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Estimates Debate - Vote Treaty Negotiations

Wednesday 12 May 2004

Estimates Debate - Vote Treaty Negotiations

Kia ora. Whilst I stand to speak in the estimates debate about Vote Treaty Negotiations, I want to take a little time to acknowledge the valedictory speech made by Graham Kelly prior to the dinner break, to wish him and his family the best in the years ahead of them, and to thank him for his comments about his experiences in this Parliament. So to him and his family I say ngâ manaakitanga.

I also want to acknowledge comments made in the previous debate, in particular the words of the Hon Pete Hodgson in response to the accusations made by the ACT member Mr Ken Shirley in relation to extortion by Ngâti Tuwharetoa kaumâtua. Because I have an association with these people, I think that particular matter needed to be addressed, and I thank the Hon Georgina te Heuheu for providing that information.

I will now take Mr Chairman's lead and get back to the topic at hand. Whilst treaty negotiations is a quite wide portfolio I want to speak specifically to progress in that area. Before doing that I acknowledge the Hon Margaret Wilson and the hard-working staff of the Office of Treaty Settlements for much of the work they have done in the past year, and for the programme they have laid out for the 2003-04 financial year. As we are all aware, Vote Treaty Negotiations contributes a major outcome for this Government in terms of a fairer and more credible and effective justice system through the immediate outcome of fair and durable settlements that resolve historical grievances relating to the Treaty of Waitangi.

I underline the term "historical grievances", which means that we are dealing with grievances related to whenua; we have yet to deal with contemporary claims in terms of natural resources and adverse effects upon Mâori of land confiscations. The Office of Treaty Settlements told the Mâori Affairs Committee that the rate of progress of historical treaty settlement negotiations has increased. There are now more claimant groups in negotiations than ever before.

A new settlement is expected to be reached every 6 months. The reasons given for the increased rate of activity include recent Government commitments, such as the decisions to enter pre-negotiation discussions with five central North Island claimants, they being Te Arawa, Ngâi Tûhoe, Ngati Tuwharetoa, Ngâti Manawa, and Ngâti Whare, and to engage in intensive negotiations with Whanganui River claimants, Ngâti Whâtua o Orakei, and Ngâti Kahu

-the new claims development team established in 2002-03 to assist claimant groups to enter into the negotiation process, to provide advice on mandate issues, and to ensure greater integration between the Crown and the Waitangi Tribunal at the pre-negotiation phase;

-the Waitangi Tribunal's new approach to researching, hearing, and reporting on historical treaty claims, with the expectation now that hearings will be concluded by 2010 or 2011;

-and the progress made on Taranaki and Bay of Plenty claims, which has encouraged other groups to enter into direct negotiations with the Office of Treaty Settlements.

The Taranaki claim, as well as the claims of the far north, are very interesting claims. In the past they have been considered so difficult that they have been placed in the too-hard basket. But through the commitment of this Government, particularly the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, a road ahead has been found, and we are now dealing with many Taranaki claimant groups.

We recently settled the Ngâti Ruanui claim, and a lot of credit is due to them for their commitment to their own development. Whilst there are a lot of issues ahead of Ngâti Ruanui, in terms of reconciling differences between themselves and other Taranaki hapû, I have no doubt that in the future they will resolve a lot of those issues, and will work together to promote their future generations, and to develop not only their own economic potential but also their economic independence.

Similarly, we are experiencing a lot of progress in the far north. Although what was once described as the Muriwhenua claim had a lot of traction in earlier years, in more recent times it has been very difficult to make progress on it. But through the leadership of the Minister, many of those individual iwi have come to the table and entered into negotiations with this Government. All of that has happened in a very, very short of space of time, if we compare it with the progress that was made over the last decade.

The previous Government hung its hat on two major claim settlements during its 9-year term-and they were very, very difficult claims to settle. There has been a lot of criticism by the other claimant groups, and by members in this House, that the treaty settlements process is far too slow. However, those concerns, whilst well justified, do not take into consideration the difficulties that this Government and the previous Government have faced in working through some very, very difficult issues with regard to those claims.

I understand that the Secretary for Justice previously estimated a period of 25 years for the completion of settlements, but we are also aware that the Waitangi Tribunal re-estimated the date for completion of claims to somewhere around 2014, and has reduced it to 2010 or 2011 under this new approach of hearing claims on district inquiries-that is, a lot of the large, difficult claims are being broken down into smaller groups. There is a schedule of claims, and the claimant groups are now looking to make considerable progress in relation to their claims.

The Mâori Affairs Committee will be travelling to Taranaki tomorrow to hear submissions on the Ngâti Tama settlement. That also was considered to be a reasonably difficult claim to progress, but given that the Ngâti Ruanui people broke through a lot of the attitude barriers that they were confronted with, other Taranaki tribes are now seeking to make that same step. At this point I want to congratulate not just the Minister and staff of the Office of Treaty Settlements but also the people of Taranaki on taking such a huge step.

In the central North Island, a number of claimant groups will be looking to make progress over the next year. It is interesting that the Te Arawa lakes negotiations, while quite intensive, are starting to gain traction, and I am sure that their negotiators will be looking to set a date to sign up to a deed of settlement. I will be talking to them over the next few days to make sure they understand that that needs to happen. I do not want to boast about this Government's achievements too much, but, as members will be aware, there are some-

Hon John Tamihere: Special!

MITA RIRINUI: Yes, we are a very modest Government, and I am a very modest member, but the achievements of the Labour Government 1 year into its second term are highlighted in the document I have before me. It identifies the area of treaty settlements as quite crucial in terms of the acceleration of Mâori development-in particular, those in the central North Island, the people of my electorate, my people of Ngâti Awa, those of Te Arawa, of Tuwharetoa ki Kawerau, and Takitimu.

ENDS

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