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Maori Trustee and Maori Development Amendment Bill

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader of the Maori Party

Maori Trustee and Maori Development Amendment Bill

Tuesday 4 March 2008, 8.30pm

In 1921, the Government of the day, created a position ostensibly to protect and enhance the interests of Maori clients and their resources.

That position was the Maori Trustee. It was a position created by legislation to manage the adverse effects of fragmented and multiple ownership of Māori land. Significantly, the office of the Maori Trustee was expected to provide fair, proper and prudent administration and management of clients' assets within the principles and obligations of trusteeship and agency.

Such a heavy investment in accountability and transparency was a logical expectation from the fact that the Maori Trustee was set up to take over the role of the Public Trustee.

And yet, seventy years after establishment, how disappointing it was to read in analysis by G V Butterworth and S M Butterworth, that, and I quote,

“Neither the Public Trustee nor the Maori Trustee and his administration exercised their responsibilities in the best long-term interests of those Maori whose land and revenue was vested in the trustee”.

I repeat, ‘In the best long term interests of Maori’.

1991 was clearly a turning point year for the Maori Trustee.

In that same year, Ngai Tahu made a number of allegations concerning the failure of the Crown’s appointed trustee to administer reserved lands properly. These allegations included:

* Failing to consult with owners;

* Failing to act as a prudent trustee;

* Failing to take action to amalgamate land titles and develop lands;

* Failing to prevent land being taken for public works.

Mr Speaker, the Ngai Tahu Report 1991 is mandatory reading for understanding how well the Maori Trustee meets the Trustee’s statutory responsibilities.

And they are sizeable responsibilities.

The Maori Trust Office currently administers more than 2200 properties and special trusts. It cares for more than 156,000 owners. It manages some 115,000 owner accounts.

And so when we read through background reports which suggest the best long term interests of Maori have not been given due and proper accord, we have to wonder about whether this new Bill will be the magic solution.

The Butterworth report referred to earlier, referred to large capital expenditure with little return, problems surrounding the collection and distribution of rents, inadequate consultation with beneficial owners in respect of all of these matters, and other concerns.

We remain unconvinced, when we fast forward to September 2007, and read that the Federation of Maori Authorities have said, and I quote,

“Currently as an administrator of Maori land, it is our view that any value added is limited”.

Set against this backdrop of concerns, and the longstanding issues and reviews that have taken place over the years, one would be expecting a miracle to bring about the changes required to accelerate Maori development.

Such a transformation is not inconceivable.

Indeed, Paul Morgan, Executive Director for FOMA goes as far as to suggest there is significant potential and that this should be provided for in the legislation.

Indeed, we know that there have been many and vast achievements over the years, which the Maori Trustee has helped to prosper. Sir Apirana Ngata, during his Parliamentary term, drew on Maori Trust monies to support the unemployed. The Maori Trust was also a benefactor to support Maori in to homes, using the funds as a second mortgage, or even to authorise loans to enable the purchase of furniture for new home owners.

The trade training schemes would never had been as successful as they were, had it not been for the hostels which the Maori Trustee purchased to house apprentices in both Auckland and Christchurch.

The Maori Trustee made contributions to the Maori Purposes Fund Board to enable the publication of Maori literature, and it also played a large role in supporting the Te Maori exhibition which showcased Maori art forms and taonga to the world.

Alongside of the Maori Education Foundation it also assisted in the establishment of the kohanga reo movement.

Yet sadly much of this work has never been widely appreciated as the Maori Trustee was locked up and encased within the bureaucracy of the Maori Affairs Department.

The ongoing issues of independence of the Maori Trustee from the Crown will plague the new organisation proposed in this Bill unless the Minister has the courage to invest in a strategic vision for Maori economic development.

But here’s the crunch. The legislation aims to transfer $35 million from the General Purposes Fund to establish a new statutory corporation. This Fund is according to the Charters, Sykes and Nikora review of 1991, income derived from the beneficiaries and not the Maori Trustee.

How this works, is that the interest earned on the Common Fund – money held in trust and available for loan – is credited to the General Purposes Fund owned by the Maori trustee. Effectively, the statute empowers the Maori Trustee to operate on beneficiaries incomes –if you like, comparable to a solicitor using the interest on his or her client’s funds, to run their business.

So we have 35 million dollars of Maori money, being put alongside forty million dollars of Crown money, to establish a stand alone organisation.

This is an absolute investment in failure.

In 2001, the Select Committee report on the Maori Trustee drew the attention of the Government to the ongoing issue about whether the funding received by the Trustee was at an appropriate level for the Trustee to fulfil his roles.

If the solution to that question was meant to be this Bill, it has got it badly wrong.

The Bill proposes the establishment of a new statutory corporation, Maori Business Aotearoa New Zealand, founded on money which the Charters, Sykes and Nikora review has proven to be in doubt.

Even if the Maori Trustee has the right to donate monies from the general purposes fund to this new incorporation, the tokenistic amount suggested by the Government, merely confirms more of the same old hand-holding, paternalistic, patronising behaviour of a Government destined to perpetuate dependency.

I recall, as a member of the Maori Education Foundation, that in establishing that entity, Government provided a subsidy of three to one – for every Maori dollar invested, the Government would match with three dollars.

That is the type of foresight we would have applauded in this Bill.

But instead, we have insufficient funding to hope for success, and legislative bungling which continues the apron-string approach to Treaty justice.

The proposal to establish Maori Business Aotearoa New Zealand, is also constrained by the decision to have the Crown appointed Maori Trustee in the key governance role as well as in the management and implementation role.

This is classic behaviour of a Government that wants to continue benefitting from the puppeteer role, manipulating all of the strings available to them, to continue to wield total control.

What we have, in reality with this Bill, is a Government that seeks to get its hands on Maori monies, the possibility of legal doubt being cast upon the validity of using beneficiary funds for establishing the new entity, and then the risk that the Crown will jeopardise any independent status through their influencing in making political appointments.

The Butterworth report concluded, and I quote:

“the Maori Trustee, like the Public Trustee before, had increasingly been used to serve the interests of others ahead of the beneficial owners of the land in his charge”.

We support the views of the Federation of Maori Authorities – their call was that Maori should have a say in the appointment of the Maori Trustee – not the Minister of Maori Affairs.

It is always doubtful whether a trustee, appointed by the government of the day, will be able to challenge the Minister’s directives to protect his or her clients’ interests. The conflict inherent in being an agent of the Crown and a Trustee for Maori owners is simply too strong to achieve even the appearance of independence.

The Maori Party will not support this Bill.


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