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Central NI Claims Hearings To Be Brought Forward

Central North Island Treaty claims hearings to be brought forward.

The Waitangi Tribunal is to bring forward the hearing of the large number of treaty claims in the central North Island in an effort to speed up settlement of claims to former Crown forest lands. This includes WAI 791 the Volcanic Interior Plateau (VIP) claim which is an umbrella claim for many of the central north island claimants.

Many of these claims involve former State Forests lands covered by the Crown Forests Assets Act, 1989.

The Tribunal has today released a Memorandum on an application by the VIP claimants to have their claim heard in urgency.

There are a total of 130 claims of varying size and complexity in the three hearing regions covered by the VIP claim. 72 of those are under the umbrella of WAI 791.

The Tribunal’s Acting Chairperson, Chief Judge Williams, says the Waitangi Tribunal agrees with the WAI 791 claimants that the issues they are seeking to resolve deserve more urgent attention, .

However, Judge Williams and Ms Joanne Morris have proposed a co-operative approach between Crown, claimants and the Tribunal to give the settlement of Central North Island claims fresh impetus.

The Tribunal has agreed to bring forward the hearing of claims in the Central North Island for the following reasons:

- National interest.

“While the central North Island claims remain unresolved, there will be uncertainty about the identity of the final owner or owners of the land underlying the forests themselves¡K¡K¡KIt follows in our view that it is likely to be in the interests of the regional economy and therefore the nation to take such reasonable steps as are available to remove that uncertainty with all possible speed”.

- The sheer size of the claims.

“If a measure of priority is given to the Volcanic Plateau claims, something like 60-percent in value of claims in respect of Crown forest lands will have been inquired into by this fast track process”.

- The number of claimants united under WAI 791.

“The mobilisation of such a large number of claims (roughly 10-percent of all claims still before Tribunal) under one organisation has many potential benefits”.

- Solemn undertakings by the Crown in 1989 (The Crown Forest Assets Act) that claim and ownership issues to those lands would be resolved quickly.

“By the terms of the deed, the Crown and Maori agreed jointly to use their best endeavours to enable the Waitangi Tribunal to identify and process all claims relating to forestry lands and to make recommendations with the shortest reasonable period”.

Chief Judge Williams says the funding of claimants is one issue that needs to be resolved.

“The Tribunal conducts hearings on a district by district basis, hearing all claims within the confines of the district as defined. It cannot confine its inquiry to just some of the claims within a district. It will no hear one claim, or set of claims, whether these claims purport to be a majority of the registered claims in a district or not, if a significant number of other claimants are, for whatever reason, excluded or unable to fully participate in the process. A Tribunal process which was not completely inclusive would be a process which risked repeating the faults of defective inquiries of the past”.

The Waitangi Tribunal says a Judicial Conference will be held on 15 October, 2001 to resolve the detail in the memorandum released today.


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