Two major Auckland iwi are planning High Court action over Government plans to open up Crown land in the city for affordable homes.
Ngati Whatua and Tainui say they should have the first right of refusal on the sale of any of the Crown land that is to be used for private housing. They are concerned government officials don't seem to agree, and want the court to sort out who is right.
Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith, who was at a meeting with several iwi representatives yesterday, said the issue was tricky as there were different agreements depending on the iwi and the circumstances.
"I think some of the misunderstanding that has occurred around this Government programme is because first right of refusal is quite tricky and because it varies from one settlement to the next," he said.
Dr Smith said in many circumstances there was a special case for social housing that effectively allowed the Government to develop the land for homes whether or not there was a first right of refusal clause.
The chair of the Tamaki Makaurau iwi collective, which includes Ngati Whatua, said the type of housing to be built could affect who should get first right of refusal.
Paul Majurey said it was not yet clear what the housing mix would be.
"They need to give us that information. What is the mix - social, affordable, state housing?" he said.
"It's one thing for land to stay within the Crown's family of agencies - it's another if it's going to the open market.
"There was a lot of discussion yesterday around ourselves, the thirteen tribes of the collective having our Treaty rights."
Ngati Whatua has invited the government to join with them in the legal action, saying a collaborative approach to clarifying the law is far more constructive than an adversarial one.
Dr Smith told Morning Report he had not decided whether to accept the invitation to join the court action.
He said there was a process to go through before Crown land was distributed.
"If no other Government agency ... wanted the land it would then be offered back to the previous owners and ... only then is the right of first refusal triggered.
"That has not just been the legal advice, that has been the practice under both the previous Government and our Government."
Labour Party leader Andrew Little said the iwi was right and the minister was not handling the situation well.
"If they have to go to court and clarify that, they're entitled to," he said.
"It's unfortunate they have to do that because they appear to be dealing with a minister who is somewhat blinkered in his view and is not ... acting in the best interests of the rest of New Zealand in trying to get the Auckland housing problem sorted."