This has to be the best report of this festering sore I have read to date.
Dr Muiel Newman writes
A land protest near Auckland airport has serious implications for private property rights in New Zealand – if it is not handled properly by the Government.
Ihumatao represents a clash of generations, cultures, and leadership.
This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, political analyst Dr Bryce Edwards of Victoria University, has called it the ‘Zeitgeist of 2019’. In his analysis of media commentary over the conflict, he explains:
“The extraordinary Maori land protest at Ihumatao in Auckland is symbolic of our time. It is unlikely to have occurred, say, five years ago. It perfectly reflects heightened concerns and increased radicalism over racism, economic inequality, and the history of colonialism in New Zealand.
“This meant that when the police moved in last week to evict a long-running protest about the confiscation of Maori land, it suddenly ignited those values that have been brewing in many about injustice and a need to take a stand.”
The land at the centre of the dispute on the Ihumatao Peninsula overlooking the Manukau Harbour has had a chequered history.
Since being disposed of by the Crown following tribal rebellions in the 1860s it was privately owned and run as a farm. But in the late 1990s, the Manukau City Council, Auckland Regional Authority and Department of Conservation wanted 100 hectares of the surrounding area for the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve. The owners of the farm agreed that 21ha could be used for that purpose.
However, in 2009, when the Council proposed changing the zoning to capture the rest of the farm, the family objected and applied for the zoning to be changed to business development instead. The Council rejected their proposal, so they appealed to the Environment Court, which found in their favour, approving the land for future development.
The Council then offered to buy the land for a fraction of what it was worth, so the family refused to sell. Then, in 2014 after the Super City was formed, the Government and the Auckland Council designated 32ha of the land as a Special Housing Area.
In 2016 Fletcher Building bought the land to build 480 houses, after consulting with the local iwi Te Kawerau a Maki. In return for supporting their consent, the iwi’s Settlement Trust extracted generous concessions from Fletchers, including the return of a quarter of the land and 40 of the houses!
With tribal leaders now claiming that the land rights activists are disrespecting their elders by refusing to leave the site, the protest action is putting those substantial benefits at risk.
The well-funded protest action began three years ago when Fletchers bought the land. At the time, protest leader, Pania Newton, had just graduated as a lawyer and was spending a gap year working for her community. A top scholar at her Mangere Maori immersion school, she appears to have been radicalised at a young age: “When I was 9, I wrote in a time capsule at school that I wanted to be a lawyer when I grew up, to fight for Maori rights and for my family”.
Saving Ihumatao became her mission, and the ‘Save Our Unique Landscape’ (SOUL) campaign began.
Inspired by the Maori Sovereignty and Indigenous Rights movements, Pania Newton deliberately defied her uncle Te Warena Taua – the chairman of the iwi’s Settlement Trust that had approved Fletchers’ development – by starting the protest. He had asked her not to go ahead as he didn’t want her to jeopardise the lucrative arrangement they had negotiated.
The occupation began in November 2016 when tents, caravans, and makeshift shelters were erected by the side of the road.
In 2017, the group took their fight to the United Nations in order to gain international visibility and to enable the UN to put pressure on the New Zealand Government.
There were two trips to New York. The first was in May to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues where they alleged breaches of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People. The second visit was in August to present their case to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The UN made a number of non-binding directives, including that the New Zealand Government “obtain the free and informed consent of Maori before approving any project affecting the use and development of their traditional land and resources”.
In 2018, the protestors then took their fight to the Environment Court to attempt to have Fletchers’ consent to build houses on the land revoked. But the Judge found that the company had done more than they had been required to do to protect the land and their appeal was dismissed.
Undeterred by their legal failure, earlier this year they delivered a petition to Parliament demanding the government step in to protect the land. A second petition was lodged with the Auckland Council.
Then in May, just as Fletchers were getting ready to begin work on their development, the protestors blocked an access road and threatened workers.
In response, Fletchers and the iwi leaders supporting the development, served eviction notices on the occupiers. Arrests were made when the protestors breached a police cordon and attempted to stop trucks from entering the site.
The protest group has since called for support on social media, attracting responses from an eclectic mix including the Destiny Church and a delegation from the Muslim community. Busloads of supporters have joined the protestors with moral support and gifts of kai and koha.
According to tribal elders, 99.9 percent of the protesters have no connection to the iwi or the land.
While the SOUL facebook page urges supporters to “stand in solidarity as we protect this waahi tapu at Ihumaatao”, iwi leaders point out that claims that the land is on ancient burial grounds and is wahi tapu, are deliberately misleading. They say the land to be built on was used for growing wheat and that the only sacred area is the 8ha that will be given to the iwi.
The present situation has been likened to the Bastion Point stand-off in the late 1970s, when protestors, who also disagreed with their elders occupied the area for 507 days. That issue was finally resolved when 800 police arrived in a convoy of army trucks to arrest the protesters and demolish their makeshift homes.
But this protest is very different: it’s over private land. If central government steps in to appease the protestors and give them what they want, they could end up opening the flood gates for activists to claim any piece of private land they fancied.
All they would have to do is what they have done at Ihumatao – occupy the land, claim it has cultural significance, then demand that it be returned to its “rightful owners”.
The Green Party’s co-leader Marama Davidson is supporting the protestors, claiming the dispute represents a “continuation of colonisation”. She has called on the Government to intervene, but the Prime Minister said she did not want to undermine the local iwi and was loath to get involved. The Minister of Maori Crown Relations Kelvin Davis reinforced her stance saying it was not the Government’s place to intervene: “That would disrespect the rangatiratanga of Te Kawerau a Maki. This is their land, their assets and their plan for their people.”
However, accusations that Jacinda Ardern was showing a “lack of leadership” caused her to reverse her position. She has now announced a halt on all building work until the dispute is resolved.
But the local Maori MP, Labour Minister Peeni Henare has warned, “If the Government steps in to buy this land back, we undermine every Treaty settlement that’s been done to date. We then allow re-litigation of settlements that have been done in the past and are we prepared for that?”
How central government handles this matter is critical. Most New Zealanders would strongly object to any move to re-open Treaty settlements. They would be outraged by any plan to open up private land for Maori grievances.
Yet that is exactly what the protestors are demanding. They want Treaty claims to be able to include private land – as the protest leader explained: “Here at Ihumatao we are challenging the notion that the government can simply wash its hands of the confiscation of lands that happened in the 1860s, and the devastating effects of this simply because the land has been transferred into private hands. This struggle for justice goes to the heart of how our democracy works—and has shown us that our democracy is wanting, and needing to be reviewed.”
This puts the protestors not only at odds with their tribal leaders, but also with the Treaty settlement process that specifies that only Crown land and assets can be used to settle claims, never private property.
It’s section 6 of the 1975 Treaty of Waitangi Act that specifically excludes the use of private land to settle Treaty claims. The Hansard of Parliamentary debates explains that ‘private land is sacrosanct’: “Private citizens hold their tenure from the Crown, and they are entitled to look to the Crown to protect that right and that tenure. That right will now be enshrined in legislation for the protection of all private landowners in New Zealand…
“To put it simply, the Waitangi Tribunal will not have the jurisdiction to recommend that particular areas of privately owned land be acquired by the Crown for return to Maori claimants under the treaty settlement process.”
The protestors’ desire to overturn this private property rights safeguard signals the rise of a new generation of radicals who are determined to return Aotearoa to Maori. These fanatics have been incubated and nurtured over the last 20 or 30 years through decades of political appeasement. The rise of radicalism is a significant threat to social stability. Unless it is successfully curtailed it signals that a very dangerous path lies ahead. One has only to look at the history of land confiscations in Zimbabwe to see where this could lead New Zealand if the situation is mismanaged by the Government.
The protest also signifies the growing dissatisfaction with the tribal class system which privileges an elite with hereditary entitlement, while leaving the majority behind with little to show from decades of Treaty settlements and government largesse. While this iwi elite now control corporations worth billions of dollars, many disadvantaged tribal members languish in the country’s worst socio-economic failure.
In fact, the evidence over the decades categorically shows that race-based handouts controlled by powerful tribal leaders will never reduce inequality.
At the heart of the problem is the fact that defining people by race is an artificial construct that divides citizens, families, communities and the nation. ‘Race’ is being aggressively promoted by tribal vested interests who stand to gain the spoils of victory – ably assisted by a new generation of lawyers profiting from the largely government-funded gravy train.
But the point is that there is no scientific foundation for defining people by ‘race’. Many countries are no longer prepared to condone the racial exploitation and division associated with tribalism, and have eliminated the concept from legislation. These wise leaders do not allow citizens to be marginalised in race-based collectives, but treat everyone equally as individuals. This is the predominant situation in much of Western Europe, including Austria, Finland, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, and Sweden, as well as in Fiji and many States in the US.
It’s time that New Zealand followed suit and removed race from our legislation. Equal rights for all citizens is the basis of our democracy – it should also be the foundation for how we are governed.
If the Prime Minister does decide to step in to help resolve the protest, then let’s hope she stands firm against appeasing the radicals. Otherwise, she risks a disastrous outcome – setting a precedent that could open the way for widespread tribal claims on private land.