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New Zealand: Decision on Scope of Crown/Maori Relations Portfolio and Establishment of New Office

(Sept. 25, 2018) On September 18, 2018, the New Zealand government announced that the Cabinet had agreed to the final scope of the Crown/Maori Relations ministerial portfolio and to establish a new agency called the Office for Maori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti. (Press Release, Kelvin Davis, Maori Crown Agency to Be Established (Sept. 18, 2018), New Zealand Government website.) The Crown-Maori Relations portfolio was established in October 2017, shortly after the new Labour Party-led government took office. (See Press Release, Labour Party, Ministers Chart New Course for New Zealand (Oct. 25, 2017).) Following the establishment of the portfolio, public consultation was undertaken regarding the portfolio’s scope. (Crown/Maori Relations, MINISTRY OF JUSTICE (last visited Sept. 21, 2018).)

The term “Crown” “is used frequently in descriptions of New Zealand’s current constitutional arrangements. The meaning of ‘the Crown’ varies according to the context in which it is used. Generally, it describes executive government conducted by Ministers and their departments.” (Sovereign of New Zealand, in Cabinet Office, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Cabinet Manual (2017).)

The new agency will consolidate several existing units and offices within the Ministry of Justice, “including the Crown/Maori Relations Unit, the Office of Treaty Settlements, the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Team and the Settlement Commitments Unit.” (Press Release, Kelvin Davis, supra.) In addition to finishing Treaty of Waitangi settlement negotiations, the new agency will “provide strategic leadership across the public sector” to

  • ensure the Crown meets its Treaty obligations;
  • develop a new engagement model and guidelines for the Government and public sector;
  • co-design partnerships, principles and frameworks to ensure that agencies generate the best solutions to issues affecting Maori;
  • ensure public sector capability is strengthened across the board;
  • provide a cross Government view on the health of the Maori Crown partnerships;
  • provide strategic leadership on contemporary Treaty issues;
  • other matters including the constitutional and institutional arrangements supporting partnerships between the Crown and Maori: and
  • continue to take the lead in organising significant Maori and Crown events, ie Waitangi Day. (Id.)

The Treaty of Waitangi was signed by representatives of the British Crown and Maori chiefs in 1840. It is considered New Zealand’s founding document and part of its constitutional arrangements. (See The Treaty in Brief, NEW ZEALAND HISTORY (last visited Sept. 21, 2018).) Since the late 1980s, the New Zealand government has engaged in direct negotiations with tribes (iwi) throughout the country to settle historical grievances related to breaches of the treaty. The Office of Treaty Settlements was established in 1995 to manage this process on behalf of the government. (See Treaty Timeline – Page 4: Treaty Events Since 1950, NEW ZEALAND HISTORY (last visited Sept. 21, 2018); Office of Treaty Settlements, NEW ZEALAND GOVERNMENT (last visited Sept. 21, 2018).)

Around 61% of all expected treaty settlements have now been completed. (Cabinet Paper, Office of the Minister for Crown/Maori Relations, Initial Scope of the Crown/Maori Relations Portfolio (last visited Sept. 21, 2018).) According to a Ministry of Justice briefing paper, “[o]ne of the greatest risks to the Crown in the post-settlement environment is if settlements are not honoured by the Crown and other redress agencies.” (Ministry of Justice, Crown/Maori Relations, 2017 Briefing to the Incoming Minister 2 (2017).)

The Minister of Justice, Andrew Little, recently stated in Parliament that it was clear that the Treaty of Waitangi had a standing in New Zealand’s legal framework “and we now have to make sure that the legal framework we continue to operate under continues to maintain the status and place of Tiriti o Waitangi.” (Audrey Young, National Questions Need for New Agency Centred on Crown-Maori Partnership, NZ HERALD (Sept. 11, 2018).)

The National Party, currently the main opposition party in New Zealand, has raised questions about the portfolio and the need for a new office, saying it could raise expectations among iwi and Maori organizations that they “will wield more power over government policy.” (Id.) The New Zealand First party, which is part of the coalition government, reportedly caused a delay in the relevant decisions and announcement because it objected to the word “partnership,” which had originally been proposed to be included in the name of the new agency. (Tracy Watkins, Labour Finally Gets Crown Maori Agency over the Line, STUFF.CO.NZ (Sept. 18, 2018); Audrey Young, Government Announces New Maori Crown Relations Agency - Maori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti, NEW ZEALAND HERALD (Sept. 18, 2018).)