Jan 20, 2013

Fact checking David Round

The first rule of fact checking is that everything you read, hear and see is wrong. The second rule of fact checking is everything you read, hear and see is wrong. The third rule of fact checking is, well, you know what it is. In American politics fact checking is a lucrative business. FactCheck.org, PolitiFact.com and The Fact Checker at the Washington Post are built around verifying the claims and counter-claims of politicians, writers and commentators. PolitiFact uses the Truth-O-Meter while the Washington Post dishes our Pinocchios. Fact checking is less important in New Zealand politics, but the rise of Treaty obstructionists, falsifiers and denialists provide plenty of material for local fact checkers. Example: Treaty Rights a trap in constitution plan by David Round.

Round bases his piece on a tenuous premise: he assumes the Constitutional Review Panel will recommend that the Treaty and Treaty principles be incorporated into supreme law and the government will implement that recommendation. That assumption runs against political logic.* There are no ideological, pragmatic or popular imperatives that demand the government incorporate the Treaty and Treaty principles in to a new constitution. Doing so would amount to legislating against the National Party’s base. Only 57% of New Zealanders agree that the “Treaty is for all New Zealanders” and 59% agree that the Treaty is our founding document – but subtract for Maori responses and that figure is likely to fall below 50%. Those numbers do not demand movement from the government. After all, the Prime Minister is a pragmatist, not a Maori supremacist in a Merril Lynch suit.

For the sake of it, let’s assume that the Prime Minister and National aren’t pragmatists. Even then, neither conservative nor neoliberal ideology would allow a Treaty based constitution. Conservatives value custom, convention and continuity. A Treaty based constitution represents foundational change – the antonym of custom, convention and continuity. The same offence is made against Neoliberalism. Neoliberal dogma prescribes the supremacy of free markets and the individual. A Treaty based constitution transfers significant power to the collective – and a mainly proletarian collective at that – and that could impede the market. I must have a dry imagination, but I can’t see committed conservatives (like English and Burrows) and faithful neoliberals (like Key and Joyce) adopting kaupapa Maori politics.

Pragmatism and ideology aside, Round makes a number of more fundamental mistakes. He claims that the word taonga meant “physical property” in 1840 as opposed to “anything Maori might take a fancy” (sloppy dog-whistle). Well, Te Puni Kokiri holds that taonga “was a more abstract and wide ranging term than the ‘properties’ in the English text”. The article also mentions that taonga has been translated as meaning “treasures” or “all things highly prized”.** Both translations can be read in the abstract. Matthew Palmer writes that taonga “may be more than objects of tangible value”.*** Again, there is an abstract value to the word. In any case, I was taught that taonga has and always has had an abstract meaning. It isn’t confined to western notions of physical property.

Round also claims that “Parliament has been our undisputed supreme lawmaker for centuries”. Well, again, that’s wrong. The United Kingdom Parliament granted self-government to New Zealand in 1852 and created the “General Assembly of New Zealand”. However, the UK Act establishing our General Assembly placed substantive restrictions on that body’s law making power. Academic Bruce Harris wrote that the Act “ensured that the local legislature would remain subservient to that at Westminster”.**** Our Parliament didn’t acquire full law-making power until 1947 with the passage of the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1947.***** So, actually, our Parliament has only “been our undisputed supreme law maker” for going on 66 years. Well less than the “centuries” that Round seems to think. No law lecturer should make such a rudimentary mistake.

Round also says that:

The Treaty's words are now twisted to mean their exact opposite. The Treaty said Maori and settler were to be equals under the Queen's government. In Captain Hobson's words, "Now we are one people". But by the modern "principles", "Maori" are not the Queen's subjects but her "partners" in governing New Zealand.

Round doesn’t provide any example of what words are “twisted to mean their exact opposite”. That’s because he can’t. The meaning of the Treaty is well established. Round also misrepresents what is meant by partnership. The Treaty is probably best viewed as a “developing social contract” rather than a tight legal contract (like a commercial contract). Partnership, in the sense of a social contract, doesn’t mean Maori should or do have a 50/50 say in how New Zealand is run, rather the Crown and Maori (broadly speaking) must act reasonably and in good faith. Round is deliberately scaremongering.

Round goes on and on, providing fallacious examples of how the Treaty principles will doom the country. It’s John Ansell-esque. He couldn’t resist the racist slur that “a lot of child support – must surely be a Treaty right”. He expounds on the effects of Treaty principles like he’s some sort of Oracle. It’s bat-shit crazy. I can handle strong opposition to the Treaty, but it has to be well reasoned - not half-baked Anglophilia.

Ultimately, the most worrying piece of the article isn’t anything Round wrote – it’s this:

David Round teaches law at the University of Canterbury.

Post-Script: I had a laugh where Round accuses Chief Justice Elias of treason and labels her a "usurper". He didn't provide an example of her treason, just threw down a platitude.

*For a lesson in political logic, American politics provides an instructive example. The Democratic Party enjoyed a near monopoly on the Southern States from the 1870s to the 1960s. In part due to the party’s defence of slavery, partly due to their defence of Jim Crow laws and partly due to economic policies that were perceived to favour Southern interests and industry. However, after Democratic President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, he is supposed to have turned to his press secretary and said that the Democrats “have lost the South for a generation.” Johnson went against political logic (but not the moral imperative) and electoral realignment followed. Southern conservatives who opposed civil rights and integration fled to the Republicans Party. As a result, the Republicans implemented their “Southern strategy” and have dominated presidential politics from Nixon to Ford, Reagan, Bush and Bush II. Without such a powerful moral imperative, why would the Nats risk electoral realignment.

** See He Tirohanga o Kawa kite Tiriti o Waitangi (Wellington, 2001).

***See M S R Palmer The Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand’s Law and Constitution (Victoria University Press, Wellington, 2008).

****Refer to B V Harris “The Law-Making Powers of the New Zealand General Assembly: Time to Think About Change” (1984) 5 Otago Law Review 565-571 (Harris is a former Dean of Law at Otago and Auckland and a Harvard graduate).

*****That same year the UK Parliament passed the New Zealand Constitution (Amendment) Act allowing our Parliament to regulate its own composition. The final step in the acquisition of full law-making powers.  


  1. Actually Round says: "The "taonga" Maori were promised are now not just their physical property - what the word undoubtedly meant in 1840 - but anything Maori might take a fancy to."

    'Undoubtedly' is a curious word, as, despite its literal meaning, it actually adds doubt to a assertion. Inserting the word 'undoubtedly" suggests he doesn't really know - he is asserting something rather than stating a fact. Much of Round's writing displays attempts to try and confuse assertions and facts. Something you learn to do as a lawyer I guess.

    Sam Buchanan

    1. Hi Sam,

      Opinion writers often dress assertions in factual clothing. It's a routine technique - something you learn through experience in the year nine debating team or in NCEA English.

      As for undoubtedly, I don't buy your argument. The literal meaning of the word is clear (as you know): undoubtedly = without doubt; certainly' accepted as beyond question and so on. It's counterintuitive to use the word in any other sense. Even if we were to consider the ordinary usage of the word and the surrounding context, you cannot say that the word is used to introduce doubt. The word is ordinarily used to give a claim the force of fact.

  2. I asked a few of the Maori Advisory officers if Canterbury university is suitable for my daughters education if this is the opinion of the university that Maori New Zealanders are all on child support. Also if my daughters education would involve hating this country's founding national document. People complained about Margaret Mutu's comments who privately criticised overseas white supremacists yet David round is allowed to publish racist remarks in the NZ herald about his fellow countrymen.

    1. I would stay well away from Canterbury - I'd even keep my distance if I wasn't Maori. I can't imagine how bad the Maori students in his classes are made to feel. Told that their people are bludgers and extortionists. What a disgraceful institution.

    2. I am a Maori arts/commerce student who's shortly about to begin studying law at U.C. and will have Round for one of the papers I'm taking.

      After seeing him participate in last year's Vice-Chancellor's Debate (topic: Should the treaty be abolished?), I'm sure I can look forward to an entertaining display from this eccentric Anglophile. His vitriol is symptomatic of a wider misunderstanding of Maoridom and the idea of cultural-relativism, I don't fret about this down to the individual level because gains in these areas will only be made with policy which addresses the issue at the largest scale (you're always going to come across the odd redneck).
      Round's columns are only influential in skewing dinner-table views, they don't ever hold up to thoughtful review (as your post has shown).

      The university is currently in some strife, but I don't think it would be a fair reflection to judge the academic staff by the ramblings of one looney - even if they think it fit for him to teach a bunch of impressionable young law students. I trust my peers and I will apply the critical thinking that [I assume good law students will require if they wish to become good lawyers] will see the exposition of flaws in Round's argument.

      Round aside, having studied at both VUW and Canterbury I can safely say the support available to Maori students from the Maori Development Team & Maori Students Association is very good.

      If the University of Canterbury is to be described as a disgraceful institution, it should be done so in response to the poor management of course-cutting and budgeting issues (compounded by seismic activity that's severely depleted their infrastructure and resources). There are quirky exceptions, but for the most part the academic staff are very, very good and highly committed.

    3. Thanks for your comment. Very interesting.

    4. When Round mentioned he was from the University of Canterbury he represented the University the onus is on Maori to boycott any organisation that promotes Treaty hate. Choose another University like Otago the more we accept this behaviour the more it will happen.

    5. I commented as Anon above @ 8.54.

      I disagree with Anon 6.23. Round's column is not representative of the University of Canterbury, and nor does his personal column justify the assertion that the University promotes 'Treaty hate'.

      Sure, it does tarnish the reputation of the University somewhat because ultimately it may raise valid questions about how they select staff (on the other hand, it may just be that it's very hard to get rid of staff). However, as an institution I think it's unfair to suggest the University of Canterbury is anything but progressive in advancing academic focus on Maori issues.

      It is my understanding that from 2015 onwards undergraduate degrees across all colleges will include a statutory paper which provides an introduction to Tikanga Maori. Alongside this, there is the recent (2011) establishment of the Ngai Tahu Research Centre [with staff like Anake Goodall, Tipene O'Regan and Te Maire Tau], and the University Council includes a member who is appointed following consultation the tangata whenua o Waitaha: Ngai Tahu [currently Sacha McMeeking, a former Law lecturer].

      I am supportive of boycotting when it is effective, but in the case of selecting tertiary institutions I think this approach is very flawed. Unlike dairies or pubs, the supply of tertiary institutions is much thinner. You've got to consider people's social mobility, particularly in the case of Maori who are often less able to move the great distances required if they were to go from Chch to VUW, OU etc.

      That sort of rational-consumer market-thinking is the same that says 'we don't have to worry about promoting growth in Kawerau, because they can move to Christchurch where the jobs are'. It's intellectually dishonest to suggest that boycotting is the best thing we can do to address the sorts of problems Round reflects. Particularly for Ngai Tahu students, but also for other Maori who feel well-grounded [sic] in Christchurch, the notion of relocating may simply not be viable because it ignore the importance of local influences on learning and achievement (i.e. the presence of whanau and iwi support).

      Further, do we really think we're going to shut Round up? I doubt it, he's clearly a man of conviction. The answer is not to create a university void of cultural diversity and lacking in Maori perspective. I believe quite the opposite.

      Just because I accept the University of Canterbury allows for diverse (if perhaps a bit sour) views to be held within its academic staffing [note that his article wasn't published by UC, but by the Herald], doesn't mean I accept those views as worth any more than the paper their printed on. The brilliant thing about universities is people are allowed to put forward bizarre [sometimes factually incorrect] ideas, and then people like Morgan here can take them to the cleaners.

      If you're looking to boycott, I'd say the better option is the Herald who have obviously enjoyed a bit of Maori/Treaty sensationalism to keep the web-hits clicking up.

    6. It's all about perception if Canterbury University wants to allow him to publish racist rants and attach their name to it of course people will reconsider their educational facility. didn't Don Brash get educated at Canterbury University just saying.

  3. David Round is from the “NZ Centre Anti-Maori political research” Muriel Newman’s hate group that has no concern about the 2 billion awarded to south Canterbury finance in 20 days but is against treaty claims of 1 billion over 20 years. Their agenda is to convince New Zealanders anything awarded to Iwi is an attack on their civil rights by adopting the mantle of victimhood.

  4. Morgan suggests staying away from Canterbury University.

    Why not just stay away from idiot lecturers?

    I studied under Rawiri Taonui at Canterbury - he was excellent.

    I don't care for the likes of Round, but lecturers often make controversial statements (Margaret Mutu, Paul Moon etc). If you find them distasteful, just avoid them.

  5. "David Round explained that a constitution is an agreement on how people are to be governed."


    An agreement without lawful purpose is a conspiracy.

    Contracts make law, not agreements.



1. Anonymous comments will be rejected. Please use your real name or a pseudonym/moniker/etc...
2. No personal abuse. Defamatory comments will be rejected.
3. I'll reject any comment that isn't in good taste.