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Landowners Make Treaty Stand By Locking Their Gates

News Release For immediate release December 6, 2010

Waikato Landowners Make Treaty Stand By Locking Their Gates

A group of Waikato farmers is making a stand against what they see as a land grab by a small Maori splinter group for one of New Zealand’s ecological jewels, the Maungatautari Reserve.

The Maungatautari Landowners Council, formed as a result of their representative being thrown off the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust board because they didn’t agree with an iwi demand for control of the Trust.

Landowners Council Chairman Warren Charleston says basically his group has had enough.

Charleston said for many years the Trust raised millions of dollars to put a special pest proof fence around the bush clad top of Maungatautari mountain. The enclosed 3400 hectares was then painstakingly rid of all pests apart from a few remaining mice. That has allowed native bird species to thrive and the ecology of the mountain to begin its return to something closer to how it was pre-human arrival.

The land inside the fence includes the 2500 hectare Maungatautari Reserve, private land at the back of farms and Maori blocks.

There has been huge community support for the project with over 400 volunteers regularly putting in huge days to first get the fence built and then eradicate the pests. Each storm volunteers and the landowners keep an eye on the fence to quickly fix any washouts before stoats and rats can get in to the enclosure sanctuary.

Charleston said what made the project special was that it was community driven with community volunteers, landowners and iwi involved.

However all that changed a year ago when local iwi splinter group Ngati Koroki Kahukura decided to bludgeon the rest of the community with a demand for control of the project. Charleston says in that moment all goodwill was lost. The Trust board opted to try and negotiate a way through but the iwi refused to give on any of its demands. It has since been discovered that Waipa District Council had been working with the splinter group for some years to ensure the group got what it wanted and Waipa District mayor Alan Livingston sat on the Maungatautari Trust board without letting on his council was involved with the iwi plans.

Under pressure from Waipa District Council and the iwi group most Trustees withered, however a small group of trustees resisted. But with the assistance of a new interim chairman, who it now transpires has been working for the interests of Waipa District Council, a plan was hatched to get rid of any trustees who were opposed to the iwi demands. One community member was voted off and the landowner representative. This week the project founder, Waikato identity David Wallace resigned as he disagreed with the direction of the Trust board.

Charleston says from the moment the sackings happened a series of consequences followed one after the other. Farmers who have the fence running through their properties and have agreed to have bush clad sections of their properties included inside the enclosed areas formed the landowners council. The response from the interim chairman Doug Arcus was to hurl abuse through media comments that called both landowners and private funders who have put significant funds into the project and opposed the iwi moves as racists. Now landowners have had enough and have locked their gates.

Charleston says predictably the chairman has now come out in the media saying it is the landowners who are wrecking the project but he says there was no alternative.

“The gates are locked and with each new hail of abuse landowners become more determined to keep them locked.”

He says they are now seeing this as a bigger fight.

“All across the country land is being lost to dubious Treaty settlements. We are saying ‘enough’. This Maungatautari Reserve is a national asset that needs to be kept for all New Zealanders not casually given away by Treaty Negotiation Minister Chris Findlayson.

“We are being badly let down by our government at both local and central level. ”Our message to Prime Minister John Key is we are not radical people, but we have been driven to take action that we would not have thought of doing but for this headlong rush to give our country away.

“Today it is this mountain and all the millions of dollars that have been spent on it by this community. Tomorrow it will be the beaches and more rivers. We are pleading with you to start listening to New Zealanders.

“That doesn’t mean through the Maori Affairs Select Committee which as one would expect is going to come out with a pre conceived agreement with the seabed legislation. We are say listen to people. Don’t take this mountain away from this community. And don’t let Chris Findlayson drive your government headlong into disaster.”

Charleston said the message to all New Zealanders is to make your stand at Maungatautari Reserve.

“What happens here is what will happen all over New Zealand."

He said those who were at the project’s AGM heard one of the iwi representatives stand up and tell the crowd that local Maori hadn’t put in any volunteer effort into the project because they were all busy trying to make a living where the rich farmers and volunteers had lots of spare time.

“For someone like me who’s day starts at 3.30am and for many other working people in the room this was the sort of brainless attitude coming from this bullying iwi group.”

Charleston says their way forward is straightforward: 1. End this plan to give this small splinter group the Maungatautari Reserve as a Treaty settlement. 2. End this nonsense of having a race based governance structure for the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust. 3. And to allow a resolution to begin, the resignation of interim Trust chairman Doug Arcus.


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