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Robson's pride the North's sorrow

Pakeha Support Ngawha

Press release

March 14, 2001

Robson's pride the North's sorrow

The visit of former Corrections Minister Matt Robson to Northland this week was unfortunate timing, says the Pakeha Support Ngawha group. The visit followed new arrests last Thursday of three "human shields" taking part in a preventive action at the heavily guarded gates to the site.

The action followed a hikoi to the site on Wednesday from the Kaikohe courthouse where Ngawha supporters had been due to reappear. The hikoi had received consistent support from motorists en route, indicative of the opposition felt in the area. Speeches and waiata took place near the Corrections guardhouse which had previously been occupied for 66 days.

Mr Robson's visit also coincided with a call from those at the site for supporters to visit next Tuesday (18th) to mark the 100th day of the peaceful occupation (noho rangimarie).

After a visit to the troubled site near Kaikohe Mr Robson was reported as saying he was proud of the project he was instrumental in developing. He said he was "excited" by progress on the ravaged land, and looked forward to the "state-of-the-art" prison. He said the buildings had been designed with Maori cultural considerations from the outset, including north-facing cells to maximise natural light (sic).

The report did not say if Mr Robson was proud to have provoked one of the longest running occupations by tangata whenua the country has known in recent history.

Pakeha Support Ngawha spokeswoman Moea Armstrong said Mr Robson's public comments were at best thoughtless and at worst inflammatory given the community's ongoing resistance to the culturally offensive and increasingly expensive project. She said he appeared oblivious to the effect of his statements on the tight-knit rural community, which was experiencing serious social and political repercussions from the think-big project.

She said Mr Robson had had the opportunity to halt the ill-fated project during his time as Minister. He had chosen to overlook the fact that the Tuakino site was not included in the original list of 84 preferred Northland sites, but had been purchased at the eleventh hour by the department after Ngati Rangi had refused to sell the adjoining block, which had been the 27th choice. The public still needed to be told why the 25 sites between Maungatapere and Waiwhariki had been rejected, and why the department's own selection process had been abandoned in favour of a new purchase of a geothermal area.

She said Mr Robson knew of a previous proposal for a jointly run prison on nearby Ngati Hine land which had the backing of a significant number of Ngapuhi at the time. She said the reasons why this proposal had been rejected by department officials should have been investigated thoroughly by Mr Robson. The public still had the right to know why an iwi initiative had been rejected, and why ideas contained in that proposal had been appropriated by those same officials.

The Ngati Hine proposal had included an arrangement with an Australian company, but the Government could have taken over this role and run the rehabilitation centre with Ngati Hine, she said. It was inconsistent of the Government to talk about partnership and Treaty principles but when handed a viable co-management proposal on a plate had turned it down.

The decision to build at Ngawha had added insult to injury to Ngapuhi. Mr Robson had been informed of the inadequacy of the subsequent consultation at Ngawha. This consultation had ignored the findings of the Waitangi Tribunal in 1993 that at least 10 different tangata whenua groups had legitimate claim to be considered kaitiaki of the area. The department had chosen part of one grouping to consult, exacerbating the original grievance caused by the Maori Land Court last century.

She said it was also during Mr Robson's time as Minister that the department had sought mining rights to boron from the site. The public needed to be told of the end use of this mineral. Boron carbide is used as an abrasive and in control rods for nuclear reactors.

The report last week of an investigation by the justice select committee into contractural irregularities was also an indictment of the project's management, she said. Mr Robson, Mark Gosche and now temporary Corrections Minister Margaret Wilson needed to take responsibility for the ongoing increase caused by the department absorbing extraneous costs, which, given the unsuitable nature of the site, were likely to climb.

The group urged the Government to take the logical and cheaper path of abandoning the site and re-appraising the Ngati Hine proposal. It also called on Ms Wilson as Minister of Justice to drop all current charges against kaitiaki for trespass on their own land, citing a letter from Mr Gosche (November 2002) which reads "The decision not to pursue costs and the actions of the police in dropping the charges against protesters signal the desire to put the past behind us and move forward.".

She said Ms Wilson should also be budgeting for the inevitable Waitangi Tribunal claim for damage to Ngawha Springs. One of the most popular of the pools, called Bulldog, had recently gone cold.

Contact: M Armstrong 09 436 1679

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