A recent Supreme Court ruling is threatening to blow out the Treaty of Waitangi settlement deadline.
The landmark “Haronga” case opened the door for new claims to be filed by smaller groups within an iwi. Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson confirmed additional groups had applied for the return of land since the court’s May decision.
Currently, once a settlement is negotiated between the Crown and an iwi, all claims related to that iwi are extinguished, regardless of whether smaller claimants approve. But the court’s ruling allowed for claims to be pursued by smaller groups in some instances.
The judge ruled the Waitangi Tribunal had to decide whether to return forestry land near Gisborne to Mangatu Incorporation. Its chairman, Alan Haronga, is fighting for 3490ha of forestry land, separate from the iwi settlement process. A decision has yet to be made.
Treaty of Waitangi lawyer Janet Mason said the government was unlikely to meet its 2014 deadline to settle all claims.
“The recent decision basically sends a message that justice should prevail over expediency and convenience for the Crown.”
She said if there was a claim for land by a smaller group, that group was entitled to go to the tribunal.
Mason compared the current settlement process to the leaky building scheme – but without the choice.
“If you are the owner of a leaky building, you can opt into the government compensation scheme or have your claim heard before the court.
“Maori claimants don’t have a choice – some entity can opt into a Crown-driven compensation package, and extinguish their claim without their consent.”
In the Supreme Court case, the judge forced the Waitangi Tribunal to hear the Mangatu Incorporation’s application for land to be returned. That had not happened before because claimants had gone along with the Crown’s “large natural groupings” policy – which brings claimants into a single group, Mason said.
Her company Pacific Law was acting for Gregory Macdonald, from Ngati Manuhiri in Auckland.
Mason said the Supreme Court ruling had clarified what the Macdonald whanau had always thought – that they were entitled to make a direct claim for land.
Under the proposed settlement the land would transfer to the iwi, but the hapu (sub-tribe) was challenging that and wanted the land returned to it.
Ngati Kahu had also indicated it would make a similar claim on forestry land in the Far North.
But Finlayson rejects claims the government is rushing settlements through at the cost of justice. “Most iwi are extremely keen to complete settlements, because they have seen the significant benefits settlements have brought other groups.”
The Waitangi Tribunal is holding an inquiry into the Mangatu Incorporation’s claim for the return of the Mangatu forest land, but must also weigh up “well-founded” claims from other groups, he said.
Finlayson said 2014 was a goal rather than a strict deadline, because the government could not impose settlements on parties who might not be ready to settle. “Settlements need to be just and durable.”
– Sunday Star Times
By Marika Hill. Pposted on Stuff.co.nz