The Waitangi Tribunal has today issued its draft findings on the Crown’s review of the Maori Land Act, known as Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993.   The Tribunal has rejected the Crown’s process, and recommended that fresh and robust engagement occur with Maori landowners on the proposed changes to the Act. 

The Tribunal, in a 195-page draft report, released its findings early in order to provide urgent guidance to the Crown.  There has been no commitment from the Minister of Maori Development, Te Ururoa Flavell that he would hold off on the introduction of the new Bill into Parliament (which would have the effect of removing the jurisdiction of the Tribunal to continue its inquiry).  Therefore, the draft chapter, with its letter of recommendation to the Minister, provides an important and authoritative analysis by the Tribunal of the review process to date, and the flaws in the process.

The Tribunal found that there was no clear basis for how the Crown could be confident that it had the support of Maori landowners for its proposals.  The Tribunal criticized the lack of “empirical research” on the existing legislation, on what was working and what was not.

tino-rangatratanga“We have found that the Crown will be in breach of Treaty principles if it does not ensure that there is properly informed, broad-based support for the Te Ture Whenua Maori Bill to proceed.”

The Tribunal noted that the Crown considered that it did have sufficient support, and that Treaty principles did not restrain the Crown in any case.  However, the Tribunal decided:  “We disagree with both propositions”.

The Tribunal recommended that the Crown engage nationally with Maori landowners through hui and written submissions, after ensuring that landowners are properly informed by the necessary research, to be funded by the Crown.  It should take advice from independent Maori experts, and accord a “leadership role” to a representative advisory group in its engagement with Maori.

Claimant Marise Lant, who initiated the challenge to the Crown’s process in 2014, on behalf of her whanau and hapu in Te Tairawhiti said today that the draft report on the Crown’s process vindicated her concerns.  “I am pleased that we have had a clear statement from the Tribunal that there needs to be informed, broad-based support from our people before any changes to our Maori land laws can be made.  That is our right under tino rangatiratanga.”

The named claimant in Wai 2478, Ms Lant, who is a Maori landowner and former employee of the Maori Land Court, has led a national petition against the proposed new Bill, in a long struggle that she has called a “david versus goliath battle”.

“Look, we have had 400-page draft Bills put in front of us with little time to understand the proposals and korero among ourselves.  The Tribunal’s report gives us all a chance to slow down, do the research necessary to establish what amendments are going to advance our aspirations, and then discuss those proposals in a culturally appropriate manner.”

The Crown has recently announced a series of hui concerning the Bill, but Ms Lant says that the new consultation is not going to meet the Tribunal’s recommendations.  “We don’t want a repeat of the existing models of consultation.  That has been shown to be flawed.  We will be ready to work with the Crown to develop a proper process to ensure that our focus is on getting this important mahi right.”

Marise Lant paid special mention to the contributions and evidence of kaumatua Dave Hawea of Te Whanau a Kai, Mangatu Marae, Owen Lloyd, and Maori Women’s Welfare League chair Prue Tamatekapua, as well as the other expert witnesses called on behalf of all of the various claimants.

Expert evidence was given by Professor Whatarangi Winiata, constitutional lawyer Moana Jackson, and lawyer Kerensa Johnston on behalf of the Wakatu Incorporation, along with Maanu Paul and Rihari Dargaville, and kuia Nellie Rata.

For more information:

Marise Lant                022 315 2859   mariselant@gmail.com

(Photo Credit: Mana News)