Crown.” [Emphasis mine.]

_HoneAnd then he just starting rewriting history. Right out of the side of his mouth.

The Treaty of Waitangi, he said, didn’t just protect Maori; it “provided protection to all New Zealanders in respect of assets held by the Government on behalf of all citizens of Aotearoa.”

This is a a quite astonishing claim.

In whatever language you want to read it, the Treaty document promises the protection of private property rights (or rangatiratanga in the looser Maori translation) in their property “for as long as they wished to retain them.” It says nothing at all “in respect of assets held by the Government on behalf of all citizens of Aotearoa”--a very different thing indeed.

(In fact, the Treaty goes on to provide that “asset sales” may only be effected through the Crown, nonsensically patronising even at the time, but more relevant to the situation today than Hone’s self-evident fiction.)

Another fascinating exchange occurred next. In discussing Hone’s response, Sharples was invited to respond to the charge that the “principles of the Treaty of Waitangi” have been left deliberately vague, allowing them to defined and redefined as protagonists wish—to mean everything to everybody.

_SharplesSharples denied they were deliberately vague, or even vague at at all, before heading down the now well-worn route of insisting they mean “partnership” and “consultation” and a pony for everyone—fictions all, apart from the pony—then declaring the Treaty binds only the Crown and Maori—a rewriting of the all-pervasive insistence nowadays that the principles apply everywhere from your workplace to the pub.

Yet even in denying the vagueness, Sharples himself was relying on it to assert the fictional Crown duties of “partnership” and “consultation. Fictional  duties keeping Sharples in a job based on the same vagueness Hone himself relies on in his own power-play.

It was once observed by Ayn Rand that

In any conflict between two men (or two groups) who hold the same basic principles, it is the more consistent one who wins.

Both Hone and Pita live of the vagueness of so-called Treaty Principles that allows the principles to be endlessly rewritten. But the “moderate” Pita holds to the rewriting as it is today, whereas the more strident Harawira holds to the rewriting he wants to put in place tomorrow.

Whom do you think will win?

1 comment:

  1. The debate over the meaning of the "principles" is a convenient latter-day diversion from what the Treaty actually said or intended. Of course, there were no principles until the State Owned Enterprises Act was drafted and even then they existed only by reference only until Justice Cooke took it upon himself to write them.

    I think a more useful examination of the Treaty is to look at its purpose, i.e. why would Maori chiefs willingly enter into such a Treaty? You don't need to be an historian* to appreciate that the main purpose for Maori chiefs was to end the genocidal tribal warfare that had prevailed over the previous two decades by resort to what they realised was a significantly more powerful and unarguably more benevolent British Crown. In this context, the Treaty achieved its aims more than 150 years before Cooke J. dreamed up his principles. The proof of this is to look at the actions of Maori during the so-called Land Wars twenty years after the Treaty was signed, when a majority of tribes supported the Crown.

    * Matthew Wright's recent book, Guns and Utu gives an excellent historian's perspective of the origins of the Treaty if you want it.


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