Māori Land & ‘Utilisation’ Issues

Plenty has been written by central government agencies, local government authorities, legal experts and economic development consultants on ‘unlocking the potential of Māori land. I’m definitely no expert in these matters and perhaps shouldn’t have an opinion as I will never be a Māori land owner – but my wife and tamariki are, so I like to think about what might be good for them and our descendants.
The whole notion of ‘unproductive’ Māori land is a little problematic and ironic.
Problematic because it takes a very utilitarian view of whenua, which is much more than an economic asset to be ‘utilised’ or even natural resource to be ‘managed’ or ‘protected’. Hirini Moko Mead describes it this way:
The land and the environment in which people live became the foundation of their view of the world, the centre of their universe and basis of their identity as citizens or as members of a social unit…
Land was necessary as a means of maintaining social solidarity. Land was the foundation of the social system, the base the means of giving reality to the system in the forms of residences, villages, gardens, special resource regions and so on. Continuity of the group depended every much on a home base called te wā kāinga where people could live like an extended family and actually see it on the ground as a reality.
Undoubtedly land provides a place for one to stand. This is inherent in the concept of tūrangawaewae, a place for the feet to stand; where one’s rights are not challenged, where one feels secure and at home….
The net effect of various cultural bonding mechanisms and traditional tikanga practices was to develop a relationship with the land. This relationship is about bonding to the land and having a place upon which one’s feet can be placed with confidence. The relationship is not about owning the land and being master of it, to dispose of as the owner sees fit. The land has been handed down the whakapapa line from generation to generation and the descendant fortunate enough to inherit the land does not really ‘own’ it. That person did not buy it. The land cannot be regarded as a personal asset to be traded.
(Mead, H.M. Tikanga Māori: Living By Māori Values, Huia Publishers, 2003. pp271-275)
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Legislation governing the way Māori Freehold land has been managed – since settler governments imposed British legal frameworks over most of life in Aotearoa – resulted in large tracts of Māori land being cleared for farming in the late 19th Century and many eventually having no effective administration as succession issues and urbanisation trends complicated management arrangements.
Many of those blocks left fallow for 30-50 years have started reverting to native plant cover with manuka and kanuka establishing themselves as pioneer (or seral) species that in time provide an ideal nursery for larger native trees to eventually takeover. So ironically, these ‘neglected’ land blocks are fast becoming valuable crops for the production of manuka honey, an industry experiencing exponential growth in the past ten years and on track to have a billion dollar turnover in the next five years.
The genesis of this post was when someone asked me this morning if I thought the first step to unlocking unproductive Māori land potential is improving governance of each landblock? If I had an opinion on it, I’d probably say yes and no.
Yes, I think where there is a group of shareholders already recognised by the Māori Land Court as the Responsible Trustee or Advisory Trustees for the block, then yes, they could be interested in accessing support with their governance role  – particularly planning and decision-making based on good information (getting access to the necessary ‘good information’ is another issue).
Where there isn’t that recognised group in place, or where the Māori Trustee has control of the block, there could be a service (and the government is setting up a new Māori Land Service but who knows how long establishment will take and how effective it will be) that:
  • works with any shareholders who express an interest to establish a group of owners interested in overseeing the process;
  • supports the group of engaged shareholders to contact other owners via the postal addresses held by the Māori Land Court and Te Tumu Paeroa, and via informal networks like whanau contacts and Facebook groups of various marae/hapū, to build a current database of shareholder emails that can be basis of ongoing, regular communication. Then they can start organising themselves as owners and making decisions about the land.

Just this activity of contacting shareholders and building a contact database is a huge undertaking that likely needs proper resourcing so interested shareholders can rebuild connections between whanau that may not have been physically connected to the whenua for a generation or more.

There could also be support for hapū groups to develop capability and capacity to take over land administration as Responsible Trustee from Te Tumu Paeroa to provide more active management and local accountability for decisions. Support may need to be provided to shareholders to go to the Land Court to make the changes once the hapū entities have the internal infrastructure to take on the responsibilities of administrating the land blocks in partnership with engaged shareholders.

In terms of then making ‘good decisions’ about the land use, shareholders and Responsible Trustees may be interested in accessing support to build consensus around the values they collectively hold for their whenua and systems for decision-making – particularly how the issue of share numbers may or may not determine the relative influence of shareholders in decision-making.

Locally we have recently invested in the establishment of an online platform to connect better with hapū and marae whānau, this will also be used to connect landowners in interested blocks.

Belonging & Beyond 2012

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The holiday season rolls around and the crowds flood into Paradise while a few of us seek time out around the coast or further afield. Thanks to all the locals who keep Gisborne humming over the busiest period of the year, I hope you too find time to relax with your friends and family.

It’s been a roller-coaster year in terms of local issues.

10,000 locals signed a petition and thousands marched to convince the Government and KiwiRail that retaining the line is essential for the prosperity of the region as local business demonstrated its value.

Air New Zealand cut flights in response to Eastland Group increasing the cost of using the airport and the Government cut local roading subsidies while increasing fuel tax to pay for billions worth of new motorways in other parts of the country.

Petrobras pulled out of deep sea exploration and two Canadian companies submitted an application to explore onshore while the Government plans to have 90 percent of the district under oil and gas exploration by 2014.

Housing New Zealand has over 70 empty properties in Gisborne while many families will spend Christmas in overcrowded conditions, in boarding houses and a few just sleep in the open.

Local government legislation had an unpopular overhaul along with the rules around financing council election campaigns (they probably should include a requirement to disclose political party positions of councillors too). The ETS was scrapped with no effective replacement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while some of the most successful national business leaders pushed for greater public and private investment in the green economy.

Locally the representation review has resulted in a new configuration for Gisborne District Council after the October 2013 elections and the challenges of unpaid rates on Māori land have been shelved while we sort out some gross anomalies in the new rates structure that hit some landowners very hard.

Children living in poverty, youth mental health, our sexually transmitted infection statistics and gangs have been other issues I have worked on this year.

On a more positive note we have seen great progress being made on most of the major projects Council agreed on in June. Walkways and cycle lanes were the big winner based on massive pubic support. The focus needs to be on commuter cyclists – the Taraheru boardwalk and Kaiti to Wainui cycleways will result in the largest gains.

The Transit of Venus was a highlight of the year for many of us, especially the Transit Forum that brought the best minds in the country here to discuss the future of our country.

The inaugural Tairawhiti Techxpo was a roaring success as it exposed local students and their families to the potential of careers in the technology industries and plans are well underway for a bigger and better event in 2013.

It is great to see many young people who grew up in Gisborne returning for the holidays and exciting to hear about the interesting work they are involved with outside of the district. New partnerships with universities have been established in the district and we look forward to the opportunities these bring for innovation and new business.

Belonging has two meanings. One is the sense of connection to a place and/or a group of people, the other relates to ownership. For all of us to really belong here we need to develop and maintain both a strong sense of connection and have some degree of ownership in decisions and public resources. I hope both of these factors have been strengthened locally over the year and will continue to grow in 2013. 

The Most Important Issue in the World

OK, here’s a potentially boring but important law change that citizens should take an interest in.

Submissions on the Local Electoral Amendment Bill are due this Friday. Given the Government’s desire to have the amendments enacted for the 2013 local government elections, the consultation period has been short.

The Bill tightens the rules around anonymous donations, and basically aligns the local election requirements with those that apply to Parliamentary elections. Candidates can not accept an anonymous donation of more than $1500 and the definition of anonymous donations has been amended so that a donation is anonymous if the candidate does not know the identity of the donor, or could not be reasonably expected to know the identity of the donor – I hope John Banks supports this!

The Bill also incorporates amendments that were in a similar bill Rodney Hide introduced into Parliament just before Parliament rose for the 2011 general elections.

There is a need to minimise the undue influence of wealth in local body election campaigns and to promote transparency and accountability in relation to election financing by introducing caps on donations, limiting the use of anonymous donations and regulating third party spending.

The purpose of this Bill is to strengthen the law governing electoral financing in relation to local body elections, in order to increase transparency and accountability in relation to electoral donations, and strengthen the integrity and efficiency of the local electoral system. As a result, the hope is public confidence in local elections will increase.

Key provisions in the Bill provide for anonymous donations not to exceed $1,500 and more regulation of third party spending.

Significantly, the new legislation provides for more latitude on the application of the +/-10% of voters to councillor rule that caused some controversy during the Gisborne District Council representation review this year.

The bill also requires candidates to identify their primary place of residence because we could have a situation where someone living in Auckland is a ratepayer in Gisborne and could stand for election here.

Other suggestions not included in the bill would lower the anonymous donation amount, put a limit on the total amount that could be donated by an individual or group, a ban on donations from overseas and a pecuniary interests register for members of local authorities.

If I’d written the bill I would have included the requirement for local body candidates and elected members to disclose on a public register any position they hold within a political party. The position could be for any appointed or elected role with a registered political party. Perceived or actual conflicts of interest can exist when local issues are affected by central government changes and a local politician is in a local or national leadership role of either a party whether it is in government or opposition. I’m not suggesting this has happened in Gisborne District Council but the bill claims to be about increasing transparency. While all elected councillors swear an oath to act in the best interests of the whole district, voters should be able to know of any official position a candidate or councillor has with a political party.

Submissions close this Friday (http://tiny.cc/mh0bpw) and though very unlikely, changes may still be made at the select committee stage. I’m sure hundreds of readers care about our democracy so much they will be keen to spend the week before Christmas holidays analysing the bill and writing a submission.