Making the Treaty work


Dr Matthew Palmer, 2005 New Zealand Law Foundation International Research Fellow.

The Treaty of Waitangi is our nation’s founding document – but what does it mean to our lives today?

Ongoing debate over interpreting the Treaty has made its legal status unclear and inconsistent. Arguably it should form part of our unwritten constitution – but if it did, where would it fit?

In this academically robust and readable book, Dr Matthew Palmer tackles these issues and offers clear ideas about the place of the Treaty in New Zealand’s legal framework.

Dr Matthew Palmer

His book, The Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand’s Law and Constitution, was written with funding from the Law Foundation.

“The time has come to stabilise the Treaty’s place in our constitution and law,” Dr Palmer says. “Uncertainty about who should resolve the meaning of the Treaty could lead to knee-jerk reactions to particular issues. These reactions could badly damage relationships between the Crown, Maori and other New Zealanders.

“The book proposes ways to address these issues. But more importantly, open honest and public debate is needed about the issues, options and solutions, before the next set of problems flares up.”

Launching Dr Palmer’s book in 2008, Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias hailed it as being “of the greatest practical importance to our society and its future direction.”

“What (Matthew) Palmer suggests is a shared responsibility in addressing the meaning of the treaty in New Zealand today. It is not going to go away. As Sir Robin Cooke said in one case, ‘a nation cannot cast adrift from its own foundations’,” Dame Sian said.

The book gained many favourable reviews, and won the Legal Research Institute’s JF Northey Prize for best legal book of 2008. It has been widely read since, and has been cited in Parliamentary debates on Treaty issues.

Dr Palmer was an academic when he wrote this book, having finished his term as Pro Vice Chancellor and Dean of Law at Victoria University. He had previously been involved in Treaty negotiations and coordinating Treaty strategy for the Crown as a senior Government official. He has also taught and written about the Treaty and comparative indigenous peoples’ rights in New Zealand and North America. He is currently Deputy Solicitor-General (Public Law).

Further information about Dr Palmer’s book “The Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand’s Law and Constitution”

Dr Palmer was the 2005 New Zealand Law Foundation International Research Fellow.

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