Friday, February 22, 2008

Washing their hands

For the past 18 years, the government has been attempting to settle Treaty claims on the central North Island's Kaingaroa Forest. However, multiple overlapping claims and unclear ownership has made it impossible, so the government has hit upon a new (or rather, old) solution: washing their hands of the matter. Rather than work out who owned what and complete a just settlement with each individual iwi, they have instead signed a deal to transfer settlement assets to a body made up of the claimants, leaving them to fight it out amongst themselves.

There's an obvious parallel with the 1992 "Sealord" deal here (which has already resulted in the settlement being dubbed "treelord") and there's a danger that it could go the same way, with a decade of expensive legal action and much bitterness all round. OTOH, direct negotiations between rival claimants might work (as it eventually did with Sealord). But either way, it's hard to escape the impression that rather than striving for justice, the government is going for quick solutions to show it is getting on with the job. And that's a rather disappointing attitude.

Update: Obviously, this isn't a bad Thing if all potential claimants are happy with the arrangement. But not everybody is. And the danger is that they will be sidelined while the government pursues headlines.