Jamie Ferguson is a partner at Kahui Legal, and has been in private practice for 20 years in the areas of litigation and public law with a particular focus on issues concerning Māori. He has been involved extensively in court proceedings involving historic and contemporary Māori issues, including fisheries, Treaty claims, land ownership and administration, and resource management. He has also represented a number of iwi in Treaty settlement negotiations with the Crown, including the recent development of co-governance and co-management arrangements for the Waikato River.
Question 1: What three issues facing youth today do you feel particularly strongly about?
There are many issues facing youth today which are in turn challenges for the country as a whole. In my view, New Zealand’s future depends on the health and wellbeing of today’s children and young people and, in this regard, I think the catchphrase should be ‘Provide, Participate, Prosper’.
First, we need to provide the fundamental necessities of food, housing, health and education for all young people. Sadly, the poverty and deprivation statistics suggest we are yet to move in the right direction.
Secondly, we need to ensure that young people have the opportunity, and are both encouraged and empowered, to participate in the important processes that shape our country. Apathy abounds, for understandable reasons in many cases, but we must increase the participation rates of young New Zealanders in our general elections.
Finally, I think we need to do all we can to enable young people to prosper. This is about creating hope and realising potential. Sadly, many young people, particularly those most in need, have no vision for the future and live a day-to-day existence. Finding ways to remove or reduce those barriers and provide a path to the future that is centred on achieving hopes, goals and aspirations is essential to the future health and wellbeing of our society.
Question 2: What changes would you like to make to the way New Zealand is governed?
I am motivated by the principle of justice, not only in legal terms, but more broadly in terms of what I would describe loosely as social justice. While that term is capable of a range of meanings, I view social justice in terms of equity (fairness) and equality, both within government and within communities, and in relation to both rights and responsibilities. Important in this respect and in terms of our continuing path of nation-building – recognising that, relatively speaking, New Zealand is still a young nation – is the place of the Treaty of Waitangi and the recognition of the rights and interests of Māori in the constitutional fabric of Aotearoa. In my view, these things are at the heart of our ethos and identity as a nation and should be embraced in any constitutional reform.
Personally, I favour the idea of an entrenched written constitution (such as Canada’s Constitution Act and associated Charter of Rights and Freedoms) which establishes and protects the fundamental human and societal rights of all New Zealanders, including the customary rights and interests of Māori. The challenge in doing this is, however, to ensure that (a) the appropriate balance exists between the political and judicial arms of government in terms of such a constitutional document, and (b) that its written provisions are not interpreted as stark words on a page, but rather are informed by and take into account the underlying history and principles that comprise New Zealand’s broader constitutional landscape. In this regard, I look forward to dialogue that I hope will be generated from the Constitutional Advisory Panel and its work over the next two years.
Question 3: What actions, if any, are you planning to contribute to the constitutional review?
I intend to maintain a close interest, both personally and professionally, in the work of the Constitutional Advisory Panel and the wider debate and discourse that I hope will be generated in relation to these important issues. I think one of the biggest challenges in such a project is ensuring that these important issues are the subject of discussion by and input from all sections of New Zealand society, rather than simply the province of academics and other experts. In this regard, in addition to participating myself in relevant discussions and submission processes, I will certainly be encouraging the many iwi and other Māori groups with whom I have regular contact to participate actively in the review process. All New Zealanders should do the same.