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25th Anniversary Of The Waitangi Tribunal - Wilson

Hon Margaret Wilson
10 October 2000 Speech Notes


Tuesday, 10 October 2000 12:30 pm - 2:00 pm
Venue: Nau Mai Room, Te Puni Kokiri House, Cnr Stout St & Lambton Quay Wellington

Tuesday, 10 October 2000

Thank you for the invitation to address you at this important event.

I want to first of all acknowledge all those who have been associated with the Tribunal who have passed on and also the ancestors whose relationships and actions, good and bad, led to us coming together in this meeting today.

In particular I'm pleased to be able to join all those who remember the Hon Mat Rata, who was responsible for the law which created the Tribunal a quarter of a century ago.

Mat Rata became an MP following activism within the wider labour movement, as a union delegate and leader in Auckland.

He was an urban Maori who was also a proud member of his hapu and iwi.

And he was always proud of being a worker, a unionist, and a member of the labour movement.

The party he founded after his many years as a Labour MP and minister is now represented in parliament and forms part of the coalition.

The Labour movement, in its diversity, has always been able to find ways to unite. The challenge for us as a nation is to do the same.

Mat's work lives on in the Tribunal.

The law he introduced was later improved by another Labour government - during the time of my presidency of the party in 1985 - to allow consideration and investigation of matters going back to the time of the signing of the Treaty.

I was proud to promote and defend that change at the time.

When the first bill was introduced in 1975, Mat Rata used a wonderful phrase to describe the Treaty. It would have done any professor of law proud.

He called it "an instrument of mutuality". "Mutuality", in the legal sense, is a word first recorded in 1845 to mean "a condition of things under which two parties are mutually bound to perform certain reciprocal duties".

It's a good summation of the modern approach to the Treaty, stressing the status and duties of Maori as citizens and the duty of the Crown to actively protect Maori interests.

In my maiden speech I told the House of the challenge facing the government of melding the diversity amongst us into a programme for action.

I said then and I believe now that the reconciliation of difference is best achieved through a commitment to peaceful co-existence, and a willingness to learn the techniques of accommodation that make it a reality.

I said I saw our task as representatives of the community as being to show leadership in how we respect and accommodate difference while getting on finding practical solutions to real problems.

Mat Rata had used similar language in speaking to his Bill when he described it as an attempt to give the Treaty practical application.

That is what we have all wanted: practical solutions to the problems of the past – and active protection of all our modern rights.

There has been some criticism over the years of the Tribunal process for its nature as an investigative body.

There have been those who would have been happier to see less active pursuit of the truth by the Tribunal and more set-piece battling by gladiator lawyers.

When we introduced the Employment Relations Bill – now, happily, an Act – we put emphasis on the fact that employment relationships are human relationships, not exchanges of commodities.

As such they should be based on good faith, mutual trust and understanding.

And the body – the Employment Authority - set up to arbitrate disputes of right within the new employment law has been set up in a way which recognises that human relationships are involved by clearly describing it, like the Tribunal as an investigative body.

The Tribunal's active seeking after truth is important because, again, the relationships involved are human relationships. Sometimes this will be at the level of whole communities and not individuals.

But no one who has heard the words of claimants in the Treaty settlement process can be in any doubt that what we are dealing with here are human relationships and – in the past - a lack of good faith, mutual trust and understanding.

It was the Maori caucus of the Labour Party which saw the synergy between the principles of employment law and the treaty process when we came to discuss the principles for the settlement of historical grievances.

The caucus suggested the inclusion of the same basic principle – good faith.

That is now the first of the government's treaty principles.

It's another achievement for my colleague Joe Hawke - the originator of the Orakei claim or Wai 1, the first claim taken to the Tribunal.

Let me quickly review the main events and achievements in the history of the Tribunal after its establishment.

 In 1985 The Waitangi Tribunal’s powers were extended by the fourth Labour government to hear claims back to 1840. The Waitangi Tribunal’s powers were again extended in 1988 in response to Maori litigation and the Tribunal was given powers to make binding recommendations over certain Crown assets.

 Early reports of the Waitangi Tribunal, such as the Orakei, the Mangonui, and the Motonui reports, helped to identify and articulate for the government and for the public at large, what the Treaty means and to clarify the nature of the rights and obligations contained within it.

 In the second half of the 1980s these reports were also to influence the courts, which had begun to recognise the importance of the Treaty.

 Reports in the late 1980s and early 1990s, such as the Muriwhenua Fisheries report and the Ngai Tahu reports, provided a base for subsequent Treaty settlements in the 1990s. These settlements included the 1992 Maori Fisheries settlement and the 1998 Ngai Tahu settlement.

 The Taranaki preliminary report in 1996 has provided a basis for negotiations in Taranaki with five groups, four of which have Heads of Agreement and are now working towards Deeds of Settlement.

 Pouakani, who currently have their settlement legislation before Parliament, negotiated their settlement after a Waitangi Tribunal report on their claim, while Te Uri o Hau, who recently initialed a Deed of Settlement, went straight from Waitangi Tribunal hearings to direct negotiations and did not want to wait for a report.

 Most recently, the Waitangi Tribunal has played a role in facilitating mediation between the parties in cross-claim and representation disputes. Such disputes are a considerable constraint on the settlement process and the assistance of the Tribunal in these complex areas is valued and appreciated.

 The Waitangi Tribunal also has an important educative role in promoting to the wider public an understanding of the Treaty, its value both to Maori and to all New Zealanders, and the significance of the principles of the Treaty.

The government's principles for the settlement of historical Treaty grievances have been criticised for not being very much different to the approach of the previous government.

The first difference is that we have stated our principles at all.

The second difference is that our principles are those of a government actively seeking to right wrongs, and bring an end to the grieving which has so affected relations between the government and Maori in this and the previous two centuries.

I want the government to be more successful in getting claims off the ground and into negotiation. This requires a style of active involvement. This is the second approach - encouraging claimants to get into negotiations and by removing whatever blocks can be identified.

Under this government, as I have said, we are seeking to develop and build and maintain and nurture human relationships. We are not simply seeking judgements over property. We do not want only to see past wrongs redressed, we want stronger communities and a stronger nation as a result.

So we see the settlement of historical claims as a part of a much wider relationship between the government and Maori, which encompasses our modern commitment to the Treaty and our commitment to closing the gaps.

The Treaty is so much more than settling claims. The on-going relationship into the future must be given full attention and it is vital to assess whether current structures, including the Tribunal, need to evolve and adapt to assist in this role.

Without doubt, claimant groups should always have the choice of having their claim heard by the Waitangi Tribunal before entering negotiations, and in some cases a Tribunal process may help address and resolve mandate or cross-claim issues. Its work continues, and will continue.

But I have written before of the old Pakeha saying that "Justice delayed is Justice denied".

I think all agree that the Tribunal process is too slow. It is important to look at the issue of resourcing, and its relationship to the way in which the tribunal is able to meet the demand for its services.

This is an issue that will need to be considered, and for open dialogue to take place not only by the government, but also by Maori, the Waitangi Tribunal, and the public.

It is also significant that such an important institution has rather unclear lines of accountability back to government.

The Minister of Maori Affairs is responsible for the law which governs the tribunal while the Minister for Courts is responsible for finding funding it needs. And I am responsible for resolving issues identified by the Tribunal.

Its historical decisions provide valuable background and statements about the truth of what has happened.

But the decisions do not always get to the heart of what needs to be negotiated between the government and claimants. The principle that settlements should be negotiated between claimants and the government is one we have affirmed in our principles for Treaty settlement. And the requirement for the same body to deal with historical and modern claims of treaty breaches puts additional pressure on the Tribunal.

When the tribunal was established I think it is true to say that most members of government and most members of the public had to be convinced of the need to provide redress for the wrongs of the past.

Now, as a result of the Tribunal's work, there is widespread support across all parties for just settlements.

The public attitude remains mixed.

For that reason I am working on a proposal to try a series of town meetings aimed mainly at the Pakeha/European section of the community to discuss the historical Treaty settlement processes.

As a result of the meetings, I hope more people will read and hear the compelling evidence of the things which gave rise to grievances in the past.

I do not know what work there will be for the Tribunal 25 years from now.

I hope there will be no historical claims before it.

But whatever work is being undertaken the work of the Tribunal to this point will still be living in at least three ways.

First of all, the vast body of research done by and presented to the tribunal will remain as a historical resource of immense value. The Tribunal findings, similarly, will continue to be studied for their analysis and description long after the grievances which gave rise to them are settled.

Secondly, the Tribunal has altered forever the view of citizens - Maori and Pakeha and those of other groups - on Treaty issues. Our interpretation of our history and our relationships are changed forever.

And finally, wherever the Tribunal has contributed to the understanding that has allowed old grievances to be settled by just redress and recognition of past wrongs, there will be a living legacy for all time as we are able to move forward, together.


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