United Nations Declaration: Indigenous rights consultation begins in wake of He Puapua controversy

The Government will consult with Māori over the next few months before engaging with the wider public on indigenous rights, in the wake of He Puapua controversy.

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson announced on Thursday the next steps in developing a national plan to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

It comes after months of controversy sparked by National and ACT over He Puapua, a Government report commissioned in 2019 that sets out a roadmap to co-governance between the Crown and Māori by 2040. 

National leader Judith Collins accused the Government of a "separatism by stealth" agenda, after plans were set in motion for a Māori Health Authority as well as Māori wards in local councils, both of which were recommended in the report. 

Collins vowed to keep probing Labour's Māori 'co-governance' plans despite Newshub polling in May showing 44.5 percent of Kiwis thought National was being divisive and the Māori Party accusing her of racism.

Paradoxically, the report was commissioned as a response to the former National-led Government signing New Zealand up in 2010 to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. 

Jackson, speaking at Ngā Whare Waatea Marae in Auckland, said the time is right to develop a plan that measures progress in advocating for Māori in real and "meaningful ways". 

"This must reflect New Zealand and it's an important conversation for us to all have together as a nation," he said. "As we have previously said, He Puapua is not Government policy nor the basis of a declaration plan. Instead it is a starting point for discussion."

The Government will work through a two-step process, which will begin with targeted engagement over the next few months with iwi and Māori organisations on how they wish to be involved. This will be followed by wider public consultation.

Jackson pointed out that New Zealand is one of 148 countries that support the Declaration. Globally, he said, there is increased momentum to improve outcomes for indigenous peoples in areas such as health, education, and housing.

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson.
Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"This Government is focused on improving the wellbeing of Māori communities, addressing inequity issues for Māori and fulfilling our obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and this is one part of that mahi.

"We will report back to Cabinet at critical points and expect to have a draft Declaration plan for wider public consultation next year."

In a speech at the marae, Jackson said Kiwis have nothing to fear. 

"The Declaration was never meant to divide us. It is not a tool for separatism. It is not something to be afraid of. That's what's made the recent uproar both confusing and disappointing."

"Confusing," he said, "because we were so proud when Dr [Pita] Sharples signed the agreement, when the National Government committed to developing a plan to implement it. 

"And disappointing that there has been a U-turn from that more positive approach to indigenous rights and the continuation and expansion of work that governments of both colours have been working on for years."

The aim is to develop a draft Declaration plan by the end of this year to take out to wider public consultation in 2022. Following this wider public consultation the Government would look to sign off on a final plan by the end of 2022.

ACT leader David Seymour.
ACT leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

ACT leader David Seymour, who first raised concerns about He Puapua in Parliament by asking Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern if the Government planned to act on the recommendation of a separate Māori Parliament - which she ruled out - said Kiwis should have the same rights. 

"Since the National Party signed us up to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples thinking it wouldn't matter, New Zealanders have faced a decade of deception.

"ACT was not told under the 'no surprises' policy that National was doing this. National was in bed with the Māori Party and ACT was blindsided and vehemently opposed it.

"The current Government commissioned He Puapua, then tried to suppress it instead of practicing open Government, until ACT unmasked it in Parliament. 

"ACT has seen documents in which the Declaration Working Group asks the Māori Development Minister multiple times to release it. The Prime Minister protested that it was not Government policy. 

"If ACT hadn't brought this issue to Parliament in April and questioned Jacinda Ardern about it, nobody would know about He Puapua. If National hadn't blindsided ACT by signing up... we wouldn't be here today."