Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mike Butler: Spotlight on treaty business

Public law specialist Mai Chen asserts that more attention needs to be given to the lower profile treaty settlements, such as the six bills going through parliament now, because “the redress and the obligations they create, including the co-governance of resources, affect us all”. I couldn’t agree more, but while asserting my right to freedom of speech, aspects of her column published in the New Zealand Herald on Thursday need scrutiny.

Chen wrote that she advises Maori on treaty settlements, but also advises “plenty of non-Maori on the impact of treaty settlements on their businesses and daily lives.” This media-savy legal expert is a key part of Chen Palmer, the firm she co-founded in 1994, which financially benefits from the ever-widening legal ripples created by successive treaty settlements and partnership deals.

In her article, Chen describes “the Crown's Treaty obligations in the part-privatisation of state assets” as a “big ticket item”. The Fourth Labour Government launched the Waitangi Tribunal waka that has already sucked $2.5-billion in so-called historical redress, and is positioning itself for a perpetual flood of funds from all taxpayers to the part-Maori graspers generously described as “corporate iwi”.

Chen writes: “These settlements are redress for historic grievances”. What are those historic grievances? Chen does not define them in her article, although they were defined for the Waitangi Tribunal (See Treaty Transparency – What Are The Grievances?) in such a way that every tribe has been able to claim compensation irrespective of any misdeeds and of how fortunate or unfortunate their history has been.

“Maori can continue to bring claims for contemporary breaches of the Treaty either to the Waitangi Tribunal or to the Crown through direct negotiation, which may result in fresh settlements”, Chen notes. Chen Palmer is likely to benefit from services to an on-going settlement process.

Historic settlements have a way to go and won’t be over by 2014. With 30 settlements completed, 16 awaiting legislation, four awaiting tribal ratification, 16 agreed but at the detailed negotiations stage, a further 15 under negotiation, and a number of others yet to be negotiated, it is obvious that there is a long way to go.

For those who think that the total historical redress bill, that the current government appears to expect to be about $3.5-billion, is not a great amount, consider this.

The legal process is all about precedent. Chen notes the precedent established by the 2010 Waikato-Tainui settlement for the co-management of the Waikato River. That was a part of five deals that awarded a total of $400.8-million to five tribes over 27 years, or $80.16-million per tribe if divided equally. If every tribe has a river, and if there are at least 70 tribes around New Zealand, total river settlements could reach $5.6-billion.

“There is nothing underhanded about the relatively low profile of the Treaty settlement process”, Chen wrote, adding “it could be argued that New Zealanders' acceptance that such settlements will continue is a mark of maturity”.

The low profile of ongoing settlements keeps them effectively under the radar. Voters and taxpayers have never been directly asked whether we support the process. Successive parties claim broad agreement but that does not extend beyond Parliament or the Bowen triangle in Wellington, the centre of government.

The claimed absence of outcry is taken as “acceptance” and “maturity”. Unsaid is the reality that criticism is deemed Maori-bashing or racism, and there is no shortage of criticism. For instance, the comments section of Mana Party leader Hone Harawira’s response to the Paul Holmes criticism of Waitangi Day antics, both published in the New Zealand Herald, was disabled because hostility rendered comments unpublishable.

Every settlement states that the amount is for the benefit of all members of that tribe, but a Radio NZ report yesterday noted that Te Rarawa(a Far North tribe) negotiators were struggling to find tribe members to ratify their settlement. With few interested in the process, settlements are captured by a handful of tribal representatives who tend to grant themselves a good salary, buy a new car, and make a song and dance about the things they are doing to benefit their people.

Somewhat paradoxically, Chen’s article was published the day the Salvation Army released it's annual report “The Growing Divide”. That report noted a dangerous wealth gap and said it feared "a permanent and dangerous fracture" in society if policymakers continued to concentrate wealth and influence in the hands of a privileged few”.

The partnership, treaty-settlement process concentrates wealth and influence in the hands of a privileged few. Even Hone Harawira knows that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All this stuff on what the maori lost seems one sided. If a group identifies itself as separate from the rest of society, then surely the negatives that they claim should be balanced against the positives they have gained as well. An anaysis of the positives would see that this separatist group, who go back to the 1800's to find things that they "suffered" from, should also have the benefits that they as a group have received as well, added into the equation, especially as they want redress in 2012 terms.
The benefits are the same ones all NZ'rs enjoy, and the list is long, but they also benefit exclusively from being raised from their very primitive, stone age, class-structured, miserable lives, to a more civilised way of living. Life in a pa in the 1800's not knowing when starvation, disease, death at the tip of a mere, slavery and yes, torure, would strike them,must have been very unpleasant. c.f today: no need to work, all the goodies of modern man, and priviledge because of the possession of some minority race DNA. They (the separatists)should be paying the rest of society not the other way around!