Getting serious at Waitangi

: Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones speaking in the Otamataea Wharenui
 

Led by the Prime Minister, the Government, or at least substantial bits of it, have decamped to Waitangi for most of this week for the annual celebrations.

The seniority of the Ministers and the time they are spending there is the clearest indication so far of how much Labour realises it will be highly dependent on the Maori vote to stay in government.

The last thing it needs is any revival of the Maori Party.

On Friday David Parker, Eugenie Sage, Andrew Little and Nanaia Mahuta joined the PM in a meeting surprisingly open to the media with the Iwi Leaders Forum.

It was a frank exchange of questions, complaints and ideas.

(POLITIK will cover more of this in an article tomorrow)

NZ First’s leadership was notably absent which wasn’t surprising given their longstanding differences with the Forum which NZ First MPs privately regard as front for either National or the Maori Party.

 By popular demand --- NZ First Leader, Winston Peters.

By popular demand --- NZ First Leader, Winston Peters.

But yesterday Winston Peters, Shane Jones and Fletcher Tabuteau all turned up at the Ngati Whatua Otamataea Marae,  15km south of Maungaturoto, to highlight not only what by the end of the week will be over $200 million of funding earmarked for Maori but also propsoals to dramatically reform the way the Maori land holding system works.

Understandably the marae was much more interested in immediate proposals to spend $27 million on Kaipara district roads including the unsealed road to Poutu which is being travelled daily by scores of logging trucks.

Shane Jones had been keen on an even bigger boost for the Poutu Peninsula when last year he explored the idea of a vehicular ferry from Helensville to Poutu --- but he said yesterday that wasn’t a goer at present.

Like many other high hopes that marked the Government’s first months in office, the ferry has been sunk by economic reality.

In the same vein,  yesterday's visit to the marae --- and Friday’s meeting with the Iwi Leaders' Forum --- were somewhat different affairs to the Prime Minister's presence at Waitangi last year.

That was marked by generalities and expressions of goodwill.

 The Prime Minister  in a pensive mood during the Iwi Leaders' Forum.

The Prime Minister  in a pensive mood during the Iwi Leaders' Forum.

This weekend, on the other hand,  has seen both Maori and the Government start to get into the fine print that translates the Treaty into reality.

As Ardern told her caucus retreat at Martinborough last Thursday, this is the year of delivery for her government.

On Friday she told the Iwi Leasers that she wanted them to hold her government to account.

Thus yesterday's announcements came in two tranches beginning with an immediate response; increased funding:

  • $19.41 million from the Provincial Growth Fund to upgrade transport links in Kaipara.  An additional $6.84 million will be invested from the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF); this plus local contributions will bring the total investment in Kaipara transport infrastructure to $27.26 million.
  • $980,000 from the PGF towards Kaipara Kai – a project that will explore new crop and stock types, and aquaculture opportunities for the region
  • The Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) will invest up to $100 million to help unlock the economic potential of Maori land. “Access to capital remains a challenge for Māori landowners as the special status of their land means commercial banks are less willing to lend to them. I’m pleased that through the PGF, we’re in a unique position to be able to support these landowners,” said Ardern

With more announcements planned for this morning, by Waitangi Day the Government will have announced additional funding of just over $200 million for predominantly Maori under-achieving provincial regions.

 Environment Minister David Parker with Treay Negotiations Minister, Andrew Little, at Jacinda Ardern's press conference on Friday.

Environment Minister David Parker with Treay Negotiations Minister, Andrew Little, at Jacinda Ardern's press conference on Friday.

But it was left to Maori Development Minister Nanaia Mahita to unveil the move that has the potential to have the most significant impact.

She is talking about “tweaking” some legislation along with a more pro-active role for Te Puni Kokiri to try and resolve the issue of how to make Maori land productive when it is owned by a huge number of owners and often isolated in small pockets with no obvious access.

“There are no other New Zealanders who have land tenure the way Maori do,” Regional Economic Minister Shane Jones told media at the marae.

“They have small uneconomic blocks of land; thousands of owners and a total disinterest by the banking system.”

Jones conceded that the new proposals  built on those started by the National Government and former Maori Development Minister, Te Ururoa Flavell with an amended Te Ture Whenua Bill which sought to achieve much the same aims as Mahuta but which proposed a radical restructuring of the Maori land system with the abolition of the Maori Land Court and its replacement by a Maori Land Service.

Labour’s Maori MPs opposed the legislation and Mahuta has come back with a less radical rewrite.

In a briefing note, she said her proposal aimed to improve the functionality of the Act and to reduce the complexity and compliance Māori landowners encountered when they engaged with the Māori Land Court particularly around succession and disputes resolution. 

“As an example of the proposed changes, uncontested succession applications could be received, confirmed and recorded by a court registrar without having to be considered by a judge,” the note said. 

“This change would speed up the process and free up judicial time for other matters. 

“Establishing a disputes resolution process to be administered through the Māori Land Court would avoid unnecessary litigation, lead to more durable solutions and help preserve the long-term relationship between all concerned.” 

She said those changes would promote the efficient operation of the Court. 

But she is also proposing potentially more controversial moves with a suggestion that officials explore options to address issues associated with the rating and valuation of Māori land and the application of the Public Works Act to Māori land. 

“Work is also ongoing to explore options to access landlocked Māori land. Landlocked Māori land severely limits landowners' ability to use and develop their land. 

“Options include proposed improvements to the existing legislation and consideration of other funding and support.” 

The scale of the problem is clearly evident in the north where the Far North District Council last year said it had $20 million of unpaid Maori land rates.

The money was not paid because of multiple ownership --- one small block had 1300 owners --- and because the land was not able to be developed because owners couldn't get finance or it was landlocked, and they couldn't get access.

The Mahuta proposals plus the funding announced yesterday are a major move to try and improve the economies of provincial Maori.

But Jones --- with his leader, Winston Peters, standing alongside him, was careful to point out that the funding and changes  would benefit all New Zealanders, not just Maori.

“In my view we need to integrate Maori endeavor into regional New Zealand endeavor,” he said.

“I personally think there is no future if we encourage people to think that they can be an island unto themselves.”

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