With PM Kevin Rudd formally apologising to the "Stolen Generations" of Aboriginal people in Australia, and large Aboriginal groups already putting their hands up for what they expect will be a large amount of coin, it made me want to relook at what our cousins across the Tasman decided to do.
On Feb 6 1840, Captain William Hobson and 40 Māori leaders signed a treaty which would not only end conflict between British settlers but almost more importantly, in-fighting between the Māoris themselves who at best were a disorganised rabble and at worst virtually on the brink of "civil" war.
The Treaty itself was translated into both English and Māori and because the prevailing thought that a complicated document would be difficult to understand, it was deliberately kept quite short and consisted of only three articles.
The first article grants the Queen of the United Kingdom sovereignty over New Zealand.
The second article guarantees to the chiefs full "exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties." It also specifies that Māori will sell land only to the Crown.
The third article guarantees to all Māori the same rights as all other British subjects.
So even in 1840 the Māori were recognised as being a separate people but still with full rights. This contrasts heavily with the Australian Aborigines who weren't even counted on the census until 1967.
The treaty although itself not a legal document or even ratified by any due legal process is still very much a symbolic feature of New Zealand politics. The Māori themselves have 7 of 110 seats in parliament which are exclusively sat in and voted for by Māoris; this doesn't excluded Māoris from running for other seats in the parliament (in theory the same Māori candidate could run as a local, party and a Māori candidate for the same election and win all 3).
In 1990 the then Labour Government outlined what it called the "Principles for Crown Action on the Treaty of Waitangi" after a push for a formal solidification of Waitangi. In the end it was decided that the treaty was best left in an ambiguous state but that certain basic premises and principles be accepted as a logical outflow.
The Principle of Government or the Kawanatanga Principle
Article 1 gives expression to the right of the Crown to make laws and its obligation to govern in accordance with constitutional process. This sovereignty is qualified by the promise to accord the Māori interests specified in article 2 an appropriate priority. This principle describes the balance between articles 1 and 2: the exchange of sovereignty by the Māori people for the protection of the Crown. It was emphasised in the context of this principle that ‘the Government has the right to govern and make laws’.
The Principle of Self-Management (the Rangatiratanga Principle)
Article 2 guarantees to Māori hapū (tribes) the control and enjoyment of those resources that it is their wish to retain. The preservation of a resource base, restoration of tribal self-management, and the active protection of rights, both material and cultural, are necessary elements of the Crown’s policy of recognising rangatiratanga.
The Principle of Equality
Article 3 constitutes a guarantee of legal equality between Māori and other citizens of New Zealand. This means that all New Zealand citizens are equal before the law. Furthermore, the common law system is selected by the Treaty as the basis for that equality, although human rights accepted under international law are also incorporated. Article 3 has an important social significance in the implicit assurance that social rights would be enjoyed equally by Māori with all New Zealand citizens of whatever origin. Special measures to attain that equal enjoyment of social benefits are allowed by international law.
The Principle of Reasonable Cooperation
The Treaty is regarded by the Crown as establishing a fair basis for two peoples in one country. Duality and unity are both significant. Duality implies distinctive cultural development while unity implies common purpose and community. The relationship between community and distinctive development is governed by the requirement of cooperation, which is an obligation placed on both parties by the Treaty. Reasonable cooperation can only take place if there consultation on major issues of common concern and if good faith, balance, and common sense are shown on all sides. The outcome of reasonable cooperation will be partnership.
The Principle of Redress
The Crown accepts a responsibility to provide a process for the resolution of grievances arising from the Treaty. This process may involve courts, the Waitangi Tribunal, or direct negotiation. The provision of redress, where entitlement is established, must take account of its practical impact and of the need to avoid the creation of fresh injustice. If the Crown demonstrates commitment to this process of redress, it will expect reconciliation to result.
The simple fact of the matter is that in New Zealand, a proper effort has been made to recognise the rights of its indigenous peoples at a national and cultral level. There are about 633,000 Māoris living in New Zealand or about 1.4% of the population. The Australian Aborigines only number 455,000 according to the 2006 census or 0.02% of Australia's total population.
Now it could be argued that if all that the Aborginal people are after is simple monetary compensation then perhaps the expense would rest the issue, though given the success of ATSIC and the subsequent ATSIS bodies, one wonders whether the money would be used for little more than private expenses.
I personally can't see why we can't learn from the New Zealand example and install permanent exclusive Aborginal places in both the House of Reps and the Senate (though the issue of the balance of power comes into effect with dealocked parliaments). Also, the principles adopted by the New Zealand government I think are both fair and resonable and practice has shown that they have never been argued with in New Zealand. Does this mean that our cousins across the Tasman might be correct when they view Australia as the stupid big brother with a bigger backyard?
"The Chicken or The Beef?"
Now there's a vexed conundrum!