19 Jan 2018

Millions spent on controversial Māori land bill

1:56 pm on 19 January 2018

Millions of dollars were spent by the previous government on the failed Māori land bill, which one political leader labelled "a poisonous and destructive cancer".

One of the five largest remaining Crown forest leases on Māori land is near Lake Taupo.


Documents released under the Official Information Act reveal the National-led government spent $5.2 million on investigating how to establish a Māori Land Service despite widespread opposition and the bill not being passed into law.

Former Māori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell travelled the country attending more than 100 hui seeking support to reform Māori lands.

Instead the hui were marred with protest, iwi leaders and academics wrote open letters opposing the bill and a complaint was laid with the United Nations.

Despite all this, his ministry Te Puni Kōkiri accelerated the spending for a major component, the Māori Land Service.

Documents show the previous government spent $5.2m scoping a Maori land service.

Documents show the previous government spent $5.2m scoping a Maori land service. Photo: RNZ / Te Puni Kōkiri

One of the loudest opponents was Meka Whaitiri - the new Associate Minister for Local Government and Crown Māori relations - who said the spending was arrogant.

"It's appalling and presumptuous. The services that people in the regions were investing in terms of engagement and consultation with land owners was premised on the understanding that the bill would go through."

Mr Flavell stands by the spending.

"The spend was appropriate ... the Labour opposition decided they were against it," he said.

In eight months from February last year, the then government spent more than $600,000 dollars a month on programme costs and a further $35,000 a month on personnel.

FOR MORNING REPORT USE Election 2017 leader profiles- Te Ururoa Flavell

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Ms Whaitiri said while Māori leaders pleaded with the government to halt the bill, its Ministry of Māori Development, Te Puni Kōkiri, marched on.

"The money is already gone and like I said back then highly arrogant of the former administration. Five million dollars is excessive. The director I understood only lasted weeks before he gave his notice and moved on to greener pastures," she said.

At the time leader of New Zealand First Winston Peters agreed the government was "arrogant" hiring a director for a proposed service before legislation creating the agency had even passed.

Around five percent of New Zealand is Māori land, divided into 27,000 titles.

The land reforms promised to give land owners more autonomy and access to their information.

Owners' information is held with the Māori Land Court.

No caption

Meka Whaitiri Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

In 2016 there were 176 Māori court staff, with specific whakapapa expertise dealing with 2.3 million interests in Māori land.

Ms Whaitiri's constituents make up 30 percent of all Māori land owners and she said a number of court staff in her region were laid off under the last government.

"Our people are kanohi kitea and the information they have has often been built over years and years and years and you can't just simply download that into some system."

Mr Flavell said the job losses were not good but he hoped revamping the care of century-old documents can be sorted.

"The issue is about maintaining the records and being able to have our people access those records in terms of the reports that I got at the time. Our records in the Māori Land court are archaic and what we were trying to do is revamp that to make it far more accessible and if it meant a cloud base system I think it was an important part of it."

Documents also show it was not just Māori land owners with concerns as Treasury red flagged the bill as its confidence in it had dropped. Te Puni Kokiri, however, did not agree with Treasury but in the end Mr Flavell withdrew the bill from the house.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs