Regional | Chris Finlayson

'No logical reason' govt can't return private land like Ihumātao

Moana Maniapoto discussed treaty issues with (L-R) former Treaty Minister Chris Finlayson, Dr Margaret Mutu and Raukawa treaty negotiator Chris McKenzie on the first of two special episodes of Te Ao with Moana on Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  Photo/File.

There is "no logical reason" why private land like Ihumātao cannot be returned to Māori under treaty settlement processes says a treaty expert.

Dr Margaret Mutu, a Professor of Māori Studies at the University of Auckland and an experienced treaty negotiator, told Te Ao with Moana that "political will" was the only matter standing in the way of the government returning private land to iwi.

“It’s entirely arbitrary and it’s part of the mythology that’s built up around the treaty claims settlement process that somehow private land is not available. There’s absolutely no logical reason why that should be so."

The comments were made during the first of two special episodes on Te Tiriti o Waitangi broadcast on Māori Television at 8.00pm on August 20th and 27th.

Dr Mutu was taking issue with former Treaty Minister Chris Finlayson who told presenter Moana Maniapoto that private land must stay off the negotiating table.

"It has to be the way we operate as a country that the government doesn’t step in and take private lands for settlements,” he said.

Dr Mutu and Mr Finlayson were panellists, along with Raukawa treaty negotiator Chris McKenzie, on the first of the special Te Ao with Moana episodes devoted to treaty issues.

Dismissing Mr Finlayson's suggestion that she wanted to use the Public Works Act to get land back from private owners, Dr Mutu said there was no reason the government could not agree a deal with Fletcher Buildings to return Ihumātao to iwi.

"If land, particularly if it’s a wāhi tapu like it is out there at Ihumātao, there is the capability to enter into agreements with the current owners to buy that land off them at market value. So there is nothing stopping the government from doing it other than a political will."

Mr Finlayson said an arrangement had already been reached with the owners of Ihumātao that was a practical solution to the problem.

“[The iwi] did exactly what [Dr Mutu] has been talking about and secured some rights over the land. It wasn’t an absolute victory, but it was a good practical arrangement.”

In reply, Dr Mutu said, "I don't think it's about victory, it's about what's right."

On the overall justice of treaty dealings, Mr McKenzie said there will not be true full and final settlement of grievances until the people know in their hearts that justice has been done.

“[Full and final,] it’s definitely a thing that’s written into the deed of settlement. Is it a thing that’s written into the hearts of the people who negotiate this? No, not at all," he said.

"What we know is that this is full and final for today because this is the best of today’s justice that we could get. But there’s a funny thing about that justice, until it comes you’ll continue to strive for it and every generation will.”

WATCH the first of our two specials episodes on Te Tiriti o Waitangi here.
Part 1 - What is the point of treaty settlements?
Part 2 - How fit for purpose is the treaty settlement model?
Part 3 - How does the Crown restore trust?