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Harry Mikaere: Remarks To Media Briefing

Harry Mikaere

Remarks to Media Briefing

Bell Gully 9.00 am
IBM Tower Thursday 17 May 2001
Wellington For Immediate Use

Exactly one year ago to the day, the Treaty Tribes Coalition released an independent study by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research that showed delays in allocating our fisheries assets were costing $1 million a month, in lost opportunities and other costs. We said that was unacceptable. We called on the Government to step in and legislate for immediate allocation. The allocation model would be the “Optimum Allocation Model” that had achieved the support of 76 percent of iwi representing 63 percent of Maori. The only thing stopping allocation was technical litigation by a handful of individuals.

We released the economic study at the New Zealand seafood industry conference 12 months ago. We wanted to emphasise that this was not exclusively a Maori issue. The seafood industry is New Zealand’s fourth largest export earner. The allocation dispute is holding the entire industry back. It is preventing the industry from achieving maximum value from its assets. The industry agreed with us. One year ago, the New Zealand seafood industry passed a unanimous resolution backing the Treaty Tribes Coalition. It called on the Government to act to implement the “Optimum Allocation Model”.

This month we went back to the seafood industry conference and hosted a function to thank the industry for its support. All the key players in the industry continue to back us. A lot had been achieved during that year. We embarked on a national tour, from Whangarei in the north to Bluff in the South. We met with the seafood industry, the wider business community, local government, iwi and the media throughout the country. We received overwhelming support everywhere we went.

In late August, the Chairman of the Maori Affairs Select Committee made comments that suggested the whole issue could be resolved by negotiating around the size of the $10 million Development Putea for those Maori who are not yet in contact with their iwi organisations. We wrote to the Prime Minister and proposed negotiations to speedily resolve the issue. Unfortunately, nothing came of that.

In September, representatives of more than 35 iwi came to Parliament to present draft legislation that would achieve immediate allocation. It was received by the Minister of Maori Affairs and the Honourable Doug Kidd. In November, we called a Hui Taumata at Waipatu Marae. Again, more than 35 iwi sent representatives. The Minister of Maori Affairs also attended. He was sent a very strong message by the hui. There was a lot of anger.

I am now able to report to you that our relationship with the Government is much better. In recent months, we have established a very constructive dialogue with the Minister and with the Prime Minister. I don’t want to go into the detail of that today. But I can say Treaty Tribes are now confident allocation will be achieved in the near future – to quote the Minister, “sooner than later”.

At the seafood industry conference this month, we announced we were switching tactics. We were moving from “grievance mode” to “economic development mode”. Iwi are now looking to work with one another – and with others in the seafood industry – to prepare to maximise the economic opportunities of the assets when they are allocated. Already strong multi-iwi partnerships have been established. The East Coast Iwi Consortium is a good example. It is making returns that are well above the industry average. That is the sort of development we are likely to see when allocation is achieved.

While we are much more positive about the future than a year ago, we do not forget that – according to NZIER – $14 million of Maori wealth has been destroyed in the last year. Next week, we can add at least another million to that in legal fees.

The Privy Council hearing is a technical appeal only. It is about whether the New Zealand High Court and the New Zealand Court of Appeal were correct on matters of statutory interpretation, including the meaning of the word iwi. We do not believe the appellants will be successful in getting the law lords in London to overturn the decisions of New Zealand-based courts on these matters. But we are being forced to defend our position as respondents.

We will win this case, as we have won all previous cases. But that will not get us anywhere. These litigants do not give up, no matter how many times their cases fail. All they do is cost Maori and the taxpayer more. There will be 12 law firms involved next week.

And next week’s hearing is not the end of the matter. That is the most important point you must understand. The appeal merely lays the groundwork for a substantive case to begin! It will take until 2004 at the earliest for that case to work its way through the courts, unless common sense prevails. There will then be further litigation, given the track record of some of these litigants. And every month, Maori will lose another million dollars.

This is why we say next week’s Privy Council appeal is a disgraceful waste of time and money. No good can come of it. It won’t resolve anything. As soon as the Privy Council issues its judgement, the Government must step in legislate for immediate allocation. We are confident that the Government will see the wisdom of that move.


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