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Legal expert warns of constitutional 'apartheid'

Tuesday 9 Apr 2013 8:55 a.m.

A review of New Zealand's constitution threatens to turn the country into an "apartheid state", a Canterbury University law lecturer has warned.

New Zealand doesn't have a single written constitution like most countries, a situation the Government is seeking to remedy. The Constitutional Advisory Panel, led by Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, was set up in 2010 as a part of the Maori Party's confidence and supply agreement with National after the 2008 election.

The panel, co-chaired by Professor John Burrows, QC and Sir Tipene O'Regan, is consulting the public on matters such as the size of Parliament, Maori seats, the role of the Treaty of Waitangi and New Zealand's potential future as a republic.

Bu Canterbury University law lecturer and chairman of the non-governmental Independent Constitutional Review Panel, David Round, doesn't think the review is necessary.

"Our constitution isn't broken, and until it's broken, there's no need to divide the country by introducing controversial matters in an attempt to fix it," he said on Firstline this morning.

"Inevitably the consequence of this review is going to be – well, it is already – an attempt to put the so-called principles of the treaty into our constitution, which is going to be disastrous for the country."

Mr Round says Treaty of Waitangi settlements, such as that signed by Tuhoe which netted the tribe $170 million and more control over Urewera National Park, were supposed to put an end to grievances.

"But that isn't happening because no sooner are treaty settlements eventually done, then we find more demands – including now a demand for a special place for a minority of one race and culture in the constitution.

"Although the treaty actually says that now we are all to be one people, equal under the Queen's law, the trouble is that the principles of the treaty, as they're so-called, are simply an excuse for Maori privilege and Maori preference in just about everything. We are in danger of becoming an apartheid country, and introducing race as a constitutional principle."

New research shows two-thirds of New Zealanders don't even know the constitution is under review. Co-chair Sir Tipene says most people are "never aware as they should be of just about any major issue".

"What we do know is there's been a quite dramatic surge of interest once the matters are brought to people's attention," he said on Firstline this morning.

"We've been quite gratified by the level of interest once we're able to talk to people about it, so we're hoping that the consultation process will bring that much further forward."

Sir Tipene says the majority of people favour incorporating the Treaty of Waitangi into a written constitution, but just how to do that remains unknown.

"There's quite a range of views about that subject… what the status of the treaty is legally, what the status of the relationship of Maori collectively with the Crown is, its place in the foundation of our constitutional arrangements.

"There's quite a lot of debate, and a certain amount of that is contested, but on the whole most people say it's very important."

Mr Round however says there is only a perceived majority because the Government's panel is "racially stacked".

"The Maori Party, which was responsible for the establishment of this constitutional advisory panel, has made it quite clear that their expectation is that they want to see treaty principles in a new constitution. And the whole racially stacked constitutional advisory panel process is heading in that direction."

More information on the review, including how to get involved, is available at http://www.cap.govt.nz

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