National | Taranaki

Rates-free Māori land to increase under Taranaki bill

By Craig Ashworth, Local democracy reporter

A range of Māori land will be free from rates in New Plymouth if district councillors approve a revamp of the current rules.

Current council rules say rates can be cancelled on Māori freehold land that is unoccupied, multiple-owned and produces no income.

But the Government has changed the Local Government Act, making such unused land non-rateable in the first place, and requiring councils to overhaul their rating of Māori land.

Rates on more Māori land would be cancelled under a new policy approved by New Plymouth District Council's Strategy and Operations committee this week.

The council's kaitakawaenga Aroha Chamberlain said iwi and hapū had a say on the new rules, which took into account Taranaki's troubled history.

"The policy reflects the history of the district, the confiscations… the use of the Public Works Act and the non-payment of rates which has taken whenua Māori."

The aim was to support Māori ownership, use, occupation and development of their remaining land.

If it was unused or partially used, rates would be remitted on Māori customary land, Māori freehold land, Māori reservations and Crown land reserved for Māori, and former Māori freehold land still owned by beneficial shareholders.

Some land in general title with Māori owners would also have rates remitted if used by iwi or hapū for community benefit, papakāinga, or used by iwi to protect cultural, historic or natural values.

Rates would also be suspended on non-commercial land returned to Te Kōwhatu Tū Moana by the settlement covering Waitara's disputed Pekapeka Block.

Debts for missed payments on Māori land still subject to rates could be written off if the current rates were paid for three years.

Chamberlain told the committee the new policy met legal obligations to recognise and support the relationship of Māori and their culture and traditions with their ancestral land.

Developing Māori land is often obstructed by multiple ownership, fragmentation and difficulty getting finance made.

"The policy aims to remove rates as a further barrier to the use of Māori land and also facilitate Māori aspirations for their lands as a cornerstone for Māori wellbeing and prosperity," said Chamberlain.

The council estimated the new remission policy would cost $60,000, and that the unused land already eligible for the current $47,000 of remissions mostly would become non-rateable under the Government law change.

More staff time would be needed for the more complex new rules.

New Plymouth District's Māori freehold land comprises 6164 hectares, or 2.7 percent of the total area of 242,400 hectares.

The report to the committee indicated possible backlash against the new rules.

"There is little general public understanding of the history and nature of Māori land tenure and the impacts this has on the payment of rates."

"As a result, there is a risk that the community may view the proposed Māori land remissions as unfair because they only apply to Māori land."

Chamberlain said the policy meets the Local Government Act's requirement that rates policies support the aim of Te Ture Whenua Māori Act: "to promote the retention of that land in the hands of its owners, their whānau, and their hapū, and to protect wāhi tapu."

The laws also require councils "to facilitate the occupation, development, and utilisation of that land for the benefit of its owners, their whānau, and their hapū."

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting