Tuesday, March 15, 2016

If the government wants Treaty settlements to stick, it needs to obey them

In 1995, the government settled most Treaty of Waitangi claims in the Waikato region with the Waikato Raupatu Claims Settlement Act 1995. In 2010 it settled most of the rest with the Waikato-Tainui Raupatu Claims (Waikato River) Settlement Act 2010. Both settlements included right of first refusal clauses, requiring government bodies owning land seized from Maori to offer it back to its owners before any sale. But Solid Energy, which is selling its assets after going bankrupt, is ignoring that law:

The break up of ailing state-owned mining company Solid Energy has hit a legal hurdle with iwi saying farms currently offered for sale should be offered to it first.

Waikato-Tainui will file a statement of claim in the High Court in Christchurch ​on Tuesday to stop debt-laden Solid Energy from proceeding with a tender process on land subject to a right of first refusal (RFR).


The company shut down the Huntly East mine in October and has now put more than 1000ha of farms near the Huntly power station on the market as part of its sell down.

Of those listed properties, 54ha was earmarked for return to Waikato-Tainui under their RFR mechanism in both the 1995 Waikato Raupatu Settlement Act and the 2010 Waikato River Settlement Act.

Papa said Solid Energy failed to comply with legislation despite the iwi's confirming its interest in purchasing the land.

This seems open and shut. The law says Solid Energy must negotiate with Waikato-Tainui first, and they're not. And they should not have to go to court to enforce that, or to hold the government to its word.

But this raises a wider problem as well. Lots of Treaty settlements contain these sorts of clauses, and they're a primary form of redress. If they can simply be ignored, then those settlements are worthless and will need to be renegotiated. Solid Energy's actions don't just violate the rights of Waikato-Tainui; they undermine the entire Treaty settlement process.