The Opposition’s surprise release of the He Puapua report has descended into a political debate about separatism and whether the Labour-majority Government is tracking towards the creation of a two-tiered governance system. Political editor Jo Moir takes a look at what He Puapua is proposing.

The report’s name translates to ‘a break’. While it’s usually used in reference to the ocean and a break in waves, in this case the expression centres on a “breaking of the usual political and societal norms and approaches’’.

In 2010, led by then Māori Party co-leader and Māori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples as part of the John Key-led National government, New Zealand committed support to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This came after New Zealand initially, in 2007, resisted signing up to the declaration under Helen Clark’s Labour government, which said it didn’t fit with New Zealand’s own constitutional arrangements and Treaty of Waitangi settlement processes.

But, over the years New Zealand has further entrenched its support to implement the declaration – in 2014, under National, New Zealand committed to a plan of action.

Fast forward to August 2019 and a Declaration Working Group (DWG) was set up by the Labour-New Zealand First coalition to devise a plan and vision for what it might all look like come 2040. The DWG was given two months and 15 meeting days to report back.

The group was made up of five non-state representatives and four government officials: Claire Charters, Kayla Kingdon-Bebb, Tāmati Olsen, Waimirirangi Ormsby, Emily Owen, Judith Pryor, Jacinta Ruru, Naomi Solomon and Gary Williams.

The group’s main objective as set out in He Puapua, is to “recommend a refocus on rangatiratanga Māori” – that is, Māori self-determination.

There’s a wide spectrum for how that can be achieved, as the DWG points out.

“It ranges from full independence at one end of the spectrum to participation in state government at the other.

The report’s authors note that, “Aotearoa has reached a maturity where it is ready to undertake the transformation necessary to restructure governance, to realise rangatiratanga Māori.’’

Rolling out the vision

When the DWG delivered its report at the end of 2019 to then-Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta it set out a timeline of milestones.

It recommended by December 2020 He Puapua be publicly received and released, and the Government make an announcement around its immediate and long-term plans.

It suggested doing so at a significant domestic event, such as Waitangi 2020, or on a suitable international day.

As we now know, Covid rode into town in early 2020 and the report was never released or taken to Cabinet.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the reason for not publicly releasing it was because it wasn’t government policy, hadn’t been considered by Cabinet, and she didn’t want its release to suggest to people it was being implemented in full.

ACT and the National Party getting leaked a full copy of it and releasing it publicly has somewhat achieved exactly what Ardern says she was trying to avoid.

It’s also led to comments and speeches about the “separatist’’ road the Government is taking the country down.

At the National Party regional conference in Napier at the weekend, leader Judith Collins centred her speech on the report once again.

Collins told party faithful she’d received a copy of draft recommendations being discussed by the Department of Conservation on how to better “reflect the Treaty of Waitangi’s principles in it policies”.

“The draft document recommends the entire DoC estate is reformed, the Conservation Act replaced, and the functions and powers of the DoC estate are delegated, devolved, and transferred to tangata whenua.

“This is not just National Parks, but the entire DoC estate. That is 85 per cent of the West Coast, for example,” Collins said.

He Puapua discusses the same issue, and as she did at the regional conference in Auckland the week before, Collins called on the Prime Minister to have a “national conversation” rather than secretly implement the recommendations

Last week, National’s Waimakariri MP Matt Doocey even went as far as to say the Māori Health Authority, as proposed by Health Minister Andrew Little and a recommendation in He Puapua, would “tear apart regional New Zealand’’.

While the new Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson says he’s read it in its entirety, Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little says he hasn’t read it at all – ruling out Collins’ suggestion He Puapua had “inspired’’ his announcement of a Māori Health Authority.

The ‘ongoing impacts of colonisation’

The recommendations and proposals in He Puapua come from a starting point that “our current systems are not working for Māori’’, the report’s authors say.

“Evidenced in negative statistics and the lived experiences of many Māori.

“They highlight the ongoing impacts of colonisation as underlying factors in these inequities, and the need for structural and systemic changes to give effect to the promises of te Tiriti.’’

He Puapua sets out a number of proposals in the 123-page report across a wide range of areas. No stone is left unturned as the report sets out ways to improve Māori participation, rights, sense of belonging, protection of language and culture and much more.

Governance, te Tiriti and reform

The report recommends the entrenchment of Parliament’s Māori electoral seats, of which there are seven.

A further or alternative option is providing power to “ensure only Māori have the right to determine the fate of the seats’’.

The report also proposes the creation of a senate or upper house in Parliament, which could scrutinise legislation for compliance with te Tiriti and or the Declaration.

It recommends the creation of local government Māori wards – something the Government has already progressed in legislation this year, meaning the public can no longer veto a council’s decision to introduce Māori wards.

He Puapua considers the need to strengthen the Waitangi Tribunal’s powers, including making them binding rather than “recommendatory decisions’’.

It also proposes appointing a tiriti/indigenous rights commissioner and establishing a tiriti/indigenous court and/or human rights committee.

On the Resource Management Act, which is under reform, the authors recommend tiriti obligations are applied to all persons exercising RMA powers and water policy be decided by, or in conjunction with, a new national co-governance body.

Climate, land and resources

The report calls for Māori to be adequately represented on a Climate Commission and that Māori be delegated government powers across the resource management and conservation spectrum, including fisheries.

It supports the “reclamation of Māori geographical names and creating a Māori-led geographical initiative, centrally funded, which encourages the public to know when passing through significant tribal areas with the use of signage’’.

Further to that, He Puapua proposes formal acknowledgement of Māori legitimate rights and interests in respect of Crown lands and Māori freehold land being exempt from rates in the same way universities and conservation estate is.

The report’s authors also suggest Māori receive royalties for the use of particular natural resources, such as water, petroleum and minerals.

Education, justice, housing and health

In the final section, the report recommends compulsory Te Reo in primary schools and supporting museums to be “fully bicultural’’.

It proposes ensuring place names “reflect our indigenous heritage and that offensive or inaccurate names are appropriately addressed’’.

To improve inequities in justice, the report proposes giving all prisoners the right to vote in general elections, and establishing a Māori court system.

In health, the recommendations include “compulsory education of health professionals in Te Ao Māori’’ and pay equity for Māori working in the health sector.

There’s also a proposal for a separate Māori health entity that has control over spending and policy – this is already set to be implemented with the announcement of a Māori Health Authority.

(Sir Mason Durie has been appointed to lead the steering group to provide advice on how to push ahead with with proposed Māori Health Authority. The National Party says it would repeal the authority, if in power.)

Housing is another area Māori suffer inequities and He Puapua recommends designing and building more Māori-friendly state housing and selling or transferring state houses to iwi providers or other Māori entities.

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson has drafted a paper setting out the next steps in response to He Puapua, and expects to take that to Cabinet soon.

He said a lot in the report was “standard kaupapa that we’re doing now’’ and not at all extreme.

However, the prospect of a Māori Parliament has been ruled out by Ardern.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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