17 Feb 2017

'Give it back' refrain at Waitara Lands Bill hearing

4:33 pm on 17 February 2017

The land was stolen so give it back - me hoki whenua mai - has been a constant refrain at a hearing into the Waitara Lands Bill this morning.

The Māori Affairs Select Committee at Owae Marae, Waitara.

The Māori Affairs Select Committee at Owae Marae, Waitara. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The Māori Affairs Select Committee has been hearing submissions on the New Plymouth District Council sponsored bill at Owae Marae in Waitara.

If passed, it would allow the freeholding of 780 leasehold properties, while returning about 60 hectares of reserve land to Te Ātiawa. Another 16 hectares would become available for development.

More than $60 million from lease sales would be pumped into Waitara through a new entity made up of iwi and council appointees.

However the iwi, which initially supported the bill rejected it late last year.

Patsy Bodger (right) said the 2014 Te Atiawa treaty settlement had been a lost opportunity.

Patsy Bodger (right) said the 2014 Te Ātiawa treaty settlement had been a lost opportunity. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Manukorihi hapū chairperson Patsy Bodger told the committee the land was illegally confiscated following the Taranaki land wars of the 1860s.

In her written submission, Ms Bodger said the Waitara hapū - Manukorihi and Otaraua - had waited 150 years for the land to be given back, to no avail.

"Although in 1927 the Sim Commission report on the Waitara lands recommended that the land be returned to hapū and in 2003 the New Plymouth District Council offered that the lands be returned. We are still waiting."

Ms Bodger said the 2014 Te Ātiawa treaty settlement had been a lost opportunity.

The iwi was offered the land for $23m to come out of its $70m settlement with the Crown. It declined.

"Te Ātiawa Iwi Authority chose to take the money. Manukorihi and Otaraua hapū withdrew from the claim process as our cultural redress for the return of the Waitara lands was ignored. We continue to wait," said Ms Bodger.

She rejected the bill and said the bottom line was that the land should be returned.

"If the land is not returned it will only perpetuate the grievance that exists to this today and our tamariki and mokopuna will be left to continue the challenge to have the stolen lands returned.

"We want our lands back so that our whānau and our community can start healing and build towards a positive future."

Select committee chair Chester Borrows and New Plymouth District Mayor Neil Holdom are welcomed onto Owae Marae.

Select committee chair Chester Borrows and New Plymouth District Mayor Neil Holdom are welcomed onto Owae Marae. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Committee chair Chester Borrows warned submitters it did not have the power to give the land back.

"We can recommend the bill go through as it is, go through with amendments or recommend it be rejected," he said.

Peter Moeahu, who was part of the team that negotiated Te Ātiawa's settlement, was in no doubt what to do in that case and asked the committee "to kill the bill".

Mr Moeahu said Te Ātiawa had not agreed not to take the land back as part of the settlement as the council pointed out in its submission.

"We agreed not to spend $23 million of our settlement to buy back land that was stolen from us in the first place."

Mr Moeahu said the bill was morally unjust, just as those were who had drawn it.

Not everybody who spoke today was against the bill however.

Waitara leaseholder Andrew Larsen told the committee the aspirations of the leaseholders needed to be considered too.

He supported the bill.

"The leasehold lands are holding back Waitara. This bill provides a window of opportunity to freehold those leases," he said.

Waitara leaseholder Andrew Larsen.

Waitara leaseholder Andrew Larsen. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

In a revised submission to the select committee made on Wednesday, the New Plymouth District Council and Taranaki Regional Council outlined their position on what would happen if the bill was not enacted.

"If the bill does not succeed, then the alternative is the status quo ... not enacting this bill will result in leaseholders continuing to rent with no right to freehold."

The submission said that Te Ātiawa would not receive Waitara endowment land at no cost, that the council would continue to administer the leases and accumulate rent while the Waitara community would miss out on opportunities for investment to benefit the town.

The councils said the bill provided a solution that enabled competing interests to be recognised.

"It provides a contemporary solution to a historic legacy. We believe the bill will result in increased opportunity and prosperity for all residents of Waitara."

The deputy chairman of the Manukorihi hapū, Moana Denness said there was an alternative.

Ms Denness said the law should be changed so the land could be returned to the hapū who would take over control of the leases.

"Don't you trust the hapū to administer the leases?" she asked.

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