'Tangata whenua in this country have given enough'

8:00 pm on 8 February 2017

Renowned author Patricia Grace has written another chapter in her fight to retain her ancestral land in Waikanae.

Patricia Grace

Patricia Grace Photo: RNZ / Aaron Smale

Mrs Grace previously won a legal battle against the government in 2014, after it threatened to take her land for a Kapiti road.

She is challenging the Public Works Act, and appeared at a Māori Affairs Select Committee hearing today in Parliament to support a petition that calls for Māori land to be exempt.

The government uses the Act to compel private land owners to sell their land for public services. In some cases under the law, Māori land was taken without payment.

Green MP Catherine Delahunty started the petition. She tabled a bill in parliament last year calling for the change, but that bill was defeated.

Mrs Grace said while she won her legal case, she felt the victory was a hollow one because the Public Works Act was still used to take Māori land, including from neighbours and whānau.

"We couldn't stop the motorway or the expressway, but we could stop NZTA from taking our land, which meant they had to go around our land. The rest of the whānau, the other block owners, did the best they could to minimise that and they supported where we were coming from. I felt bad for them, it was like, because of me, some of their land was being taken. A lot of theirs had been taken already."

Ms Delahunty said the petition challenged the select committee to investigate the effect of the law on Māori and whether it should change to exclude land that was owned under the Māori Land Court system.

She said the government regularly apologised in Treaty settlements for breaches through the Public Works Act, but carried on using it to take Māori land.

"The Waitangi Tribunal has been very clear that the Public Works Act has been a major instrument of land alienation in this country. And that's another reason why we need to make sure it can't continue."

She said the argument that exempting Māori land from the Public Works Act would privilege Māori owners did not stack up.

"Māori land owners of collectively-owned land are put under pressure to give up their land for the public good. Tangata whenua in this country have given enough for the public good. As Patricia said this morning, whānau have given a great deal to allow Pākeha to have access to resources in this country. And it's time for that to stop."

Mrs Grace inherited the land from her ancestor, the 19th century Māori leader and politician Wi Parata Te Kākākura, and was once part of an extensive Te Ati Awa settlement. The remnant that Mrs Grace owned was part of a burial ground.

Wi Parata Te Kākākura fought a legal battle for Ngāti Toa land near Porirua.

That legal case led then-Chief Justice Sir James Prendergast to refer to the Treaty of Waitangi as a "simple nullity", which has become an infamous phrase in New Zealand history.

Sir Eddie Durie - the former chairman of the Waitangi Tribunal - said some of the most well-known protests were over land taken using the Public Works Act, such as Bastion Point.

"The land at Okahu Bay, which contained a marae and so on, was taken under the Public Works Act. That's at Bastion Point, which led to that big protest (in the 1970s). The land was taken there because the new Queen Elizabeth in the early 1950s was paying a visit out that way and they (the government) wanted to clean up the area."

Mrs Grace said she had been asked whether she intended to write a book about fighting for her land.

"My answer to that is I've already written it when I wrote Potiki. That was about land development and Māori resistance. I probably won't be writing another Potiki."

The select committee has reserved a decision on the petition.

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