Maori Land and the Legal Services Act 2011

I was reading through some recent press releases (as you do) and came across this one from Te Tai Tonga MP, Rahui Katene on a new section of the Legal Services Act 2011 which seeks to include Maori land within the definitions of income and disposable capital.  What does this mean? Basically, when any owner of Maori land is making an application for civil legal aid, any income earned from that land is attributed to the applicants income and the capital value of the owner’s interest in that land is included in the applicants disposable capital value.  An application for legal aid will be declined if either of these calculations exceeds the prescribed limits.  In arguing that these provisions should be removed from the Bill, Rahui Katene stated the following:

A part of this bill disadvantages Maori people because they have interests in multiply-owned Maori land – land that has been passed down from generation to generation and that should continue to be.

Having shares in Maori land is not necessarily a commercial interest, but more so a cultural interest that is not purchased, that should not be sold and that should not be classed as one’s own personal asset.

The majority of people with shares in multiply-owned Maori land don’t see personal wealth or income from that land because the benefits are usually spread communally among the shareholders, their children and mokopuna which can number thousands of people in one land block.

The problem with this legislation is that it fails to recognise the fundamental nature of Maori land.  Maori land is not an individual commodity in the sense that general freehold land is, with strong restrictions of any sale of the land prescribed in Te Ture Whenua Maori 1993.  Further, as Rahui Katene highlights, such land is often held on behalf of the wider whanau.

I wrote recently about the calls for a review of Te Ture Whenua Maori 1993. It is provisions like these that reinforce the need for a review – to bring attention to them, and any others, and recommend revision to ensure that consistency with Te Ture Whenua Maori is achieved. Parliament needs to be reminded of the tikanga of our whenua – our whenua is a taonga tuku iho, a treasure to be preserved and passed on to our future generations.  We do not own the whenua, we merely look after it for our children.

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