17 Dec 2020

Ihumātao: Deal struck between government and Fletcher Building to buy disputed land

7:16 pm on 17 December 2020

A deal has been struck between the government and Fletcher Building to buy the disputed Ihumātao land for just under $30 million, the first step in breaking the long-running deadlock.

Protest banners at Ihumatao

Protest banners at Ihumatao Photo: Nicole Hunt

As RNZ reported earlier this week, Cabinet considered the deal on Monday between all three parties, including Kiingitanga - on behalf of mana whenua.

A Memorandum of Understanding (He Pūmautanga) has been signed by the Kiingitanga, the Crown and Auckland Council which sets out how parties will work together to decide the future of the land.

"The parties acknowledge that the Crown's acquisition of the whenua will be for housing purposes," the document says.

A key clause stresses the agreement does not constitute a "settlement of historical [Treaty] claims", a response to concerns any deal could effectively re-open full and final settlements.

"I want to thank all the parties involved for working together to come to this agreement," Finance Minister Grant Robertson says.

"I particularly want to thank Kiingi Tūheitia and his officials for their leadership of this process. He Pūmautanga represents the starting point for the future of Ihumātao."

The land was bought under the Land for Housing Programme; Housing Minister Megan Woods says "the parties have committed that there will be housing on the site".

"The exact form that takes will be agreed by the signatories to He Pūmautanga - it could include Papakainga housing, housing for mana whenua and some public housing. It will be a sensitive development that recognises the special characteristics of the land."

Robertson told reporters at Parliament that the $30m price tag was an appropriate price tag to pay Fletcher Building for the land.

"This is a process that is unique and innovative and one that provides for consensus decision making," he said.

"It is important to see this for what it is, it is a unique settlement outside of the Treaty settlement process.

"We've done the right thing in this situation."

Fletcher believes it roughly "breaks even" on the deal.

Speaking at Parliament on purchase of Ihumātao

Ministers Grant Robertson, left, and Willie Jackson address media at Parliament. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Kiingitanga response

Kiingi Tuuheitia Pootatau Te Wherowhero VII has "given his royal blessing to the resolution".

After "more than 160 years of alienation from Ihumaatao, the descendants of the original owners will be reconnected with their whenua," says Kiingitanga spokesman Rahui Papa.

"Kiingitanga's intervention brought a tikanga-based approach to the discussions and gave the parties the time to develop a "by Maaori for Maaori" solution".

Kiingi Tuuheitia visited lhumaatao in August 2019 and offered to facilitate discussions between mana whenua that "resulted in a consensus that they wanted their land returned".

"But the most important thing was a peaceful and lawful agreement by willing parties that would see an historical grievance put to rights," Papa says.

Kiingi Tuuheitia thanked Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern "for her leadership in negotiating a positive outcome".

Pania Newton at Ihumatao

Pania Newton, spokesperson for Save Our Unique Landscape, which led the movement against the development, at Ihumātao. Photo: Nicole Hunt

In a statement, the Save Our Unique Landscape group (SOUL) said the decision affirmed international commitments to indigenous rights and the place of tangata whenua in Aotearoa.

"Our people have lived here for more than 800 years. We know our whenua and care deeply about its future," it said.

"Our whenua was unjustly confiscated in 1863 and our tūpuna were exiled to the Waikato."

SOUL said that had never been addressed through the treaty settlement process, and that for generations, Ihumātao had paid a price for a developing city.

Marchers protest about ihumatao at the climate change march on Auckland's Queen St on 27 September 2019.

Ihumātao protesters at the climate change march on Auckland's Queen St on 27 September 2019. Photo: RNZ/Veronica Schmidt

The group paid tribute to supporters of their years-long protest, which had involved hikoi, petitions, court action and a trip to the United Nations.

"Tens of thousands of New Zealanders from all walks of life stood with us. They signed our petitions. They came to experience the whenua during our many events on the land. They marched with us.

"They stood alongside us when the police arrived last year to evict our whānau who were serving as Kaitiaki. We remember our supporters today and feel so grateful for their tautoko."

SOUL also thanked Kiingi Tūheitia his representatives for facilitating the resolution. It said there was more work to do, but that today's resolution represented the start of the next phase in the process.

Rōpu Whakahaere established to guide future decisions

A steering committee, or Rōpu Whakahaere, will be established, says Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson, as it's "important that those who have an interest in the future of Ihumātao have a seat at the decision making table".

It will be comprised of Three Ahi Kaa representatives supported by the Kiingitanga, one Kiingitanga representative and two Crown representatives.

Robertson also acknowledges the decision by Heritage New Zealand to extend the classification in regard to the land and that that will have some impact on what happens, saying "alongside housing, the parties want to use some of the land to provide better recognition of the cultural and heritage values associated with Ihumātao".

Auckland Council will send an observer to attend meetings and work with the Rōpu Whakahaere to "achieve the vision and objectives of He Pūmautanga".

Fletcher Building thanks government, iwi

Fletcher Building said with the "broadly break even" sale of Ihumātao to the government, its involvement in the disputed land comes to an end.

Chief executive Ross Taylor thanked the government for the "pragmatic way" it had approached the process.

"It hasn't been easy, and we acknowledge their role.

"We also acknowledge the iwi who we engaged with throughout the consenting and proposed master planning of the land. Any plans for the land are now a matter for the Crown and Kiingitanga."

Taylor also thanked the people from Fletchers, police officers, whānau representatives, security staff and neighbours of Ihumātao for their "patience and understanding".

National's response to the deal

Finance spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said taxpayers should not be paying the $30m to cover the deal.

"Taxpayers aren't a bank to be called upon to clean up the government's poor decisions, particularly when it is meddling in private property rights.

Woodhouse said the prime minister should never have involved herself in the Ihumātao dispute and taxpayers should not be bailing her out now.

"The ramifications of this Crown deal go much further than the lost opportunity of building houses immediately. It will call all full and final treaty settlements into question and set a dangerous precedent for other land occupations, like the one at Wellington's Shelly Bay," he said.

"More than 20,000 Kiwi families are on the waiting list for a home this Christmas. The government should not be spending $30 million on stopping 480 much-needed houses from being built right now."

He said taxpayers buying the government out of this mess was not a solution.

"National would protect the land owner's property rights and ensure full and final treaty settlements are just that - full and final."

Green Party hails agreement

The Green Party said an agreement being reached on Ihumātao was "a good first step towards healing the historic injustice of land confiscation at the site."

Co-leader Marama Davidson said the Crown had a moral obligation to fund the purchase of the land, given it dispossessed the mana whenua in the first place.

"We cannot have true justice today, or purport to care about property rights, unless we acknowledge our history and the injustice of past land confiscations.

"I am proud to have stood alongside mana whenua on Ihumātao from the beginning and supported their right to peacefully protect their land.

She said she had spoken to members of SOUL today and acknowledged the courage of mana whenua and many other activists who had maintained a watchful presence on the land for the last five years.

Māori Party co leader: 'A new era of justice and liberation for Māori'

Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi said he was elated with today's news.

"This agreement is a huge victory for the mana whenua of Ihumātao who have succeeded in protecting their whenua for future generations. Under the leadership of Pania Newton and SOUL they mobilised the country and ensured that their whenua was not permanently alienated," Waititi said.

"We congratulate the Kīngitanga and mana whenua of Ihumātao for leading this process and for their generosity in negotiating with the Crown for the return of whenua that has always been theirs."

Waititi said the government had been brave and this allowed for the prospect of treaty settlement reform.

"This is not an isolated case, there are many Ihumātao around the country and the Māori Party will be pushing hard in that space," he said.

Waititi said no treaty settlement should be full and final, especially when the people were only getting one percent of what they were owed.

"The leadership of the mana whenua of Ihumātao has ushered in a new era of justice and liberation for Māori, an era that will see our tino rangatiratanga fully realised."

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