“Opposition to co-governance is fuelled by racism, ignorance and fear. And it continues the colonising which asserts European superiority over Indigenous peoples.” — Te Huia Bill Hamilton. (Photo supplied)

Te Huia Bill Hamilton is a Treaty educator and a lead adviser for the National Iwi Chairs Forum. Here he is on co-governance — what it is, why it’s good for us, and the myths around it.


Co-governance has become a hot political issue leading into this election. Opposition to co-governance is fuelled by racism, ignorance and fear. And it continues the colonising which asserts European superiority over Indigenous peoples.

New Zealanders have little knowledge of the Treaty of Waitangi, so we have a perfect environment for people such as Julian Batchelor, Chris Luxon and David Seymour to misinform an ignorant public and to trot out opinions masquerading as facts.

New Zealand also has a high level of tolerance for racism and hate speech, so it’s easy for alarmists to make statements that build on ignorance and fuel fear. We even have a police force that attends their meetings to protect them from citizens who are peacefully protesting against their racist rallies.

What is co-governance?

It’s sharing decision-making over assets, resources, or issues where the government and whānau have shared interests based on the Treaty of Waitangi. For example, there are shared interests in protecting and developing our water supplies, our responses to climate crises, Māori education and health outcomes, and community development.

Co-governance recognises that mātauranga Māori (a Māori worldview) can contribute significantly to the decision-making process and offer solutions that aren’t otherwise available to those in governance roles. It also recognises the relationship created by the Treaty when rangatira invited the Crown to share our land, resources, culture.

Māori never ceded our authority over our lands, territories and resources, but instead of respecting the offer to share, the Crown took everything through the process of colonisation.

Do you believe that our rangatira would, in effect, say to an unknown woman in England: “We no longer want to look after our children, our language, our resources and lands. We want you to do that for us because you’ll do a better job than we can do?”

It’s more likely that our rangatira said: “We’re happy to share what we have with you. We will look after you and we expect you to reciprocate.” That’s an act of rangatiratanga based on manaaki and aroha. That is the essence of co-governance. As Bishop Manu Bennett said: “The Treaty is a promise of two peoples to take the best possible care of each other.”

Co-governance is based on people agreeing to work together. They aren’t forced arrangements. They’re often based on equal representation, but not always. Māori representation is usually provided by mandated entities who are democratically elected by their membership.

Why is co-governance good for us?

Co-governance is inclusive. Although it generally is about the relationship between the Crown and rangatira, it’s a blueprint for inclusion of other groups such as people with disabilities whose mantra is: “Nothing about us without us.”

There are many examples where co-governance is working well — where the people who are sharing decisions and those affected by those decisions are generally highly satisfied. Many claim that co-governance has improved their outcomes.

Co-governance saves the government money. Co-governance respects the Treaty where rangatiratanga and kawanatanga work side by side. Settling breaches of the Treaty costs the government millions and can be avoided by honouring the promises that were made in 1840. The rights and responsibilities that existed in 1840 still exist today.

Co-governance produces sustainable solutions. One of the aims of co-governance is consensus. This means that when a decision is made, everyone owns it and works to make it effective. It unites people around the decision.

By comparison, decisions made by the majority always create an opposition — a group of people dedicated to undermining the decision. While oppositional debate (in parliament, for instance) sometimes has its merits and forces accountability, it wastes a lot of time with petty, oppositional bickering.

Decisions made by one government are often overturned when the opposition becomes government. For example, there are the threats made by the National Party to overturn the government’s approach to Māori health and water reforms.

Co-governance demystifies rangatiratanga. It’s both rangatiratanga and partnership in practice and is distinctly a part of our New Zealand identity. Rangatiratanga is what makes us different from England. It gives us biculturalism and bilingualism.

It’s expressed when we sing the national anthem, when the All Blacks do the haka, when our media people greet us with “Kia ora”, and when our mokopuna come home from school and sing us a new waiata they’ve been taught.

Debunking the myths about co-governance

Most of the claims being made about co-governance aim to tap into the ignorance of many New Zealanders about things Māori for the purpose of creating fear. They’re racist and contribute to ongoing colonisation.

Here are some of the myths doing the rounds right now.

‘Iwi and hapū are private tribal companies’

Wrong. Iwi and hapū were here long before 1840 and their leadership invited Britain to negotiate a treaty. Our rangatiratanga was almost destroyed through colonisation but, since around 1975, we’ve revitalised ourselves and increasingly have the resources to participate fully in our communities.

‘Māori are privileged because of the Treaty’

Wrong again. When Māori signed the Treaty, we expected that we’d keep what we had (our tino rangatiratanga) and also have the same rights (equality, non-discrimination) as British subjects.

Instead, over 90 percent of our lands were taken and we’ve been subjected to discrimination for the past 180 years. Today, we have the worst health, justice, housing and education outcomes of any other group in New Zealand.

Compared to the privileged white males who attack Māori, we are severely underprivileged. The settlement of Treaty grievances returns only 2 percent of what was taken. The remaining 98 percent is gifted back to the state. Despite the hardships, Māori continue to be generous.

‘Māori decision-makers are appointed’

Wrong. Māori governance entities are democratically elected and Māori politics is fierce. We expect high standards of performance, and leaders are summarily dumped when they don’t perform. The governance entities may appoint people to committees, but that’s common practice especially when a specific skill or knowledge set is needed to perform.

‘Co-governance reduces the power of the “majority”’

Possibly. Co-governance reduces the power of white privileged males (who make up the majority of decision-makers) but not the power of most of the population. Co-governance forces everyone to consider not just their own interests, and those who participate in co-governance do so willingly. That’s a good thing.

‘The majority will be disadvantaged including ordinary Māori’

Not so. As Professor Margaret Mutu says: “Rangatiratanga requires us to look after everyone.” Co-governance aims for consensus and, although it may take some time to reach a decision, it’s generally because everyone’s views have been considered and given value.

‘We are not two groups. We are all New Zealanders’

This is true. The Treaty unites us all as one people, but it was built on two worlds coming together. However, colonisation has ensured that we are monocultural — and, until colonisation stops, we won’t truly be united.

The anti-co-governance rhetoric continues to fight for the superiority of English language, governance, and culture. If we can get biculturalism right, we could truly become multicultural —“He iwi kotahi tātou” — united in our diversity.

‘Co-governance is apartheid’

Not at all. Apartheid is when people are forced to live separately, usually by a colonising government. It’s based on the exercise of European-based superiority such as the Dutch and English in South Africa. It ensures that groups of people generally have different outcomes, and there are strict rules around mixing.

Co-governance aims to achieve common goals based on equality and diversity. It’s about sharing power and sharing decision-making.

‘Māori ceded sovereignty to Queen Victoria’

Utterly untrue. There are two texts for the Treaty. The English text was a draft and was an attempt to cede sovereignty. The Treaty (Te Tiriti) that was signed at Waitangi is where rangatira gave the Crown an authority to set up a government (kawanatanga), provided that they consented to Māori keeping their tino rangatiratanga.

Despite the generosity of our ancestors, the Treaty settlement programme is evidence that it was the Crown who failed to honour its promises.

‘The English language will be lost as our “main” language if te reo is used’

Nonsense. Te reo Māori was almost lost because of colonisation. It’s only through the intense efforts of whānau and reo champions that te reo is having a revival. New Zealand is one of a few countries that’s monolingual in practice.

Languages change over time and the English language used today has evolved into New Zealand English which includes some common Māori words.

‘There is a war led by tribal representatives to take over New Zealand’

Rubbish. Māori are disproportionately under-represented in decision-making structures and institutions and are the most disadvantaged group in most sectors such as health, education, housing and justice.

Māori leadership is focused on improving the lives of whānau. That’s our priority. Māori haven’t gained anything without protest, but the protests have always been peaceful. The claims of war are destructive, divisive and wrong.

The racists have got it wrong

Most New Zealanders know that racism causes harm, is bad for the economy, is entrenched in our institutions and breaches the Treaty and human rights.

New Zealanders believe in fairness. And, increasingly, our communities are beginning to understand that the Treaty belongs to all of us, is the founding document of our country, and is a “promise of two peoples to take the best possible care of each other”. There are more people turning out to protest against the Julian Batchelor roadshow than those who attend.

The people who have publicly put their names to the Stop Co-governance campaign have glorified their authority and pat each other on the back. Bruce Moon and John Robinson claim the booklet that Batchelor put together for his roadshow is “well composed” and “well informed”. But, in fact, it’s full of racist rhetoric, just like the books they’ve written about the Treaty. And they’ve been discredited by historians in the education system.

The campaign also provides a platform for the racist cartoonist Garrick Tremain. In the background are Don Brash (Batchelor’s mentor) and Steven Franks (his lawyer). They aim to provide momentum for “the political party which is going to completely abandon co-governance”. Are they talking about Christopher Luxon or David Seymour?

I spoke with David Seymour some months ago, and when I expressed my disbelief at the views he has about the Treaty, he tried to assure me that he’s an intelligent person. He has an engineering degree and, according to him, “you need to be intelligent to be a leader of a political party”.

I’m sure that they’re all intelligent. I’m not so sure that they use their intelligence wisely. However, it doesn’t take much intelligence to convert Treaty and basic human rights into a race issue.

It’s ironic that Seymour’s party is the only one that has declined an invitation to address the National Iwi Chairs Forum to discuss their policies. He has a lot to say about us and the Treaty, but he won’t engage with a group that represents the Treaty partner.

I don’t know what motivates people to actively campaign against tangata whenua participating in decisions over our resources and our issues. Among them are those who stop Māori from attending their anti-co-governance meetings and make hateful statements against Māori. They’re blatantly racist but accuse Māori of being racist.

A Pākehā friend who challenged what was being said at one of these meetings was told that she’s “a disgrace to her race”. One person shouted that “someone should knock her teeth out”. My brother attended a meeting after being invited through his mailbox. (He lives in a posh part of Paraparaumu). When he asked a provocative question, he was told to leave but refused to do so because he’d been invited to attend.

What happened to these white men that makes them so bitter towards Māori? Were they born into privilege, and they don’t like seeing Māori doing well? Were they bullied by Māori when they were boys? Why are they so bitter that they want other New Zealanders to not use te reo? Why are they against Māori providing solutions to our own development?

I can understand that they may not like those things, but what makes them work with missionary zeal to try to prevent others from engaging with the Treaty and things Māori?

Our old people would describe people who looked down on things Māori as “having a mind so narrow that they can look through a keyhole with both eyes”.

I say to these privileged white men: “Step back from the keyhole and walk through the door to embrace the taonga that te ao Māori gives to everyone because of the Treaty. Your mokopuna and your children’s mokopuna are likely to have Māori whakapapa and will reflect on you with derision. He iwi kotahi tātou.”


Te Huia Bill Hamilton (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngā Rauru, Scotland) is a Treaty of Waitangi and human rights specialist and a lead adviser for the National Iwi Chairs Forum. He has spent 25 years educating Pākehā and tauiwi about Te Tiriti through his company Treaty Solutions. 

© E-Tangata, 2023

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