Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mike Butler: Devonport snub one of many

A submission by Devonport residents opposing the inclusion of Narrow Neck land in a treaty settlement failed to impress the Maori Affairs select committee, the members of which alleged mistrust and misunderstanding. Three months after a heated hearing at Orakei Marae, the committee recommended that the Ngati Whatua o Orakei Claims Settlement Bill should pass including 3.2ha of Defence Force land as commercial redress, and told the residents to establish a good relationship with Ngati Whatua because they will be neighbours. (1)

Local board chairman Chris Darby said he was not surprised by the outcome because “the line of questioning from the committee was laced with so much predetermination”. Perhaps Mr Darby does not yet realize that this “predetermination” characterizes all select discussions of treaty settlement bills, because all treaty settlements become legally binding once the agreement is signed and the passage of the bill through parliament is a drawn-out time-consuming rubber-stamp exercise.

Democracy has been suspended for these special deals and this has been so since the 1980s. Because addressing Maori grievances was politically unpopular, and legislation to address grievances ran the risk of being outvoted, the architect of this giant exercise in race-based affirmative action set up “processes, and procedures and the principles on which decisions should be based” (2) which skirted around the democratic process so they could never be outvoted.

The public don’t understand that politicians can use the select committee process to defuse a contentious issue by saying: “Oh, you are unhappy – just put in a submission and the select committee will deal with it.” Those who put in submissions become really upset when they find their concerns have been ignored.

The Devonport community objected to the Ngati Whatua o Orakei bill because they believe the land at Narrow Neck was intended to become a public reserve once the Defence Force vacates it in about 15 years. But the land’s status as a reserve will be revoked to allow its transfer to the tribe which did not want to acquire a reserve and may develop the land.

The New Zealand Centre for Political Research has raised wider concerns about the nature of the Ngati Whatua o Orakei settlement bill. Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson claims Maori suffered significant land losses in Auckland, adding that: "There is no way the scale of redress to Ngati Whatua Orakei can be anything like what they lost." But 19th century Ngati Whatua chiefs were happy to sell large parcels of land in the Auckland area to incoming settlers because they were too frightened to live there.

Ngati Whatua had been driven out by a Nga Puhi war expedition led by Hongi, Rewa and Patuone in November 1822. The fact is that Ngati Whatua had only occupied the Auckland area from the mid-18th century until 1822, probably about the same length of time that many of the Devonport residents opposing the bill have lived there.

A quick check on the Office of Treaty Settlements summary of the Ngati Whatua settlement reveals that the tribe initially sold around 3500 acres of land (the central city area of Auckland) to government officials in September 1840. Over the next two years the tribe sold a further 29,000 acres to the Crown for around £640 plus other goods.

The colonial government, which had the monopoly right to buy land from chiefs and on-sell it to settlers, using the profit to fund administration, sold this land attaining a profit of £68,865. This sparked a big sense of sellers’ remorse among the vendor chiefs.

Between 1844 and 1845 the Crown allowed chiefs to sell more land directly to settlers, enacting regulations to protect Maori. Claimants argued that the Crown did not apply these regulations correctly.

There is probably little, if any, actual basis of grievance for the scale of financial redress that our current government has entered into with Ngati Whatua o Orakei. The grievances that appeared since 1985, when old history could be re-inspected to see if any old slights still existed, were largely conjured up out of thin air by redefining everything that transpired between the government and Maori since 1840 as a grievance.

Perhaps the Maori Affairs select committee is half correct when members allege “mistrust and misunderstanding”, because a clear understanding of how cash and assets are being slipped to a tribal group in the name of redress can only multiply mistrust.

1. Call to rethink land opposition, North Shore Times, August 7, 2012
2. Geoffrey Palmer, New Zealand’s Constitution in Crisis, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1992. p. 76

1 comment:

Ray S said...

Not surprising that Devonport locals submission had little or no impact on the claim outcome. I suggest that should the lower echelons of maoridom make a claim to the maori elite for assistance or whatever, they would be ignored out of hand. One only has to drive around parts of Auckland or take a trip up north to see that many maori are no better off than than they might have been 50 years ago. That is a sad indictment on maori themselves. Until maori can step into the 21st century, look forward instead of backward, they are doomed as a people to be nothing more than serfs to the fat cat maori elitists.