Speech: Karen Chhour

Real Change Now, SkyCity Theatre, 4 June 2023

Thanks, Everyone.

First and foremost… I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of you. The news of being chosen to speak to you today led me to reflect on the remarkable journey that brought our exceptional team together on that unforgettable election night in 2020.  These past 2 ½ years have been an absolute privilege for me, and I am so grateful for the opportunity I have been given to serve you… So, before we get on to anything else, please allow me to just say, ‘thank you’.

It takes me back to the day when I took to the stage… And made my very first speech at our "Dare to be different campaign".  I spoke to the issues that compelled me to stand for ACT…  Well, the words "Dare to be different" have never rung truer for me!

Our team consistently dares to challenge this government when they continuously introduce divisive laws and regulations to parliament. 

We travel the country to hear the concerns of the people, and no matter where we go… there is real concern expressed about the division being caused by co-governance and Treaty obligations being introduced into almost every law and workplace.

People are increasingly worried about the direction this government is taking us… And even more so about the potential consequences of what a new coalition of Labour… propped up by the Greens…AND the Māori Party.  Can you imagine?

What is even more concerning is that we have got to the point where honest conversations can no longer be had through fear of being ‘cancelled’… or being labelled a ‘bigot’… or  ‘racist’.  This doesn’t unify…  It DIVIDES us.

I have heard from real estate agents asking me why they now have to take an hour and a half course on the treaty… Just to maintain their real estate license.

I have heard from caregivers who offer up their homes to children in need, being told they are not wanted… because they cannot provide for the kids' “cultural needs”.

Some have even had kids removed from them for the same reason.

People who can no longer build or do what they need on their property without considering the concerns of local iwi.

It is not enough to stand on the side-lines here.  If something is wrong… It falls to US to say so.

My colleague Nicole McKee just a week or so ago challenged the government when they introduced a law to get tougher on fleeing drivers.  The government quietly added that they were concerned that because this may disproportionately affect young Māori men… it may breach the treaty, so they added in discretion when implementing the law.

 Nicole was absolutely correct when she told them this was absolute nonsense. The police have a hard enough time as it is… without adding this kind of racial profiling nonsense into their role.

Simon Court has spent many hours battling the issues around co-governance in the Three Waters legislation… along with the issues in local councils and their boards.

And I currently have a bill that will be debated very soon regarding removing section 7aa from the Oranga Tamariki Act.

Why is this important?  Well, this section obligates them to abide by the treaty in ALL the decision-making surrounding vulnerable children.

I firmly believe our child welfare system should be 100% color-blind.  Full stop.  And the well-being and safety of kids should be front and centre in making decisions around a young person's care.

I have heard too many stories – and I have too much experience to know - where this is just not happening… and the only people to suffer are the kids.

The simple truth is, they deserve better.

I could go through every portfolio and give examples of where treaty obligations have been added into law with no explanation of what this means or how it will work.

And this is why ACT has consistently stood up against the undemocratic laws, which have been passed through parliament with either minimal - or NO consultation - with the majority of New Zealanders.

I have and will continue to speak out against the idea that we need to be a te Tiriti-centric country…

Where individuals must align themselves strictly as either tangata whenua or tangata Tiriti….

Where there is no middle ground or third option, and you are forced to pick a side.

What does that mean for people like my children, who have a diverse and unique mix of ethnicities woven together to create who we are?  They deserve better, too.

Unfortunately, I have experienced FIRST hand the disheartening reality of being regarded primarily for my identity rather than as an individual.  My husband and I have spent our lives working hard and grabbing onto any opportunities we could to create a better future… Not only for ourselves but for our children… And theirs too.

As their mum, I refuse to let them grow up in a society where they are required to justify their identities imposed upon them by politicians who claim the authority to define who they truly are.

I find it incredibly difficult to swallow what is being sold to us as ‘the right thing to do’… How much longer will future generations have to endure the consequences of past mistakes?

Let’s be clear:  ACT has no issue with the Treaty.  We think it's a great document that has unfortunately been reinterpreted over the years to mean something completely different from what was originally intended.

That is why ACT has always supported treaty settlements because the wrongs of the past should be recognized and compensated for.  This is done in a way we can agree with… The parties affected come together in good faith… And come out of the process with EVERYONE understanding what their rights and obligations are.

Doesn’t that sound like common sense to you?

Instead, what this government is doing now is having conversations with a tiny number of unrepresentative people… And then telling the rest of us, ‘this is how it's going to be’… With no real explanation of what it means or how it's going to work.

So, what would be different with ACT in a position to make real change in this area?

We are a party that believes in universal human rights.

As a matter of principle, no person should be treated differently based on who their ancestors were… The colour of their skin… Or their beliefs or religion.  One person, one vote.  It’s that simple.

In order to restore these universal human rights… We would repeal any laws that give different rights based on identity… Such as the Three Waters legislation…

local government representation legislation…

Elements of the Pae Ora legislation…

As well as section 7aa of the Oranga Tamariki Act.

We would get the public service to focus on issues using robust evidence instead of race-based policymaking… With devolution and choice for ALL.

Recent examples of this would be the Equity Index policy for school funding and charter schools.

Then, most importantly, we would introduce a Treaty Principles Bill that will define what the treaty means. It's not hard - It means what it says and says what it means:

  1. The New Zealand Government has the right to govern New Zealand.
  2. The New Zealand government will protect all New Zealanders' authority over their land and property. This is as stated in the Māori version "Ki nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani te tino rangatiratanga." There is no mention of rights belonging to a particular ethnicity or race in Article 2 of the Treaty. In the Treaty, Queen Victoria promises 'te tino rangatiratanga' of their lands not just to the rangatira and hapū but to 'all the inhabitants of New Zealand.'
  3. All New Zealanders are equal under the law, with the same rights and duties. ("Ngā tikanga katoa rite tahi.")

We believe that by having an open… honest… and transparent conversation with all New Zealanders about this issue, it will take the feeling of division away… And we can move forward together to create a better and brighter future.

Now, I have spoken about this issue many times, and I will continue to do so for as long as it takes.

This is not just dividing Māori and non-Māori; this is causing division among Māori themselves. We have people in Parliament right now who would like to propose that they speak for all Māori…. But this is simply untrue.

I, for one, would like the right to just be me without being told that I am not the right kind of Māori. I am, at the end of the day, a proud New Zealander who happens to be Māori.

Our next generation deserves better than what's on offer right now.

We need real change for the better. As I sat around the table on Mother's Day, I took a moment to look at how lucky I was.  I was surrounded by family that came to this country with nothing and created an amazing future for their kids and now my kids as well.

Four generations and four different ethnic backgrounds… All sitting at a table, with very different stories but all together laughing and smiling.  This is the real story of New Zealand.

I hope one day we can get back to this as a country, as our journeys in life make us who we are.

Every child is born with a clean slate… They become what they see and hear around them. They deserve to grow up in a country that values them based on who they are, not who their ancestors were.

Together, our team is growing… And will continue to stand strong against the divisive, self-interested forces of identity politics.

We strive for a New Zealand where unity prevails over division… where individuality is celebrated… and where our shared values bind us as one.

So, let us forge ahead this year…  unwavering in our resolve to shape a future that truly reflects the aspirations and dreams of all New Zealanders.

Thank you all.

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