One of my sources alerted me to the new Maori Purposes Bill which was introduced to the House on Tuesday morning. A Maori Purposes Bill is an omnibus bill, like the regular Statutes Amendment Bills which come through every so often, only for Maori-specific legislation. This one makes a bunch of mostly technical amendments to various pieces of legislation - increasing the number of judges in the Maori land Court, retrospectively ratifying some of their judicial practices, amending the Maori Fisheries Act 2004 to tweak the way fisheries assets are allocated. More contentiously, it plans to amend the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 by setting a deadline of 1st September 2008 for the filing of historical Treaty claims (defined as anything from before 21st September 1992), and forbids the Tribunal from accepting or considering or making recommendations on any historical claims submitted after that date.
I've said before that I disagree strongly with this sort of policy. It's good to have a goal, a timeline on which you want to settle things. But the moment you start imposing a cutoff date after which no claims will be considered, you have a recipe for injustice which undermines the entire process. The Treaty settlements process is supposed to be about justice, righting past wrongs - and that is not aided by imposing bureaucratic limits on claims. To point out the obvious, what the government did in the past will not cease to be unjust because an iwi or hapu missed the filing date, and they will be no less deserving of recompense. And such an arrangement is not likely to help the mostly symbolic settlements we are handing out stick. If we want finality, then the way to get it is to work towards settling claims with the utmost good faith and goodwill - not by slamming down a deadline and attempting to impose settlements unilaterally.