Monday 22 January 2024

Fisking the Treaty Principles debate

Cartoon by Nick Kim

Remember "fisking"?

It's what you feel you have to do sometimes -- not so much to refute idiocies, as to reveal the bad thinking that causes them. Especially if that bad thinking is shared so widely.

Here below is some bad thinking that's shared widely, so I thought I'd do some fisking. Here's the context:

Last week Rawiri Waititi leaked a Ministry of Justice report said to prefigure the Coalition Government's proposed Treaty Principles Bill, which he, the report's author, and TV1 News all say "are at odds with what the Treaty of Waitangi" actually says."

Here's what the relevant bit of the leaked Treaty Principles Bill says:

And here then is a "lecturer in Te Tiriti o Waitangi" who agrees the principles in the leaked Bill have got it all wrong:

So let's follow his arguments and see if he's right.

But first, some history: why does so much law reference "Treaty Principles" rather than the Treaty/Te Tiriti? Simple answer: because from the time of the Fourth Labour Government, governments have been adding at the head of most important legislation words like "must have regard to the principles the Treaty of Waitangi." And because no government then or since have been buying a fight, and also because then Attorney-General Geoffrey Palmer thought that law needed to be vague so that it could be flexible, no bastard ever bothered to define in law what those principles are. So the courts tried to do the job instead, making a complete fustercluck of it, adding nonsense like "partnership," and "participation." (Long story here, if you're interested.) And so, ever since then, embedded at the head of most of the country's important legislation, are weasel words that remain essentially undefined. (Here it is for instance embedded as part of the Purposes and Principles of the RMA.)

Now, as any good lawyer should understand, embedding undefined weasel words into the head of legislation goes against the principle of good objective law. To remind you, good objective law is clear, precise, predictable, contextual, and rights-based. This is none of the above.

So the Coalition Government's proposed Treaty Bill -- alright, let's be honest, David Seymour's bill -- seeks to change all that, change it at least by adding precision to principles that, at the moment, have none. NOTE: the Bill does not seek to change The Treaty/Te Tiriti; it aims instead to change these undefined principles written into so much of New Zealand's law.

That's what Section 8, above, is referring to. It says that the aim of this Treaty Principles Bill is to give to existing legislation both certainty and clarity, so that the written law means what it is intended to mean, not what it could be taken to mean.

Got that? Alright then.

So let's see what our Tiriti lecturer has to say about this, and answer his claims one by one. (His claims in purple; my responses in italics.)

He says that the leaked document "confirms that the government's intention here is not to define the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi but to erase them."

If you've followed what I said above, you'll already see that's not the case. As long as those "principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi" remain embedded in so much law, they need to be properly and objectively defined. Which is Seymour's aim.

He says "the intention is to replace the existing principles with three new ones, which are supposedly based on the three articles of the Treaty."

See. Even he doesn't think they're going to be "erased." That was just him jacking up his argument for effect.

"The problem," he says, "is that the 'new' principles don't remotely resemble what Te Tiriti (or even the Treaty) actually says."

Two claims there: that neither English Treaty nor Māori Tiriti "remotely resemble" what the principles in the proposed Bill say. Do you get the sense already he's jacking up the argument again ... ?

See, the Treaty/Te Tiriti has three Articles. They've very short -- which doesn't make them clear -- and they're in two different languages -- but there is at least general agreement on the subject of each clause.

Subject of the First Article is governance, or sovereignty. Subject of the Second is land and resources. Subject of the Third is rights. (As with all good law, the earlier Articles take precedence.)

So let's see what his argument is for the Bill's principles not "remotely" resembling the Treaty's/Tiriti's ...

First off, he says, "the paper uses the term kāwanatanga to say that the govt have the right to govern all New Zealanders. This is a complete fabrication - as scholars like Margaret Mutu have repeatedly said the term kāwanatanga in Te Tiriti gave the Crown a limited power to govern its own people."
He agrees at least that kāwanatanga means governance. And so does Margaret Mutu. Mutu says however, "That kāwanatanga was for Pākehā," She says, "It was never intended for us." And she does say it repeatedly. But saying it does not argue for it.

The Treaty (English text) say that chiefs "give absolutely ... the complete government over their land." Tiriti says "tuku rawa atu" (literally: relinquish; very; away) "ake tonu atu" (from below upwards; permanent; away) "kāwanatanga katoa o o ratou wenua" (governorship; completely, without exception; they/them; land).

That's fairly clear. The only thing undefined there really is that word "kāwanatanga," a missionary neologism (governorship) which Māori would have understood from the power of Roman governors displayed in 'Te Kawenata Hou' ('The New Testament') and from having visited New South Wales and seeing the power there that governor exercised. That this was well understood is evidenced from the discussions at the Treaty signing, where rangatira showed they understood that agreement would mean the Kāwana having police power over them, for example -- "If thou stayest as Governor, then," said Te Kemara, then, "perhaps, [I] will be judged and condemned. Yes, indeed, and more than that--even hung by the neck." This would be puzzling if signatories understood things the way Mutu says they did. 
Because kāwanatanga exercised only over Pākeha would not give the kāwana this power. So Margaret Mutu and others will need to explain how governorship that clearly gives coercive power over everyone, including rangatira if necessary -- which is what signatories understood kāwanatanga to mean -- means instead that it gives limited power and only over Pākeha. She doesn't, and can't.

 Next, our Tiriti lecturer says, "The paper then uses 'tino rangatiratanga' to say that all NZers can exercise chieftainship of their land and property. This is just incoherent. That's not what the term means in tikanga or in state law. Tino rangatiratanga is a power of collective self-determination for Māori."

Two claims there: First, that "tino rangatiratanga" is only for Māori. And on that, in 1840, he's exactly right. (Should it stay that way? Read on.)

Second, that both "tikanga" and "state law" say that "tino rangatiratanga" means "collective self-determination." Well, not quite. "State law" and practice does sometimes suggest it as "a framework from which Māori have continued to challenge governments for recognition of our individual and collective self-determination," so it's certainly an aspirational meaning. And that's sometimes how the courts have decided to interpret this. But that doesn't mean that it did say that at the time, or that it has to say it now. (State law is nothing if not mutable.)

Translating it however even back in 1989, Hugh Kawharu rendered it simply as "unqualified chieftainship." Far from being incoherent, the Bill retains that idea.

But in what way should that chieftainship be directed? For a start, Article Two is about land and resources. (It comes in a natural order from Article One, explaining what sovereignty is for; in this case, to protect land and resources). This is most clear in Article Two (Part Two), which is about how land and resources will be sold, if owners want to. (This part was most important to the colonising government.) And Article Two (Part One) says that government will protect that land and those resources if they don't desire to sell.

Importantly, it also promises this not just to chiefs, but also to "families and individuals [original English text]/"the subtribes and all the people of New Zealand" [Kawharu translation]. This was pretty neat, at the time. (And, yes, at the time "all the people of New Zealand" only referenced tangata māori. And that's because that's who was being asked to sign.)

So that sets the context for what "chieftainship" means in Article Two. Because it can mean many things, based on the agency and power chiefs then had: power, ownership, independence, autonomy, liberty even. But in this Article, Article Two, the context is clearly land and resources. So in this context "unqualified chieftainship" means, as per the English text, that possession of lands and resources would continue "full exclusive and undisturbed," with all the independence and autonomy therefrom, just as long as owners (chiefs, families, individual NZers) didn't want to sell them to the government.

And that's what the Bill attempts to specify as the principle behind this Article Two: that it is about government promising to protect the property rights of all signatories. (And now, by extension, all New Zealanders.) And since no-one now would to enforce a law allowing land to only be sold to the government, it wisely ignores Article Two (Part Two). (As does our lecturer.) And it takes the liberty of extending this protection to all NZers (since, as a principle, it's a good one.)

Mind you, it doesn't specify it as an individual right, which is a pity. But neither does it specify it to be a collective right, since it can't be. Why? Well we're all aware by now (or should be) that both Treaty/Tiriti and contemporary activists confuse and fudge the difference between individual rights (which governments are properly set up to protect) and so-called "collective rights," which only make sense as individual rights voluntarily delegated. (Q: Why do they fudge? A: Because it grants tribal leaders semi-feudal privileges.)

But we do know that the Treaty's framers were unfortunately equally confused. Translator Henry Williams told signatories at Waitangi that Article Two (Part One) "confirms and guarantees to the chiefs and the tribes, and to each individual native, their full rights as chiefs, their rights of possession of their lands, and all their other property of very kind or degree." You can see the confusion right away. The actual drafting is just as confused. But that doesn't make it right.

Williams's explanation however is helpful, because it makes clear that despite the confusion, an individual property right is still being offered. And that's essentially what the leaked Bill is offering to make clear now.

Our Tiriti lecturer continues: "The 'new' article 3 then says all NZers are equal under the law with the same rights and duties. A nice idea (it'd be cool if my Māori whānau had the same life expectancy as my non-Māori whānau but heoi ano), but that's not what Te Tiriti says. Article 3 is a right of equity."
Several confusions here.  
First, this is not at all a "new" Article Three. As above, it's intended to clarify law in places in which "the principles of the Treaty/Tiriti" has been inserted.

Second, ensuring to all individuals "the same rights and duties" is not at all the same as ensuring to them all the same outcomes. Much could and has been written on the difference between equality before the law, and equality of outcome, and this isn't the place to replicate it.

But it is the place to make clear that what Article Three offers in the English text is equality before the law ("all the rights and privileges of British subjects"), in the Williams explanation it is also equality before the law ("all the rights and privileges of British subjects") and in the Kawharu translation it is still and remains equality before the law ("the same rights and duties of citizenship as the people of England").

It's true that Kawharu argues that the discussion at the Treaty signing about Hobson being a "father" to signatories suggests a focus on outcomes, or on "equity." But I argue that the repeated use of the “father” figure there is used less in the sense of someone to care over their every need, but more in the sense of either stern judge and a peacemaker, echoing the words of Tamati Waka Nene (harking back perhaps to the need for a mediator after recent wars) and also in the sense of being a teacher or wise adult from the outer world to allow them to learn and grow. Pumuka, for example, chief of the Roroa Tribe, has this sense when he says: "I wish to have two fathers - thou and Busby, and the missionaries." From the latter two he and his colleagues have already learned “Christianity and the Law,” he says (a major theme later at the Kohimarama conference) and they've seen and embraced the cultural change therefrom.

The astute reader will also notice there is a difference between "duties" (per Kawharu) and "privileges" (per Williams and the English text), and it's the former that the Bill plumps for. Which is a shame, since "duties" suggests that government can make us behave in ways of its own choosing. It's a particular shame the word used wasn't "responsibilities," which would make clear who's responsible for outcomes over one's own life. In the formulation of one Ian Fraser several years ago,
"individuals are the rightful owners of their own lives and therefore have inherent rights and responsibilities; and ... the proper purpose of government is to protect such rights and not to assume such responsibilities."
That would make things plainer, perhaps. But that's not what Te Tiriti says. More's the pity.

Our Tiriti lecturer continues: "As this [TV One] article says, the govt's own officials have said the Bill is in breach of both the spirit and the text of the Treaty. That's a fairly direct statement but it's completely warranted. In my opinion this is the most direct attack on Māori by the govt in a generation.
Government officials say all sorts of things. And these government officials are leaking, so clearly they don't agree with it. But, frankly, we're all entitled to form our own personal view of whether or not the Bill is in breach of either or both the spirit and text or, if indeed, it affirms them. After all, we all have agency, right?

Is it an attack on Māori? I can see that some individuals in Māoridom would see it that way -- especially those who have been granted legal privileges under the court's present principles. (To paraphrase Thomas Sowell, those granted extra-legal privileges are apt to howl when they're taken away.)

But if it is an attack, I would characterise it instead as an attack on bad law-making, and an attempt to correct it before extra-legal privileges become cemented in -- if they haven't already.

Continuing... "The great shame is that rangatiratanga can be good for everyone. The exercise of rangatiranga in the lockdowns kept people safe. Kaupapa Māori orgs led the vaccination effort. Our rivers and lakes are always healthier when Māori share decisions. There are so many examples."

I agree, rangatiratanga can be good for everyone, if and only if the meaning of  rangatiratanga can be agreed upon. Rangatiranga as liberty is very agreeable, and good for all. Rangatiranga as rights of ownership is also good for all. Folk exercising agency individually and voluntarily did help reduce the spread of COVID. Organisations everywhere, from iwi agencies to pharmacies, vaccinated thousands -- and were paid to do so -- and good on them. Our rivers and lakes are healthier when property rights are protected -- as this proposed clarification of the principles of Article Two might help to do. And more affordable homes can be built when rights to one's own land are recognised in law ... As he says, there are so many examples.

He concludes by saying "Te Tiriti" can be good for us all. 

That is possible. But it might first take some clarification.

Here's the Swell Maps:

NB: I've taken both the English text of The Treaty and Williams's explanation of Te Tiriti from Ned Fletcher's book The English Text of the Treaty of Waitangi (reviewed here). Hugh Kawharu's semi-official translation of Te Tiriti appears at the Waitangi Tribunal site.


Tom Hunter said...

I wonder what you think of the arguments posed over on Chris Trotter's site in his recent post, Intransigent Minorities by one "The Barron", as follows:

In regard to the Treaty principles, the courts in NZ have determined that the Treaty of Waitangi is a commitment towards partnership and consultation. This is a finding of fact. It is not the role of the government to re-determine findings of fact. This places the government above and outside of the law...
The Tauiwi / Crown side of the agreement has built decades of jurisprudence around the Treaty, which has included the principles. This is developed law. The principles are derivative from the Treaty document. This means that the legal system has concluded that the principles are within the essence of the body of the document. This has been from collating and considering the understandings at the time of signing of both sides (but especially that of the ceding party), the directives to Hobson and Busby, international jurisprudence, British common law, customary rights and tikanga Maori.

On that last I pointed out that above still was not a clear definition of what these principles are in the manner of a Bill of Rights or a Constitution. Which finally resulted in this:

principles such as partnership and construction must be legally derived from the Crown commitment to the body of te Tiriti.

And finally this:

The Principles have been legally defined through jurisprudence. I used to run ToW workshops with the original principles and the development through the courts to a wider list. Like the Principles of Natural Justice, they are conceptional but required. Reciprocity, active protection, partnership, equity, and equal treatment, or the Courts added to act reasonably and in good faith, the right of remedy and consultation for the State to make informed decisions.

The Privy Council confirmed these in 1994 - Lord Woolf made the following comment: In Their Lordships’ opinion the “principles” are the underlying mutual obligations and responsibilities which the Treaty placed on the parties. They reflected the intention of the Treaty as a whole and included, but were not confined to, the express terms of the Treaty.

They don't actually sound like "principles" to me. What think you?

Peter Cresswell said...

@Tom: Quick response:

All these phrases sound grand, i.e., "the courts in NZ have determined ... decades of jurisprudence ... developed law ... legally defined through jurisprudence ... development through the courts ... "

But all they really mean is this: that "the courts wrote them." But courts aren't king.

So the question is, **on what basis did they write them.** Courts determine either on the basis of statute, created by govt, or on principles already laid down.

In regard to so-called Treaty principle however, the latter didn't exist, and the former didn't happen (blame Geoffrey Palmer & Richard Prebble for that). So the courts were left free to create them, out of thin air.