Jacinda Ardern fires up at Judith Collins for 'politicising' Treaty of Waitangi partnership debate

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has accused Opposition leader Judith Collins of "politicising" debate over Treaty partnership during a fiery stand-off in Parliament. 

Collins put questions to Ardern on Tuesday about the Waitangi Tribunal's recommendation last month to establish an independent Māori Transition Authority to overhaul Oranga Tamariki in the wake of disturbing uplifts of Māori children. 

Collins took issue with Children's Minister Kelvin Davis agreeing with the Waitangi Tribunal's decision that Oranga Tamariki had breached the Treaty of Waitangi by taking away full authority over their children.

"What we are discussing... is whether or not in working more closely with iwi organisations and whānau who know these families well and the children well, whether or not we can do a better job at prevention," Ardern said. 

Davis highlighted comments made at the Iwi Chairs Forum in Porirua on Friday that when Kāwanatanga and Tino rangatiratanga work together in partnership "you'll see great things happening". 

Collins suggested the Government was abdicating its responsibilities to protect all children by handing power to an independent Māori Transition Authority. 

"Does she believe it is acceptable for the Government to remove itself from the protection of all children, regardless of ethnicity, when a New Zealand child is killed by its own family every five weeks?"

Ardern said it wouldn't change the fact that Oranga Tamariki has statutory obligations. She said everything the Government is doing about the care and wellbeing of children. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"It's long been the endeavour of governments, I would hope, to make sure that we're upholding our obligations as Treaty partners in the work that we do," Ardern said. 

"There are actually some examples that I would have thought the member would have been proud of when they were in Government, the work they did with Tūhoe around conservation, Waikato with the Waikato River Authority, Whānau Ora, Kōhanga reo.   

"It seems in Government there is a commitment to partnership but in Opposition there is a race to the bottom in terms of politicising a debate that we need to have as a nation."

Collins fears the Government is trying to implement "separatism by stealth".

She's has been calling for a "national conversation" about recommendations made in He Puapua, a Government report commissioned in 2019 that sets out a roadmap to co-governance between the Crown and Māori by 2040. 

The Government never released the full report publicly and, because it's never been to Cabinet, it hasn't agreed a position on it. Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson has prepared a Cabinet paper outlining a possible Government response. 

The paper proposes a Māori Health Authority and Māori wards in local councils, which the Government has implemented. The report also suggests separate court and justice systems, and a Māori Parliament or Upper House. 

National leader Judith Collins.
National leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Ardern has ruled out the suggestion of a separate Māori Parliament - but Collins isn't taking her word, telling Magic Talk on Monday the Government has broken promises before.  

Collins told National supporters in a speech over the weekend she had been leaked a copy of draft recommendations from a recent hui where the Department of Conservation (DoC) discussed how to better reflect the Treaty of Waitangi's principles in it policies.

It recommends transferring the DoC estate to Māori. 

Ardern said on Monday it had not gone through any formal process through Cabinet or consultation with ministers. 

"When it comes to what's been raised by the leader of the Opposition on conservation... Here we have something, again, that hasn't been formally received by the Government," she said. 

"That work started because the courts challenged whether or not DoC were fulfilling their obligations as set out in legislation that's been around for decades. 

"So, again, I come back to: what's the motivation here? Because when National were in Government, they did plenty to make sure that they were working collectively and collaboratively alongside iwi.

"Now they're in Opposition, apparently they've changed their mind."