Taking a 'lawyerly' approach to iwi

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Talks with local iwi, business people and lawyers were on the agenda for Government Minister Chris Finlayson who was given a tour of the Howick Ward last Thursday by Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross.

Mr Finlayson is the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, Associate Minister of Maori Development, the Minister responsible for the GCSB and NZ Security Intelligence Service and the NZ Attorney-General.

During his visit to the Times and wearing his Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations hat he said Ngai Tai ki Tamaki Iwi was anxious to get its Treaty settlement legislation into the house. The Iwi’s deed of settlement was signed at Umupuia marae at Maraetai last November.

“But they have interests in the Hauraki Collective as well and until that is ready to sign we can’t advance,” he said. “Iwi interests here overlap into Hauraki and into Auckland.

Ngai Tai is a member of Nga Mana Whenua o Tamaki Makaura - the Tamaki Collective and one of the 12 iwi of the Hauraki Collective. Their area of interest extends to Hauraki/Coromandel and the harbours and islands of the Tikapa Moana/Hauraki Gulf and Waitemata Harbour.

Last July Parliament passed a law to provide Treaty of Waitangi redress for the shared interests of the 13 iwi and hapu in the Tamaki Collective covering tupuna maunga (volcanic cones), motu (islands) and certain Crown entity-owned land within Auckland. The law recognises that the iwi and hapu have various overlapping customary interests that would not have been possible to consider separately from each other.

Mr Finlayson says he’s fortunate in his job “in that you learn a lot about your country”.

“The idea is to deal with legitimate claims justly and durably. Some need to be resisted.”

He says once the position is described people, who may not necessarily have full appreciation of the facts, say ‘fair enough’ when they do understand.

“Increasingly,” he says, “we are becoming a multi-cultural society and the bi-cultural component is only one.

“Newer New Zealanders don’t necessarily appreciate the historical significance of what the Crown and Maori are trying to do and that’s not a criticism of them.

“But they have signed up to a society where the bi-cultural relationship is regarded as important. New Zealand has become a complex society.”

Rights to water

Mr Finlayson is working his way with iwi through cultural and/or economic redress for fresh water. It’s been a contentious issue and in August last year the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Local Government New Zealand to support and encourage strong relationships and collaboration between councils and iwi.

In November Finance Minister Bill English said the Government was working through what mana and kaitiakitanga meant in relation to water, but iwi were not making unreasonable demands. Maori interests, the Government and the community wanted “pretty similar things”.

The big issues were nitrate pollution, the demand for water, the intensification of land use and the purity of water.

“That’s not a Maori issue, that’s a general one,” he said.

Mr Finlayson says from day one of the Treaty negotiations he has had to address legitimate iwi interests in water bodies.

“Whenever we go onto a marae, the people always say who they are in reference to a mountain, a lake or a river. We need to address legitimate claims that come from these historical interests,” he says, pointing to some that have been never conceded and gone on for 130 years.

“They have cried out for resolution and that’s what I have been doing.

“In the interests of good management, we can never get a national settlement. Through the Treaty negotiations we have to try to reach something that works for everyone.”

A fundamental rule, he says, is that if water interests are covered by co-governed relationships with local government, local government has to have the final decision-making power because it’s the local democracy representative.

“Local Government is ready for this role,’ he says. “For example Environment Bay of Plenty has been dealing with 28 iwis for ages and they understand what is going on.

“There are different rights and interests in water systems. But one thing this Government has never resiled from is the principle that you can have a user right over water but no-one can own it.

“We are not to move away from the fundamental tenet that no-one owns water.”