ACT leader David Seymour hits out at opposition to Treaty Principles Bill in State of Nation speech

ACT leader David Seymour has slammed opposition to his Treaty Principles Bill, questioning whether Māori leaders are dealing with issues responsibly or inciting "baseless racial resentment".    

It comes after Seymour was announced as Associate Minister of Justice and responsible for the Treaty Principles Bill, giving him more ownership of the controversial legislation based on an ACT Party proposal to debate and define the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. Seymour has said it's time for New Zealanders to have the discussion, rather than leaving it up to judges and bureaucrats.   

On Sunday, Seymour delivered his State of the Nation speech from the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in Auckland.    

He spoke at length about the Treaty Principles Bill, a week after Māori at the hui-ā-motu, or national hui, and Rātana criticised the Government's agenda.   

Seymour accused those calling the legislation "racist" of sowing division.   

"Leaders in Māoridom who have the ear of the young need to ask themselves: are they dealing with the issues responsibly, or simply inciting baseless racial resentment? It is an important question," Seymour said in his State of the Nation speech. 

The opposition and many in Māoridom have been critical of the Bill. Labour leader Chris Hipkins said the Bill was the Government "rewriting Te Tiriti", accusing the Coalition on Wednesday of taking New Zealand backwards with its agenda. 

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi, who shared a leaked draft of the Principles Bill last week, accused the Coalition of wanting to "erase" Te Tiriti. 

Then, on Saturday last week, up to 10,000 people responded to a call from Kiingi Tuheitia, the Māori King, to a national hui in reaction to the Coalition Government's policies on Te Reo and the Treaty of Waitangi.

A key theme in Seymour's speech was unity and the risk of division. 

He talked about his summer break trip to the south of the United States. He said he asked dozens of Americans who they thought would win the 2024 US Election.     

He said the most common answer was former US President Donald Trump, with Americans saying "life was better before" and because he has "steel balls" despite all the court cases and criminal charges he's facing.    

"Nothing sums up the retreat of democracy better than the extraordinary presidential election playing out in the United States," he said.  

"Democracy needs trust in its institutions. When half the people think the leading Republican nominee is corrupt and the other half think the justice system is corrupt for saying so, you have a problem of division.   

"A divided America is bad news for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and all small countries. We will need to be much braver in a more dangerous world."  

He said New Zealanders want to ensure the "wrongs of the past are put right and that every child has equal opportunity".   

"We are not people who have to look at our family tree to find out how we fit in," he said.    

"We're all New Zealanders with the same basic rights and with that platform constitutionally we can get stuck in to tackling the real problems and challenges that New Zealanders face."   

He said in recent decades New Zealanders have been told that to solve these problems, New Zealand must become "Tiriti-centric" where there are two types of people in partnership - tangata whenua (people of the land) and tangata tiriti (Treaty people) who would each have different political and legal rights.    

He said that is not only untrue it's "incompatible with the fundamental democratic value" that all citizens are equal under the law.   

"This divisive idea has been fuelled by unelected bureaucrats and judges promoting a 'partnership' interpretation of our founding document," Seymour said.    

"I have a very simple belief that each of us are united by something much greater than any kind of history or culture - that is, universal humanity. The same rights, the same dignities for every person.    

"And that is what has driven all the good movements in human history - votes for women, the civil rights movement in America, and the end of apartheid in South Africa, along with the rights of people of different sexualities to be themselves and marry as they wish. That's what I believe."    

ACT leader David Seymour delivering his State of the Nation speech in Auckland on Sunday morning.
ACT leader David Seymour delivering his State of the Nation speech in Auckland on Sunday morning. Photo credit: Newshub

In his speech, he said New Zealand has a "simple choice" over the Treaty.  

"We can either believe that the Treaty of Waitangi created a partnership between races, as some say, or we can believe that it delivers what it says itself in the Māori version: nga tikanga katoa rite tahi – the same rights and duties. That is the fundamental question."  

"If you believe that the Treaty is a partnership between races, then you have to believe that tangata whenua have different rights and duties in New Zealand from tangata Tiriti. And that means people get different positions in government, they get treated differently in the workplace, they get treated differently based on who their ancestors were, not on what they do today and the character of their own behaviour," he said.   

"Or you can believe that we are all equal and that each of us should have a chance and a choice in life to be the best that we can. My belief is that the latter way is the only way forward for any society. Every time we say that people have different rights based on ancestry, we breed resentment. And more importantly, we create the idea that which group you're a member of is more important than your basic value as a person."  

Former Primer Minister's Sir John Key and Dame Jacinda Ardern.
Former Primer Minister's Sir John Key and Dame Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub

'Lost decades' 

Seymour also hit out at the previous governments led by Helen Clark, Sir John Key and Dame Jacinda Ardern, saying they lacked ambition and New Zealand had "lost decades" under their leadership. 

He said these governments have three things in common; they denied problems, they governed without values, and they made bad policies.   

"Over the last quarter of a century, the Clark, Key, and Ardern governments have all eroded the simple idea that YOU are the person that makes the difference in your own life," Seymour said.  

"There's been a cultural shift towards the idea that if there is a problem to be solved, or if life is to get better, the people in Wellington will do it for us. 

"Since the 1990s, the government has steadily crept further and further into your life. What has been the result? Education results are going backwards. One in ten working age New Zealanders is on a main benefit. The price of a house is out of reach for most young New Zealanders. Productivity has flatlined."  

Read and watch the full speech here.