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Local Government (Rating Cap) Amendment Bill

Local Government (Rating Cap) Amendment Bill

Wednesday 23 August 2006

Te Ururoa Flavell; Maori Party spokesperson for Local Government

The Maori Party supports initiatives where accountability and transparency are important.

As others have mentioned, the Bill amends the Local Government (Rating) Act 2002 by capping the level of rates increases that local authorities may impose on residents. It stops local authorities from setting excessive increases.

Mr Speaker, our research tells us that for tangata whenua, the history of rating in Aotearoa has been variable and inconsistent.

In 1883, the Property Tax Department was found to be valuing Maori land well above the market rate.

This was at a time when government reimbursed local authorities directly for rates owing on Maori land!

In another incident, in 1915, we learn that lands in the King Country were being valued low, in order to make it easier for Europeans to buy them.

The argument was that the land was worth less, indeed worthless, because it was in multiple ownership.

So manipulation of valuation legislation is a shameful part of our history.

Maori have been rated off our lands.

Large tracts of Maori Freehold Land are unoccupied and unimproved.

This land creates a significant rating burden on the Maori owners who often do not have the means or, in some cases, the desire to make economic use of the land.

Often this is due to:

 the nature of the ownership or,

 because the land has some special significance which will make it undesirable to develop or reside on, or

 is isolated and marginal in quality.

I understand that Schedule 11 of the Local Government Act 2002 supported the use of Maori land by the owners for traditional purposes.

It was also introduced to make it easy for owners to develop the land for economic use, while taking into account the presence of waahi tapu that may affect the use of the land for other purposes.

I understand also that Section 91 of the Local Government Rating Act requires that Maori freehold land be liable for rates in the same manner as if it were general land.

But what has happened in the last few years, is that tangata whenua have experienced excessive rate increases of three to four times the inflation rate imposed by some councils.

As I say, in essence, Maori are being rated off our own lands.

This was why the Maori Party voted against ‘lump sum payments’ for capital projects in the Local Government Law Reform bill, which was just another form of rating increase.

Pita Rikys, in his paper, Valuation and Rating of Maori Land, said it was critical for Maori to get the power relationship right via a clear Treaty statement and provision of effective mechanisms and structures.

Mechanisms must provide real accountability and the structures must allow for effective rangatiratanga.

The Maori Party believes that mana whenua should have an equal say with local/regional authorities on all matters concerned with the rating or non-rating of Maori land.

We also believe that both Maori and the wider public should have a say as to whether or not a rating cap is the best way to regulate and monitor rate increases, and whether the current method of assessing rates is the best one.

There are real issues for Maori people’s relationship to the land and the practical circumstances of Maori land in joint ownership.

We look forward to this Bill, providing clarity, transparency, and accountability, in establishing the critical foundation that our whenua provides in our view of the world.

We cannot under-estimate the crucial importance of whenua in our worldview.

In the 1987 court case, New Zealand Maori Council and Latimer v Attorney-General and Others, the New Zealand Maori Council said:

'[Maori land] provides us with a sense of identity, belonging and continuity. It is proof of our continued existence not only as a people, but as the tangata whenua of this country. It is proof of our tribal and kin group ties.

Maori land represents türangawaewae. 'It is proof of our link with the ancestors of our past, and with the generations yet to come. It is an assurance that we shall forever exist as a people, for as long as the land shall last.'

These are the values we bring to the discussion on this Bill, as we do with every other Bill coming before the House.

We will vote to support this Bill, based on our belief that controls and consistency need to be in place so that we can stay on our land, care for our land, and be tangata whenua in the truest form.

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