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Simon Shepherd interviews Peeni Henare

Simon Shepherd: Well, until last night, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government was taking the side of the local iwi, who had done the deal with Fletcher Residential. Then, about 6.30pm, she announced work on the development would cease for now. So what changed? Minister for Whanau Ora Peeni Henare also holds the local Maori seat, Tamaki Makaurau, and will be talking to the occupiers today. He joins me now. Morena. Thank you for your time

Peeni Henare: Kia ora.

What did change suddenly last night?

Well, look, it's always been on the radar, not just for the prime minister, but for myself as a local MP. Discussions amongst ourselves have been going for a number of months now. It's certainly heightened over the past week, two weeks. And indeed, the leadership from the prime minister was quite clear yesterday; she insisted that that meeting take place, and the outcome – what we saw.

But just a few days ago, she was saying ‘we are siding with the local iwi that did the deal’.

Oh, look, we continue to support mana whenua. That's not a surprise here, because as treaty settlements have been done in the past, those negotiations and that relationship have been set up with mana whenua.

Well, exactly. So why has the government underestimated the strength of the feeling out there? Is that why the change of position?

I think there's a bit of that. I think there's a lot of broken communication lines here, where the true sentiment hasn't been brought forth. Of course, you know, there are a lot of people down there who aren't from there but feel the same way, and have come from near and far to go and support Ihumatao, which… Their voice is being heard.

Right, but the mana whenua say that there's a lot of people, as you say, who aren't from that particular tribe and that the situation is being misrepresented by the protesters, the occupiers.

Oh, look, I think many of them— There are a lot of stories coming out of Ihumatao. Some, it's about cultural heritage. Some, it's about Maori land rights. There's a whole complex web there, and that's what part of today is, is going in to listen to all those.

So, you're going to listen to them, and they're going to say to you, 'We want the government to buy the land.' Is the government considering that?

I will be saying to them, and hopefully encouraging them, to say, 'Come to the table and talk with us.' But I want to be very clear and put a word of caution here. If the government steps in to buy this land back, we undermine every treaty settlement that's been done to date. We then allow re-litigation of settlements that have been done in the past, and are we prepared for that? And I'll leave that question there.

Right, so that's a can of worms. I mean, is the government really willing to open that?

Look, let's get around the table and talk. And the prime minister made that clear last night.

Because, as you say, in this particular case, I mean, Fletcher Residential say that they've been through the Waitangi Tribunal and the Maori Land Court, Environment Court. They've done the consenting process. Have they done this in good faith, in your opinion?

Look, I think they've gone through all the right legal steps to have the ownership that they have today. But I want to make it clear too that we recognise – or certainly I do as a Maori and as a Maori MP – the original sin of land confiscation in the 1860s is still a very live issue for the people there today and, indeed, Maori land activists right across the country. That's got to be acknowledged.

But I think that an open conversation face-to-face, as opposed to slagging matches across social media, is far better.

Well, that's a good point, then. You had this meeting last night, and every stakeholder was there, you said, apart from the occupiers, the SOUL – Save Our Unique Landscapes organisation. Why is that?

There are huge impasse between all stakeholders, to be clear. So it's important that the prime minister’s actually given us this space and time to actually say ‘let's bring them together’. And the hope is today, at the end of our visit, myself and Minister Jackson, that we can encourage that – that they come to the table. And let's sit down with them.

How long are you willing to give this? Because it's been going on for, what, like five years or longer?

Yes, that's right. The prime minister made it clear last night that we'll give it the time that it needs. We don't expect it to take a long time, but we do want to give it the time that it needs. I suspect that it could be a week or two.

Okay. In that time, would you be asking the protesters to leave the land?

No. The prime minister made it clear last night that people are coming. No doubt, this weekend, there'll be plenty more people, and we respect that. Our engagement today is simply to be amongst them. I'm not going in – certainly today or in the near future – to say, 'It's time for you to leave,' no.

And what about the police presence? We see there they're in the pictures, the line of hi-vis police there. That presents an image of conflict. Would you be asking the police to leave while this negotiation is ongoing?

Look, can I make it clear, the operational stuff for the police is for them to deal with. But I have been in close communications with the police minister on this matter. After our presence today, no doubt I'll be speaking with him again, and we’ll see how we can give room or space to the situation.

It's not something— If this has been a complex situation for five years and longer, how are you expecting to resolve this within a couple of weeks?

Well, that's the challenge, right? I mean, if treaty claims and treaty settlements have taken 20, 30, 40 years... Look, the prime minister was clear; let's have the opportunity to sit down. Once we've had that meeting, perhaps we can have a clearer pathway or even a better time frame. But in the first instance, we must come together.

As the local MP, how do you feel that the government has handled this?

Oh, look, you said five years now this issue’s been bubbling. And I was in opposition and met with members of SOUL and members of iwi over a number of years now. And I think that there are challenges, and there have been for both governments, National and Labour. It hasn't been handled as best as it could be. Look, I'm looking forward to – let's make sure that we can get this right.

And just finally, can I make sure that this announcement yesterday wasn't in response to the, sort of, scathing attack on the prime minister saying that there would be no consultation over this.

Look, I think it's incorrect to say that the prime minister hasn't had this on her mind and been talking with her ministers about this. Yesterday, she decided to take action. We know that her travel arrangements is she was going offshore, and she felt it that important that we come together yesterday.

Okay, Peeni Henare, thank you very much for your time.

Tena koe.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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