Concerns iwi might block access to reserves labelled 'scaremongering'

7:52 pm on 17 January 2019

The Wanganui Ratepayers Association has been labelled ignorant and scaremongers for saying iwi should not gain ownership of some parks and reserves.

Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall

Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall says public access will remain, and most of the iwi proposals are for co-governance and management of parks and lakes. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The association is demanding a referendum on whether land in Whanganui be returned to iwi as part of its treaty settlement.

Whanganui iwi are making headway with their treaty settlement in relation to their land claims.

The district council recently threw its support behind some of its early proposals, which include potential co-governance and joint-management of some parks and lakes, and ownership of certain areas like the harbour.

But Wanganui Ratepayer's Association chairman Dave Hill wants the parks and reserves off the table.

"If the government of today wants to make redress, they can do that by giving other government owned land back to iwi or they can make a financial redress," he said.

"But no thank you, not our parks and reserves."

Mr Hill said the ratepayers had maintained the parks for decades and there was a risk that they could be blocked from the sites if iwi take ownership.

He's calling for a council referendum at the next elections in October.

"We think it should be only fair that before the ownership definition is changed, that the people of Whanganui are asked to have an input."

But Mayor Hamish McDouall said a referendum would be a "waste of time". He said none of the proposals were set in stone and the land was owned by the Crown, not the council.

He said Mr Hill did not understand how the negotiations worked and that the council had almost nothing to do with it.

"I'm unconvinced that considering councils role, which is fairly peripheral, in the negotiations, whether we want to go and spend a lot of money on a referendum," he said.

"Particularly when the parks and reserves that are potentially at issue, we are really only talking about co-governance."

He said public access would remain, and most of the iwi proposals were for co-governance and management of parks and lakes, not outright ownership.

Disappointing but not unexpected

Ken Mair, chair of Wai Māori Trust

Whanganui Lands Settlement Trust chairman Ken Mair. Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

Whanganui Lands Settlement Trust chairman Ken Mair said the association's comments were disappointing for some local Māori.

"But for some of us it is not unexpected," he said.

"It is just a small group of people at the end of the day who really don't have, or have limited knowledge in regards to the history of Whanganui and how our lands were illegally taken from us."

The Waitangi Tribunal has ruled that the Crown used illegal and deceptive tactics to acquire 89,000 acres of Whanganui land in the 1840s.

Mr Mair said the settlement was the right thing to do, and that there were no plans to block public access.

"That's never been our intentions and nor is it our intentions into the future, and I think that is just once again scaremongering amongst a small group of people."

Minister of Justice Andrew Little.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little said he can't recall any iwi that has blocked access to a public place once they've taken ownership.

He also said a referendum at local government level would have no bearing on the Crown's negotiations with iwi.

"It just seems to me that the people making these public claims are woefully ignorant of the reality of treaty negotiations," he said.

"It looks to me like they are stirring up a lot of fear totally unnecessarily out of sheer ignorance."

With council backing, the iwi is proceeding with its negotiations with the Crown and hopes to sign an Agreement in Principle in April.

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