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Parekura Horomia Speech - Waitangi Tribunal 25th

Speech Notes for Hon Parekura Horomia
Parliamentary Reception for Waitangi Tribunal 25th Anniversary
5.30pm, 10 October 2000, Banquet Hall


Mihi

I am very pleased to host this reception to mark the Waitangi Tribunal’s 25th Anniversary. It is appropriate that the institution that created the Waitangi Tribunal also serve as the venue for marking this very significant occasion.


The Treaty of Waitangi Act came into force on this day in 1975 under the guidance of the then Minister of Maori Affairs Hon Matiu Rata. My colleague the Hon Sandra Lee had intended to pay tribute to Matiu tonight but she has urgent family business, so she gave me her thoughts to deliver tonight.

Matiu Rata's foresight in creating this legislation has provided our country with a vital mechanism to examine injustices that have created long-standing grievances between the two people of this nation.

For those who now decry the Tribunal and its important function, they would be wise to reflect what the bicultural landscape of our country might have been without this important legislation.


JOE HAWKE

My colleague Joe Hawke was the first person to bring a claim before the Tribunal. This was in 1977 when Joe was prosecuted for fishing near Okahu Bay at an ancestral fishing ground. Joe will tell you that he found the experience before the Tribunal very unsatisfactory. He had his claim dismissed, but as we all know, he came back.


ROLE OF THE TRIBUNAL

Essentially the most important role the Tribunal has played is an educative one. It is also about being concerned about "dealing with the past so people can get on with the future".

Yesterday the chair of the Waitangi Tribunal, Judge Taihukurei Durie spoke with the wisdom of 20 years experience in this game. He said there were four things that stood out over this time.

1. The room for ethnic misunderstanding. Therefore in its reporting the Tribunal has tried to explain Maori cultural views, as it appeared from the evidence, so that Maori and Pakeha might understand one another better in the future.

2. The need to report fully in order to put the past at rest.

3. The need to make practical recommendations so that something positive might happen in the future.

4. And that the process underlined for him how important it is that all people should have access to an appropriate judicial forum to express legitimate concerns.

These points are all very pertinent, especially if you consider the recently released Race Relations Conciliator's Report about Taranaki. The report talked about the need for better communications to improve the situation.

TRIBUTES

We are here today to acknowledge all the individuals who have served on the Tribunal. All have given of themselves. However I would like particularly to acknowledge some of the longer serving members who are still active in the Tribunal, including, of course, Judge Durie, but also Bishop Manuhuia Bennet, Professor Gordon Orr, Keita Walker, and Professor Keith Sorrenson.

The collective wisdom of the Tribunal members can be seen in their reports and I'd just like to quote from the Whanganui River Report.

"The issue is not only about law, but also about order. Order requires that Maori must respect the law and the property rights of others. There can be no compromise of that and offenders must bear the full punishment of the law. But by the same token, the property rights of Maori must be respected as well. They cannot be a ready prey for convenience or public desire."


In 1980 the current Chairperson Judge Durie was appointed. The judge and his two Tribunal colleagues at the time, Sir Graham Latimer and Justice Paul Temm bought about important changes to the Tribunal’s operations enabling the Tribunal to sit on marae and to hear submissions in Maori. Often the only way to ascertain the validity of a claim was to allow the evidence to unfold before the Tribunal.


NEW MAORI LAND COURT JUDGES

I believe this is an appropriate occasion to announce new appointments to the Maori Land Court bench. The new appointments are both of high-calibre, with a proven history of work in the field of Treaty of Waitangi issues, indeed they've appeared before the Tribunal on behalf of claimants.

This is also a time to celebrate the role of Women, what with the Primeminister, the Opposition leader, the Governor General Elect.
The new judges are Ms Carrie Wainwright and Ms Caren Wickliffe.

The competition was strong and the selection process rigorous and I'm sure their appointment will be the subject of debate long after this function is over. I wish them luck and courage for the job ahead is one of major importance. Kia kaha korua.


TREATY PRINCIPLES

Another significant contribution has been the definition of Treaty principles that today guide the actions of Government in its relationships with Maori people. The Crown's confirmation of these principles is a sure acknowledgement of the strength of the Tribunal's analysis.


TREATY WORKSHOPS FOR NON MAORI

I was happy to hear my colleague Margaret Wilson, the Minister of Justice say today that she is working on a proposal to try a series of town meetings aimed mainly at the Pakeha/European community. It will give them an opportunity to discuss the historical Treaty settlement process. I also wish her luck for this work.


CRITICISMS

I know that there are major criticisms about the claims process. It takes too long. It's hard to follow. The process can be costly – on time, resources and finance - which puts a lot of strain on iwi that don't have much to start off with. Sometimes it’s a bit of a David and Goliath match-up, with the resources of the government agencies almost pitted against the resources of Maori organisations. Some people, while grateful of a settlement, may still be unhappy with it….. and even when a settlement is reached, there are sometimes issues to resolve.


FUTURE

The government will continue to work with the Tribunal. There is currently a review of the Treaty of Waitangi Act. The review will allow us to determine the changes that are needed to improve the ability of the tribunal to carry out its tasks.

Tena rawa koutou katoa.

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