Treaty claim filed over polytechnics merger proposal

Des Ratima, left, next to lawyer Janet Mason. - Photo: RNZ / Māni Dunlop

An Industry Training Organisation (ITO) has filed a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal over "inadequate consultation" with Māori during the government's education reforms.

The proposed reforms could see transferring responsibility for work-based training and apprenticeships to polytechnics, which will be merged into a single new institution.

Some ITOs do not support the reforms and feel consultation, which closed earlier this month was rushed.

Māori success matches or exceeds the non-Māori performance in industry training organisations but fears have been voiced that the changes may threaten this.

Skills Active board member Des Ratima took the claim to the Waitangi Tribunal this morning and said this was an inevitable step because Māori had not been appropriately consulted.

Skills Active Aotearoa is a bicultural organisation with its shareholding divided 50:50 between Māori and non-Māori organisations.

He said the government had breached the Treaty of Waitangi in failing to recognise Māori as a partner in its consultation of the vocational education reforms as well as failing to recognise the mana and tino rangatiratanga over their taonga by reforming and restructuring the sector without adequate engagement with Māori.

"We [Māori] know what good consultation looks like. So when somebody says to you 'you've got six weeks to do it', we are saying from the outset that ain't gonna happen. So do the right thing by this process, if you truly want to engage with us, then do the right thing.

"We asked them to delay the close date for consultation, to give us until June, which we didn't think was a big ask, but the answer was quite clearly 'no'."

Mr Ratima said the claim was a determined effort to say "we are going to do everything we can to stop this because it's so important to Māori and our shareholders are saying the same things".

The lawyer representing Skills Active in the claim, Janet Mason, said the breaches were around Article 2 in Te Tiriti.

"The breaches are of partnership and lack of consultation, lack of good faith and leading into the breach of tino rangatiratanga," she said.

Chris Hipkins, Minister of Education, State Services, and Minister Responsible for Ministerial Services

Minister of Education Chris Hipkins Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

"It is the right of Māori to have their own education system and to exercise their authority over this - obviously with the minister imposing policies over them without adequate consulting that is a breach of the principle of tino rangatiratanga."

The Waitangi Tribunal has received the claim.

Minister of Education Chris Hipkins said in a statement it was not appropriate for him to comment.

But in March when he was asked if he felt Māori were being consulted with meaningfully, he said one of the drivers for reform was to serve Māori better than the system currently did.

Consultation closed on 5 April and submissions are being considered and final recommendations are being developed which will be presented to Cabinet for decision by mid 2019.

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