Democracy and co-governance are not mutually exclusive – Liz Davies

One of the main concerns people seem to have about Three Waters and health system reforms is a perception that democracy is denied in co-governance with Māori.

Concerns seem to be driven by what some of us think we might lose, rather than what we might gain. It seems to also have been framed as co-governance or democracy. Does it have to be one or the other?
New Zealanders have gone to war to protect democracy, and suffragettes successfully fought for women to get the vote.

No political system is perfect, but one of liberal democracy’s most valuable characteristics is its ability to accommodate change from the people.

One of the great things we have done in Aotearoa New Zealand is to peacefully adapt our form of democracy to the fairer, more accountable and representative voting system of mixed member proportional (MMP).

The previous first past the post (FFP) system ended up with the winner taking all the government seats, even when the other runners had more votes. This demonstrates our capacity to work collectively to resolve systemic unfairness.

Democracy is a process rather than an end state. We don’t always get it right, and in dealing with competing interests and agendas we end up with consequences contrary to the values many of us hold – that we want to live in a just and equitable country.

Redressing harmful consequences is a vital part of honouring the social licence; witness the current Royal Commission into Historical Abuse in State Care.

So how well has democracy, our government of the people, by the people, for the people, served Māori who are enshrined in Te Tiriti o Waitangi as partners with the Crown?

A partnership suggests 50:50, while democracy suggests that as Māori are 17 percent of the population (in 2021) then they should only be able to have a 17 percent say in decisions.

Why is the government proposing co-governance or partnership arrangements which, for some, is seen as contrary to democracy? I believe they are doing this to honour their commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi in recognition of past failures to perform its obligations, and in acknowledgement of poorer social, economic and educational outcomes experienced by Māori.

Not only did the Crown fail to perform its obligations under te Tiriti o Waitangi, it went out of its way to breach it, according to former National Party Minister of Treaty Settlements Chris Finalyson.
This included confiscation of land from hapū from the 1850s onwards, criminalising the expression of Māori culture and discouraging the use of Māori language.

In addition to land or whenua being an asset enabling whānau or hapū to survive and trade, Māori have a spiritual connection, that for most Māori was severed due to loss of land.

An example of criminalisation of culture is the Tohunga Suppression Act of 1907 which aimed to replace tohunga as traditional Māori healers with western medicine, the active discouragement of Māori in schools, including physical punishment. In 1913 over 90 percent of Māori schoolchildren could speak the language. By 1975 this figure had fallen to less than 5 percent.

So imagine your house, your land, your capacity to look after your family, your ability to express your identity is taken away from you. This is the impact of colonisation for Māori, a significant factor in explaining why we continue to see lower social, health and educational outcomes for Māori.

This is why grievances are being addressed. Over $2 billion has been distributed in 73 settlements. This is a fraction of the value of what was lost. The Crown freely admits that the settlements can never fully compensate for the true value of loss.

For example, $170 million went to Tainui in the 1990s for the forcible confiscation of the entire Waikato region in the 1860s. The entire value of Treaty settlements over the past 25 years would cover super payments for two months.

While Settlements are imperative to address the wrongs of the past and have enabled iwi and hapū to begin to rebuild, they do not fully compensate for what was lost or address the consequences of colonisation.

Closing the gap between Māori and Pākehā is good for everyone. Increasing equity reduces crime, provides more skilled workers to improve the productivity of the economy, reduces government spending on income support, health care, prisons etc and increases social cohesion.

Should it be one or the other, or could it be a fusion of democracy and co-governance? Perhaps it can be New Zealand Aotearoa’s unique model of democracy-co-governance.

The SociaLink board moved to a co-governance model 18 months ago to give expression to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and in recognition of the inequitable education, social and health outcomes for Māori.

SociaLink has a Māori house and non-Māori house with respective Cco-Chairs and three seats for local iwi. This has worked very well, largely due to the competence and effective working relationship between the Co-Chairs and the increased richness of knowledge, understanding, perspectives and relationships brought to the table for the benefit of all.

As the late Dr Moana Jackson said: “The Treaty to me has never been about Treaty rights;, it’s always been about the rightness that comes from people accepting their obligations to each other. And that was a profound, and I think, visionary base upon which to build a country.”
These words encapsulate what our democracy should be about – embracing ways to honour those obligations to each other as we build a just and equitable society.

There needs to be continued robust, constructive kōrero about the roles of democracy and co- governance without scare mongering and hyperbole.

Liz Davies, General Manager SociaLink