Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said he wants to follow the lead of New Zealand on reconciliation by implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart. On 6 February 2020, he posted the following statement to Twitter:
We can learn a lot from our mates across the ditch about reconciliation with First Nations people.
New Zealand has led the way. It’s time for Australia to follow.
It’s time to support the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
Indeed, Australia can learn a lot from New Zealand and its equivalent to Australia’s proposed Indigenous-only Voice to Parliament—the Waitangi Tribunal. This research paper explores the practical consequences of following New Zealand’s lead, through an extensive analysis of major Waitangi Tribunal decisions over recent decades.
In short, the decisions made in that time have been a smorgasbord of social justice activism, the results of which have been to divide New Zealanders by race. The research finds that the Voice, if it follows the precedent established through decades of Waitangi Tribunal cases, will suffer from serious flaws. The Waitangi Tribunal shows:
- the scope of the Voice will expand greatly over time;
- the Voice will possess a veto over certain legislation;
- the Voice will engage in divisive racial politics; and
- the Voice will create new types of Indigenous rights, which means extra rights for one group of Australians based on their race.
The analysis of the cases demonstrates that the implementation of these principles leads to significant practical consequences. Examples of these practical consequences include:
- The Māori Voice to Parliament has driven policies which compromise community safety, through race-based policing which is soft on violent crime.
The Waitangi Tribunal has blamed the high incarceration and reoffending rate amongst Māori on the New Zealand government, and on policing and enforcement leading to disproportionate outcomes. The effect of the Tribunal’s demand in its Report on the Crown and Disproportionate Reoffending Rates 2017 for the Crown to meet fixed targets for the reduction of reoffending, and that these targets be different between Māori and non-Māori, can only be met by refusing to incarcerate violent convicted criminals.
- The Māori Voice to Parliament has demanded preferential access to critical government resources for Māori, which has put race ahead of need.
The Waitangi Tribunal has a track record of using its power to advise the parliament in order to demand that critical government resources, such as health care resources, are distributed on the basis of the race of the recipient, and not who needs those resources most. The decision in the Covid-19 Priority Report that vaccines should have been allocated based on race and not the age of recipients (on the basis that Māori are statistically younger than non-Māori New Zealanders), despite the elderly being most vulnerable to Covid-19, resulted in a change to government policy to prioritise Māori. The decision in Hauora: Report on Stage One of the Health Services and Outcomes Kaupapa Inquiry led to the creation of a Māori-only health system, with over a billion dollars in extra health and other funding.
- The Māori Voice to Parliament has threatened the rights of New Zealanders to use and enjoy national cultural symbols.
The Waitangi Tribunal’s approach to intellectual property rules undermines western legal norms which has the effect of restricting how New Zealanders are able to use and enjoy common national symbols, including depictions and use of the famous Haka, Māori tattoo art, Māori statues and famous historical Māori figures. In the Report into Claims affecting Māori Culture and Identity 2011 the Tribunal recommended the government change the law to give Māori a near monopoly over certain symbols and native flora and fauna, to prevent ‘offensive’ usage. A similar outcome in Australia could mean the use of iconic Australian symbols like kangaroos, emus, Uluru/Ayers Rock or boomerangs would be limited to only Indigenous Australians, or that Indigenous Australians would have to approve of the use of such symbols. Even items common to Australian households, like tea towels with a depiction of Uluru/Ayers Rock, or boomerang fridge magnets, would become problematic, and it might even put in doubt the ongoing use of Australia’s coat of arms and the southern cross depicted in the national flag.
- The Māori Voice to Parliament decided that Māori’s will have an explicit veto power over certain legislation, and that there are some laws that only Māori can even suggest reforms to.
The Waitangi Tribunal has conferred on Māori complainants an explicit formal veto power over a range of legislative matters that affect Māori (Report on Claims about the Reform of Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993-2016). This has meant that even laws intended to better manage competing Māori interests in Māori land, and the powers of the Māori Land Court, are now off-limits. The Tribunal has even held in its Report on the Māori Community Development Act Claims that reforms to certain existing legislation can only be proposed or initiated by Māori, rather than parliament. In Australia, this would be the equivalent to requiring Indigenous consent to amend existing native title laws or national parks legislation and preventing the Commonwealth parliament from even initiating amendments.
- The Māori Voice to Parliament has an almost limitless scope in relation to issues it can be involved in.
The scope of the Waitangi Tribunal has expanded from its initial narrow focus on land issues, to being involved in nearly every aspect of New Zealand law, from pandemic policy (The Covid-19 Priority Report 2021) to the negotiation and interpretation of international treaties (Report on the Trans-Pacific Partnership 2016). In effect, any matter in which Māori can complain of a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi will be heard by the Waitangi Tribunal.