Cabinet has every right to settle Ihumātao

A political decision to settle the Ihumātao land dispute would not be out of the ordinary. It should also not be an election issue, writes Professor David Williams of the University of Auckland.

The settlement of the issues at Ihumātao need to be dealt with outside the Treaty Settlement policies of successive governments since 1995.

There are a number of distinctive factors that have been brought to light since the beginning of the SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape) occupation and in the negotiations involving all relevant parties that have taken place since then.

As to the use of taxpayers’ money to deal with grievances raised by citizens, there are no hard and fast rules as to how Cabinet should respond. What is pragmatic and what might come to be seen as principled does change from one era to another.

The miserly annuity payments to Māori Trust Boards agreed to by the First Labour Government in the 1940s did not bring finality. The grievance settlements agreed to by the Muldoon-led National government in the Orakei Block (Vesting and Empowering) Act 1978 and the Tauranga Moana Maori Trust Board Act 1981 did not prevent later Bolger-led and Key-led National governments enacting more generous settlements in the Orakei Act 1991 and in recent Tauranga Treaty Settlements.

Cabinet, the head of the executive branch of government, has the discretionary power to decide how to settle grievances raised by citizens. It may decide on a Treaty Settlement policy, as it did in 1995, with a $1 billion fiscal cap for the settlement of the historic Treaty claims of all iwi to be completed within 10 years.

It may, as has occurred under both National-led and Labour-led governments, revise that sum upwards.

Cabinet may - and did, in May 2000 - agree to pay $120 million in compensation to assist the West Coast economy when government policy ended native timber logging. It may, and did, agree to make very substantial funds available to re-open the Pike River mine.

In the case of the land at Ihumātao, the Government has to balance and take into account the viewpoints and interests of SOUL, Fletcher Building, Kīngitanga, Te Kawerau a Maki, Ihumātao residents, other south Auckland iwi, the Auckland Council, the Historic Places Trust, and citizen representations.

There are various moral, legal, political, or other considerations that may predominate in cabinet ministers’ thinking when working out how to resolve the Ihumātao issues. Election campaign sniping, however, is not a good place to deal with the historical and contemporary complexities of the grievances.

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