Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Frank Newman: Straight talk - End unlawful land occupations

Unlawful land occupations appear to be more prevalent as Maori assert what they say are their cultural rights of land ownership. Some of those claims may be legitimate, but many aren’t and are breaching the private property rights of others. With our highest court now recognising tikanga in common law, the time has come for Parliament to provide clarity about how the Police and the Courts are to respond to land occupations and ensure “fairness” and “equity” for all.

The Northern Advocate recently reported on a land occupation in Opua. It says, “Two years after Tony Williams, of the Ngāpuhi hapū Te Roroa ki Ōpua ki Haumi, started his occupation of the headland known as Puketiti in 2020, peaceful protests are continuing at the site. Paula Beck, a resident who has been manning the Kellet St site along with several others, said they intend to occupy it "until the land is given back".

The land was previously owned by the commercial arm of the Far North District Council. In March 2020 that land was sold to a private developer who plans to build up to 17 houses on the site.

The protest group wants Far North Holdings to reverse the land sale and halt the development, then preserve the headland as a park or reserve. They have applied to Heritage New Zealand to designate the “a site of significance (wāhi tapu)”. HNZ has said they are “seeking further information about the site before progressing".

A protester who was trespassed from the site earlier this year said his hapū had four different Treaty claims pending in the area but felt they had been ''trampled on and dishonoured''.

A petition to stop the development had attracted 1245 signatures and had been sent to the Prime Minister and local MPs, and others.

Further north, a land occupation in Ahipara has just passed its first anniversary. The Northern Advocate reports, “The occupation of the Wharo Way site in October 2021 was triggered by the partial felling of a culturally significant pōhutukawa, but leader Rueben Taipari said the issues went well beyond the tree to how hapū lost the land in the first place and subsequent actions by developers and the council. He saw the land…as a stake in the ground and symbolic of Māori land losses in the area.”

The private landowner, a local GP, has abandoned plans to build on the property and wants to sell the section to recover his costs. It had been offered to local Maori but they rejected the asking price, saying the land “was not a good investment”. (It seems "investment values" are as important as cultural values in this instance.)

The Advocate reports the owner struggled to get the council or police to take action. It was only after lodging a complaint with the Independent Police Conduct Authority that a trespass order was issued. The protesters remain on the site, with undiminished resolve.

There may well be legitimate claims for the land, and the protesters should not be denied the opportunity to seek redress if the grievance is genuine. It is however just as important that the rights of landowners are respected, as they most certainly have not in the two cases above. 

It's time for Parliament to stop turning a blind eye to the abusive treatment private landowners are being subjected to, and acknowledge the personal damage it is causing them. Our politicians should face up to this “confronting” issue, or are they more concerned with the abusive treatment of women in Iran. 

Surely, in the interests of “partnership”, the rights of private landowners should be honoured or is this another example of everyone being equal, but Māori are more equal than others.


Anonymous said...

Great to see the issue of property rights highlighted. It’s been bothering me since Ihumato. It is yet another aspect of democracy that is clearly under attack in New Zealand. Our legal system has been hi-jacked by activists as well as our parliament. Here’s hoping the next government of NZ returns us decisively to one person one vote and one law for all - and that law must be able to be clearly understood by all, not dictated by “cultural experts” after the event.

Anonymous said...

Hear hear! Well said Frank and anonymous. If this sort of nonsense is allowed to fester, heaven help us.

Ken Millward said...

Oh the government do take unlawful occupation of property seriously, look how forcefully they reacted to the occupation of Parliament t grounds.

Empathic said...

Well said. There are processes available by way of injunctions and legal review for challenging land ownership or use. There may be a place for financial assistance of challenging groups given the huge cost of legal proceedings. However, the rules of engagement then need to be clear and strictly enforced, and the outcome respected and enforced. Tolerating unlawful occupations amounts to condoning disregard for the law, a recipe for massive insecurity and harm.