David Seymour: Why co-governance isn’t our future


In 2043, Statistics New Zealand tells us, Auckland will be a true multi-ethnic melting pot.

Forty-four per cent will be Asian New Zealanders, 43 European, 18 per cent Pasifika, and 13 per cent Māori. It adds up to more than 100 per cent because many people, such as myself, identify with multiple backgrounds.

New Zealand as a whole will be a similar picture – with fewer people of Asian origin than in Auckland. This is our future. A modern multi-ethnic society.

The Treaty will be more than 200 years old, but it’ll still be the perfect foundation for such a country. It’s a voluntary agreement that sets out that the Queen is sovereign, property rights are secure, and everyone has the “same rights and duties”.

It gives me real hope that we really can solve our various problems and remain a beacon of light at the bottom of a troubled world. Sure, we have issues. We want a healthy economy, thriving communities, and a Kiwi identity that ties all together in good times and in bad.

In Transmission Gully, it took a century to get 25km of road built. Our infrastructure failings are the reason we’re short of houses. Lots of land but not enough connections.

Reports last month on the state of numeracy and literacy among 15-year-olds are terrifying, prison recidivism is a disaster, and long-term welfare dependency is not much better.

What’s worse, some underlying trends will make our future harder. The demographic and peace dividends we dined out on after the Cold War just evaporated. Our security is going to cost more just as a large chunk of the workforce retires and demands pensions and healthcare.

I believe we can and will solve these problems. Our resource management law needs to be streamlined. Our social services need the nimbleness to reach all, and genuinely equip them for the future. Our economy needs to find new ways to raise productivity with everything from genetics to software.

What is the current Government doing about all this? If you take out the terrorism and pandemics that have hogged the headlines, history will judge its main policy obsession as transforming our constitution. It doesn’t matter what the question was, co-governance is the answer.

Labour has taken the co-governance concept from a way to manage assets that are subject to Treaty settlements, such as Auckland’s volcanic cones, to the default setting for managing public affairs. Some representatives are democratically elected, others appointed by iwi. Appointment by ancestry is reminiscent of a medieval model that fits better in 1443 than 2043.

Healthcare, Three Waters, councils, registering new breeds of plants. All this and more is being frantically stamped with co-governance. It’s not based on the Treaty. None of these things existed in 1840 so this is not settling a claim.

The closest the courts have come to saying the Treaty is a “partnership” is that it created a relationship “akin to a partnership”, meaning that people should treat each other respectfully. The idea that the Treaty is a partnership requiring co-governance of everything is a hopeful invention of the current Government and its officials.

Not only is co-governance not a requirement of the Treaty, but it also is not necessary to address the very real problems Māori face, either. Devolution is a much more powerful and accountable approach to achieving equal opportunity. So powerful, in fact, that Act and Te Pāti Māori agree on it.

Whānau Ora tailors government services to a particular family’s needs. Charter schools allowed communities to engage the next generation in learning using local knowledge. Both these policies were strongly embraced by Māori but also had Pasifika versions. There’s no reason they could not expand further. Not all Māori or Pacific people want them. That’s okay. That’s innovation and choice in a democratic society. More, please.

On the other hand, it is not obvious how co-governance delivers more equal opportunities. If you’re qualified to fill co-governance appointments, you are probably not the one in need of help. The same can be said for preferential treatment of Māori businesses. Little of the co-governance agenda is about helping the needy.

What it does do is stop our problem-solving and making life better for all. The net result is that someone who’s not accountable to the wider community gets the right to say “no” because of their birth. It’s a recipe for frustration at best and resentment and division at worst.

We are at an exciting time in our history. If we get this right, we will emerge as a modern, multi-ethnic, liberal democracy capable of solving its problems by drawing on a rich diversity of people who came here for a better life.

But that vision is totally at odds with co-governance, which has to go. Act’s referendum on co-governance would bring the issue out in the open so that ordinary people can debate the constitutional future of our country without fear of being shouted down.

What a funny thing to be against.

• David Seymour is the leader of the Act Party.

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