Sir Geoffrey Palmer calls for a written constitution that includes Treaty of Waitangi

Former prime minister and constitutional expert Sir Geoffrey Palmer is calling for a written constitution for New Zealand that includes the Treaty of Waitangi.

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The former Prime Minister and legal expert spoke with 1 NEWS’ Maiki Sherman. Source: 1 NEWS

As Maori continue the call to "honour the Treaty", Sir Geoffrey says it's time for action.

"Because it's controversial, people tend not to want to face up to it. And I think we really do need to shine the light on it," he told 1 NEWS.

A legal expert himself, Sir Geoffrey says part of the problem is New Zealand has no written constitution, an overarching law which guides the way we operate. 

He says it's what's needed and must include the Treaty.

"It is really unthinkable that we have a constitution that doesn't put the Treaty in it. But on the other hand if we do that we have to know with more particularity what it means in contemporary conditions," he said.  

But it's interpreting the Treaty's meaning which makes some Maori nervous.

"The risk of enshrining the Treaty is enshrining the reinterpretation of the Treaty that in fact just supports and continues to perpetuate coloniser power which is an abuse of power," Veronica Tawhai, Te Ata Kura said.  

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters sees another issue with enshrining the Treaty.

"The moment you enshrine it you can by a rule of law change in Parliament get rid of it forever," he said. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern agrees it won't be easy.

"I've always said that until the issue around the way the Treaty would be treated within that framework, that would need to be resolved before you'd see any changes there," she said.

In landmark case in 2014, the Waitangi Tribunal found Maori did not cede sovereignty when it signed the Treaty. The previous government though refused to formally respond to the ruling, and it seems the current government is doing much the same.

"The inquiry isn't complete. And this is not the place where we have conversations with Ngapuhi. We have conversations directly," Ms Ardern said.

Veronica Tawhai, senior lecturer in policy and politics at Massey University says, "There's lots and lots of examples of in fact where the Crown say they're honouring the Treaty, but then they continue to perpetuate this behaviour which is abusive."

Another former prime minister, Dame Jenny Shipley, says the challenge is to bring the Treaty to life.

"I think the challenge for New Zealanders is every day to try and bring the Treaty to life - what we do, how we act, what we think about, " Dame Jenny said.

How that's achieved it seems is still up for discussion.