ACT Party leader David Seymour says he doesn’t see the highly contentious Treaty Principles Bill as divisive, and any suggestion to the contrary is “code for ‘I don’t want to talk about it'”.

It comes as Seymour, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon’s coalition partner, was on Friday announced as an Associate Justice Minister with responsibility for the Treaty Principles Bill. He took over the responsibility for the issue from Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith.

The proposed bill would see the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi redefined.

Seymour doubled down in his defence of the bill as he delivered his State of the Nation address to party faithful at Auckland’s Westhaven Marina this morning.

He said in recent decades, New Zealand has been told to become a “Tiriti-centric” country where there are two types of people in partnership – tangata whenua and tangata tiriti – who “each have different political and legal rights”.

“This is not only untrue, it is incompatible with the fundamental democratic value that all citizens are equal under the law,” he said.

“This divisive idea has been fuelled by unelected bureaucrats and judges promoting a ‘partnership’ interpretation of our founding document.”

Seymour said when it comes to the Treaty of Waitangi, “we as a country have a simple choice to make”.

“We can either believe that the Treaty of Waitangi created a partnership between races, as some say, or we can believe that it delivers what it says itself in the Māori version: ngā tikanga katoa rite tahi – the same rights and duties. That is the fundamental question.”

Seymour said instead of hinting at violence or calling someone “racist” when disagreeing with the bill, people should “try dialogue like adults”.

“Instead, you could just answer this: If the Treaty is a partnership between the Crown and only Māori, then what is the place of a child born in this country today who is not Māori? Are they born into second class citizenship as tangata tiriti, where some roles in public life are not available to them because they have the wrong ancestors?

“If the answer to that is yes, then where are the successful societies that treat people differently based on their ancestry? What is your model for the future of New Zealand based on those Treaty principles?

“If the answer is no, then we have a bright future, but it requires casting off the divisive notion that the Treaty is a partnership between races, between tangata whenua on the one hand and tangata tiriti on the other, and embracing the Treaty as a commitment to all New Zealanders having freedom under the rule of law.”

He told reporters following his speech that he expects his coalition partners will support the bill if it receives public support.

“Ultimately, if we say the Treaty Principles Bill is divisive, what we’re really saying is we can’t do anything where people disagree in this country, and that’s one of the biggest problems – we’ve lost the ability to disagree agreeably.”

Seymour said he expected Waitangi Day celebrations to be more tense than in previous years because of comments “that some people have made”, adding that he was “a bit worried” at the idea that Māori all have the same beliefs on the Treaty.

“We actually all think differently. We’ve got to stop framing everyone’s identity through a racial lens like that,” he said.

“There are some in Māoridom who are upset, there are some in Māoridom who are very happy. We will deal with everyone as humans.”

Seymour added he hopes more people go to Waitangi, because “when you’re there, it’s a lot more positive than some people would think”.

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