Treaty survey criticism ‘wilful ignorance’

Michael Laws
Michael Laws
An Otago regional councillor has been accused of "wilful ignorance" after he attacked the council over a survey about its Treaty of Waitangi responsibilities.

The survey of councillors is part of an audit which aims to ascertain whether the council, in accordance with the Treaty, operates in a manner consistent with its partnership with mana whenua and practises bicultural approaches within its organisation.

Cr Michael Laws said the council audit showed "a complete misunderstanding of history, the law and the Treaty itself" because the Treaty was signed with the Crown, which meant the Otago Regional Council was not a partner.

The council had bigger priorities and the audit was a "waste of time and resource", he said.

However, other councillors took a different view.

Cr Elliot Weir disagreed with Cr Law’s comments and said whether or not the council  qualified as a Treaty partner was "besides the point".

"The local government gets its power indirectly through the Crown, and the Crown is the symbolic partner in te Tiriti — so it makes sense that we would want to live up to those obligations. 

"At a technical level, I think, he’s not right but he’s not wrong. In terms of what he’s actually saying though, it is wrong — it’s wilful ignorance."

Cr Alexa Forbes felt the survey was "absolutely valid".

"Contrary to Michael, my views are that we have a partnership and we need to respect that partnership, work with it and work within it — that is the best way forward for us representing the environment ..."

Elliot Weir
Elliot Weir
She believed the "No 1 barrier" stopping the council from having a successful Treaty partnership was "the people sitting around the table".

"There’s a few of us who are really pro-extending this partnership and there’s a few of us who aren’t and that’s probably representative of the community at large."

Cr Weir said they could imagine how difficult it would be for mana whenua to work with the council when some councillors  attempted to disrupt that partnership "as much as possible".

Since they began working on the council, there had been many improvements to constructively collaborate with mana whenua, they said.

Te Kura Taka Pini, the Ngāi Tahu freshwater group, was appointed by the council to conduct the survey.

Cr Forbes said it took both sides of the partnership to feel heard and included for it to be successful.

"I would know that a partnership is successful when I have Māori people calling me with questions and concerns about activities of the council. At the moment that never happens.

"I get calls from Pākehā people, especially."

She felt strongly about being an ally of te Tiriti and encouraged Pākehā to "do their work" in understanding a history that  had been "seriously misunderstood".

"I will personally act and behave as a Treaty partner and as an ally to our Māori constituents and an ally of the Treaty."