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Waitangi Tribunal Bias Challenge Thin-Skinned

Friday 10 May 2002

It is a pity for Maori and the Waitangi Tribunal that the claimants who tried today to get Hon Michael Bassett ejected from sitting as a tribunal member on their Treaty claim have decided to appeal Judge Joe Williams' sensible decision to retain Dr Bassett, ACT Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks said.

"Judge Williams' decision would have helped repair some of the reputation damage to the Tribunal. Dr Bassett on television's Assignment programme last week repeated widespread criticism of the Taranaki report which compared Parihaka and its aftermath to the Holocaust for Jewish Europeans.

"Judge Williams said Dr Bassett's comments were "inappropriate and unfortunate" and "incorrect". However, by upholding Dr Bassett's continued right to sit Judge Williams has ensured that pakeha concerned about the Tribunal cannot claim that it is entirely comprised of stooges for the Treaty industry. In fact Dr Bassett has rarely been allowed to sit. He has been on only four or five out of the more than 900 cases before the Tribunal. Despite that, the mere fact that he is still willing to work from within it for more objective justice gives the tribunal a credibility it would otherwise not have.

"Dr Bassett has given insider confirmation of what is suspected among people who come up against Treaty claims, that the Crown doesn't properly challenge witnesses and valid arguments are not pressed to avoid giving offence. Tribunal decisions were supposed to be the product of objective, neutral testing of the facts. The holocaust language was deplored by every objective commentator. Dr Bassett as one of the architects of the Tribunal while a Labour Minister has every right to try to ensure that it lives up to their hopes, that it would be an objective "truth commission".

"Those objecting to Dr Bassett do their cause no good. They seem to think it is okay for Maori to attack pakeha with extravagant rhetoric but not for a pakeha to even deplore the extravagance. Dr Basset has not attacked all Maori or claimants or the validity of all claims - he has just blown the whistle on poor process.

"The matter should not rest here. With Justice Drurie pressing for Maori to have veto power on the Tribunal and to ensure there is more than 50% Maori membership the role and reputation of the Tribunal is already suspect. Strong independent appointments such as that of Dr Bassett must be maintained. The system of selecting members for cases must also be reformed to ensure that those who are truly neutral and expert are not shut out of the kitchen whenever anything is cooking," Stephen Franks said.

Ends

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