Friday, September 11, 2015

A ruling the government cannot ignore

While National has generally been a "do nothing" government, one thing it has been acting urgently on is Treaty settlements. While their desire to right the wrongs of the past is admirable, their haste to do has caused some problems. And the Waitangi Tribunal has just called them out on a huge one: the dodgy "mandate" for the Ngapuhi settlement:

The Crown's hopes of settlement for Ngapuhi have been dealt a further moral blow after a Waitangi Tribunal report recommended putting negotiations on hold until more hapu were on board.

The Waitangi Tribunal report into the mandate given to Tuhoronuku to negotiate on behalf of all Ngapuhi did not recommend the mandate process begin anew. It said the Crown had not acted in bad faith in dealing with hapu before deciding to recognise Tuhoronuku. However, the Crown had failed to ensure hapu were adequately represented and criticised it for pushing ahead with negotiations before ensuring there was wide hapu participation.

In a letter to Treaty minister Chris Finlayson, it recommended the Crown halt its negotiations "to give Ngapuhi breathing space to work through the issues identified." It said Ngapuhi hapu should be given a new chance to confirm whether they wished to be represented by Tuhoronuku.

The Waitangi Tribunal said while it was supportive of a united approach by Ngapuhi, that had to be a matter of choice for Ngapuhi hapu. The Crown should also include a condition that the mandate would continue only if a clear majority of hapu were involved.

This is a ruling the government cannot ignore. If it wants settlements to stick, it has to ensure that iwi and hapu, those they are supposedly settling with, are happy with the process. Instead, in an effort to rush things and announce a big settlement, they've chosen to negotiate with a body which doesn't actually represent the people it purports to represent, and which bases its claimed mandate in some cases on the support of a single member of a hapu which has explicitly chosen not to participate. The parallel with how past government undermined collective land ownership should be obvious.

By choosing to negotiate with Tuhoronuku, the government is in grave danger of repeating the injustices of the past. It should put those negotiations on hold until the mandate is clear, and/or allow hapu to pursue their claims individually. Otherwise, they are simply creating problems for the future.