THE ADVOCATES OF CO-GOVERNANCE clearly believe it to be an idea whose hour has come. But, such is the temper of the times New Zealanders are living through, that co-governance is not an idea which has had to withstand very much in the way of serious interrogation. Given its potential to divide the New Zealand population, this is not only unfortunate, but also bears grim witness to this country’s intellectual timidity. An idea that could tear this country apart surely merits much closer examination?
Such an examination cannot proceed, however, without making one vital assumption. The Treaty of Waitangi must be accepted – in the face of overwhelming contemporary evidence to the contrary – as a “partnership” between the British Crown and the tangata whenua of “Aotearoa”. This is crucial. If the Treaty was not a document dedicated to the principle of partnership, then it cannot also be a document mandating the co-governance of New Zealand.
Co-governance is being presented to us as the constitutional and political expression of “the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi”. If, as was generally accepted for nearly a century-and-a-half, the Treaty simply documents its signatories’ voluntary cession of sovereignty to the British Crown; the latter’s reciprocal pledge to respect both the materially and culturally sustaining resources of the indigenous communities; and the Crown’s granting to these communities of the full and equal protection of British Law – then its “principles” encompass no more than the unambiguous transfer of power from a weaker party to a stronger.
Obviously, it is impossible to extract co-governance from such an arrangement. The concept has meaning only if the Treaty itself is held to encompass something entirely different.
But this assumption does not make things any easier. If the signatories to the Treaty truly believed that it made them co-governors of New Zealand, alongside the official representatives and subjects of Queen Victoria, then the subsequent development of co-governance is fraught with difficulties and dangers.
Twelve years after the signing of the Treaty, when their numbers were roughly co-equal with those of the Māori, the subjects of Queen Victoria – manfully assisted by her official representatives – were granted a substantial measure of self-government. It did not take the Māori tribes very long to work out that they were constitutionally subsumed within this devolution of Royal authority. Bluntly, the Pakeha settlers believed themselves empowered to rule not only themselves, but Māori too. The idea of co-governance (assuming it had ever existed at all) seemed to have melted away like the morning mist.
It is possible, of course, to construe the history of the decade following the granting of self-government in 1853, and the outbreak of war between the settler government and the Māori tribes living in the territory immediately south of Auckland in 1863, as an attempt to construct a political vehicle capable of embedding the concept of co-governance in New Zealand’s nascent constitutional arrangements.
The attempt to create a Māori monarchy – the Kingitanga – made this desire for co-governance explicit. But the fate of the King Movement: military defeat and occupation, and the forfeiture of the participating tribes’ lands, forests and fisheries; makes it crystal clear what the colonial authorities thought of the co-governance concept. So, too, did the British Government, whose dispatch of more than 10,000 imperial troops, to enforce the will of the colonists, made the overpowering of the Māori proponents of co-governance inevitable.
Exposed in the course of the New Zealand Wars was the brutal political reality that, as the Romans discovered, there can be only one emperor in the empire. Duumvirs have a nasty habit of being reduced to single figures. As the heroes of the movie Highlander were fond of saying: “There can be only one.”
With the example of the 1850s and 60s in front of them, the proponents of co-governance in twenty-first century New Zealand should have no illusions about what lies ahead if the concept acquires the political solidity of the Kingitanga prior to General Cameron’s arrival.
And, thanks to the historical ignorance and constitutional naivety of the Sixth Labour Government, it is acquiring political solidity – with astonishing speed.
But, as co-governance becomes entrenched constitutionally, in the same way the ideas of the British settlers concerning the nature of the New Zealand state became entrenched in the 1850s, then its proponents need to be very clear about what is likely to happen next. The descendants of the settlers, and the inheritors of their colonial institutions – which includes the democratic political system itself – will, like the Māori before them, do all within their power to preserve the material and cultural properties by which they and their ancestors were, and are, uplifted and sustained.
In other words, they will fight.
There really is no other way the co-governance story can end.
Just as any dispassionate historian cannot avoid the conclusion that the settler government, adamant that it would not share power with the Māori, set out to provoke and prosecute a war of conquest against the only concentration of indigenous political, economic and military strength remotely capable of thwarting its plans to build a “Better Britain”, the Kingitanga; it is equally impossible to avoid the conclusion that those elements of the political class, academia, the judiciary, the bureaucracy and the news media; all the allies of the new Māori middle-class and the neo-tribal capitalists they serve; are equally aware that their plans to restore “Aotearoa” can only be imposed by dismantling “New Zealand” – and subduing all who still believe in her.
The proponents of co-governance have no genuine intention of sharing power with those who refuse to accept their understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi. Their purpose is the same as the Crown’s and the settlers’ armies that invaded the Waikato in 1863: to wield power.