Aoraki/Mount Cook above Lake Pukaki on the South Island (file image)
Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand's tallest mountain, above Lake Pukaki on the nation's South Island.

Treaty remains the same regardless of New Zealand’s name

AAP FactCheck September 29, 2022

Changing New Zealand’s name to Aotearoa would nullify the Treaty of Waitangi.


False. A country changing its name doesn’t automatically end its treaties and obligations, experts say.

An Instagram post (screenshot here) claims that changing New Zealand’s name to the Māori word Aotearoa would void the Treaty of Waitangi, the country’s founding document.

Signed in 1840, the treaty was intended to guide the relationship between the British Crown and Māori chiefs. It promised to protect Māori culture but also gave the Crown the right to govern New Zealand.

The post’s text states: “And here’s the agenda twenty thirty Push… change the name to Aotearoa which Null and voids the treaty” and would move New Zealand “from under the Privy Council to under the Supreme Court of America”. The Instagram user also add in a caption: “Be very careful here, changing the name to Aotearoa will have ever lasting effects on our country.”

The post features a New Zealand Herald article – which does not include any such claims – on efforts to change the nation’s name, including a petition delivered to parliament in June.

A screenshot of the Instagram post
 The post says changing New Zealand’s name will legally destroy the nation’s foundations. 

However, experts told AAP FactCheck the claim is false, with a nation’s rights and obligations remaining the same regardless of any name change.

David Williams, professor emeritus in law at the University of Auckland and an expert in the Treaty of Waitangi, says the post’s assertions are untrue.

“A change of a nation’s name cannot make any difference to treaty rights and obligations, nor would it make any difference to any and all international obligations derived from treaties still in force that were entered into in the past,” Prof Williams said in an email.

Dr Carwyn Jones, a senior law lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington who teaches topics related to Māori legal issues and the treaty, agrees.

“Changing the country’s name to Aotearoa would have no impact on treaty rights/obligations,” Dr Jones told AAP FactCheck in an email

“There is no basis whatsoever for such a claim.”

A Maori man performing a haka
 The treaty between the Crown and Māori will remain if New Zealand’s name changes, experts say. 

Professor Janine Hayward, who teaches New Zealand politics at the University of Otago, and has written several books on the treaty, also told AAP FactCheck a name change to Aotearoa would not nullify the Treaty of Waitangi.

Prof Williams cited the example of countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a former colony once known as the Belgian Congo and Zaire, noting it remains “bound by treaty obligations entered into in the past”.

“A constitutional and peaceful change from one constitution to another, and from one name of the nation to another leaves all prior obligations and rights still in place,” he said.

AAP FactCheck has previously debunked claims about the United Nations’ “Agenda 2030”, which contains no mention of New Zealand or the treaty in its text, despite the Instagram post’s claims that “It’s part of the agenda twenty thirty”.

People on the lawns outside NZ's Parliament House in Wellington
 A petition delivered to NZ’s parliament wants Māori names restored to cities and places by 2026. 

Discussion around New Zealand becoming a republic has been reignited following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and there have been concerns the Treaty of Waitangi might be voided or changed if the nation becomes independent of the Crown.

However, the experts told AAP FactCheck that the treaty would remain in force even if this occurred.

“If New Zealand or Aotearoa became a republic the Treaty of Waitangi would remain with its status as a treaty,” Prof Williams said.

“Any contestation as to rights and obligations of the Crown to Māori, and of rights and obligations of Māori to the Crown would remain contestable exactly as they are now – just substituting ‘the Republic’ for the Crown.”

In addition, changing the name to Aotearoa doesn’t mean New Zealand becomes a republic.

The petition delivered to parliament only indicates a name change is being asked for the country and Māori names restored to towns, cities and places by 2026.

Parliament has responded to previous petitions on changing NZ’s name without taking action.

The Verdict

The claim New Zealand’s Treaty of Waitangi between the British Crown and Māori would automatically become void if the nation changed its name to Aotearoa is false. Experts confirmed to AAP FactCheck the country’s legal and international obligations would remain the same regardless of any name change or even if NZ became a republic.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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