One of the few issues which was not raised in the lead-up to the general election was the possibility of a New Zealand constitution.
A formal constitution would provide certainty for, and prudent constraint on, governments and would give confidence and protection for all New Zealanders provided that the constitution could not be amended or repealed without the overwhelming will and mandate of the nation via a binding referendum specifically and solely for that purpose. The fact that some politicians have already said a written, entrenched constitution would be a hindrance to government, suggests it is probably a good idea.
Unfortunately every time the possibility of a New Zealand constitution is raised some ill-informed activists raise the artificial spectre of the Treaty of Waitangi being included, which creates racial divisions.
Such people tend to conveniently overlook the fact that one of the most important principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, and British law, was the right to own property and resources either collectively or privately free from interference of the State. That principle was established by the Magna Carta in 1215, encapsulated in British law in 1582 and simply repeated in article 2 of the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840.
All that Maori people have ever asked for was to be treated the same as all other New Zealanders; to have their pre-1840 individual and tribal property rights recognised and protected as common law rights; and to have the same freedom to manage their own affairs without interference as all other people. Maori have never asked to be treated as special or different; only that those things which properly belonged to them prior to 1840, and which they have not willingly relinquished, should still be safe in their ownership after 1840. That reasonable and lawful expectation has been, and still is, denied them in many instances today. No other sector of New Zealand society would tolerate that imposition.
The reality is that all the essential components of a New Zealand constitution already exist in several statutes, case law and tradition. Some of them, such as the Freedom of Information Act (1982) and Bill of Rights Act (1990), are relatively well-known, but other elements can be difficult to find and identify. Former prime minister Sir Geoffrey said Parliament had legislated to remove rights, guaranteed by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act of 1990, no less than 37 times, which was an indication of how fragile New Zealand’s constitutional system currently was.
Sir Geoffrey has co-written a 40-page document which pulls together all the current rights and freedoms of the country and added privacy, property, environment and education rights. It would empower the courts to enforce citizens’ rights, but differ from the United States as it would still give politicians the final say provided a majority of 75% of parliamentarians supported any changes.
Pulling all the existing laws which protect us from political exploitation together into a single, all-encompassing, entrenched and supreme document is both logical and long overdue.