December 30, 2015
Claimants question land reform motive
Claimants opposed to a radical rewrite of Maori land law say the initiative is driven by Government policy objectives rather than any demand by Maori landowners.
A Waitangi Tribunal panel is spending the summer considering the reform so it can report before the bill is introduced to parliament.
Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell, in his final Rotorua Post column for the year, said a priority for 2016 will be to finish the reform of Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993 to make it easier for Maori landowners to use their land if they wish.
He said the bill he will introduce early in the New Year will make decision-making easier while ensuring Maori land is protected as taonga tuku iho.
“There are over 1.4 million hectares of Maori freehold land in Aotearoa. It is a taonga tuku iho. But much of it is not reaching its potential for whanau and hapu. Whether that means establishing conservation projects, papakainga, horticulture projects, agricultural development, wahi tapu preservation or joint business ventures, the key to our whenua reaching its potential is enabling land owners to make decisions,” Mr Flavell said.
But closing submissions from claimants said there was no demand from Maori for anything more than technical fixes of the current law.
Leo Watson, the lawyer for lead claimant Marisa Lant, said cabinet papers released to the tribunal show the bill came out of work done by Te Puni Kokiri in 2011 to assess “owner aspirations” and efforts by the Ministry for Primary Industries to assess the economic potential of Maori Land.
In a report for the ministry, consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers claimed bringing under-utilised Maori land into production had the potential to realise an additional $8 billion in gross output over a 10 year period.
Associate Maori Affairs Minister Christopher Finlayson was briefed, and in May 2012 cabinet agreed to appoint an “independent review panel”.
By February 2013 cabinet agreed to include Te Ture Whenua Maori Bill on the Government’s 2013 legislative programme, even though the panel’s report was not finished until July.
In the meantime, reforming the 1993 Act became part of the Government’s Business Growth Agenda, with the idea it would help with identifying and targeting resources to land blocks with development potential.
“The crown has been in control of this process from the beginning in 2011, ensuring its review of the Act will fit in with its broader policy frameworks,” Mr Watson said.
He said the real taonga was the 1993 Act, which came from of 20 years of engagement, consultation, and deliberation to ensure a balance was achieved between effective use of Maori land and the overall objective of retention.
Mr Watson rejected as untrue a crown claim that almost as soon as the law was enacted “significant voices within Maori society began expressing concern about the barriers that it imposed on Maori land owners”.
He said to justify the reform the crown relied on expressions of support for vague and high-level principles in the Review Panel’s discussion document about “owner autonomy” but it had failed to show demonstrable support among Maori landowners for the detailed proposals themselves.
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