Constitutional Advisory Panel, Elizabeth Rata

Elizabeth Rata: tribalism is anti-democratic

To give some credit to the Constitutional Advisory Panel, they have interviewed Elizabeth Rata, one of our very finest writers on Treaty issues.

I will give them even more credit if they actually publish her responses. 🙂

This is Elizabeth’s transcript of her January 23rd phone interview by Hinerangi Barr of the Panel’s secretariat.

(Subheadings mine.)

It’s a superbly clear explanation of what a constitution is, and why it would be undemocratic for New Zealand’s to include the Treaty of Waitangi.



How would you best explain or describe New Zealand’s constitution to people who don’t know much about it? 


The constitution is how we arrange the way authority works in New Zealand — who is in charge, and to whom they are accountable.

It is how politics is organised and what sort of institutions and systems we have.

Democracy depends on
humanity, equality, freedom

New Zealand is a democracy.

There are three elements to democracy:

  1. The nation — which is the overall framework and idea we have of ourselves.
  2. The state – this is parliament, and all the institutions and systems of government.
  3. Citizens – who are the subjects of the nation-state, and hold it accountable.

These three elements are held together by the principles of universalism, equality, and freedom.

Humanity trumps race

Universalism is the commitment to the belief that the human being is the political subject.

This means that a person is regarded as human before he or she is seen as a member of a race, religion or other type of social group.

Universalism is the basis of democracy because it justifies the equal status of the citizen.

Constitution about citizenship,
not culture

My first important point is that political status of citizenship is different from  cultural/race identity.

This means that political status, that is, citizenship, is part of the constitution, but race/cultural/religious identity is not.

Take the example of religion.

Many New Zealanders have a religion. But their religious identity is not part of the political arrangements.

Your religious status is not your political status. Religion is kept out of politics.

Race and culture is like religion – it is an identity, but not a political status.

Race/cultural identity cannot be included as a political status in a constitution.

Constitution includes right
to practise culture

What a constitution can include — and New Zealand’s already does — is the right that each individual has to practise his or her cultural identity.

This right is enshrined in legislation, which says that a person cannot be discriminated against on the basis of race, religion, cultural affiliation, and so on.

That right can only exist because of our equal status as citizens — a status that comes from the universalist principle that we are all equal as human beings.

To sum up this point:

Citizenship is at the basis of our freedom, and an essential part of a democratic constitution.

Tribalism based on inequality

My second important point concerns the nature of tribalism as a political system.

Tribalism is a pre-modern system that is anti-democratic.

In fact, the history of the world is the move from tribalism to democracy.


Because tribalism is based on principles of inequality.

Status comes from ancestors

In tribal organisation, a person’s political status comes from the status of his or her ancestors.

In addition, tribalism is unable to include newcomers.

This means that there are many New Zealand families with members who are Maori and members who are non-Maori.

The non-Maori family members can never be full members of the tribe.

This divides families, as well as dividing the wider New Zealand according to race.

To sum up this point:

Race (genetic heritage), not universalism, is the basic principle of tribal organisation.

Treaty in constitution would
divide, not unite

For these two reasons:

  • the fundamental difference between the political status of citizenship, and
  • the fundamental nature of tribalism as an unequal system

the Treaty of Waitangi must not be included in New Zealand’s constitution.

Including the Treaty in a constitution would divide us into two peoples, one of whose political status comes from their genetic heritage or race, and the other whose political status is that of citizen.

It would bring into the constitution an anti-democratic political system – the tribe/iwi.

The total opposition between the two systems would be destructive of democracy.


How does the Maori representation impact on your work/community/all New Zealanders? 


The increasing practice of including Maori representation in our institutions such as education is based on a wrong idea, and cannot be justified.

This is the recent idea that the Treaty is New Zealand’s founding document, and is a partnership with principles.

Treaty ‘partnership’ is illogical.

Only one sovereign

Parliament is sovereign, not two Treaty ‘partners’. There can’t be two ‘sovereigns’.

It is Parliament that makes the laws and exercises authority on behalf of all New Zealand citizens, to whom it is accountable.

It it were true that there was a Treaty ‘partnership’ then iwi would be sovereign alongside Parliament.

This is nonsensical.


Can you give us an example of how our constitutional arrangements in the context of Maori representation at both a government and local government level works in practice? 


The idea of the so-called Treaty partnership has been placed into our institutions and practices — despite it being anti-democratic, and hence unjustifiable.

Bicultural lobby holds power

It is the result of hugely influential lobbying by a small group of powerful biculturalists and iwi lobbyists, but opposed by most New Zealanders.

The Government Constutitional Advisory Panel is a good example of this creeping inclusion.

50% of its members were chosen because of their race.

That is confusing political status with identity – the point I make above.


The latest strategy is ‘co-governance’.

 [JA: For ‘co’, read ‘koha’.]

An example is the proposed co-governance of the Hauraki Gulf with 50% Maori and 50% representation from all the other groups with an interest in the Hauraki Gulf.

This is very, very serious.

It gives one race-based group unaccountable power, and takes justified and accountable power from the others.


Why should New Zealanders participate in the constitution conversation?


Because retribalists and biculturalists are campaigning to have the Treaty included in a constitution.

This must not happen if we are to remain a democratic nation.

New Zealanders must stop the inclusion of the Treaty in our Constitution.

I belong to a Group, the Independent Constitutional Review Panel that includes members from across the political spectrum.

Declaration of Equality

We are currently promoting  the ‘Declaration of Equality’ to oppose the Government’s Constitutional Advisory Panel.

38,000 New Zealanders have already signed the Declaration.

We regard the Government’s Advisory Panel as compromised by Treaty politics.

Its 50/50 race-based membership makes that clear.

Our concern is that the Governemnt Panel has the funding and resources to promote its agenda for the inclusion of the Treaty in a constitution.

A group such as ours has few resources in comparison.


What are your aspirations for the future of Aotearoa New Zealand?


For our democratic institutions to be strengthened.

I would like to see greater equality and social justice for all New Zealanders.

This does not come from recognising race. Biculturalists got it wrong.

Biculturalism has failed Maori

Many believed that biculturalism would lead to social justice for Maori. But this has not happened.

Social equality comes from political arrangements to do with employment, then with politics concerned with housing, health, and education.

All New Zealanders should benefit from such policies.

In education, I would like to see a move away from cultural based education for Maori to a system that promotes higher order knowledge for everyone.


How would you like our country to be run in the future? (What principles/ elements are important to you about our constitution?)  


I would like to see all three elements of our democracy strengthened. These elements are the nation, the government, and the citizen.

Parliament, not Supreme Court,
must be supreme

The way to do this is by:

1. Ensuring that Parliament is supreme.

2. Ensuring that judges, or powerful lobby groups such as the biculturalists and the iwi elite, are under Parliament’s supremacy.

3. Separating the political category of citizen from cultural/race identity so that the political category is citizenship – available to all people.

4. Shifting the practice of culture away from  government institutions to the wider society.

5. Maintaining an unwritten constitution, because:

  • a written constitution would lock us into a certain time, and
  • we would lose the benefits of being able to be flexible as times change.

Democratic principles
preclude racial favouritism

That flexibility must of course be constrained by democratic principles and systems.

Therefore it cannot include the Treaty.

6. Removing all aspects of race from our institutions, such as education, health, social services, corrections, and so on.

This means removing all references to the principles of the Treaty from legislation.

7. Abolishing the Maori parliamentary seats.

8. Funding research that critiques the historical revisionism of the bicultural period — so that NZ’s history is studied according to sound research methods, and not in the interests of Treaty politics, as is currently the case with much Waitangi Tribunal research.