'Mischief' over Maori sovereignty comments

175 years after the Treaty, where is NZ at?

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Labour leader Andrew Little has denied saying New Zealand Maori should self-govern after the issue of sovereignty was raised at Waitangi Day commemorations.

During the weekend Little proposed exploring the idea of Maori sovereignty following a finding by the Waitangi Tribunal last year but today he watered down the comments saying it was simply a conversation that needed to be had.

"What I did on our national day, the day when we ought to be thinking of our citizenship, our statehood, our nationhood, I talked about an issue that is current."

The Waitangi Tribunal report, released in November,  found Maori leaders did not cede sovereignty over New Zealand when they signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, but agreed to share power and authority with the British Crown.

Little says the least that should be done on the back of the report was to have a discussion and try and understand the meaning of it all.

"It's not about abandoning what we've got now or abandoning a fully functioning democratic country, which we've got."

He said the lesson learnt in the last 175 years was that issues raised under the Treaty couldn't simply be ignored.

Prime Minister John Key has accused Little of advancing "separatism" with his comments, which he could not see New Zealanders supporting.

The Treaty was signed "for modern New Zealand", to create unity.

"It's a very slippery slope, because you'll get lots of people who argue when it's convenient for them, that it gives them unilateral decision­ making rights in certain areas," Key said.

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Plenty of Maori were already part of power sharing agreements, which was "not self-governance, it's administration of the contract," Key said.

"We do that with lots of providers.

"That's very different from saying they're outside of the rules and can self-determine the rules themselves."

Little denied he wanted to create a separatist state, and said Key made a "statement of desperation" in claiming he did.

It was not about separate law-making powers for Maori, but about having a discussion about what the Waitangi Tribunal finding meant.

"That's as far as it goes,"Little said today on Radio New Zealand's Morning Report.

"We are a stable, functioning democracy - nobody is suggesting that gets put at risk.

"But the history of the Treaty of Waitangi is that issues come up and we have to be bold enough, and mature enough, to discuss them without resorting to the sort of things the prime minister is."

In other situations Maori had been able to have a say over things that were important to them, including in the co-governance model of the Waikato River.

There was "a huge level of mischief" in Key's response, Little said.

"This stuff doesn't go away. John Key and his government can be as dismissive as he likes, but this stuff doesn't go away," he said.

"We've got to be big enough and we've got to have leaders bold enough to say the issue is there, so let's sit down and have a talk about it."

Key will deliver his prime minister's statement today, marking the start of the parliamentary year.

He indicated to reporters yesterday he planned to address Little's comments on Maori sovereignty in his speech to the House.

 - Stuff

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