High Court to the MWWL: "more care and gentleness required"

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The Māori Women’s Welfare League’s decision to remove the “one term limit” from its constitution was lawful, the High Court confirmed in a decision released this week.

That means serving president Prue Kapua will remain at the helm.  

But the court also found changes to the League’s Handbook, containing the operating rules and standing orders, were unlawful.

In 2015 the League’s National Executive made unilateral amendments to the Handbook, changing the way branches vote without taking those changes to the national conference via the remit process.

“In my view, the changes to the Handbook purportedly made in 2015 should have been the subject of a remit, and would have required a 51 per cent majority to be passed. Those changes were invalidly made and I consider that they should be quashed,” wrote Justice Ellis.

The decision represents a partial moral victory for Rewiti and her supporters.

“This is not the finest hour for the [League],” said applicant Pauline Rewiti.

 “It's a happy and sad day for the League. Happy because I know that we walk in the footsteps of great leaders of the League, sad because that reputation has been tarnished by this finding against it”.

But on the question of constitutional changes, including removing the one term limit for League presidents, the court found against Rewiti.  

In 2013 the National Executive secured 180 changes to the constitution and whether those changes were lawful turned on the definition of “due notice”.

Rewiti argued due notice meant the National Executive were under an active obligation to bring the changes to the presidential term to members’ attention. The National Executive failed to do so, thus misleading members as to the scope and extent of the constitutional changes.

But Justice Ellis found due notice only required the provision of sufficient information so that members could actively engage in the constitutional review process, and sufficient information was provided.

Before the changes were approved at the 2013 national conference Kapua, the National Executive and the League’s Constitutional Review Committee actively consulted with branches across the country, carefully explaining the changes and taking on feedback.

The decision, then, also represents a partial moral victory for Kapua and the National Executive.

Significantly, Justice Ellis noted in her introductory remarks that “it does seem unfortunate that certain obvious and alternative means of resolving the present disputes do not appear have been pursued”, suggesting that “more care and gentleness on both sides may be required”.

Neither side have indicated they will appeal.

Further coverage:


in the house

The Māori Affairs Select Committee hit the road this month, conducting site visits to Māori Television and TVNZ. The state broadcasters were due to report to the committee this month, but instead of receiving the respective reports at Parliament - as is customary - committee chair Rino Tirikatene and the committee members decided to hit the road.

The government is facing an awkward claim in the Waitangi Tribunal as Sir Toby Curtis, Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, Dame Tariana Turia and Pem Bird filed an urgent claim - Wai 2770 - alleging that the government’s decision to close charter schools represents a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi. “The state system has been failing our kids for 178 years”, said Curtis. “We finally get a schooling system that works for our young people and Minister Hipkins acts unilaterally, without considering evidence of their success, and without consulting with our people, to destroy them. This Minister has resorted to bullying to have his way, and in so doing has disproportionately prejudiced Māori compared to non-Māori .”

The Tribunal is currently conducting hearings in the Health Services and Outcomes Inquiry (Wai 2575). Noted Māori leaders like Moana Jackson and Nurses’ Union rangatira Kerri Nuku have presented evidence demonstrating that systemic racism pervades the country’s public health system. Earlier this year Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei made news after taking out private health insurance for its members, partly as a response to the overloaded and systemically racist public health system.


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