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Co-governance emerges on the national stage 

In brief

  • As soon as Jacinda Ardern resigned, co-governance emerged as an election-year topic
  • Newly minted PM Chris Hipkins admitted people are confused and purports to be stepping away from pushing co-governance to focus on inflation. 
  • National’s Chris Luxon says the Government hasn’t been up front about what their intentions are with co-governance and asserts that NZ has only one government. 

The difference between Labour and National on co-governance

In his first press conference after being made leader of the Labour Party, Chris Hipkins acknowledged there was confusion regarding his Government’s policies towards co-governance.

Admitting that Labour had been taking on too many issues, Hipkins said his party will be paring back and refocusing on the cost of living crisis affecting New Zealand.

Many have speculated there will be a showdown within the party between the Māori Caucus and other MPs if the brakes are tapped on co-governance and numerous other changes justified by Labour’s interpretation of the Treaty, which were implemented aggressively under Ardern.

Policies like Three Waters that include co-governance are increasingly unpopular with Kiwis. A recent Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll found 70% of Kiwis oppose Three Waters. According to the pollsters, the majority base their concerns on local accountability and control.

A few days later, National Party leader Chris Luxon made his Party’s position clear on the matter in his address during the three-day Rātana festival in January of 2023, which traditionally marks the kickoff of the political year. Luxon was challenged by the Māori King Movement’s Rahui Papa that the National Party neither fear co-governance nor fear “losing power”.

Luxon said of National’s policy that the “principal objection” towards co-governance is because New Zealand has one government. He said co-governance is not an appropriate concept to apply to the delivery of taxpayer funded public services. Luxon has been criticised by centrists and those on the right in the past for signalling a willingness to work in “partnership” with Māori and iwi.

Luxon said the issue “has been messily handled and explained by this Government because they haven’t been up front on such a big constitutional issue.” He also said the conversation regarding co-governance over the past few years had been “divisive and immature.”

Davidson says Luxon’s position is “weird” 

Green Party’s co-leader Marama Davidson called Luxon’s remarks “weird”. Davidson said co-governance was about tino rangatiratanga (chieftainship). 

The oft referenced concept of “a partnership” emerged from the 1987 Lands case. This case did not say it was a partnership, rather that some duties, like the need to consult, were akin to a partnership. Similar to the Treaty, the guidance from this case is very general. 

Indeed, general concepts are the norm for documents that are so foundational. The Lands case had nothing to do with the delivery of government programs, but the Labour Government has argued co-governance within the health and water systems (Three Waters) is essential for Treaty compliance.

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