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Dr Cullen: Address to Waitangi Tribunal Members’

23 November 2005 Wednesday

Dr Cullen: Address to Waitangi Tribunal Members’ Conference
The Wellesley Club, Maginnity Street, Wellington

Tena koutou katoa.

It is a pleasure for me to open this Annual Members’ Conference. This year’s conference marks 30 years since the establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal, and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the dedicated service of all of those who have been members of the Tribunal over that period, and all of the staff.

Many New Zealanders of note have been associated with the Tribunal over its 30 years of existence, and have put their shoulders to the wheel for the cause of resolving grievances and enabling both treaty partners to move on. It is not fair to single out too many, since the Tribunal’s strength has always been its ability to bring different perspectives on an issue. However, on this 30th anniversary I would like to mention several in particular

One thinks first and foremost of the Hon Matiu Rata of Ngâti Kurî, who was the architect of the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 which created the Tribunal. He lived to see that legislation amended by another Labour government in 1985 to allow consideration and investigation of matters going back to the time of the signing of the Treaty, and to see the Tribunal’s powers extended again in 1988 to allow it to make binding recommendations over certain Crown assets.

Those pieces of legislation have been controversial, but one cannot deny that they have had a profound effect on the subsequent course of New Zealand history.

The visionary leadership of Mat Rata was continued by several key
Tribunal members over the following years.

Justice Eddie Durie, of Rangitaane, Ngati Kauwhata, and Ngati Raukawa, was the first Mâori to be appointed Chief Judge of the Mâori Land Court, and was Chairperson of the Waitangi Tribunal for nearly two decades. He established much of the Tribunal’s jurisprudence, instituted the disciplined casebook method of grouping historical claims for hearing in district inquiries, and presided over many inquiries, including the landmark Muriwhenua and Taranaki claims.

Professor Gordon Orr, a former Secretary of Justice, was appointed to the Waitangi Tribunal in 1986, and made a substantial contribution to Tribunal jurisprudence, as well as the path-breaking Ngai Tahu report. He presided over several significant Tribunal inquiries, notably Turangi Township and Wellington Tenths.

More latterly, Chief Judge Joe Williams of Ngâti Pukenga and Te Arawa has overhauled the Tribunal’s inquiry process and presided over the Gisborne district inquiry.

Some of those who have served on the Tribunal are no longer with us, although their influence lives on in the ongoing benefit to Maori and to the wider community from the resolution of long standing issues and the restoration of mana and trust.

The late Right Reverend Manuhuia Bennett, of Te Arawa, brought his wealth of experience and served on many Tribunal panels, including the Ngai Tahu, Taranaki, Muriwhenua and Wellington Tenths inquiries.

Judge Richard Kearney, who died in March this year, presided over a number of high profile Tribunal inquiries, including Tauranga Moana, Indigenous Flora and Fauna, and the Wananga Capital Establishment Claim.

And Dame Evelyn Stokes, who also died this year, brought her expertise as a historical geographer to bear on several major district inquiries, notably Muriwhenua, Kaipara, Hauraki and Mohaka ki Ahuriri.

The Tribunal in 2005 carries forward the dedicated work of these individuals. Some of you possess a large portion of that institutional memory. Joanne Morris has served as a member continuously since 1989, alongside her work on the Law Commission and Legal Services Agency board and now the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

Mrs Keita Walker of Ngati Porou has served as a Tribunal member since 1993 on a number of inquiry panels, including currently Indigenous Flora and Fauna.

And Professor Keith Sorrenson of Ngati Pukenga, who continues to work on inquiries in progress although his warrant has officially expired, served from 1986 to 2001, and is a veteran of early landmark inquiries such as Muriwhenua Fishing and more recent district inquiries such as Mohaka ki Ahuriri, Northern South Island and Tauranga.

I trust that these examples are not too daunting an act to follow for those of you who are new to the Tribunal. I am sure your own skills will simply add further layers to the Tribunal’s capability, and I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of the government to welcome you to what I hope will be a rewarding and challenging experience, and to thank you for your willingness to serve the community in this way.

From its early reports in inquires such as the Orakei, the Mangonui, and the Motunui reports, the Waitangi Tribunal has had a profound influence. These early reports helped to clarify and articulate for the government and for the public at large, what the Treaty means and the nature of the rights and obligations contained within it. These reports influenced the courts in the later 1980s as they began to develop a broader Treaty jurisprudence.

Further landmark 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 impact of these reports went far beyond the specific matters they addressed. The Waitangi Tribunal also has an important educative and consciousness-raising role in promoting wider public debate and understanding of the Treaty. Its work set in train a great deal of practical exploration of the meaning of the Treaty partnership across many areas of government and beyond.

For me personally that exploration began as soon as I became a Minister of the Crown in August 1987. As a newly minted Minister of Social Welfare I inherited a bill in front of a select committee which was to become the Children, Young Persons, and their Families Act 1989. The Bill had been heavily influenced, one might say captured, by the professional child care advocates, including paediatricians.

It was predicated on the notion that professionals should be empowered to make judgments about the existence of abuse, judgements which then would be enforced through the removal of children from their families.

It was also clear the Bill was deeply opposed by many Maori. It was based on a model of family that cut across the notion of whanau by ignoring the larger context of kinship. It showed no appreciation of the fact that a Treaty relationship exists in New Zealand, and that it might have an impact upon how we structure the legislation and administration regarding how we care for children at risk.

After consultation, I decided that the Bill should be completely rewritten and structured around the concept of family group conferences effectively convened by the frontline social workers. The rest is history; but my point is that it is history that may not have occurred had it not been for the way in which the Waitangi Tribunal had shaped and informed the debate at that time.
Despite this solid foundation, the task of the Tribunal remains an immense and multi-faceted one. To further complicate matters, the work of the Waitangi Tribunal often sparks very diverse views within the community.

There are those who look to it for vindication and redress. For such people it is at least the forum in which they need to tell the full story of what has been done to them in the past and at most the institution upon which they pin their hopes for a pathway towards financial security. On the other side are those who are suspicious of the Tribunal’s work, who have something to lose from the examination of claims or who regard it as an institution which wakes sleeping dogs they would rather were left to lie.

Then there is a large portion of ‘middle New Zealand’.

They can sometimes be prey to misperceptions and scaremongering, although in my experience these are people who are broadly supportive of the objective of bringing treaty grievances to light and dealing with them properly. For the most part they are quite oblivious to the Tribunal’s day to day work, and the danger of this is that they are liable to get impatient at what they perceive to be the slow rate of progress.

Throughout its terms of office, the Labour-led government has sought to complete historical Treaty settlements in a fair manner and a reasonable time frame. During the last six years we have progressed more Treaty claims than ever before.

Eight major Treaty claims have been settled since Labour came into office, and we have moved forward on discussions and negotiations towards settlements with another 26 groups.

This accelerated process has of course been a joint effort on the part of the Crown and the Tribunal. Any legal process takes time, and one involving multiple claimants and the need to undertake historical research clearly cannot be rushed.

However, the Tribunal has recognised that unnecessary delays in the process serve the interests of neither party. In response, it has streamlined its processes so that the hearing phase of district inquiries takes place in a matter of months, rather than being spread out over years.

Tribunal panels work to a timeline that aims to complete reports within two years of the completion of hearings. These timelines have halved the length of time required for major historical inquiries.

The Tribunal has also provided the option to claimants of a modular approach, in which its role is focused on facilitating a quick entry into direct negotiations with the Crown.

This progress gives us the confidence to place a clearer timeframe around the settlement process. We have said that we will require all historical claims to be lodged by 1 September 2008 so that a timetable for concluding all historical settlements by 2020 can be met.

That timetable is in fact a conservative one. I am advised that if claimants opt for the modular approach, large numbers of claims and claimants could be addressed simultaneously through regional inquiries. If this is the preferred approach, then we could be looking at a significantly earlier completion date.

We will continue to negotiate and settle claims with mandated groups, and will support multiple iwi settlements where possible and practicable.

We are also committed to keeping Treaty settlement processes under review to ensure that they meet the needs of both iwi and the Crown. These processes are a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves. They must be fair, efficient and transparent, and be seen to be so.

We will also work on streamlining the settlement legislation process so that settlements benefit those intended without being unduly held up by the complexities of passing enabling legislation through Parliament.

We will support the process established by the Mäori Fisheries Act to transfer assets and quota to Mäori, and we will also continue to support the Treaty information programme undertaken by the State Services Commission.

Finally we will work with Maori to establish post-settlement governance entities to ensure Maori have the appropriate mechanisms in place to manage their affairs and future development to meet their self identified goals. This is not about compromising the right to self-determination of Maori; but it is about acknowledging that a settlement brings with it new challenges to governance regarding the long-term management of assets. Making that transition is not an easy task, and it would be remiss of the Crown to fail to provide assistance where it is both needed and sought.

It remains a deep conviction of this government that the acknowledgement and settlement of grievances provides immense benefits to Maori, the Crown and the nation. Settlements provide iwi with a platform from which to move forward in the next phase of their development. It is a matter of great satisfaction to see many iwi developing a new and more productive relationship with the Crown as entities which are empowered and resourced to work for their own people.

This must in turn mean a stronger and more confident nation. Indeed it is not too far fetched to see the Waitangi Tribunal as an essential aspect of nation-building. That is certainly obvious if we look at the experience of the last 30 years.

The settlement of historical grievances under the Treaty may be a long process. By our estimation it still has some fifteen years to run. However, it is a process that will happen only once in our history. Those of you who are new to the Tribunal will have a role in bringing that mammoth task to conclusion.

I wish you well in that task, and trust that this conference will be a useful launching pad for the work that is ahead.

No reira tena koutou katoa.

ENDS

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