24 Jul 2019

Ihumātao protest: Govt will not intervene, PM says

10:54 pm on 24 July 2019

A direct appeal to the Prime Minster has been made by one of the leaders of a land protest at Ihumātao near Auckland Airport.

Protesters and police at Ihumatao.

Protesters and police at Ihumatao. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

The site at Ihumātao near Auckland Airport is due to be developed by Fletcher Building but has been the subject of a bitter dispute and occupation, and an eviction notice was served against occupiers yesterday.

Hundreds of demonstrators and dozens of police officers are still at the site and will stay overnight as a stand-off continues with protesters.

Three people have been arrested over the course of the day - two were given warnings, while a 28-year-old woman appeared in the Manukau District Court charged with obstructing police.

Police said they had been involved in ongoing negotiations over an extended period of time to try and reach a peaceful outcome, but haven't been able to reach a satisfactory outcome for all parties.

Three people were also arrested yesterday.

Pania Newton, the co-founder of Save our Unique Landscape (SOUL), said she's asking the Prime Minister to reserve Ihumātao as a historic place through the use of the public works act.

But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government would not intervene.

"Ultimately we are falling on the side of the local iwi [who support the housing development] and their position. They are not the ones leading the protest here and so if we come in over the top, it really would be undermining the local iwi in this case."

New Zealand First MP Shane Jones urged protesters at Ihumātao to stand down and respect the wishes of their kaumātua.

"It's probably got to the point that they should not belittle or trample on the mana of the kaumātua who have negotiated a compromise with Fletchers," Mr Jones said.

Labour MP Kelvin Davis said it would be inappropriate for the government to step in and resolve the dispute at Ihumātao because its an internal issue among iwi.

Mr Davis said it was not just Fletchers Building and police trying to evict protesters, it was also mana whenua from Te Kawerau ā Maki.

* Read more: Why Ihumātao is being occupied by 'protectors'

Labour MP Peeni Henare also dismissed the idea of Māori MPs stepping in to resolve the dispute at Ihumātao, saying they have tried everything they can to find a solution.

Mr Henare said MPs met with Fletchers, local iwi Te Kawerau ā Maki, and SOUL, but were unable to reach a consensus about how to move forward.

He said a suggestion was made for the government to buy back the land from Fletchers Building but it was turned down.

Police at Ihumatao.

Police at Ihumatao. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Auckland Transport said a section of Oruarangi Road is closed as the stand-off continues. The road was closed between Waipouri Road and Ihumātao Road.

Police said protesters attempted to obstruct a Fletcher's truck from gaining access through the cordon this morning and two were arrested.

One woman will face charges of obstruction and being unlawfully on a vehicle. A second person will be given a pre-charge warning for obstruction before being released.

Police said two "uncontrolled and aggressive" dogs also had to be pepper-sprayed at the cordon.

A third person was arrested shortly after noon. One man waving the Māori flag tino rangatiritanga broke through one of the police lines, in an apparent effort to get to the maunga, where there is a group of children and handful of adults.

An RNZ reporter on the scene said the man was arrested by a group of police.

A peaceful overnight demonstration with waiata and a camp fire turned into angry scenes shortly before 8am this morning when a contractors truck attempted to drive through the access road.

A spokesperson for the protesters group SOUL, Pania Newton, said that was despite an agreement with police that no more vehicles would go through.

"There was an agreement made this morning that no further vehicles would be entering onto the whenua," she said.

"The police have breached our trust. We no longer have any confidence in the New Zealand police."

Pauline Nathan at the Ihumātao demonstration.

Pauline Nathan at the Ihumātao demonstration. Photo: RNZ / Gill Bonnett

Another demonstrator, Pauline Nathan, said the area had been their playground as children and their grandparents grew up there, so they had to stand firm.

"I think our ancestors would be proud of us, I think that New Zealand should be proud of us Māori people, and they need to be here," she said.

Counties Manukau District Commander superintendent Jill Rogers said they have remained on site to ensure the safety of everyone present and prevent any breach of the peace, while allowing Fletcher Living to go about their lawful business.

They will remain at the site until the situation has been resolved.

"One of the protesters put their own safety at risk by climbing on to the truck and wedging themselves between the cabin and the tray, forcing the truck to stop to prevent any serious injuries," she said.

"Police at the cordon had to use pepper spray on two large uncontrolled and aggressive dogs this morning."

Ms Newton and one of the other protesters had touched the dogs and also suffered the effects of the pepper spray.

Amnesty International said human rights observers from their organisation will be at Ihumātao tomorrow to monitor the action.

The organisation's executive director, Meg de Ronde, said it's the first time they've sent independent observers to an event in New Zealand for a number of years.

She said a lot of people have indicated they're keen to attend the protests and Amnesty International wanted to ensure their rights are upheld.

Ms de Ronde said they have notified the police and the protesters that observers will be attending.

More than $18,000 has been raised to support the protesters after a fund was set up by lobby group Action Station.

Some of the money has already been used to pay for flights, buses and petrol vouchers to help people get there and join the protest.

Access to electricity, internet and safe drinking water has been cut at the site.

Earlier today, dozens of people also gathered near Parliament in Wellington to support the protesters.

Ihumātao is next to the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve in Māngere, home to New Zealand's earliest market gardens and a significant archaeological site on land considered wāhi tapu (sacred) by local hapū and iwi.

Part of the land, 32 hectares, is zoned as a Special Housing Area and is owned by Fletcher Building.

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