“It might be a warm korero or a prickly korero, but what we’ve got to do is keep the korero going,” was one of TV Personality Pio Terei’s opening statements during the launch of The Constitutional Conversation website, which will form the major platform for the Constitutional Advisory Panel (CAP) to engage with the public on constitutional issues.

As a member of the EmpowerNZ workshop last year, the chance to attend a gathering with members of the CAP and to see their plans to reach out to the public was an exciting prospect.

What struck me about the launch of ‘The Constitutional Conversation’ that differed from my intensive two day constitutional crash course at EmpowerNZ in August was the scope of the engagement strategy. One of the limitations of a workshop such as EmpowerNZ is that, however diverse the 50 of us were, we were not able to represent the perspectives and opinions of 4.5 million New Zealanders.

In contrast, it was heartening to know that the CAP had a clear strategy, as John Burrows put it, “to reach out to everyone”. I agreed with John ‘s sentiment when he described many New Zealanders’ lack of confidence in their knowledge of the constitution, when in reality they have very clear ideas and opinions if asked about specific constitutional issues, such as electoral terms or whether an MP should be able to stay in Parliament after leaving their political party.

After hearing many of the CAP panel speak, I headed back to the office to check out ‘The Constitutional Conversation’ website for myself. The site is designed to jumpstart a national dialogue on the landscape of New Zealand’s constitution. It revolves around six topics, including the form of the New Zealand Constitution, the Bill of Rights Act, the role of the Treaty of Waitangi, Māori representation in local and national government, and other electoral matters, such as the term of government.

Incidentally, the way these topics are broken up is not dissimilar to EmpowerNZ’s draft constitutional structure, suggesting either the CAP took close notice of our draft constitution or we were just particularly in sync with the CAP members’ style of thinking, each of which is an encouraging prospect.

On these six topics, the website contains a wealth of information, interactive exercises and videos produced by the CAP, as well as the ability to make online submissions. The CAP is encouraging written submissions, either on its website or via post or email, from now until the formal submissions process closes on 1 July.

Constitution discussion

CAP member Ranganui Walker discusses constitutional policy with Niki Lomax (McGuinness Institute Research Analyst) and Charlotte Greenfield (a participant of EmpowerNZ)