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Flavell - Maori Purposes Bill

Maori Purposes Bill Te Ururoa Flavell; Spokesperson for Treaty for Waitangi Negotiations

Tuesday 27 June 2006 (delivered 9.20pm)

In looking at this Bill today, the words of the late Martin Luther King came to me:

"All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem".

I reckon that that gentleman knew what he was talking about.

There are very clear parts of this omnibus Maori Purposes Bill that are indeed making progress.

The Maori Party is very supportive of the positive changes made to Te Ture Whenua Act in increasing the number of Maori Land Court Judges from eight to fourteen.

It seems that the increased workload for the Maori Land Court, has rapidly exceeded the capacity of the Court's Judges.

And we are pleased that the statutory cap will be permanently lifted.

But such progress has a precarious status - we have questions around the restraints evident for Judges working in the Maori Land Court in that they are yet not able to also work in the District Courts.

We believe that appointments to the Maori Land Court, should also mean the possibility of an appointment to the District Court.

The peculiar nature, Mr Speaker of an Omnibus Bill is often characterised as being a 'wash-up' Act - bringing together loose ends into one big boil up. The Maori Party remains cautious about this sort of tactic.

The changes proposed to the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 give us reason for being cautious.

Maori Purposes Bills have often been used to sort out anomalies in the vexed area of Treaty settlements. In looking at this 2006 version, I think it is always helpful to get a steer from our past.

Over fifty years ago, I was interested to see that the Maori Purposes Act 1954 legislation records the settlement of a long standing claim against the Crown by Ngati Whakaue tribal nation of Rotorua, in connection with the Pukeroa Oruawhata Block upon which the town of Rotorua now stands.

This was effected by the payment of compensation of £16,500, the amount recommended by a Royal Commission in 1948.

Mr Speaker it is always interesting to look back in history - and then again to think of the current legislation in front of the House.

Right at this very moment, the members of the Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust and Ngati Whaoa are working through the complex process required to achieve final resolution of their Treaty grievances.

The Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust, on behalf of Ngati Whakaue, are seeking settlement of the 'gifted lands' issue; seeking meetings with the Minister in Charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations; seeking priority to be assigned to resolution of their grievances.

As part of their concerns, they have asked :

· how can it be acceptable that almost thirteen years after their signing of the Deed of Settlement, resolution of whether the Rotorua Golf Course land is 'surplus' is still outstanding?

It makes one wonder how effective these retrospective 'wash-up' Maori Purposes Bills can be - if the 1954 Maori Purposes Legislation is still being revisited some fifty years later.

Mr Speaker, the key political hot issue of specifying a closing date for submitting historical treaty claims to the Waitangi Tribunal is a vitally important issue within this Bill. It is an issue in which the nation seeks finality, the nation seeks progress.

But a pre-set timeframe for the Treaty settlement process is also an issue which stands as a highly precarious issue for debate.

Ever since the settlement process began, claimants and lawyers have been expressing grave concerns about the process itself - the terms of settlement, the amount set aside for settlement, and the agency charged with managing settlements.

Issues of timeliness, of commitment to settlement resolution are absolutely central to this.

The Bill proposes that any claims lodged after 1 September 2008 cannot include any historical treaty claim or be amended to include any historical treaty claim.

The critical issues that we will be asking of this legislation include:

What is the justification for setting 21 September 1992 as the date to define historical treaty claims?

What is the justification for setting 1 September 2008 as the final date to submit historical treaty claims?

How have whanau, hapu, iwi been involved in advising on the suitability of this or any other date for a timeframe?

These are the questions which are an important part of this debate.

Mr Speaker, the issue of timing is the absolute crunch issue of the Treaty settlements process.

The ongoing crisis of fatigue and overload that so many of our claimants experience in putting their stories before the Tribunal must be acknowledged.

As uri of Ngati Kahungunu, Whanganui, Ngapuhi, and my own, of Te Arawa - we in the Maori Party know, painfully, acutely, of too many of our loved elders who have carried the grief of these stories to their graves.

We know also that there is tremendous richness available in the healing that can result through claimant groups being able to tell their own stories of those of their tupuna.

The very telling of their truths - much like in the Truth and Reconciliation hearings of other lands - provides a vehicle by which suffering can be heard, and healing managed, and allowed to emerge.

But this all takes time. Time which cannot be sped up just by the arbitrary selection of a date out of the calendar.

The process can only be effective if all parties agree to a negotiation framework upfront. Treaty settlements are supposed to be about settling grievances which have arisen from Treaty breaches. Yet, at the moment, OTS controls both the outcome and the process on Crown terms.

The real value of retrospective provisions being introduced in a Maori Purposes Bill, should, I would have thought, have put resourcing into improving the settlement from a Maori perspective.

The enhancements that could have been useful would be ensuring that the process of dealing with Maori claimants would be dealt with in a fair and transparent way.

As part of this, the Waitangi Tribunal must be resourced so that they can deal with claims more speedily.

Mr Speaker, the Tribunal hearings are often long and costly affairs.

The current precarious policy position of treaty settlements is that because of the lengthy nature of Tribunal hearings, and the fact that their rulings have no value, claimant groups are being pressured into direct negotiations with the Crown.

The conclusions of the Chairperson of the Waitangi Tribunal, Chief Judge Joe Williams in December last year, regarding the settlement of Treaty claims, provides a particularly useful context from which to view this Maori Purposes Bill.

The statement advised that faster progress in achieving resolution of claims would depend on a much higher degree of Crown/ claimant co-operation. Judge Williams said, and I quote:

"It would involve a willingness by the Crown to engage constructively in Tribunal inquiries, and even review its practice of contesting the claimants' position on every issue".

Mr Speaker, if the Maori Purposes Bill is to really make progress, it must reflect far more opportunity for supporting claimant groups than it does at present.

Finally, Mr Speaker, I want to just refer to the amendments proposed under the Maori Fisheries Act 2004.

The Maori Party has questions over the application to the quota share held by Te Ohu Kai Moana Trustee Limited. We wonder why it is that the '28N rights' regime being proposed for inclusion in the Maori Fisheries Act 2004 some two years after its passage?

The Bill as it is currently drafted, is thin on detail. It fails to describe the amount of quota shares have iwi quota owners been unable to receive due to the current wording of the Maori Fisheries Act 2004, and what does this translate to in dollar terms?

We are also unable to gauge the projected loss if the Act remains unchanged.

Yet another host of questions emerges when one looks at the Maori Commercial Aquaculture Claims Settlement Act 2004. We wonder, for example, what are the anticipated risks to iwi, including development projects and inter-iwi relationships, from the decrease anticipated in this Act?

Mr Speaker, in closing, the Maori Party is left wondering why it is that the Minister of Maori Affairs has been called on to host a wash-up Bill to cram all these pieces of legislation together- outside of his key portfolio - rather than say the Minister of Fisheries, the Minister of Justice, the Minister in Charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations.

We wonder whether it has anything to do with the fact that the only select committee where the Government has the much needed numbers is the Maori Affairs committee?

We will allow this Bill, tonight, to go through to a first reading, to allow iwi to have a say, but we cannot help but think, there is something not quite right here; and we will be watching as it progresses at every turn.

ENDS

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