With the National Government seemingly sleepwalking towards a second term I took some time out of my busy work schedule today to have a look at their Māori Affairs policy. Overall it is a fairly bland document, highlighting achievements and the areas of social policy that the Government intends to focus on over the next three years. There were, however, three very interesting policy prescriptions that I want to discuss.
Probably the biggest surprise is that National has apparently ditched the policy of holding a referendum on the continued existence of the Māori electorates. Three years ago this policy was sidelined as a condition of the supply and confidence agreement with the Māori Party and it would appear that the relationship developed between the two parties is such that National can now see the value in the Māori electorates. In fact, National is beginning to make a push for Māori voters following recent polls showing their support as high as 17% in some Māori electorates, up from an average of approximately 9% in 2008.
Review of the Māori Land Court
Turning to the new policies announced today, and there were two that caught my eye as being positive steps forward. The first, no doubt influenced by statements earlier this year by Whaimutu Dewes, calls for a review of the Māori Land Court system and Te Ture Whenua Māori. As part of their plan to “Support Growth in Māori Enterprise and Assets”, National intends to:
Review the role of the Maori Land Court with a focus on the administration of title and
a view to streamline and enhance support,
record management and development
opportunities for Maori landowners.
The issue of Māori land title has occupied Governments for the past 150 years, the reason being that the laws of succession to Māori land led to fragmented ownership which in itself leads to a lack of owner engagement in their land blocks and a lack of productive use of Māori land. It is a complex problem and one which, despite the best intentions of Te Ture Whenua Māori 1993, has yet to be satisfactorily resolved. Regular readers will know that I am a firm believer that the economic development of our whenua can prove to be the key to unlocking the economic, social, and cultural development of Māori. That said, any new policy direction must maintain the kaupapa of the current regime: the retention of Māori land in Māori hands.
The Māori Trustee
Finally, the Government intend to:
Explore the case for working with the Maori
Trustee to, where appropriate, enable iwi
trusts to manage trustee lands on behalf of
I am not sure why such an approach will only be explored, rather than implemented on day one of resuming office. It is obvious to anyone with even a passing interest in this field that the less land managed by the Māori Trustee the better. We need to be upskilling our own people to run and manage our own land blocks, and not have Wellington dictate the direction of hapū and whānau land. Rural Māori communities, such as the East Coast and Te Tai Tokerau are crying out for more economic opportunities for their rangatahi and there is scope to provide those here. The majority of Māori land is located in the poorer, rural areas of New Zealand such as the East Coast and Te Tai Tokerau. By devolving the administration of land back to the owners, and using even a fraction of the $70 million in assets under the Māori Trustee’s administration to train and upskill Māori in those regions, the next Government can make a massive difference in the lives of these Māori communities.