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Hobson’s Pledge: Contradictions and Falsehoods

Recently, a new social movement called Hobson’s pledge have emerged, seeking to lobby political parties to “vote against all laws, regulations and policies that provide for any entitlement based on ancestry or ethnicity”. They aim to support a political party that can realise these goals. With a close relationship between National and the Māori party, Hobson’s Pledge would likely look to other parties for support, including New Zealand First.

Let’s have a look at some of their arguments for why we should remove Treaty references in law:

We can find nothing in the Treaty of Waitangi justifying any racial preference under the law.

Article Two of the English version of the Treaty of Waitangi assures Māori “full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Fisheries and other properties that they may collectively or individually possess…”

The te reo version of the Treaty also adds taonga, or treasures, in addition to the provisions in the English version of the Treaty.

Of course, the Treaty of Waitangi itself is not enshrined in law, however the principles of the Treaty are, in various legislation. If the principles follow from the Treaty itself, then different treatment may be given to Māori.

Legal equality between citizens is the foundation stone of democracy. It is fair, reasonable and totally inclusive.

Legal equality for all citizens may be a fine aspirational goal for any democracy. Is it met in practice in New Zealand?

The Independent Police Conduct Authority’s (IPCA) recent report noted that Māori offenders received a pre-charge warning rate around 24%, while Pākehā rate was around 55% in March and April 2015. Although there has been progress in some regions, there still remains a disparity between Māori and Pākehā in Northland, Counties-Manakau, Waikato and Christchurch.

A recent Corrections report notes that Māori men, when adjusted for age, are 3.5 times likely to be sentenced to imprisonment. The raw figures are even more extreme. The report highlights the biases at each stage of the criminal justice system that leads to this outcome.

True democracy has proven to be the most enduring and successful system of government. It makes for united and prosperous nations.

Modern representative democracy may be one of the best forms of government, however this doesn’t give us any reason why we shouldn’t respect the Treaty of Waitangi, and apply its provisions or principles. There is a lot of mana, prestige and stature to be gained by adhering to agreements that form the basis of any democracy. Hobson’s Pledge, however, may disagree with the Treaty of Waitangi forming the basis of New Zealand’s democracy. They point out that

The Treaty of Waitangi is not in any meaningful sense New Zealand’s constitution

Confusingly, they also add that

…in signing the treaty, chiefs ceded sovereignty to the Crown

If Māori did indeed have sovereignty prior to 1840, and it was ceded to the British Crown, then surely this would give the Treaty of Waitangi the highest constitutional significance. The Hobson’s Pledge view of the Treaty includes cessation of sovereignty to the British, that the crown would protect all New Zealanders, and that Māori and non-Māori would have the same rights. This view completely ignores Article Two of the Treaty, and is, arguably, a larger rewrite of history than some of the groups they call into question.

Many commentators have been writing about the damage of such claims, and each time there is another attack on Māori in New Zealand they fear a separating of racial cohesion in New Zealand. We must support free speech, however, under the proviso that dissenting voices will enrich any conversation about the Treaty, and ultimately, and hopefully, lead to a greater understanding about Treaty issues, and how we move forward as a country. This might be a combined effort in some cases, and in other cases we might need to allow room for Māori institutions to function within New Zealand.

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