No easy solutions as hikoi marches on Parliament

The Government could possibly intervene in the dispute over the controversial Ihumātao development, according to Minister Peeni Henare, however it seems unlikely.

A petition calling on Government to intervene in the Fletcher Building’s development of Ihumātao for housing was delivered by Hikoi to Parliament yesterday. 

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said buying back the land would cost around $40 million, and that there was no money available in the Conservation budget for a purchase. Henare suggested that a buyback was “one of the options on the menu," but with the Conservation budget constrained, the money would have to come from somewhere else. 

“That’s always been an option, even under the last regime, but you can understand the kind of land they’re talking about is pretty high value,” Henare said. 

His colleague Aupito William Sio told the hikoi that the Government was listening, and the funding issue could possibly be resolved by a targeted rate, which would allow local ratepayers to fund the repurchase. Sio said a rate should be considered by candidates in local body elections. 

But Councellor Penny Hulse, who chairs Auckland Council’s Environment and Community Committee, told Newsroom a targeted rate was unlikely to find support from the council.

“We need to be honest about what’s doable,” she said. 

Marae changes position 

A reversal of position by the local marae has paved the way for progress. Mana whenua had been split on the development. This is not unprecedented as the local iwi and the marae are not directly affiliated. 

While Makaurau Marae is the marae most affected by the proposal, it is affiliated to other iwi, not Te Kawerau ā Maki, the iwi that is working with Fletchers. 

Te Kawerau ā Maki backed the development in return for “mitigation measures” and Makaurau Marae taking a split position.

But the marae is changing its position. 

On Tuesday, Marae Trust representative Kowhai Olsen read a letter signed by three of the four trustees of the marae saying the development should be stopped. 

They specifically called for the disestablishment of the Special Housing Area that allowed the development to proceed. Special Housing Areas were a policy of the previous government, which were designed to speed up development by cutting red tape.

But Housing Minister Phil Twyford said today the SHA could not be disestablished, as the development had already been given its planning permissions.

“This development has its planning permissions through the RMA, they were gained through the SHA process, there is no SHA to disestablish now,” Twyford said.

“They have their planning permissions, they have gone through the environment court. It’s fair to say all the legal avenues have been exhausted now,” he said. 

This means the only option would be for central government or council to repurchase the land. 

Sio said Fletchers was open to selling the land back, but only with the support of mana whenua. 

“The option they could also consider is to give back land back to mana whenua. Here’s their response; they said they would if the mana whenua who is their partner in this development would agree,” Sio said. 

He said that hearing three of the four trustees of the marae had now moved to block the deal meant that a “discussion” could be had on the future of the project.

“Today I am hearing for the first time that three of the four trustees of mana whenua agree and I think we’ve got to give time for that discussion to be had,” he said.

Green leader Marama Davidson received the petition and said she had written to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asking for intervention.

The future of the development will depend on whether the Government has the stomach to put up $40 million or whether the council will shoulder all or some of the cost burden. But with targeted rates likely off the table, and Minister Sage saying the Government is unlikely to front the money itself, it seems a funding solution is a long way from being found. 

Memories of bastion point 

The Hikoi drew a variety of protestors to the steps of Parliament including Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina, and veteran protestor cum-Mayor of Invercargill Tim Shadbolt.

Shadbolt told Newsroom the hikoi evoked memories of Whina Cooper’s landmark Māori land march of 1975 and the Bastion Point occupation, both of which he attended. 

Maria Alyokhina of Russian punk protest band Pussy Riot attended the protest. Photo: Thomas Coughlan. 

Alyokhina offered her support to the protestors, saying her travels around New Zealand had made her aware of the issues surrounding Māori land rights.

“It’s an honour for me to be here and to see how powerful these people are to bring themselves together because it’s not only about signatures its about the voice - the powerful voice which they really have,” she said. 

She said a positive resolution would make New Zealand an international example for how to respect indigenous land rights. 

“New Zealand can be an example of how to respect indigenous people, firstly to Australia where the situation is even worse,” she said.

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