The Government has slammed the election-year brakes on New Zealand’s plan for upholding the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The Cabinet agreed on Monday that ministers wouldn’t receive any further reports on developing a draft plan in response to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples until 2024, Newsroom can reveal.

It comes just before the summer break, at which point all ministers are expected to go away and look at work programmes and reforms in their portfolio areas to see what could be cut at the start of next year.

The Prime Minister is clearing the decks in January and wants the Government focus to be on those reforms that are needed, and don’t cause unnecessary distractions.

The declaration plan is the first piece of work to fall victim to the chopping block, but certainly won’t be the last.

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Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson signalled to Newsroom earlier this month he was unlikely to ask his Cabinet colleagues to push ahead with the declaration work because he was concerned most New Zealanders didn’t understand what the point of it was.

Jackson had allowed himself two weeks to be convinced otherwise by those supportive of the work progressing, but that proved unsuccessful when on Monday he got the support of his ministerial colleagues to kick the can past next year’s election and into 2024.

“While we made significant progress this year working collaboratively with our partners, we were not able to finalise a draft declaration plan by the original July 2022 deadline, which in turn meant we could not conduct consultation with the public in the second half of 2022 as planned,” Jackson told Newsroom.

“Given the level of public interest in this work it’s important we take the time to get it right, consult properly and create opportunities for everyone to have their say and build awareness and understanding of the declaration plan and what it is about.

“That is what we will keep doing through 2023,” he said.

Last week when Newsroom revealed the work would likely go on hold, 61 organisations and individuals released an open letter calling on the Government to push ahead on “recognising indigenous human rights in Aotearoa”.

This is not a nice-to-have that can be put off to some unknown date when somehow the conditions are better” – ActionStation Director Kassie Hartendorp

Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand Campaigns Director Lisa Woods described any plan to halt things as a “step backwards for us all”.

She and many others urged ministers to “hold fast” to the commitment New Zealand signed up to 12 years ago.

Anjum Rahman, the project co-lead at Inclusive Aotearoa Collective Tāhono, said giving up on the declaration work was a “huge failure”.

“The Government must stay in this waka and keep paddling.”

ActionStation Director Kassie Hartendorp said: “This is not a nice-to-have that can be put off to some unknown date when somehow the conditions are better.”

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

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 ACT, with its proposals including things such as a Māori Parliament or separate Upper House.

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

National leader Christopher Luxon has been vague on how his party would meet the commitments if in government.

However, he has ruled out a referendum that would define what the Treaty of Waitangi means in modern New Zealand, which Seymour has proposed as a fix.

Jackson told Newsroom it would take time to work out how best to meet the UN commitments and that other work to support and progress Māori prosperity continued in the meantime.

“This is a case of getting it right for the long term and taking a little extra time to get there, while also keeping our eye firmly on the issues most important to Māori at the moment – jobs, health, housing and support for our whānau as economic times get tougher,” he said.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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