The Government’s consultation with Māori on a draft United Nations Declaration Plan hit a roadblock this year and has been pushed out by months. It moves the whole timeline closer to the 2023 election and could make Māori co-governance an election issue, writes political editor Jo Moir.

Feedback from Māori on how best to meet United Nations responsibilities around indigenous peoples’ rights was set to go to Cabinet this month but the report has now been delayed until March.

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson told Newsroom the focus of many Māori communities and organisations has been – and continues to be – Covid-19 and supporting the vaccination drive.

As a result, the “report back to Cabinet on feedback from targeted engagement and seeking approval of proposed process for drafting a Declaration plan was extended from December 2021 to March 2022,’’ Jackson said.

In July, Newsroom revealed consultation would begin with key iwi and Māori organisations, and that those stakeholders would be asked to help draw up a blueprint.

Consultation with the wider public was expected to take place five months after feedback from interested Māori groups had been gathered and delivered to Cabinet.

That timeline is also likely to be affected, along with plans to have completed a draft of the Declaration by the end of next year.

It’s now more likely to be closer to the middle of 2023, which is bordering on the campaign period of the next election.

That will make it an election issue for political parties unless the Government rushes through legislation.

In October this year Jackson met with more than 30 national Māori organisations in an online hui to kick off the consultation, and more workshops have been held in recent months.

There has also been a “surge of interest in workshops in the past two weeks’’ but Jackson said the majority of the groups requesting them are asking to do so in the New Year.

In 2010, the then-National government signed New Zealand up to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Nine years later the Labour-New Zealand First coalition government commissioned an independent report, He Puapua, to assist with recommendations for how New Zealand might fulfil the declaration.

The unexpected release of He Puapua, by ACT Party leader David Seymour, sparked months of controversy over what was being proposed in the report and whether the Government planned to adopt the recommendations.

It included suggestions like an upper house or Māori Parliament, rates exemptions for Māori freehold land, separate Māori authorities across central government and Māori wards at a local government level.

Māori wards and the Māori Health Authority have since been legislated for by the Government, and the Opposition has pointed to it as proof He Puapua will be adopted as government policy.

Since then, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has ruled out any sort of Māori Parliament or upper house.

That will make it an election issue for political parties unless the Government rushes through legislation.

Seymour is continuing to call for a national conversation to take place and be all inclusive, rather than prioritising Māori stakeholders.

“If the Government wants to have a constitutional conversation between the Crown and select Māori elites, then it has predetermined the kind of constitutional arrangement it wants right there. The rest of New Zealand has every right to feel offended by that exclusion,’’ Seymour told Newsroom.

The UN Declaration isn’t the only government work programme where iwi engagement has been impacted by Covid.

Last week Jackson confirmed to Newsroom the governance group for Ihumātao is yet to be formed because the Kingitanga hasn’t been able to meet and properly consult with interested parties.

He said he could appreciate people were getting impatient with the delays, given it has been a year since the Crown bought the land.

While the Crown has appointed its two representatives, the rest of the group has not, and Jackson said his hope is that things would be sorted by February, so work could get started on how best to utilise the land.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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