Monday, April 11, 2011

Mike Butler: Fast-track settlements hinder scrutiny

Emboldened by his success in passing the fraught Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill into law, Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson wants to change Parliament's rules to fast-track more than 20 settlements before the election. He said that "treaty bills are particularly suited to streamlined procedures because they stem from legal agreements which are already entered into ... but they don't actually have legal effect until the legislation is passed. That's why some iwi become a little concerned at the delays, because they have to wait to obtain the fruits of their settlement." (1)

Finlayson’s statement may clear the air for those who have been puzzled by the “done deal” approach to treaty settlements, that parliament always rubber stamps settlement agreements despite the agreements going through a select committee process. If it is a done deal, interested parties would not waste their time in the select committee process, which increasingly looks like window dressing.

Public support for the treaty settlement process has never been sought and is taken for granted by politicians. The broad agreement on the process that politicians claim is only between political parties. There is no agreement outside of political parties.

Finlayson, who is unapologetic about accomplishing the National Party goal of settling all treaty claims by 2014, said that 19 Treaty bills covering 23 claims were expected before parliament this year, and there was a risk of a logjam if the changes were not made.

If the standing orders committee – which is conducting a regular review of standing orders – grants the change, it is likely that omnibus treaty bills would go through their first and second readings as one, then be separated into individual settlements for the final reading.

So should treaty settlements be rushed through or not, and if not, is Finlayson’s fast track something to worry about? The official government line is that grievances should be settled soon so that everyone can move on.

Those who would like the settlements to be rushed through presumably accept Waitangi Tribunal reports as fact and see no need for much scrutiny. However, anyone who reads any of the reports would see that while they contain much useful history, they are actually elaborate arguments that weave the details of history to justify a claim. Far from being balanced inquiries into a claim by an objective third party who has no benefit from the outcome of the inquiry, the reports stack up information on one side of the claim as evidence to justify the claim.

Time-pressed politicians are unlikely to read the full reports that run into hundreds, may be a couple of thousand pages. Each report has a relatively brief executive summary present the claim as proven. That summary becomes gospel. There is no discussion about the contents of the report. The treaty negotiations minister begins discussing money and real estate with the claimants. A settlement figure is agreed upon. An agreement is signed. The next step is for parliament to ratify the deal so the assets may be transferred to the claimants. The process takes place beyond public scrutiny. Further scrutiny would seem helpful, and Finlayson’s fast track would prevent this.

The Waitangi Tribunal peddles a view of New Zealand history that blames settler demand for land and shoddy deals for the unrest and rebellion that resulted in war and confiscations. This view ignores the two-way struggle between settlers trying to take possession and develop land they bought and Maori having the land sold from under them by avaricious chiefs. Closer inspection of tribunal reports and settlement deals would display to the taxpayers who are funding these settlements the tribunal’s slanted reasoning and insubstantial basis of numerous claims.

1. Fast-track Treaty hopes on 'omnibus'

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Finlayson needs to clear the decks of claims in the pipeline to make room for the great wave of new claims created by his totally racist new version of the Foreshore & Seabeds. This man gets his tax payer funded salary under false pretenses. He is definately not working for the majority of Kiwis.