Willie Jackson will take a recommendation to Cabinet on December 19 to halt work on a draft plan designed to meet commitments made under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).

The Māori Development Minister is concerned most New Zealanders don’t understand the point of the UN plan and instead he wants to spend next year engaging with both Māori and non-Māori on it.

At the request of its governing partner, Te Pāti Māori, National signed up to the UN declaration in 2010, but little has been done to progress it in the years since.

Question mark over co-governance plan
‘Tough process’ for co-governance draft

Labour commissioned an independent report, He Puapua, in 2019 that canvassed ideas on how the declaration might be met.

The party was in coalition with New Zealand First at the time but leader Winston Peters told Newsroom he knew nothing of the report and didn’t agree to it being commissioned.

It caused an uproar when its findings were made public in 2021 by the ACT Party, with its proposals including things such as a Māori Parliament or separate Upper House.

Both ACT Party leader David Seymour and National’s then-leader Judith Collins campaigned hard against the co-governance proposals at the time.

Seymour told Newsroom on Thursday his party still wants to see the declaration commitment dropped altogether.

“The consultation failed because Willie, and the Government more generally, have insisted on consulting only select Māori groups first. Then they wonder why people don’t understand it when they’ve specifically excluded the rest of the population,” Seymour said.

The process for reaching a declaration plan was for Māori to be consulted first and then a draft drawn up by the governance group for Cabinet to sign off to then be shared with the rest of the country for feedback.

The governance group provided Jackson with a draft in June, but he never took it to Cabinet because he didn’t agree with about 20 percent of what was in it and knew it wouldn’t be palatable to his colleagues.

In the months since, the group has reworked it but Jackson is now increasingly less convinced it is the right time to push ahead with the work and wants to halt it next year.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Newsroom on Monday she wouldn’t comment on whether the work would be put on hold because it was yet to go before Cabinet for a decision to be made.

Ardern did acknowledge that it was on the Government to make sure people were properly informed, even if some of the debate around UNDRIP had been made more difficult by some of the facts being misrepresented.

“It can make it very difficult, and we’ve seen countless examples of that. But again, that’s for us, we have to make sure that we figure out a way to make sure we have those discussions based on the facts of what’s being proposed,” Ardern told Newsroom.

National leader Christopher Luxon told Newsroom on Tuesday he hadn’t thought “too deeply” about Jackson’s decision to pause co-governance work – a shift away from the rhetoric of Collins and the party during her time at the helm.

Asked how National planned to meet the UN’s commitments it signed up to, Luxon said UNDRIP wasn’t “prescriptive”.

“There’s actually a range of solutions and responses from governments that are left for them to use their own discretion to determine how they can protect the interests of Indigenous peoples in their own countries,” he said.

Seymour says most New Zealanders want to see Māori culture and language thrive and past wrongs addressed, but he doesn’t believe that is what UNDRIP is trying to achieve.

“UNDRIP is fundamentally at odds with a democratic nation state. It says Indigenous people have the right to fully participle in the affairs of a nation state, which we agree with.

“Then it says they have the right to opt out and effectively run a separate jurisdiction,” he says.

“The whole of UNDRIP is founded on that fundamental contradiction.”

Seymour wants a referendum on co-governance to properly define what the Treaty of Waitangi means in a modern New Zealand.

Luxon has so far refused to support ACT’s referendum if in government together.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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