Govt’s smoke and mirrors on settlements

Māori awarded the Labour party all the Māori seats last year. However, six months on cracks are beginning to show over Treaty settlements.

A legal battle for customary ownership rights to prime Auckland properties, including the Auckland Grammar and Epsom Girls’ Grammar school sites, is reigniting deep-seated Crown-iwi hostilities, with two prominent North Island iwi accusing the Labour-led Government of making disingenuous promises.

Central Auckland hapū Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei has hit out at Jacinda Ardern’s Government over its handling of overlapping Treaty claims a week before it is set to test its own cross-settlement claim case in the Supreme Court.

The case is over nine properties - which include five schools, the Fred Ambler lookout point in Parnell and a site currently administered by the Transport Agency in Mechanics Bay that the Crown has offered as part of another Treaty settlement with a group of five Hauraki iwi groups, known as the Marutūāhu Collective.

Ngāti Whātua is challenging the Crown’s right to use the properties - which it says are in its “heartland”, and subsequently under its mana whenua - in the deal.

The hapū allege that by including the properties in the Marutūāhu deal without first consulting Ngāti Whātua, the Crown is in breach of its 2012 Treaty settlement with the hapū. A successful outcome in the Supreme Court for Ngāti Whātua would legally enshrine its tikanga, or customary right, to the land in contention.

The Government has now said it will proceed with signing the Marutūāhu deal, even with the Supreme Court decision pending.

Ngāti Whātua spokesman Ngarimu Blair told Newsroom: "It is quite poor and reckless that [the Minister of Treaty negotiations Andrew Little] would give an undertaking that, regardless of the Supreme Court Action, he’s going to bowl ahead and sign the Marutūāhu deal - only a week after the Supreme Court hearing."

Little has requested feedback on the draft deed from relevant groups by May 22.

“We were informed of that on Monday [April 30], and not by the Minister’s office, which has been true to form of this Government and the previous one. They do not keep us informed of these issues,” Blair said.

Six months into its term, the actions by the Government in dealing with overlapping claims fly in the face of promises made at Waitangi in February and during Labour's years in opposition about a new way forward for Māori and Crown relations, he said.

“There is huge disappointment. We were expecting more from this Government which has a strong Māori caucus, many of whom understand the issues at heart, and understand the best place to negotiate these things are on our marae. We can't quite fathom how they have allowed that to go through. Perhaps they don't know, and weren't even asked", Blair said.

"If they weren't asked, we would have serious questions about the relevance and power of that much-lauded Labour-Māori caucus."

In Tauranga, Ngāi Te Rangi voiced similar criticisms of the Government and the “race” to settle overlapping claims in its rohe, or core area of interest.

One of the iwi’s major concerns is the proposed settlement for 12 Hauraki iwi groups - banded together under the Hauraki Collective - to have rights in Tauranga Harbour. In 2004, the Waitangi Tribunal found that some Hauraki iwi have customary interest in the Tauranga area - sparking the highly contentious, and ongoing, cross-claim settlement process.

“What we’ve always called for from day one is that we sit down and we have a tikanga process - a process that we discuss iwi to iwi, nation to nation,” Ngāi Te Rangi spokesman Paora Stanley said.

“What the Government is doing is they’re trying to race it through before that process happens - that will never, ever be just and never, ever be enduring,” he said.

While Little last week also announced a two-week extension to the previous May 2 deadline for the Hauraki claim in Tauranga, he was adamant the time for an inter-iwi resolution had passed.

He said of the chance for the inter-iwi resolution: “With all due respect to them, they are being disingenuous. 

“I have seen the correspondence between iwi that happened about the middle of last year and they were on a track to nowhere because they could not even agree on the basis of [how] they would enter a tikanga-based process and they were simply unable to get that process going.

"They won't like me saying this as a Pakeha but the pre-conditions put on it were not consistent with a tikanga-based process."

When asked about the Ngāti Whātua case, Little pointed out he was acting on what had occurred at earlier court stages, and was focused on progressing the current draft settlement as far as possible.

“They [Ngāti Whātua] haven’t succeeded at any stage so far. If they win in the Supreme Court, there is nothing that cannot be dealt with before a deed is finalised, or most importantly before the legislation is finalised. There is ample time.”

Despite that, Ngāti Whātua remain dubious about the Government’s direction as it nears the end of the overall Treaty settlement process, and prepares for a post-settlement New Zealand.

“The signing [of the Marutūāhu deed] starts the political process to enable the transfer of the properties which are in our heartland, and properties which we haven’t given consent to be transferred to that collective,” Blair said.

“It is very disappointing, and unbelievable really, to have this Government act exactly - if not worse - than the last Government in terms of these cross-claims issues that affect us and many in the wider region.

“They stood there and promised us a new way forward at Waitangi - where is that?”

Read more:

Jacinda Ardern's Waitangi speech: What I want for my children

Potential curve-ball in Treaty settlements

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