Joshua Hitchcock

Land Based Taxes and Māori

In Te Ao Māori on June 8, 2015 at 9:13 pm

I am currently in Auckland undertaking a LLM course with Professor James Anaya and Dr Claire Charters focusing on indigenous rights within the international legal system.  We have had a number of discussion on self-determination (a lessor form of the right to Tino Rangatiratanga guaranteed to Māori under Te Tiriti o Waitangi) and on appropriate remedies for breaches of the fundamental human rights that indigenous peoples hold.  One such right is the right to be secure in the possession of their lands and resources, encapsulated in Article 26 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:

Article 26

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.

2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.

3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.

In the New Zealand context, Māori rights to their whenua is guaranteed under Ko Te Tuarua o Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  In reality, however, Māori continue to hold only 6% of land within Aotearoa – the remainder either having been confiscated or acquired using less than fair methods.  The settlement programme the Crown has undertaken over the past two decades has returned a portion of the wealth stolen from Māori, but this portion is nowhere near sufficient enough to make up for the loss suffered.

Which brings me to the issue of land based taxes – a topic that has been getting a lot of media and public attention lately.  Both a capital gains tax and a form of land value tax have been mooted in recent times to both broaden our tax base and provide some relief to the overheated Auckland housing market.  What has been missing in this debate is the recognition of the pre-existing rights Māori hold over the whenua in Aotearoa, regardless of whether or not their title to the land has been extinguished by the Crown according to the constructs of the Westminster legal system.  If we start with the propositions that 1) Māori retain rights in their ancestral whenua, and 2) these rights have been unjustly confiscated or removed by the Crown then it follows that appropriate redress is required to remedy that breach of the right.  While it can be argued that the “full and final” settlements have resolved this issue, the imposition of a tax on land is a shift in the underlying foundations on which the Iwi settlements have been based.

In effect, the imposition of a capital gains tax or a land value tax would amount to a further attempt by the Crown to profit from the breach of Māori rights to their ancestral whenua.  Māori rights to their whenua should be, and must be, taken into account in the formulation of any land based taxed and, therefore, a portion of the income raised (50%) should be returned to the traditional owners of the land as on-going compensation for the breach of their rights.  At the heart of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi is the notion of a partnership between the Crown and Māori.  It is not a partnership of equals while one party continues to profit from the harm it has caused the other.

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  1. Thank you for your updates. I appreciate your ongoing efforts to bring clarity and understanding on land issues for Maoris.

  2. moari ownership over land means that there should be no taxes paid as there is true ownership of the land and local bodies cannot over ride this?

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