Court-ordered Report Finds Thousands Of Iwi Members Excluded From Shelly Bay Votes
Thousands of Taranaki Whānui members were deprived of their voting rights during crucial votes on the sale of Shelly Bay land, a court-ordered report has found. This raises further questions about the legitimacy of the 2017 and 2019 sale of iwi land to property developer Ian Cassels.
A group of Taranaki Whānui iwi members went to the Maori Land Court to complain about the conduct of the vote on the Shelly Bay land by the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust (PNBST). The court appointed an expert, Sir Wira Gardiner, to investigate the PNBST voting systems. A report now released by Sir Wira has confirmed that the PNBST register is in a “mess” (p. 43) and that thousands of iwi members have been disenfranchised as a result. Sir Wira’s report states that “the evidence shows that there is merit in [the applicants’] criticisms” (p.41) and “At the heart of this review is the right to vote” (p. 3).
Hirini Jenkins-Mepham, Chair of Mau Whenua Inc said today “This action started with a letter of protest to the then PNBST CEO, Jason Fox, on the 8th February 2016. Determination to restore the mana of those of our people who had been disenfranchised, drove Mau Whenua to achieve this outcome. We are pleased with the Maori Land Court decision but saddened that legal action was necessary.”
Mau Whenua and other members of Taranaki Whānui ki te Upoko o Te Ika had complained since the proposed sale of Shelly Bay was put to the vote in 2015 and 2016, that thousands of members had been ‘de-registered’ or their registrations lost by PNBST. Mau Whenua, representing members of Taranaki Whānui, tried for a number of years to negotiate with PNBST Trustees to rectify the register, voting and other areas in which the Trust has been operating in breach of its Trust Deed. Eventually, the Mau Whenua group together with individual iwi members took their grievances to the Maori Land Court in 2019, the Trust has appeared to make some moves towards remediation.
Mau Whenua commends the work done by Sir Wira and applauds his recommendations including a forward focus on fixing the voter register and returning to a functional system where iwi members are able to exercise their voting and other rights. Mau Whenua has welcomed and PNBST have also accepted a court recommendation that Sir Wira oversees the registration remediation process.
The voting mess is only part of the problems that members are having with the PNBST.
Mau Whenua also has a High Court case against PNBST Trustees and developer and owner of the Wellington Company, Mr Ian Cassels. The High Court action, due to be heard in March 2021, seeks the return of Shelly Bay land that the applicants say was illegally sold to Cassels in 2017 and 2019.
Sir Wira concluded his report saying “The broader political and commercial challenges that have beset the PNBST might not be resolved overnight” (p. 43). Mau Whenua says that return of the Shelly Bay land is a crucial part of this.