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Waitangi Day 2024 message from ANZSOG

6 February 2024

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On Tuesday 6 February, Aotearoa New Zealand will observe Waitangi Day, the national day that commemorates the signing of modern Aotearoa’s foundation document 184 years ago – Te Tiriti O Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi). Waitangi Day is commemorated as a public holiday with official, community and whanau (family) events across Aotearoa New Zealand, which highlight and celebrate Māori culture, reflect on the country’s history and the relationships between Māori and the Crown – past, present and future. 

The Treaty of Waitangi was signed by the British Crown and over 500 Māori Rangatira (Chiefs) in 1840 at Waitangi, Northland, as well as many other locations across the country in the months that followed. Among other things, the Treaty aimed to protect the rights of Māori tribes to keep their land, forests, fisheries, and treasures while also establishing rights of New Zealand citizens and declaring British sovereignty over New Zealand. 

The English language version of the Treaty differs from the Māori language version. Most Māori signed the Māori language version of the Treaty, and therefore there are different understandings and expectations of the Treaty’s terms. The establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal in 1975 has provided a legal framework for the restitution of claims by Māori, to deal with breaches of the Treaty and its principles. 

This year’s celebrations are shaping up to be different and potentially more controversial than in past years, due to debate around the need for a referendum on the Principles of the Treaty. This referendum was an election promise of Aotearoa New Zealand’s ACT Party, which is now a part of the governing Coalition.  The Coalition Government has agreed to introduce a Treaty Principles Bill to the New Zealand Parliament to allow the matter to be publicly debated, but it is considered unlikely to pass. 

The Bill is strongly opposed by many Māori leaders, who see the move as an attempt to reduce the intent and promise of the Treaty, and wind back gains made by Māori in having their rights recognised, in particular their rights to self-determine and to be involved in deciding  environmental and social issues which affect them and their communities. This article from The Conversation gives more information on the situation in Aotearoa New Zealand and the modern role of the Treaty. 

The new coalition Government has also signalled it will: abolish the Māori Health Authority (Te Aka Whai Ora), which was set up last year to reverse negative Māori health outcomes; repeal statutory provisions designed to prevent Māori children going into state care and to prioritise Māori children in state care being placed with  their kin; and prioritise the use of English over the use of Te Reo (the Māori language) in government. 

Since 1975 many New Zealand laws include references to the Treaty and its principles. The first to do so was the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, which established the Waitangi Tribunal.  

There is no fixed definition of the Treaty principles which have been developed and elaborated by parliaments, courts and the Waitangi Tribunal to guide policy implementation, apply the Treaty to modern circumstances, and mediate tensions between the Te Reo Māori and English texts of the document. People often refer to the ‘the three Ps’ when talking about Treaty principles: partnership, protection, participation.  

The 2020 Public Service Act articulates the responsibility of the Public Service to support the Crown to fulfil its responsibilities under The Treaty |Te Tiriti o Waitangi and holds Chief Executives accountable for meeting those responsibilities. 

One of the responsibilities of the Waitangi Tribunal is to oversee claims lodged by iwi (Māori tribes) against the Crown. More than 2,000 claims have been lodged with the tribunal, and major settlements have been reached recognising the claims of many iwi. Other settlements are still in negotiation. These settlements have served as the basis for partnerships between the Crown and Māori, and for iwi to gain recognition and compensation, as well as to build economic independence for their people. 

The New Zealand Government has been a member government of ANZSOG since our inception in 2002. Our work in Aotearoa New Zealand is an important part of our mission to improve public sector leadership and create public value across our ten member jurisdictions. 

Part of that is the acknowledgement of the strength and depth of Māori culture and the efforts made in Aotearoa New Zealand to build models of genuine co-governance that respect Māori knowledge and culture and recognise Māori as a distinct people within Aotearoa New Zealand. 

These efforts have huge relevance for Australian public services as they move to change the way they work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and implement the four priority reforms of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. 

To all our Aotearoa New Zealand colleagues, alumni, and friends, we wish everyone a meaningful and reflective day with family and friends.