Labour leader Andrew Little’s comments at Waitangi today will simply add to the confusion about the foundational constitutional reality established by the Treaty – the sovereignty of the Crown in New Zealand.
Little is correct in suggesting that the Treaty incorporates an “historical commitment to some level of self-governance” for Maori. The Article 2 guarantee of rangatiratanga (Chieftainship) is just that. However he then muddies the waters with his comments that we need to investigate what sovereignty might mean for Maori.
Let’s be clear – a level of self governance is absolutely not the same thing as sovereignty. To mix them up in the same sound-bite is ill-considered and unhelpful in framing the constitutional conversation that lies ahead. Yes the Treaty guarantees Chieftainship. However it also makes it abundantly clear that this Chieftainship was to be expressed within the context of the overarching sovereignty of the Crown.
It is entirely consistent with what was actually agreed at Waitangi 175 years ago that we investigate new ways in which Chieftainship or rangatiratanga might be expressed in a modern context. This may well include a level of devolvement of central government resources (eg Whanau Ora) or a delegation of Crown authorities in particular spheres. It may also involve arrangements for Maori representation such as the Maori seats.
However any such measures must be clearly understood to fall within the auspices of Crown sovereignty. They must not be seen as some form of co-governance or dual sovereignty based on the revisionist modern partnership paradigm. And they must certainly not be expressions of a limp Crown retreat from its rightful Treaty responsibilities on the flawed grounds that Maori “never ceded sovereignty”.